Monday, June 30, 2008

"I am living amongst BARBARIANS...."

Meet "Sir Squish," my new tile press, freshly mounted to my new custom built work table! He's named after one of my little Charmkins who was so large, gooey and mooshable he was hard to put down, and who was also grey, so it seemed a fitting name. Now I've long used those folding plastic jobbers for work tables in my ceramics area, but when this puppy arrived, he had to be bolted down to something more substantial, which meant enlisting my handyman to build this new hefty table for me. I'm so excited about the prospect of pressing tiles, I can barely stop thinking about it! Like I just needed a new swath of projects in my schedule, but when something resonates as clearly as tiles do to me, I have to act on it. I love combining the design challenges of graphic work and sculpture into narratives, plus adding "non-horsey" elements and art glazes....I get rather dreamy-eyed just thinking about it all. So many possibilities! So many new ideas to explore! So now I must experiment and tackle the learning curve that comes with stoneware clay and high fire glazes. Life is never static with ceramics! Amen. But if you see a mushroom cloud in the general Northwest vicinity, you know I got a little too ambitious for a newbie. Though I may end up looking like Wily E. Coyote after his Acme dynamite goes off, I'll have a big grin on my face.

Speaking of big grins, the title to this post, "I am living amongst BARBARIANS," is a quote Lesli Kathman quipped during the recent Mayhem. She had taught me to make genuine Southern Sweet Tea, with the proper brand of tea and cane sugar. The whole nine yards. My husband loves it, but I'm just too impatient to wait for water to boil (yes, I can be ridiculous when it comes to patience!). So what did I do for my own tea when she was here?---I whipped out the Lipton Instant tea and Splenda. She took one look at the Lipton and out popped that comment. Now it's stuck in my head, and I can't help but giggle every time my neurons replay it. I also imagine she's armed to defend herself against the Barbarians with her husband's trebuchet, which cracks me up just as much. I now have images in my head of an alternate universe Mayhem, with Lesli hurtling jars of Lipton Instant tea into swarming rabid hordes of rampaging Barbarians, with her dog, Emma, barking enthusiastically beside her, with Joanie quietly popping chocolate in her mouth, while her fluffy white dogs stare intently at her, and Lynn grinning ear to ear, with her cat, Aji, perched on her shoulder and her other cat, Chimayo, peering from behind her legs....and me covered in my bruxing rats and laughing hysterically.

Anyway....speaking of Barbarians, my German-heritage hubby is in Cheesehead Heaven, thanks to Stephanie Michaud. He's a Wisconsin native, being weaned on beer, brats and cheese, and even having worked as a lumberjack in his younger days (and yes, he has a Cheesehead hat to root for his beloved Green Bay Packers). However, he longs for the culinary goodness of that forested land, treats which Idaho apparently lacks. Such things as homemade sauerkraut, SunDrop pop, various handmade bratwursts and knutwursts and sundry sausages, and, of course, squeaky cheese kurds are all spoken of in hushed tones in this house. He and Stephanie waxed philosophical about the gastronomic delights of the Minnesota and Wisconsin area, something that went clean over my head at the time, never having indulged in the genuine article myself. However, I now fully understand the endearment to squeaky kurds since Stephanie overnighted three bags worth! Delish! Hubby has consumed enough cheese to plug up a mule deer, but lovin' every minute. Thank you Stephanie! And thank you Sonya for your fabulous cooking during your stay! Hubby still talks of your fajitas and chili with a wistful look in his eye, and if I even hint at some of your antics, he busts up in hysterical laugher. Antics you ask? Well, such things like THIS:
But you may be wondering why Sonya is in my kitchen! In June I was lucky enough to host Sonya Johnson (who was one of my bridesmaides in my wedding back in 2000) and Stephanie Michaud for a week of arty, horsey, foodie fun! It had been eight long years since I'd visited with Sonya last and it was fabulous to carouse with her again. It was very much like we just picked up where we left off, as though eight years simply never happened. It also was the first time I'd met Stephanie, though we had previously chatted through email, and I gotta was like we'd known each other for years! What a riot! Then when Lynn was able to join us, I could hear the happy hummings of the cosmos again:
Ed Gonzales was supposed to join us, but alas, the scheduling was off so we'll have to wait for him next year (we hope!). We ate a swath through Boise, and Sonya even cooked several wonderful meals for all of us, including homemade pizza! In the arty department, it was a whirlwind of ideas and raiding the local art stores! During her stay, Sonya and I had tried twice to make a plaster mold for her Bjorn relief sculpture, and both times we failed, honestly due to my inexperience. Much to Joan's amusement (and I think I can hear Lesli giggling, too, through the telepathic ether), I first entombed the rigid resin copy of Bjorn in a plaster mold...something I'll never do again, trust me. Then after breaking him out of the mold, we decided to pour a rubber flexible positive ("flexible" being the key word, here) and try again. It was my first time pouring rubber, and thank goodness for Joanie's guidance over the phone, Barry Moore's pouring demos, and Sonya's experience with such things, because we got a nice rubber positive of her lovely piece. Everything worked fine cocooning this green guy in plaster, until the last mold piece...the little ear piece (isn't that how it always happens?)! It cemented in there as sure as it was glued (yes--we did soap it!), and I had to chisel it off---dooooooh! After a consult with Joanie, she provided the probable cause for the sticking, which I'll be sure to remedy in the next pours. So while we failed to create a plaster mold for Bjorn, we learned a lot in the process and had fun, and now I'm confident not only to pour rubber, but to make my own three-piece relief molds, too. So Bjorns should soon be popping out of a new mold like spiders out of an egg sac. Here he is in his green glory, with his two "beat me with a clue bat" molds (Yes, Joanie, I can hear you snickering!), and sitting on top of his silicon mold Sonya previously poured:
Bjorn was a good "teether" for my next project, which is to make a rubber master positive, and rubber master mold, of my Feral Mare bas-relief sculpture, so wish me luck! Can you hear the circus music? Here she is "clayed up" and waiting for her green reincarnation:
Both Sonya and Stephanie also got to do a bit of glazing and greenware cleaning, and we three exchanged methods and ideas on cold-painting and sculpting, and anything else that tripped our triggers. Stephanie also showed the three of us some handy tricks in PhotoShop, a program that's better taught in person, than through a book. We even introduced Stephanie to Mystery Science Theater with special screenings of "Manos, The Hands of Fate," and the movie, "This Island Earth,". Manos, by the way, is easily regarded as the worst movie ever made, but made into a cinematic gem by the crew of MST! "'s a natural exfoliant!" The information stream and laughter was a happy resonance throughout the week, and we all look forward to next year! Playing in ceramics again also got me inspired to do more claybody customs, so I'm busily at work on more of those little guys for Joanie, Lesli and now this time, Addi Velasquez, too!

I've taken to these artist retreats far more than traveling to shows or expos because they allow us artists to relate as colleagues rather than competitors.
I believe it's important for us artists to remember who we are as people, and to nurture and maintain our friendly bonds more than anything else. In a career so often characterized by sequestered solitude in the studio, it's these visits that help me remember some important reasons why I do what I do in ways no other avenue can provide. I also believe that staying open to other creative points of view and staying in "learner mode" is essential for artistic growth and staying centered as an artist....and who better to learn from than dear friends who have something wonderful to share? The energy generated by this kind of dynamic isn't only potently inspiring and informative, but consummately satisfying, as well! I can't wait for Mayhem and JuneJuju 2009, that's for sure!

The competitive angle isn't always the best path towards improvement, and winning isn't necessarily the healthiest way to find fulfillment. I've discovered that the most satisfying experiences and achievements have been found in the company of good friends, sharing in their enjoyment and triumphs, and absorbing the good vibes and insights they shed in their joy. In this safe and relaxed environment, we can stretch our perceptions and become bolder in our paradigms, more eager to venture into unknown territory with a friend by our side. Our ideas become more flexible and varied, and our brains become eager for information and experience, in ways hard to come by in other avenues. I'm a firm believer in our own friendly classrooms, where camaraderie and laughter are the only grades, and discovery is the final test! And boy...those school lunches!

"Real learning comes about when the competitive spirit has ceased." --Jiddu Krishnamurti

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