Convoluted combinations and creative decision-making

Have you ever gotten part-way with a piece, loved it so far, but were afraid to continue for fear of messing it up? Every artist has probably been there. I sure was this week when I worked on this earthenware “shard woman.”

Here she is before being fired – “leather-hard” clay:

After I fired her, I decided that a patina finish would look good, particularly since she has a fish design that seemed rather ancient Asian-y. I added coral and trade beads and sinew.

So far, so good. I loved the coral beads and the way the finish look both like earthenware and old metal. Then I got stuck. The proportions seemed off. Should she go on a piece of wood? Get sewn to a canvas? I tried those and they weren’t right. Argh!!

So I went to a file of photos that I keep on my desktop called “Do This Now.” It’s not a real to-do list, but rather a collection of art I like that help to un-stick me because of the way the artist solved problems in painting, construction, whatever. Here’s what part of that file looks like – no rhyme or reason to the names or selections.

I got a new idea from two of the images, one of an anonymous talisman and one by Shannon Weber:

Shannon Weber: Burnt Offerings (one of my favorite art pieces ever)

They somehow worked together to help me figure out what to do with my own earthenware piece. When this kind of process happens, you don’t copy ideas, you sort of synthesize them into your own solution.

So this is how the piece turned out. It’s finished now (I think!), and it has some nice inspiration found in both the anonymous talisman piece and Shannon’s assemblage. Can you see the influence?  But it’s still my very own creation.

Lyn Belisle
Woman Shard: Patina
2018

In his book, Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon writes, “Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.”

I would agree, and would encourage anyone to start a random collection of photos of work that is NOT categorized (because labels just limit you). Save a photo because you like it, and because you never know when you might need someone else’s nudge to help you get unstuck.

Inside an Etsy shop

No matter what else is going on in my life, my Etsy shop is open for business and humming along in the background, taking online orders from people all over the world. I opened Earthshards in 2012. Actually, it was the my second shop – anybody remember those kindle covers that I used to make? Boy, were those suckers labor-intensive.

There’s always stock on hand for the Earthshards shop, small earthenware faces that I make in the evenings when I’m not busy. I usually make about 80 each time, which takes two hours or so. They take a day to dry. After they are fired, they are sorted by clay type.

White and terra cotta unfinished clay faces

When I get an order, I select the faces according to the quantity and finish requested. Buyers can order three different finishes, Rune and Relic (walnut ink), Celtic Forge (metallic layers), or Mesa Verde (faux turquoise). I can’t do the finishes in advance because I never know who will want what, so they are finished at the time the orders are received.

From top left clockwise: Celtic Forge, Mesa Verde, and Rune and Relic finishes

Yesterday’s orders set a record – ten! Three were from other countries – Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia.

Etsy orders printed and in progress

After the orders are sorted and laid out, each face is finished with walnut ink, wiped with a studio cloth, and signed on the back.

Then other finishes are applied.Here are some faces getting the Celtic Forge treatment. This takes about four separate layers of various metallics.

The Mesa Verde finish is done with hand-applied acrylics. It’s much like the faux-turquoise finish I wrote about in a recent post.

Once all of the faces are completed, each one is individually wrapped in bubble wrap.

The orders are then wrapped in tissue with ribbon with a packing slip, a skeleton leaf for decoration, one of my business cards, and, of course, a thank-you note..

The wrapped package goes into a padded envelope and weighed for postage. Most postage is $3-$4, but it cost about $24 to send that little package to the Netherlands!

Etsy makes it easy to calculate postage and print labels. You can print them out on your own printer and stick them on. I use spray adhesive. Here are the packages waiting for their labels – then off they will go to the Post Office this morning!

It’s fun to have an Etsy shop. The best part is knowing that your work is going out all over the world to inspire other artists. The extra income is nice, too, but rarely do you get rich with your shop! And it’s definitely a bit of work, as you can see, but you can usually pace yourself.

If you’re thinking about opening your own Etsy shop, here’s a good article on what sells best on Etsy – the trick is to have a niche, I think.

And here’s an example of a creative idea that makes a ton of money on Etsy:

Confetti Momma is a popular party supply shop with more than 75,000 sales, thanks to vibrant colors, unicorn cake toppers, and endless boutique confetti. Confetti Momma found an engaged demographic on Etsy by offering trendy, handmade party supplies at an affordable price.

“My advice is to just get started,” Orillion said. “Let your customers tell you what they like or don’t like and then adjust. Today’s social selling platforms, such as Etsy, make it easy for your products to go viral, especially if you focus on delivering great customer service and a quality product.”

So there you have it – what goes on inside an Etsy shop! If you need advice, just send me an email. And if you know how to take digital photos of your work, you can be in business!

 

Another road trip – Hill Country spirit dolls with orchid-cousin hair

The Hill country Arts Foundation in Ingram, Texas is a magical place. Located at the  crossroads where Johnson Creek merges with the Guadalupe River, it’s a venue for the education of the arts, visual art exhibitions and  theatrical performances.

On Saturday, I went to HCAF to teach a Spirit Doll workshop. My friend Lynn Luukinen who lives in nearby Kerrville, helped me set up by gathering sticks and twigs from the riverbank – and also ball moss (which almost became the star of the show).

Choosing and assembling spirit doll body parts 🙂

Ball moss has a bad rep, but in fact, it’s not a parasite. It’s an an epiphyte (non-parasitic plant living on other plants) and is a cousin to bromeliads and orchids.

A spirit doll in her underwear with a ball moss hairdo

Besides using the native branches and moss, participating artists brought their own stash of great materials to add to their mystical spirit dolls, and they wrote a purposeful intention to wrap inside each one.

Here are some of our spirit dolls – we had a whole day to play and create at HCAF!

Some people call ball moss, which is rampant everywhere in South Texas, a &%$$%##!! nuisance and pay a fortune to get rid of it. We call it “Spirit Doll Hair” 🙂

If you want to create your own Hill Country spirit doll, here’s a link to the materials list we used. Don’t forget the ball moss!

One-of-a kind personal cat shaman

I just finished one of my favorite projects ever – a custom Cat Shaman for a delightful person in Spicewood, Texas. She had seen the piece, above, at Marta Stafford’s Gallery. It was already sold, so she asked if I could make one for her with her own mementos. Of course! What fun!

She mailed me a box of little treasures along with handwritten notes about what each one meant to her. There were scraps of linen and suede, pins and teeth, elephants and medals.

Putting all of these precious things together in a meaningful way was a bit overwhelming, so I started at the beginning by choosing the proper earthenware cat head.

This guy looked pretty wise. I figured he could give me advice as I went along. “Trust the Process,” he said.

It was kind of amazing how things started fitting together inside the little “heart box.”

When you work with other people’s sacred objects, it can be a bit intimidating, but it’s also a privilege – I enjoyed the stories about each piece as I progressed with the assemblage. There are a lot of memories and symbols packed inside this little box!

I kept adding and subtracting and rearranging, and through trial and error, the Cat Shaman guided me through.

He’s going into his packing box today for his drive to Marta’s Marble Falls gallery – Diana, I hope you love him as much as I loved creating him! Thank you – what an honor!

Cat Shaman for Diana, Lyn Belisle 2017

Thoughts on a studio anniversary.

A year ago – almost to the day – I said goodbye to my studio in Carousel Court. It was a hard goodbye. The space had been a gathering place for workshops, art shows, Show-and-Tell Saturdays, poetry readings – many things to remember and cherish. I truly miss that place, but it had become a huge responsibility, too big (and expensive) for one person to keep up forever.

Here’s a look at one of the early workshops there with beloved guest artist Sherrill Kahn. It was so much fun!

A month after I closed the doors forever, I found a smaller place just down the street from my new house. It has four rooms, lots of storage space, and reasonable rent.

Some of you have been there – thanks! Because of downsizing, and new responsibilities at the Art League, my workshop schedule had to be adjusted downward. Arg!

But ironically, on this anniversary weekend, I had two workshops at the new little studio, both of which were delightful (and neither of which was on my website calendar).

The first one on Friday the 13th was organized by six friends who wanted to learn some encaustic basics. They contacted me, and we scheduled it at their convenience.  We did a variation of the “Behind the Veil” vintage photocollage workshop. We worked with layered beeswax, oil paint, book foil, walnut ink – all the fun media that gets good results. Here’s a video of that “workshop-by-request” gathering:

Lyn Belisle Workshop: Encaustic Collage by request from Lyn Belisle on Vimeo.

The second workshop on Sunday was my old favorite, Creating Spirit Dolls. I have a group of friends who went with me three years ago to Whidbey Island when I taught with Joanna Powell Colbert. They had been wanting to learn to make spirit dolls, and so we did it! Here’s that video – it’s so interesting to see how different everyone’s turned out.

Making Spirit Dolls at Lyn Belisle’s studio in San Antonio from Lyn Belisle on Vimeo.

I love teaching workshops! And as I look back on this year, I’m feeling the loss of those gatherings at the old studio. In the new place, we are limited to six people in a workshop, but that’s actually a good number. If you have a group of four to six people who’d like to learn mixed-media together, let’s talk. Workshop-by-request is a great concept.

I’m also going to expand online workshop offerings through some new ebooks with videos, starting with the popular “Postcards to Myself”. I got the nicest letter from an Etsy buyer yesterday, which gave me some encouragement:

“Dear Lyn,
Please continue making the e-books for people like me who live in another state and want to learn and experiment…am so excited…youre such an inspiration…thanks for sharing…and with your open heart all that you share and give will come back 10 fold to fill your heart and spirit as you have done for myself and others.”
  Jacque in Washington State.
Finally, I have high hopes for the studio space at the Art League on King William Street. With good luck and some anticipated financial support, that studio may become the kind of gathering place that the old Carousel Court studio was. We’re having a workshop there on the 29th, and there are still two spaces left. Join us and give us your ideas and feedback

Workshop at the Art League Studio on King William Street

Looking back, it’s been a crazy, exciting, challenging year and one that has confirmed how much I love teaching and learning with all of you, no matter when, where or what! I hope to see you soon. Thanks for your support and friendship 🙂

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not fighting the old, but on building the new.”

― Socrates

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Critters for Marta

Marta Stafford

One of the nicest surprises of the summer came from the amazing Marta Stafford, who invited me to be a part of her hugely popular gallery, Marta Stafford Fine Art, in Marble Falls.

This is a dream come true – I loved Marta’s gallery from the first moment I saw it six or seven years ago.She has the absolute best in mixed media, sculpture, contemporary and traditional painting, and more. Marta will represent me and my work (woohoo), and I’ll be featured in the exhibit that opens Friday, October 6th.

I need to create some nifty new work for this show, especially imaginative assemblages, so I started digging around for earthenware body parts! Heh, heh.

It’s so much fun putting my clay shards together with found objects and watching new critters emerge. Here’s the progress so far – some are not finished, as you can see – perhaps you can see where they are going? One never knows, do one?

This is a details of a piece I really like

There is actually another face underneath the one you see. Her arm moves in a sweet, spooky way – she’s about 12″ tall.

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The one below is just started, but I like the simple elegance so far.

When finished, this piece will be about 18-20″ tall

Shades of spirit dolls! This construction, below, has some hand-dyed and rusted mulberry paper.

And while I was looking for clay body parts, I found this cat head! It’s now a new Cat Shaman.

Finally, here’s one I started a couple of weeks ago and it’s finally starting to come together. It looks like some sort of ancient goddess staff.

So far, every piece is different from every other one interesting.

I plan to have a number of these assemblages as well as some paintings and collages for Marta’s opening on Friday, October 6th at the Marta Stafford Fine Arts in Marble Falls.

Thanks, Marta, for the invitation – prepare for a critter invasion! ♥

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September Spirit Dolls

Lyn's workshop demo spirit doll

Lyn’s workshop demo spirit doll, “Leafwing”

There’s something about a Spirit Doll workshop that gives me goosebumps. I think it’s because in just three hours, a group of willing people trust their creative instincts to combine some sticks and clay and cloth and build the most amazing mysterious little beings. It’s really magical!

21

You’ve seen my Spirit Doll workshop videos before, and every group is special – this one was particularly memorable. It may have been because of the mix of people, several of whom had come from far away and had never been to the Studio before. There was a lot of welcoming and bonding before the three hours was over.

So this time, I have two videos to share with you. The first one shows the magic of the group pulling together their Spirit Dolls one by one.

And the second one is for YOU. It shows you step-by-step photos of how I made the prototype for yesterday’s workshop just in case you get inspired and want to try this for yourself. I hope you enjoy them both.

Ready to make your own? Here are the basics (especially if you’re a visual learner)!

Finally, if you want all of the Spirit Doll tips and techniques and variations that I have ever tried, I have a DVD called The Magic of Spirit Dolls from my two-hour Artful Gathering class. Just sayin’ – if you missed the workshop, you can capture the “spirit” of it on video! Just click on the image for the link. End of commercial break – have a happy Labor Day!

 

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EARTHWORKS: September 9-10

She Cat – created by Linda Rael, owned and cherished by Lyn Belisle

I know of no other artist whose works resonate in my heart as much as those of dear friend Linda Rael. Everything she creates makes me think, “Dang, I wish I had done that.” She incorporates animal bones and porcupine quills and rust and earth and tattered linen and other stuff that myths and magic are made of. I purely love her art!

Linda Rael 2016

Linda Rael – Fiber, Rust, Found Objects –  2016

It’s been a dream of mine for several years to collaborate with Linda on a show, and recently, over a long lunch, we decided to go for it! We are calling this show “Earthworks” – it reflects a direction that we’ve both been exploring, going to ground, leaving behind bright color and adding elements one might find along a stream bed or sacred path.

earthworks copy

The works will be on exhibit at my Studio for just two days during the second weekend of September. 

Many of Linda’s new pieces are fiber-based and hand-rusted with the natural patterns adorned and enhanced with hand stitching. My own pieces will be mostly sculptural, much like my neo-santo series, but less refined, more weathered.

Want to see a few sneak preview photos? Please take a look, then mark your calendar now because the availability of these works is limited to September 9-10 only.  You won’t want to miss this event – it’s always fun to visit the Studio, and I am thrilled that Linda is joining me in this amazing two-day exhibit called Earthworks.

Linda Rael 2016

Linda Rael 2016

Linda Rael 2016

Linda Rael 2016

Linda Rael 2016

Linda Rael 2016

Lyn Belisle 2016

Lyn Belisle 2016

Lyn Belisle 2016

Lyn Belisle 2016

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Face it – this clay don’t need no kiln

faces

One thing is for sure – the number of faces that came into the workshops on Sunday and Monday were a lot fewer than the number of faces that went out. The energetic and enthusiastic workshoppers must have created hundreds of little air-dry clay people – and not just human faces – there were 3-D molds, insects, cats, and one persona that looked like creepy Chucky (that one became our mascot).

chuckie

The object was to explore ways to use no-fire clay – to make original and iconic clay face shards and other dimensional components without the need of firing in a kiln.

We concentrated on four areas:

  1. How to make reverse press molds with both two-part silicone and with air dry clay
  2. How to use the molds with various kinds of air-dry clay to make a dimensional object
  3. How to finish the surface of the dried clay faces with walnut ink and metallics
  4. How to use those finished components in mixed media projects

The key to success is to embrace the imperfections inherent in the air-dry clay – those cracks and irregularities give the pieces the illusion of heritage and a wabi-sabi touch of imperfect beauty. You can see what I mean from our video – every picture tells a story, every little face has a secret history – hopefully not Chucky’s:

 

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Cat Shamans, a serendipitous surprise kitten and a Friday Freebie

catshaman

Meow —  and Happy Friday. Yesterday was all about cats.

I’m teaching a class called The Mystical Cat Shaman at Artful Gathering this summer, and a group of local friends wanted to try it out. So we scheduled a custom weekday workshop held yesterday (you can do this too, by the way) and created a litter of Mystical Cat Shamans at the Studio!

The “serendipitous surprise” came as we were just starting. Roxanne was late, and she called in with a voice message, “Can you hear in the background why I’m not there yet?”  We all heard kitten mews on the speaker – adorable!

She brought the newly-rescued three-week-old kitten to the workshop and we took turns holding it while we worked. Roxanne is a consummate animal rescuer – she even had some kitten milk replacement formula with her. The little guy was pretty hungry.

Of course, the kitten found a home before the workshop was over. Whether it was the kitten surprise or the group energy, the Cat Shaman creations were amazing – each one different, each one magically personal. Take a look.

So if all of this inspires you, be sure that you are subscribed to SHARDS by midnight on Sunday. One name will be drawn to win the Friday Freebie – a Shaman Cat Starter Kit complete with Heart Box body and kiln-fired earthenware head, ready to finish. Even “dog people” are eligible, so feel free to share this post. Hmmm – are Dog Shamans in my future?

kitphoto