Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The caveats of working at home

The good news is I get to work at home and set my own schedule.

The bad news is I get to work at home and set my own schedule.

I have tried so many times to get my work time in the studio onto a set schedule. Once in a while I've been able to actually walk into the studio at 8 or 9 AM and not break for anything until  4 or 5 PM, a normal workday for most people. When you work at home and your studio is right behind your house, it might seem like an easy task to be able to just walk out of your house and go to work, but it never seems to be just that way.

As I write this, I have my husbands car at Maaco for a repair. It's 10 AM. Prior to this, I had to clean my house and get ready to host our AirBnB guests who are arriving this evening. Tomorrow, I have to take my car at 10 AM for an oil change. There always seems to be something, whether it's shopping that needs to be done or errands or doctors appointments or things that just can't happen in the evening, that always seem to cut into my workday.

And then there is the inevitable pile of dirty dishes or the laundry that you tried to ignore to go to the studio and do your work FIRST but it's sitting there staring you in the face every time you come into the house to get a drink of water screeching "WASH ME,  do something about me, sweep the floor for crying out loud!" and inside you're head you're saying, "But I can't, I can't, I'm an artist I have to make pottery and  I have to work, I have to paint!" I try not to succumb until I have made some art but it's a never-ending battle!

 So like today, I probably won't get into the studio and be able to actually get busy with my work until 11 AM or 12 PM. With any luck, I'll get four solid hours of work done before I have to break to make dinner for my husband. I could go back out to the studio after that, but when I don't see him all day we want to spend time together. (Yes, after 24 years of marriage, we still like each other)

I'm not complaining. It's a luxury for me to be able to be an artist and work at home because Lord knows, it doesn't pay the bills. It's just that sometimes I think it's easier to get up get dressed and get in your car to go somewhere else where you have no other distractions but the work that you have to do.

Even though I always feel like I am being pulled in different directions and never have enough hours in the day, I manage to get quite a lot done. One day has passed since I started writing this. I spent my afternoon glazing yesterday and I am firing a full kiln at this moment. I realized that because my studio will be one of the stops on the Chester County Best Kept Secrets Tour, there will be 16 days in November when I would normally still be making things for holiday sales when my studio will have to be all spiffed up and clean for the tour and I won't be able to throw mud around. That means that I have to have all of my holiday inventory made in October.

So I am throwing like a mad woman and making plans for some new paintings and would really like to create a "Millicent and the Faraway Moon Coloring Book" to add to my growing collection of books that I have authored and created. So far, the kiln is full of very affordable items in the $20 range, which I plan to have a lot of on hand throughout the holidays like ring bowls and dip spreaders, tea lights, soap dishes and cereal bowls. There are also a lot of yarn bowls firing right now, an item I need a large stock of because it is my biggest holiday seller.

I have been all about butterflies this summer and I am doing a lot of hand painting with butterflies on what will be wall hangings and plates. I am also making really cute hand painted cake plates, flower plates and flower bowls with stems that act as pedestals. Naturally, the hand-painted items will have to be  a little more expensive as they take me more time to produce.

I am also having a lot of fun making miniature ceramic houses. These would make great housewarming gifts or look cute in a terrarium or just on a shelf. While the kiln fires, it is time to do some more painting on bisque and after that it will be time to start taking photos of new pieces  for uploading to my website and then writing the listings for each one.  Blogging and using social media is the only marketing I do right now and is also a huge time suck.

We'll see how far I get today. Always much to do and never enough time to do it -especially when you're a one-woman band like me. :0)

Photo borrowed from "The Blue Lantern"

Saturday, September 5, 2015

How Important is Art Education?

Please forgive me while I stand on my soap box for a bit today.
I never wear shoes like this but maybe I should :0)

It's that time of year again. Your kids have either already started back to school or they will be there shortly. Does your child's school still have an art program? More and more schools across the nation are eliminating arts and music programs. If they replace them with anything at all it is sometimes with pseudo art instruction performed by an unqualified classroom teacher.

That statement is not meant to disparage classroom teachers, it is just that they are not trained arts specialists.  The major justification for ending arts programs is almost always budget. School districts are constantly complaining that they don't have a enough money for basic programs, so first on the chopping block is usually what administrators and parents see as the most extraneous and unnecessary programs- art and music.

Here are some of the common myths and justifications for deeming art as unnecessary and thereby eliminating it.

Every child is not a talented artist
Every child is not going to be an artist
Training children in the arts has no application to real world (job) success
Art is meant to help children "express themselves"

Here is what arts education really gives to your kids:

The number one most valuable thing that art education provides to your child:

It teaches them to THINK critically and innovate. It teaches them to TAKE RISKS and to see the BIG PICTURE.

Making art is not just about making pretty things or providing some slapdash approach to "self expression" devoid of rules and structure. There are rules in art- Elements and Principals of Design- which provides a framework for making good art and once understood, provides a vehicle for creating good art while breaking those rules and learning to innovate.

Art history provides a cultural framework and point of reference for history and innovation throughout time. Children without skill in creating art are still given an understanding of the cultural heritage of art, get exposed to great thinkers and artistic creators (ex. Picasso, Matisse) who broke from the mold of realistic art making to devise a new way of SEEING and creating.

Art is not always about the end product. The value of art education is more in the processes of creating art and learning about it than in the outcome of making a pretty picture.

Most other disciplines only work on finding right or wrong answers. There is no room for thinking out of the box or for creating a new paradigm. Children who are only being educated in these limiting disciplines will grow to only seek the correct (predetermined) answer, never being able to consider another option and will accept as irrefutable that which is spoon fed to him as fact.

We need to keep raising generations of Picasso's, Da Vinci's, Van Gogh's, Louise Nevelsons and even more Andy Warhol's, whose art was not just pictures of Campbell Soup cans, but a shrewd commentary on our massed produced society as a whole, a concept seen through an artists ability to view "the big picture."

Louise Nevelson

Louise Nevelson- Royal Tide IV-Assemblage

The world needs both kinds of thinkers, both right brain and left. Here is a perfect example:

Steve Wozniak, a left brain tech head computer guy who, left on his own would probably have had his own small company or gone to work for IBM or Microsoft or Oracle or any other computer giant out there at the time.

Steve Jobs, a hippy dippy, right brain college drop out with an understanding of business,training in art and a devoted sense and love for beauty and good design.

It is the combination of these two very different types of talents that brought us all of the elegant and beautiful Apple computer products which many of us enjoy and other companies try to emulate.

The marriage of these two divergent genius brains resulted in something of a lightening strike which created (in my opinion) one of the greatest tech companies ever.

Steve Jobs (standing) and Steve Wozniak (at keyboard)

Is your kid going to be the next Steve Jobs or Picasso or Frida Kahlo? Maybe not. If given the benefit of a meaningful art education, what they can be is a well rounded human being who can think outside of the box, challenge the status quo, consider various answers to the same problem, create something from nothing, use the tools at hand in new ways and make cross cultural and historical connections.

Oh, and they may come home with a nice painting sometimes, too.

Frida and Me- © Karen O'Lone-Hahn 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Buying at art festivals-don't be fooled

This article is written for all of you folks who like to attend art festivals because you enjoy handmade art and like to support artists.

Art festivals are a lot of fun for attendees. They used to be kind of few and far between but now it seems that just about every weekend you can find an art and or craft festival somewhere. September and October seem to be prime months for art festivals with people returning from summer vacations out to enjoy the cooler weather.

From the artists side, art festivals are a great way to connect with an audience. It's a lot of fun to chat with people about your work, go to new places and meet other artists. On the downside, exhibiting at art festivals is a lot of work and can be very costly.

Station Bay Wholesalers provide letter photography

The artist or crafts person makes all of the work and has to pack it up in order to safely transport it to the festival. Many artists travel a lot of miles to get to different shows. The costs include wear and tear on the vehicle, gas, tolls, food, lodging and booth fees which can range anywhere from $50-$500 depending on the show.

Once they arrive, the artist will spend hours setting their booth up to make it presentable and inviting for the attendees. Once that's completed the artists will sit and wait and hope. Every art festival is a crap shoot that the artist will go home with a profit for all of his  hard work and investment.

There is a big problem at these shows plaguing legitimate artists who create their own work by hand, be it craft or fine art. In the trade, the problem is called buy/sell.
Dichroic Glass Wholesale at Aibaba

Generally unknown to the buying public, promoters of many art and craft shows, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly, accept booth fees and admit people into the show who buy their wares from China or some other ready-made source and bring it to an art festival to sell and pass it off as their own. 

These people's products are generally priced much lower than items in the same medium being presented by a legitimate crafts person or fine artist because they are buying it cheaply and have no labor involved except getting to the show. Take a jeweler/glass artist for instance, who is making dichroic glass pieces by hand. All of the costs associated with making their work are much higher than cheap knockoffs that can be bought in China. Most people of the buying public don't understand the difference and only see that the buy/sell item looks somewhat similar and is much less expensive.

The same can be said for two dimensional art where photographs or paintings might look like original art but are also knock offs from China. An instance of this might be the digital pictures that have an image that creates a letter.  If you attend many shows you'll see that either gazillions of people sitting behind their computers making the same exact thing or that they are probably coming from China.

More from Station Bay
This issue is one of several reasons that I have chosen to stop selling my work at art festivals. It's a problem that is ongoing and many promoters are failing to address it, even though they say in their literature that artists are entering a "juried" show.

Legitimate artists cannot compete with these buy/sell people if the promoters won't police their shows and the public is largely unaware.  If you attend the shows because you really like authentic handmade things and you like art and you want to support artists, here is what you can do to help.

If you go to a booth and you're looking at jewelry or a painting or whatever, ask the person about the processes that they use to make their pieces. Ask what kind of links they use in their silver bracelets or how they make their diachronic glass and what kind of a kiln do they use and how long does it take? Ask if they use acrylic paint or oil? That thick paint on there, how is it applied? Is there a coating on the painting? Do they work from photographs, on site or use a model? Did they travel to all those places (like the Eiffel tower) used as letters in all of their photos to get the shot? You get the idea. 
Wholesale acrylic paintings massed produced at DH Gate

If you mostly get a deer in the headlights look or a lot of stammering or what sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo, chances are pretty good that they didn't make what they're trying to sell to you. Maybe it's important to you that you are getting a genuine unique, well crafted piece of art. Maybe price is your bottom line and you are happy to go home with something that may show up on the shelves at Walmart if it isn;t there already.  

Either way, it's ok, but buying from real artists at these things is really important to us, because without the support of the public, we may go the way of the dinosaurs. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Remarkable Woman Artist

The other day, I had the extreme pleasure to meet  a really unique and talented woman and visit her made by hand clay or "cob" home studio. A cob house is a mixture of sand, clay, straw and water and ends up looking something akin to an adobe structure because of it's rounded and smooth walls and spaces. Cob structures have been around for centuries all over the world according to Wikipedia, but this girl had never heard of one until last year.

I became aware of this remarkable woman, Cara Graver, and her cob studio a little over a year ago when I signed up to be a part of The Chester County Best Kept Secrets Shopping Tour. I didn't get a chance to meet with her and see her studio then but since I signed up to be a part of this year's tour in November, I didn't want to miss meeting her or seeing it while I was in the area for a meeting.

Cara did not disappoint. First of all, she was such a warm and welcoming person that I felt like I had known her all my life upon our first meeting. When I followed her back through offbeat gravel roadway to her home and the "Cob" behind it, I felt that I was visiting a very special place indeed.

Inspired by the book, "The Cob Builders Handbook,You Can Sculpt Your Own Home", Cara   decided at the age of 55 to go to Oregon, where she lived in the woods with no heat, electricity, or running water for a 6 week course on how to build a cob.

On her return, she and her husband used a backhoe to dig the 3 foot bed where the local rocks would be laid for the foundation of the her building. Then the hand building began with the mix of straw, clay, water and sand. Windows and doors were found at dumpsters and rehab sites. The thick walls retain heat and cold and water is supplied by a well. The structure took 4 years to complete though Cara is continuing with a recent edition, a composting toilet annex!

The cob is a very special place where Cara makes beautiful pottery and gives classes. She is also a holistic healer and just an all around amazing lady. If you would like to visit her Cob Studio located in Chester Springs Pa. or learn more about her, please visit her web page at http://www.thecobstudio.com and tell her Karen sent you :0).

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A natural high

Yes, some of it is green and leafy, but it's not that!

I think my best days in the studio start when I allow myself the opportunity to go on a nice walk or bike ride in the morning. I am really lucky to live in an area that's so beautiful. I'm surrounded by wineries and horse farms and there are several trails for me to go and enjoy nearby. Since I usually go alone I try to go at times when I know that there will be other people on the trails. Not that I live in an unsafe area but you just never know.There's nothing better for me than to feel that I am taking care of my body and "working" at the same time. 

  A beautiful day never fails to disappoint. There usually are an assortment of runners, joggers, bike riders and walkers out but not to the point of ever being crowded.  One of my favorite spots is White Clay Creek preserve which sprawls across both Pennsylvania and Delaware. There is a parking area on the Pennsylvania side where I live where I can park and avoid the 8$ out of state usage fee if I wanted to start from a different point in Delaware. From my starting point in Pa a walk to the Delaware line on the trail is only about 1 mile. 

The creek is a beautiful site on those God given sunny mornings. I really get inspired by the glistening water and the leaves on the trees and even the shapes of rocks and small plants

 I don't go out and paint them in landscape form the way some artist do but the leaves and flowers and branches and even the people walking turn up in my paintings and pottery sometimes as a motif, sometimes as a realistic design and sometimes as dream like imaginings of exploding flowers all around happy couples in the trail.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How to make clay (or paper) angels

This little clay angel is a cinch to make. It could be easily adapted to using sturdy papers or stiffened gauze for the body and lightweight wood balls.  I am using white stoneware clay  and Amaco Potters Choice Glazes.

The first thing to do is to roll out a nice slab around 1/4 " thick.

I use a small pattern roller meant for fondant that I got at the craft store, but you could really use anything to create  the texture you desire.

Cut the slab into a circle the diameter that you wish to make the base. Mine was measured with a cool whip lid. Make a center mark and cut a straight line of clay from the out.

Fold the clay around on itself until it makes a nice tight sturdy base. If your clay is pretty wet, just a little pressure at the seams will keep it together. Other wise, score and slip. 

I took the corner edge and gave it a little flip to add depth and interest. Roll balls of clay the size that you want your heads to be, poke a hole in them (to deter unfortunate kiln events) and attach to the bodies with slip. 

A handy dandy miniature extruder (also bought at the craft store in the clay section) is great for making textured spaghetti hair.) If your clay is wet enough, just put it on there and give it a gentle push to attach. otherwise slip it on neatly.

From the scraps of you slab, cut the angel wings to the desired shape and attach with slip to the backs.  My little praying hands evolved from the wing leftovers but you can fashion them any way you wish. Have fun and Happy Christmas in July!