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Qotw: I Have Questions About Resiliency. . . .

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Callie Diesel asked in the Question Pool. .. I have questions about resiliency, and getting back to work after various events that have either failed, or gone extremely well. How do you deal wth artistic setbacks, or get back to work after the high of an achievement? Please describe an instance of either. 

 

This has been an interesting question for me, especially as I look back over the years. I got out of college, in the early 70's and was married within a month of graduating. The next year I had a job teaching art at a large HS with 3 art teachers including myself. We lived in a small apartment with no room for anything in the way of a studio/shop. I took Summer classes to settle my thirst for Ceramics, and further my education as PA required 30 post credits for permanent certification. We were reimbursed for much of this. In the lat 70's we decided to purchase a starter home in an area just off of downtown with dual zoning-commercial residential. Then in the mid 80's I decided that I was not doing anything with my art, and bought a used Amaco motorized kick wheel, and ordered a kiln. . . back then a 10 cu ft. was a big expense for me. By the mid 90's I was doing shows at around the area, was president of the local Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen, and bringing in enough to take a little off the household budget to cover Summer vacations camping around the east coast and maritimes. I was doing the Penn State festival. . . there was only one back then, and I was jurying in under the local jury where we had to take actual pieces in for jury.

 

7 years later after getting a decent reputation, another venue came up that was of interest. I was asked to teach graduate courses in the Summers to teachers transitioning into the use to computers and possible uses in the classroom. I developed a course and taught it in two weeks, and made more than I had made at any of the Penn State festivals. This did not have the late nights the long weekends or the tired days teaching that doing festivals required for years. So I up and quit.

 

So did that mean no more pottery? No what it meant was that I would continue to make pots, get pushed into the shop whenever my wife felt I was getting "antsy" and making gifts for friends and family and some commissions here and there along with some standing yearly commitments. Now that I have retired, I do more, but do it in the Summer, Fall and Spring. I take time to enjoy other venues, and spend time with my wife traveling.

 

life is good,

best,

Pres

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I haven't been making pots for very long but I will share my experience so far. 

 

I do tend to take a week or two out of the studio if I'm discouraged. I'm coming to realize this isn't necessarily a bad thing as sometimes I need time to regroup. I used to do a lot of huge sewing projects and I learned then that if I came up against a problem or made a mistake and I couldn't see a way around it, GO TO BED. Often I would wake up with the solution clear in my mind while if I continued working I would make the situation worse. With ceramics it is very similar, but it takes me a bit longer to figure things out. But I call it "putting it into the Crock-Pot". I think fully through a problem and then go do something else and often the next step pops into my mind without warning and without any further effort. 

 

Last year I had a crazy busy successful two-weekend show. I started stocking up for it only perhaps 4-6 weeks ahead and for about a month I didn't sleep more than four hours a night, from a combination of too much to do and huge amounts of stress. Earlier in the year I had four kiln loads in a row that were almost entirely trash and though I had made adjustments to fix the issues, I was having nightmares that it would happen again with no time to make replacement work for the show. I intended to take two weeks off but I was so burnt out and exhausted that I proceeded to get three or four colds in a row and ended up being out of the studio for three full months. As it was winter (which doesn't get too cold here but is chilly, and my garage is uninsulated) every time I would go into the studio and start working I couldn't handle what the cold did to my lungs and I would be quickly driven out. This year I am taking that same show which is in October very seriously and I'm already about 1/3 stocked up for it. I started working on this in the beginning of the summer this time. 

I'm a little slow sometimes but the goal is to learn from the mistakes and not repeat them TOO closely. 

 

I have also learned that making custom work or made-to-order items sucks all the enjoyment out of it for me, so I just say no to everyone, kindly and firmly. 

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There will always be setbacks..some worse than others: serious illness, flood, tornadoes,carpal tunnel, divorce, death of loved one, 

###### happens. But resiliency is probably measured individually as we all have to figure out how to deal with it. Some need support more than others. 

Good communities help. Good friends and family help. But it is the individual strength that is the final measure. Each setback makes us stronger. IMHO. I had a medical doctor taking classes from me and he said "if he makes a mistake here, nobody dies".

Nobody said it was going to be an easy ride.

I think I've had too many setbacks to count over the decades, just move on to the next thing.

 

Marcia

GiselleNo5, Roberta12, Pres and 1 other like this

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I was about 3 years into pottery and had a great idea for some wall pieces.  Very simple, but colorful, something that could hang on a patio.  I drew them out, colored, sketched, made patterns, and began making my idea!  I was so excited!!!  But every time I fired one of the pieces, it would break, crack, I could not get any success whatsoever.  I remember sitting outside the community studio, very discouraged.  My friend/teacher at the time, came along and explained it was the design of the piece.  Too flat, too large.  Once I pulled myself together, I began reading about firing large, flat pieces and what considerations a person should keep in mind.  It was a turning point for me.  1.  I then realized how much information is out there about ceramics and that a person could completely immerse themself in study for the rest of their life and 2.  I could solve this problem, and I did with simply design changes. 

 

I do feel that to spend time in pottery (either hobby or professional) you have to be not only resilient but a creative problem solver.  They go hand in hand. 

 

Marcia and Giselle both brought up a good point about illness, tragedy, and the flat parts of life.....  at times you need to do like Giselle said and put it in the crock pot (love that!  because that is what I do also) or go at it from a different direction......Good points, both of you!

 

Roberta

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I have only had a three year period of my life where I didn't work with clay.  I was 18 years old working as a poorly paid dental lab technician, it was a matter of survival.  It was probably good for me I had to learn how to budget,  I remembering allowing for a Mc Donalds hamburger once a month and a new pair of jeans once a year.  At 21 I got married and my husband thought it was time for me to get back into clay.  The first thing we bought as a married couple was a used kiln.  Sure there were times where life took control like having a baby they kept me out of the clay but not for long.  Even with a new baby I would be working in my shop listening to him sleep on the baby monitor.  He would wake, play. gurgle and coo, I would keep working until the coo's turn into gripes. I think taking a step back and getting a different perspective on your work can be helpful.  Denice

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In reading the question, only one thing stands out to me very loudly:

 

 

artistic setbacks

Do we hit a point where we are not satisfied with our own work, or do the comments from others make us question our aesthetics?

 

Nerd

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Good question, Nerd. A former gallery owner told me she loved the fact that my work was always changing. Always on to new ideas. Most galleries want the same type of work to continue. Ceramics is always offering a new rabbit hole to delve into. 

Marcia

50 year vet in clay

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My life experience tells me I am as rigid as I am resilient, and that is the very thing I love best about clay. That's partly why some of my work is based on fragmentation, cracks, rough spots, some pieces definately "not pretty", while other pieces may be silky smooth and oh-so-pretty. I crashed a box of favored smalls a few weeks ago and it really set me back because the odds of duplicating or even coming close were nil for 90% of the pieces. I had let them become"too precious" to not grieve over the loss. Had to give myself a good talking-to. 

 

Eventually I get to the point with any given set back where I can "scrape it off my shoe" and move on, but more likely than not it takes me a while. Until I hit past 50, I had always been a glass half-empty kinda person, and always sure someone was gonna steal what was left besides. Going back to art, specifically working in clay right now, has been a developmental blessing and literally increases my resiliency (which translates to an uplifted spirit and a sense of hope) on a visible basis. Other people have commented (favorably) on the changes in my self-presentation, compared to how I was before I retired. High points or phases don't affect me so much--I might feel "extra" good, but nothing gets thrown out of whack. I enjoy having accomplishments, but they are not a driver of my bus in the way that downturns sometimes can be.

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At the moment I have extrem problems getting back to work in my studio. After my broken leg and surgery end of last year, then hobbling around on crutches for 8 weeks and not being able to use stairs (my studio is in the basement of my house), and then when the foot got better my long stay in Asia, I was away from my studio for over half a year. Now back in Switzerland I go down to my studio almost daily, look around the rooms, and go back up again, thinking: "ok, I'll start to work again tomorrow".... and then tomorrow..... and then tomorrow (ad infinitum). Normally I am a resilient person, but I don't know exactly what's the matter with me at the moment. It's not procrastination. I want to start work again and I also have ideas for objects, but there seems to be something every day that keeps me from starting in the studio again. Work on the Computer for the Cheongju Biennale, work on the computer for the Symposium next year in Tuscany, then my wrist is hurting out of the blue, then I get a headache out of the blue..... you name it. This is an artistic setback all right and, I am sorry, for the time being I have no solution how to get out of it.... I am not sad, I like what I do outside of the studio, but oftentimes it makes me angry at myself for not just sitting down in my studio and just start again...

 

How to get out of it? I pay good money for any tip you can give me :)

 

Evelyne

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How to get out of it? I pay good money for any tip you can give me

 

 

Find an amenable child, an enthusiastic one, a thoughtful one, a 10 or 11 or 12 year old, and make promises to him/her to show him/her the way of clay for a day. Make a firm date.

Work in parallel with your protégée, something you can't finish in a day.

I find that explaining, showing and teaching always re-ignites, both practically and spiritually. Especially if you can have a good laugh at the same time.

Also, you may find you have a little friend for life - that might be an upside, or a downside, depending on your social inclinations!

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When I first wrote this question in April, I was in a similar headspace that Evelyne described, although brought about by different means, I think. I had come off of a very disappointing Christmas season, and had a huge amount of unsold stock. My area was hit by a rather harsh recession, and unemployment rates were at 10%. I know I wasn't alone in my experience, but it was kind of hard to look at all those pots and try not to think that it wasn't somehow a huge rejection of my work. I crashed, and didn't really get off the couch for about 3 weeks.

 

Then, just to confuse things, in January I did my very first residency (only a weekend) at Medalta, and Terri and I fired the soda kiln there. I went from having a monster low, to having a monster high! It was the first time in over a decade I actually got to work in my favourite medium, and I got to spend 4 days eating, breathing and sleeping pots in a way that I hadn't been able to since I graduated in '01. It felt like coming home. I was able to focus on form and flame path, and came up with work that I found a lot more satisfying than the things I was working on for the sales by a large order of magnitude. At the thought of going back and making a bunch of the same things that I had before Christmas, and potentially facing the same level of rejection over it, I crashed again. Frustrating!

 

I've spent the last couple of months redesigning and testing, trying to incorporate some the things that I loved out of that cone 10 soda firing into the cone six electric work. And trying to come up with ways of building more levels of surface depth. Writing that last bit, it sounds like I've been really productive, but really, it's been a huge exercise in studio avoidance. I've spent lots of time doing reclaim, and pushing samples through a test sieve. And reading lots of brain-candy novels that have nothing at all to do with a business or pottery. I'd have actually been in a lot of trouble to meet some of my spring commitments if I hadn't had so much leftover stock.

 

I'm finding deadlines, orders and needing to be answerable to other people is helping me to push me into the studio on the days where I feel especially squeamish, and when the self-bribery doesn't work. I made myself apply to that Crafted Dish cookbook, more to give myself a job that could be broken into manageable bits than because I thought I'd get in. I'm super excited that I actually got in, but it was actually more important to me that I did all the things that I needed to do to get the application in on time, because it was an act of keeping faith with myself, and keeping my word to myself.

 

In pushing past this reluctance to work, I've found it helps to always have something unfinished in the studio. Some job that I need to get back to in the next day or so that I have to complete. Then, usually some kind of housekeeping, and once that's done, prep some clay for the next day's work. Once that's done, if I can, I'll throw a few of those things. If I can't, then I have the exciting thought of fresh clay waiting for me in the morning, and the decisions already made of what to do with it, like a secret date. I have to fall in love with the process a bit.

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In reading the question, only one thing stands out to me very loudly:

 

 

 

artistic setbacks

 

Do we hit a point where we are not satisfied with our own work, or do the comments from others make us question our aesthetics?

 

Nerd

Both. I'm not a forty year vet or anything, but the uncomfortable cure for either state seems to be to make more work.

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Calie:

 

Been going through a period of clay burn out myself: tired of thinking about it. I say that about this time every night, and wake up thinking about it in the AM. Yet at the same time, just now getting to the good stuff. I posted a cone 11 crystalline glaze pot today; think that is the first time I fired crystalline glaze in sometime. The whole reason I started studying clay was to formulate a body for crystalline, then put crystalline on the back burner because I went down the clay rabbit hole. Go figure  So my advice, just keep moving forward: you are just now getting to the good stuff. Dorothy had to follow the yellow brick road for some distance before she left Oz.

 

Nerd

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callie, i understand the feeling of rejection when a sale is poor.  it is not your work, that is good, you just need the right exposure.  i have been telling that to myself since the last 3 sales resulted in very few sales relative to the history of those same venues previously.  maybe i have just reached saturation in the local area.  but, maybe my pots really are bad.  who knows?

 

the calendar says i have to make pots.  the studio is relatively clean so i can work at anything i like.  the car has 450 pounds of clay sitting there waiting for some poor schmuck to try to walk past my house without my grabbing him and asking him to help me move the boxes.  think "spider and the fly".  the only local teenager to hire has been in europe all summer and is not back yet.

 

i CAN move them, i just use an office chair with wheels and roll the boxes one at a time from the level of the car into the studio.  the hard part is rolling up the layers of carpet pad and getting it out of the way first so i can roll the clay to the back of the room and store it where it is out of the way but accessible.  it takes me a long time to move them all.  and it really is not very accessible once in place.  who decided to make these awful boxes that do not let me get the clay out without a razor knife?  bakery cake style with a huge flap that is in the way.

 

well, that is the kind of excuse i use to not make pots even though i have a full box of new clay inside the studio on the chair waiting for me to get off the sofa and put the Outlander series book down.   there is just something about a man in a kilt.

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Part of the resilencency i needed to engage in ceramics at this point in my life  (re: some health & comfort & economic isses) was to be willing to ake the time, do the research, get lots of feedback, and save the money to get the best equipment and tools and production assists to do whatever job in question that was giving me grief.

 

For moving heavy bags/boxes of clay (or anything else more than 10-15 lbs the UPS guy brings me or that is loaded into my car) I needed help to get it up the front steps and over humps, through rooms, down the long hallway, and even out to the porch and down the back steps. The best thing I did was to get this item...a dolly-like cart that easily (really!) rolls up and down stairs and folds flat as a pancake!  www.https://upcart.com (I got the original simple version).

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