Monday, February 24, 2014

Confessions of a Serial Artist... or How I Came To Play in the Mud

I am an artist. I have always been an artist. No doubt I will always BE an artist. But I haven't always been a focused artist. I have what I like to call "Craft ADD."

It goes like this: for a period of time, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer, I get "into" a particular craft or artistic method. For a time it was oil painting on driftwood - an engaging endeavor that ended abruptly when my house became too full of paintings to feel excited about making more. After my painting phase, I got into mosaic tiling. This hobby led me to frequent second-hand stores, searching for the perfect plates to smash. It was fun, but this, too, led to a glut of mosaic work in my house, and an eventual cessation of smashage.

After that, I decided to try making beaded jewelry. This endeavor found me buying pounds of beads online, scouring Youtube for "how to" videos, and stashing beads in every plastic container I could find. My plan, when I started to make jewelry, was to sell it on Etsy, for those of you who aren't familiar, is a site specializing in handmade items, and so I thought it would be a great place to sell the jewelry I made. As it turns out, I wasn't the only one with this idea. Handmade jewelry is one of the most crowded vendor categories on Etsy. Couple that with the fact that my jewelry was pretty basic, and the notion that I was going to get rich by selling jewelry on Etsy was clearly doomed to fail.

But at the same time, I finally had the opportunity to take a clay class at the local art museum. I had always wanted to learn how to throw clay on a wheel; I was 43 when I finally got the chance. But guess what - it's HARD! I was terrible at it. REALLY terrible. It took me weeks just to finally get the clay centered on the wheel. While others were merrily spinning away, making what accomplished potters lovingly call "dog dishes," I was still fighting to put the clay in the middle of the wheel.

I hate being bad at something. I REALLY hate having people SEE me being bad at something! So I came into the studio in the afternoon when nobody was there - sometimes for an hour, sometimes two. I worked on basic throwing techniques. I centered the clay, then cut it off, brought another piece and centered that. I didn't try to make anything - I just worked on becoming better at handling the clay.

Things started moving faster for me when a friend loaned me his wheel, saying I could keep it in my basement until he built his new garage. Now I could sneak down in the evening and work for a time on the wheel. While I still wasn't skilled by any stretch of the imagination, I started to be able to make pots that looked like pots.

I started sculpting faces on my mugs to practice my sculpting techniques. The idea grew from funny little faces to pigs and sheep and dinosaurs. I have made giraffes, elephants, lamas, lions, horses, pigs, cats and dogs. I keep coming back to the human face, the first image we see as babies, the last thing we see before we die. With the passing of my 50th birthday, I have become intrigued by the faces of old women, and with how we see the elderly in our society. Last night I worked on three different old women - two mugs and a face jug. As I created the fine lines in their cheeks, I thought about the real women who have lived their lives, cared for their families, loved their men and their children, and made a difference in the world.

But I digress. I started selling sculpted pottery on Etsy, and this time it was a good idea. It gave me an opportunity to make more, to continue to grow as an artist, and to not have a thousand pots lining the shelves of my home. With clay I seem to have come home - because with clay, there is always something new to learn. I had to allow myself the space to be bad for a while, the space to learn and grow. I'm still learning. I'm still growing - and I wanted to share my journey with those of you who might think, "Oh, I wish I could be an artist."

Here's the secret: you can. You just have to dare to fail.

I came upon this short video by Ira Glass that talks about the process of learning a creative craft. It's worth listening to. So next time you tell yourself you're not good enough to create something great, add a little extra word: "Yet."

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