Saturday, May 3, 2014

back to it


There was a time not so long ago when I made my living through pottery. I loved it. My mornings were spent walking to my studio, which was in a building full of artists and art enthusiasts, not to mention lots of potters. I could structure my life how I wanted. If I wanted to sleep in, I slept in and worked late. If I wanted to write in the mornings or afternoons, I could. I was my own boss. And I loved it.

I made most of my income from doing shows: art shows, indie craft shows, music festivals. This meant a lot of long days (and long weekends) not to mention driving vast distances to get to those long weekends. I loved it... for a little while. And then I started to get burned out. I was doing a lot of shows and the thing about shows is that they're often a bit of a gamble - especially one you've never exhibited in before. Will it be worth it? It's a question that constantly goes through your head. Sometimes it is worth it. Sometimes it isn't. And while I loved this part of my job - the uncertainty, the vast distances and new places, the mad rush to get everything ready - it ended up burning me out.

In the end, though, it wasn't actually the shows that made me stop and take a break. It was the work I was doing. I made the same things over and over again - because people loved and wanted them. Because they were dependable. But after three years of mass-producing (by hand) the same designs, I was sick of them. And there was a nasty little voice in my head that said this was all I could do, these trivial little things, over and over again. I wasn't a real artist. I was just pretending to be.

Looking back now, I think part of the problem was that I was writing a ton, which meant that all my creativity and drive went into my writing while my ceramic work took a back seat. Ceramics was my living, my job. I forgot that it was also my art practice. It was something that had once been life-giving. So I leaned on my tried-and-true designs and saved all my creative energy and drive for my stories. And the part of me that loved pottery shrivelled up and died.

So I stopped making things out of clay. I didn't go near my wheel or my kiln for a year and a half. And then last fall, I started to get this itch. My hands were hungry. Writing is my truest love, that's for sure. But my hands have always needed to make things. And my hands were craving clay.

So, slowly, this past winter, I've been easing myself back into it. At first, I didn't let myself make any of the old things. Only new things. I let myself doodle new designs in my sketchbook, and then I took those designs and transferred them to clay. It's been strange, becoming reacquainted while in the midst of baking, bookselling and writing. The thing that once took up all my time I now have to make time for in the midst of early morning baking shifts, bookstore shifts and novel revisions - and I actually think that's really good for it. It forces me to honour it, to choose it. And art always gives back to you what you commit.

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