Category: painting

poem: it takes time

Oh, God, it takes time.

One painting,
learning animation,
writing the book.
Art has always been
more than this moment,
pouring from my pen,
an ecstasy of stillness and flow.

It is labor,
learning and failure.

Pieces pass through
chaos and the ugly stage,
riding beauty
where once only awkwardness

But, it takes time,
it demands patience,
it involves effort
and hope
and maybe madness.

Will i end up
the homeless woman
dragging around notebooks
and sketchpads
unable to give up?
Shouting at those
who think i am insane,
“It just takes time!”

26 september 2015

twenty minutes

raining i just used up all the hot water in the tank doing the dishes and it will take twenty minutes to get some warmth back.  The limitations of my hot-water heater has given me a chance to blog.

Part of the reason that the dishes had stacked up for so long was that my injured hand could not hold the dishes well or without significant pain.  The other reason is that when confronted by the desire to make art and the need to do dishes, the former almost always wins.  At any rate, while i cleaned plate after plate, rejoicing over my left hand’s healing, i started mulling over the other things i have not been doing as i should: blogging, posting on social media, just generally reaching out even to my customers.

Part of it has been a conscious choice as to what kind of art i should make. i am aware that what is welling up inside me contains sorrow and fear.  The decision is whether or not to give those emotions a stronger voice.

Years and years ago, a friend typed in a lot of poetry for me when i was having health issues that made the job impossible.  Those poems contained vast despair, interspersed with moments of bliss.  Watching how she reacted to that collection silenced my pen for a bit, even though she kept thanking me for the rare poems of joy.  Then, a couple of years ago, someone blue hairwas looking at thespirit_goddess paintings to the left and shook his head, saying no one wants to see pain.  By that time, my art had already shifted toward things like the holy spirit to the right.  Despite whatever internal grief i suffered, my art channeled happiness.  So i smiled at my friend’s advice,  because, somehow, i had already taken it.

That is, until this winter.  i cannot count the times i stopped my hands from drawing or painting or sculpting because i sorrowknew the things rumbling about in my mind would produce art like that to the left which flooded out of me six years ago.   Art can be a purging – an exorcism of grief and sorrow.  This helped heal my soul all those years ago.

If i want to be honest about my experience of life, there will always be a bit of art that will evokes the darkness.  Sometimes, even when i give myself leave to create something just for the sake of my sanity, the joy still peaks out.  A drawing of howling despair turns into song. There will also always be joy – peeking through even during the hardest times.

This is not one of the hardest time.  i know that, deep in my soul.  i can go back to poems written years ago and realize how much sunlight has conquered the sorrow.  An indefinable, unconquerable strength has kept me going this winter and for that spark of grace i am wildly grateful.  May it continue to keep me slogging through.

However, i have made a choice, for myself alone.  i don’t think i am going to quiet the art that would come forth, even when i know it might be soaked in blues.  The cost of keeping it bottled up is too high – for it stifles what other art that would come.



bluewoman_largeI submitted my art to a new venue a little over a week ago and received a rejection in my inbox about twenty minutes ago.

At first there was a thrill, because I could tell it was from the venue from the email address and their subject heading was ambiguous.  However, by the end of the brief first paragraph, for reasons either personal or not (they refused to distinguish between artists they reject on the basis of their bad art and those they reject because their work doesn’t fit the flow of their collection), I had to reel the bare and tangled line of my hopes back in.

The automatic and profound insecurity that I am indeed a bad artist (and by extension a bad business woman and a useless human being) still washes over me, despite increased success and the contentment that ruled over my waking hours before checking my inbox.

Honestly, the “bad art” message can come at you from a thousand different angles if you let it. Indeed, I have written about it in other blogs. I know this is not a situation I suffer through alone.  Every artist I have met had someone disparage their art and suffered rejections.  Alas, realizing I am not alone in this does not always help. Learning to remain secure in myself and my skills in the face of rejection was harder than I can say, and is not an ability I have fully mastered.

If this email had come a year ago, I would be wallowing in it for days, not writing, not making art, simply berating myself for believing in the delusion of hope in the first place.

Thank God, my burdens are not as they once were.  Even as I still steep in the insecurity, my outer reaction could not be different.  I throw my energy into creating more avenues for hope and possibility. During the past twenty minutes, I have ordered more promotional materials for galleries and collectors, written this blog, jotted down some ideas of how to take better pictures and begun editing photos for another online venue where my submission was enthusiastically approved.

More importantly for the well-being of my heart, the painting sitting across the room from me on the easel, still caught in a woeful state of ugliness, calls out to me like a siren.  The artist in me needs to create art, even if it is just rescuing one piece from incompleteness.

Even if it is simply to prove to myself that no matter who rejects my art, this is still what I do.

a bad case of the uglies

I’m staring at a painting I was working on yesterday, and the ugliness simply stings my eyes.

This has been a week nearly without throwing (only four large bowls) because my strength and balance have been really horribly off – so instead I have been painting and writing and doing more website coding. Fine motor control, holding a brush or pen, seems to be fine.  Standing and moving while holding heavy pottery (I did drop one painting, too), not so much. Thankfully these impediments have been temporary and, as always, I have done what I could.

dancer alt 320x480One of the major things accomplished was to work on this painting, after removing the thick layer of dust from the hardboard.

Only now it is frozen at that stage where it’s all boldness and unmixed color and the finesse has not quite made it to the canvas.  Experience has taught me that things get better, I have to let this layer of paint dry, start adding darker shadows and lighter highlights, I will need to change the background when I can do something more than make muddy browns.

Still, there was a reason that the painting stayed in the state it was in the picture to the left for three years.  That under-painting made me so happy.  Of course, the finished work could make me happier.  I will not know until I stand back and realize it has been completed.  At least this time, I can be relatively certain it won’t sit idle in my studio for years – the current ugliness of something I had loved is agitating me.  I’m beginning to feel the need to fix it build up within me.  Eventually, I will have to bolt off the couch, away from my website design or the book I am writing and pick up a brush or pallet knife.

Although, even if I continue to dislike the work, all is not lost.  I made sure to save several different versions of the under-painting onto my computer – now purely a digital piece – because I couldn’t forsake the smile it gave me.  I loved the simplicity, the balance between both the two colors and the light and shadow, the way she smiles as she prepares to jump into the air.

Every time I see it, I think of the night I saw that dancer command the entire floor.  At the time, I was a little more physically broken than I am right now, having a hard time walking or standing.  As a result, I could do nothing but witness the joy and ecstasy of movement flowing around me that night.  But even within my personal island of stillness, my body still trembled with delight at the music and I became overwhelmed with joy.  One dancer in particular moved with awesome grace and wholeness of being. I remember being awed at how at comfortable and vital she seemed to be within her body.  Over and over she leapt through the air, bending low each time before she would sail upward, a movement that for me would have been jerky and awkward but for her flowed within this wonderful poem of grace.  I watched her with enough intensity that the rest of the world ceased to exist.  However, I was able to fuse the image of her solidly enough in my mind that I could come back to the studio and start painting.  If I remember right, I was up until at least 3 am painting her as far as you see above.

Now, the challenge to make sure that the finished piece gives justice to the original inspiration.

Painting! Huzzah!

poetrytriptych1Yesterday, after dinner had been digested, I had washed off my make-up and changed into pajama bottoms, I put a whining dog in his jacket and on his leash and together we crept back out here to the studio.  While the dog slept, I painted.  The idea of a haiku being fused into a painting – using three panels to create one coherent whole of word and image – has been exciting my imagination.  I finished the painting I blogged about earlier (see left), then I started working on another even more shamelessly word-based poetry triptych.

In the meantime – and for no reason that I could fully define – I felt incredible waves of bravery that inspired me to finish the sea smoke on another painting and to pick up the image of a dancer dancer alt 320x480and start working on her again.  Before I knew it, yesterday had turned into today and I needed to wrap up the grumpy dog to make the trip back to the house in the wee hours of the morning.

Today, I started my “day off” by writing for a few hours this morning – poems that had been trapped within my skull too long, rattling around and demanding their freedom. Since it was freezing cold, I welcomed the extra time tucked in bed, warm under covers, just the tablet, the pen and my eyes exposed to the world. After lunch had been digested, I found myself dragging the bundled dog back to the studio again.  He snores from under a pile of blankets while I blog this blog and stare at the dancer painting still resting on the easel.

Of course, I have to throw. Bowls thrown yesterday need to be trimmed. 2014ashafenn0130I have 40 plates that need to be fired, and nothing to go with them for the thermocouple shelves (which, to use the space best, need to be reasonably tall pieces) and a gallery crying for large bowls.  This is a no-brainer.  Moreover, I have commissions to finish.

But, even with all that looming, I know that throwing a couple of bags of clay will take no more than two hours.

When I am done with the pottery-work, or before I get started with it, I think I will let myself get back to the glories of painting.



Usually, i don’t paint using models.  The faces i draw come from my imagination, configurations of features that don’t come from single individuals but rather from a vast amalgam of faces that i have seen throughout my life.

The primary reason for this has been the lack of models.  However, there is a certain freedom that i can take when i am not charged with representing another person in particular.  Features can warp and change to represent the feelings that i most want to represent.

sunlightAn example of this is the face to the left – i intended her to represent bliss. When i sat down to paint, i longed to express what i was feeling. If pressed, i can tell you who has a nose like hers, who might have those long lashes, a person or two with lips similar and at least one who bears a curve to the cheek that might echo the painting.  However, she has no name for me other than the embodiment of joy.

On the opposite extreme, i’ve painted sorrow more than a dozen times, each with a different face.  That depth of despair rainingcould not be attached to a specific person.  Nor could it hold the normal colors of flesh – any more than joy could have been done in any color other than sunshine.

Two lovely young women modeled for me while i was away and i am continuing to work on their portraits.  However, as i worked on capturing the specific geometry of their faces, i realized why i have so rarely used models more to fuel my artwork.  There is a level of constraint that comes from portraying someone you care about – someone who is sitting in front of you.  It’s the difference between writing free verse and a sonnet.  The sonnet might be lovely, and you might need to write one on a given day, but it is a very different animal than just writing what you need to without having to worry about rhyme and meter.

i am loving these two portraits, but i don’t think i will ever lose my passion for watching as the  features from my imagination coming into being through the application of paint onto canvas.

madonna and child

As i approach the holidays, i start preparing for my one ritual: painting or sculpting a Madonna and Child.  These are a few of the ones i have done so far.  madonna2011 madonna and child pregnant madonna front ngod nourishing god red madonna the kiss mombaby triptych_smi am fascinated by this embodiment of love, thinking about all the good and troubling things that go into love.

There is something primal about this image of Madonna and Child.   The same theme certainly presents itself in more religions than just Christianity. How we love tells the universe about who we are.

Each iteration of the Madonna and Child has had a slightly different tone.  Most embody some forms of joy, but others show the heavy weight of responsibility on her shoulders.

i have no idea where this year’s painting will take me, but i’m excited to find out.


the hows and whys

i have spent the past couple of days thinking about creativity – writing in particular – and how they work in my life.  Two people have asked, because i am doing a Kickstarter Campaign on poetry, if i am going to stop throwing pottery and sculpting and painting.  The question surprised me, because i have been doing all of these all along.  As they looked at me baffled, i realized that the writing had always been somewhat invisible.  i talked about it, but i they never really witnessed it. Writing is done in private, in quiet.  However, everyone can see a set of dishes.  My pottery being in galleries lends a certain amount of legitimacy to those efforts.  Paintings and prints sell, so that i can say, do you remember that landscape of Rockland Harbor? Or the painting of two people kissing so long they’ve turned into trees? Yeah? Gone!

Writing is different. Performing a piece once doesn’t mean that it’s finished in my mind.  As i compile poetry collections for e-readers or to read before an audience, they  transform under my editing hand.  And, no matter how focused i am on other things, words normally rattle around inside of me.  A few blogs ago, i talked about waking up with a novel in my mind. My daydreams often serve to keep a story fresh in my mind when i cannot be writing.  Nearly every morning, i make up rhymes to my cats and dog, to jump start that part of my brain.  (Some people use coffee.) More than once, i have written poems giving thanks for the verses that creep into my mind during the night and at the break of dawn.

With that said, i feel like i have done nothing this past week because i have not written in the ways that i had planned.  Of course, i have blogged.  i have edited my heart out for two poetry collections that are ready to be published.  However, i spent a lot of my writing time updating my website, setting up the Kickstarter campaign and just generally feeling awful as i’m changing my relationship with food. Today i ache because i want to be wrapped up in a blanket, with fuzzy socks on, staying in my pajamas, while i write about David talking to his daughter Shan, artist to artist, about why art can matter even in the perilous circumstances that surround them.  Likewise, i have a queue of poetry, probably about ten lines intended to start poems that i could not write down the moment i thought of them, competing with prose for my attention.  As much as i love pottery – and Lord knows i need to get back to it, since i’m so far behind i can’t even see where i should be – it hurts to have to wait until tonight, when the pots are glazed and the kiln started, to get to the nuts and bolts of writing.  i know there is always a risk that i will be too tired or in too much pain at the end of the day to do what i want to do right now.  But i must put on my big girl pants and prioritize even if the pants can chafe.

There are days and maybe even weeks when i have been so overloaded with other tasks that writing hibernates.

If i allow this to go on too long, i’ll start feeling odd.  My mind compulsively churns fiction.  Already, i’m back to the stage where it’s leaking out of me, without putting pen to paper, i’m still hashing out dialogue and plots, asking the dog and cats for their opinion.  The cat’s eyes twitch at the amount of rhymes sent in her general direction.

The written word keeps me sane.  It ensures that it gets time around all the other artistic work.  If i were slightly less ADD, i could probably sit and write 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, but i need movement in my creating too.  i can need art to be something physical, three dimensional, dripping in colors. i have no real fear of any side of my artistic endeavors disappearing – although i consistently find one has to take a priority over another (or my health over all of them) for short spurts.

Yesterday, i felt amazingly alone and forlorn.  In the midst of my self-pity, i realized that i live better without people than i do without writing.  Feeling friendless (i say feeling, because i know such things are an illusion of melancholy) can strike me as less scary than feeling like poetry has abandoned me.

i write in nearly every moment when i cannot throw or sculpt or paint – and when the creative spirit within me allows me to do nothing else.  i write because it makes me whole and sane and gives me the greatest joy i have known (even, or rather especially, when it’s been the hardest work).

And tonight, i will write as a reward for doing the heavy lifting of pottery.



bare angeli have been sculpting angels of late.  This whole effort started out as a potential commission, but once i realized i had a cognitive limit, i became determined to break through.  Each time i made an angel, i made it too detail oriented.  The client wanted fluid lines and nothing sharp but the wings.  The picture to the left was mentioned as a possible template for an angel along with things he sent.

Only abstraction in clay turned out to be quite difficult for me.  When painting, i am at ease with abstraction. i don’t have to have a face or features or anything more than the suggestion of something.  Color and brushstroke become paramount. However, in clay i craved definition.  i have done three sculptures so far, each progressively more abstract, and none of them quite meet the image i have in my mind.

i make it sound hard but, truthfully, this is so much fun for me, it’s almost indecent.  i adore experimenting and exploring new forms.  Trying to figure out the best way to create a new product line has always been one of my favorite things – time management, streamlined production, art version. i derive a deeply nerdy joy from it.  Now i’m imagining tree toppers and wall hangings and Christmas ornaments and other lovely things.

Which is why i had to force myself to sit here and blog. My fingers itch for clay. Those first three sculptures are ready to glaze.  There are more waiting to come through my hands.  My brain is full of impatient angels.