Shards and Santos, Clay and Collage

Happiness is teaching in Taos!

A week from tomorrow, I’ll be at the Taos Ceramics Center working with students in my Shards and Santos Workshop. The class takes place on two consecutive Saturdays – here’s a description.

In this workshop, we will create personal assemblages inspired by these iconic figures of Santos. In the first class, we will construct handmade textured slab-based clay components such as heads, bodies, and enhancements. We will also learn to make hand-crafted clay press molds. These components will be fired once.

Here are some examples of assorted assemblage components that I’m taking with me – honestly, working in assemblage is just like working in collage, only a bit more dimensional:

Continuing the workshop description —

The next week, we will build our figure, incorporating found objects such as bones and shells and bleached twigs into the final assemblage and perhaps include cherished objects and hidden words. We will explore the limitless possibilities of cold finishes, such as metallics and beeswax, to enhance the surfaces of the unglazed earthenware.

These santos, below, are in progress, and I’ll use them to show how the components are put together.

Since we will not be glazing and re-firing the shard components, I’ve been experimenting with cold finishes for fired clay for the last couple of weeks.

One of the most successful combinations I’ve discovered is Pearl Ex powder by Jacquard mixed with Gamblin Cold Wax Medium.  You can control the translucency and the color saturation, then buff the wax finish. It’s exciting to see how well it works on bisqueware.

 

Another technique I’m playing with is tube acrylic paint mixed with a bit of cornstarch to dull the finish.

In the sample below, the acrylic mixture mimics the look of Gilder’s Paste at about half the cost and with less potential toxicity.

This kind of experimentation is part of the fun of planning a workshop. And then I get to share with new people!

I’m grateful to the Taos Ceramics Center for inviting me – and at this writing, there’s just one spot left, so if you need a quick get-away, come on up to the mountains of New Mexico!

 

Wendy’s Nature Spirits

A weather note : I started this post on Monday morning. The post (and normal life) has been interrupted by two days of power outages and snow here in South Texas, and there may be more to come! Yikes!

So, before the power goes out again, I want to warm your heart (and mine) by telling you about Wendy Larsen of Nevada.

Normally, I’m shy about writing my buyers to ask how they are using the faces the purchase from my Etsy shop, Earthshards, but Wendy had ordered quite a few of the Celtic Forge faces and I was curious. I emailed her, and she graciously told me about her Nature Spirits.

Celtic Forge faces from my Etsy Shop, Earthshards

Wendy wrote:

“I use all natural materials, and your faces are beautiful addition to my art. I was going to create my own Etsy shop one but the works weigh a lot as I use petrified wood and agate rose quartz . So that makes them quite heavy to ship, but I do have some in a crystal shop in Lehi Utah that carries my art, and I’ve done quite well there over the past few months. I’m currently doing a few commissioned pieces.

It started when I was at a cactus nursery and saw some Choya wood and decided to use it to create a beautiful piece of art. Little did I know they would be such a success! They are inspired by nature. Everything used on them is natural except for what I used to keep them in place. They they all have an energy that lives within each piece. I use a lot of raw crystals, pine cones, living moss, and natural stones as well as the Choya wood and your beautiful clay faces. I’m typically inspired to do a piece by what the face tells me.

Here is a picture of the first piece I ever did — and it’s history from there – LOL.”

Wendy’s Nature Spirits are packed with intricate detail and precious objects – tiny silver lizards, clusters of crystal. Here are some others. You can see the care and love that she adds to each one.

Thanks so much, Wendy, for sharing your wonderful Nature Spirits with us!

Before I close (and before the power goes off again!), I want to remind you that the Early Bird pricing for Painting with Fire is still open if you want to explore a year of Encaustic techniques and processes by 26 teachers (including me!) for less than $10 a workshop — pretty cool. Or hot.

Click here to visit Essence of Mulranny .

Please stay safe and warm – and take good care,

Lyn

Barbie and The Spirit Women

Spirit Woman, Barbie Koncher

I get to meet the most amazing artists through my Etsy shop. In the last post, you read about Brita, and now – meet Barbie!

Barbie Koncher lives in Hawaii and uses banana fiber as an element in creating her Spirit Women. Indigenous materials add authentic magic to her creations. She sent me some photos of her work along with some great notes:

Hi Lyn,

I’m happy to share my techniques. I have always shared ideas with fellow artists. Inspiration and sharing is critical to artists. I am working on shaping some banana fiber for a Spirit Doll who will inhabit it. I am using this instead of a stick body, using your techniques in my own way. This banana fiber has been soaked overnight then cut to size and scrubbed clean. You can only cut and shape when wet. Then I’ll wax with encaustic before I begin to build my doll, Shaman or Spirit woman. You have shown me an entirely new path!

There’s a lot more to know about this remarkable woman:

I have been creating jewelry for 35+ years and am best known for my large bead creations and fused glass jewelry (20 years). I designed for Saks Fifth Avenue, numerous cruise ships (traveled with them as a guest artist), and my glass was sold at the Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.

But wait, there’s even more!

I also had a 25 year career with the Department of Defense and capped that career working at the Pentagon and State Department.

I am a certified Art Clay instructor and am toying with the idea of making faces with bronze Art Clay, if I can keep it light enough. I also torch fire enamel on steel beads or copper screen. I am retired in Hawaii and 75 years old but I can’t stop creating. I am an active member of the Kona Palisades Artists and the Las Vegas Artisans Guild.

I just made some lovely cheese cloth painted fabric! I’m having so much fun with the Spirit Woman series.

In this last photo, Barbie accents the Spirit Woman with a cracked glass Christmas ornament and some sea glass. There’s something mythical about it all.

I love Barbie’s work. Many thank to her for permission to use her photos and her thoughts. If you’d like to get in touch with Barbie, you can email her here: koncher@msn.com

It’s such a pleasure to see how the Earthshard faces travel around and inspire so many fantastic artisans. So, now I have the words to “It’s a Small World After All” running through my head!

Happy Holidays – and dare it say it? Happy New Year – yay!!!!

The Blanket People

Yesterday I took six orders for earthenware faces from my Etsy shop to the Post Office. They were going out to six different states – Washington, Kansas, Maryland, Illinois, New York, and Texas. As always, I wondered how the faces would be used and whether they would inspire the people who ordered them.

Every so often, I get an answer to that question from someone whose work really lifts my spirit. I wanted to share this one with you.

Brita Rekve

Hi Lyn,

I’ve been thinking about you and how your faces have prompted an whole new direction for me in my work. I have enjoyed the ride and hope it continues. It seems I started with stick figures that came with stories then there was a slight morphing into heads on a stick, very nature based and now I’m creating what I refer to as blanket people…I am so in the groove when this is happening it’s a holy experience. ~~ Brita

Brita sent some pictures with her note, pictures showing wonderful textures and colors:

Brita Rekve

Brita Rekve

I asked her if she would send the Blanket People story that accompanies her soft-sculpture. Here it is:

Blanket People
She lived with sheep and would sit for hours in the field watching them. Named them after cowboys and mountain men. Doc and Wyatt, two of her favorites came to her for chin rubs and endearments and she marveled at the way the sunlight caught in their eyes and offered a glimpse of something ancient. She wove blankets from their fleece. It was such a comfort to bring the blanket to her nose and breath in the spun sunshine and sweet grass, feel the softness of the wool, the gentleness of the animal. Wrapping herself up she felt safe and protected as if all her grandmothers had circled round. She yearned to give this very same feeling to anyone with a sad and weary heart or the suffering of broken dreams. A wrap in the offering of the animals, a circle of grandmother arms, the  comfort and peace of safety and love.
The Blanket People story makes me feel all warm and comforted, even more so when she added:
There is a backstory I will share with you. Prior to the plague I was teaching process painting in my studio.  That’s what the studio was set up for. When we needed to shut down in the spring I started playing with sticks and fiber. It was around the time of a granddaughters high school graduation and I thought I’d make her a Spirit doll to hang on her wall. One thing led to another. Someone told me about your faces. My studio is a birthing room. I’m blissed out on the people who come to me, some with stories, some without. They come alive and I feel them…  This is a spiritual walk.
PS – Doc and Wyatt moved on to the great pasture in the sky. I’ll always miss them.
Brita is from Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and if you’d like to know more about her Blanket People you can contact at Facebook her under her own name, Brita Rekve, or email her at  fourwingsstudio@gmail.com.
There are some amazing connections going on – right after Brita wrote, I heard from another artist, Barbie Koncher, who lives in Hawaii and does beautiful work using non-traditional methods and indigenous materials. I’ll write about Barbie next.
Stay warm, stay connected, and take good care.
♥Lyn

Imaginary friends, bossy inspirations

Human faces and figures, ancient or contemporary, fascinate me as summaries of life stories in the moment. The longer I work as an artist, the more focused my work seems to be on interpretations of those themes.

Clay, paper, beeswax, and fiber are my instinctive, beloved media, all of which lend themselves to representations of faces and figures as small sculptures, spirit dolls, and earthenware faces.

Below are two of the latest little figures (sticks, clay, found objects) which I just dropped off at Marta Stafford’s gallery in Marble Falls. They are called “StarSeason” (top) and “Pastime” (bottom)

Creating an assembled piece related to human form is different from creating an abstract painting – there’s still a lot of intuition, technique, and trust involved, but these small sculptures seem to function as creative “guides.”

It’s easier to tell what element a figurative assemblage “wants” than it is to tell what color a painting “wants,” at least to me. Yeah, I know, it sounds weird.

I discovered this when I started teaching Spirit Doll workshops a decade or so ago, and then re-learned it in the latest Spirit Doll workshop, now up on Teachable.

If you look at the second lesson in the Spirit Doll workshop (which is a free preview) you’ll see how a bunch of stick almost pull themselves together to become something with strong opinions and a personality! It’s really fun to be involved in that process.

I remember when I was putting this piece (below) together a couple of months ago (it’s kind of a cross between mixed-media sculpture and Spirit Doll), I felt strongly guided on what to do next. For example – when it came time to represent the hair, she wanted horsehair.

I didn’t even know I had any horsehair, but then I remembered that a friend had brought me some a long time ago at my old studio. I finally found a hank of pale, coarse horsehair in a buried Ziploc, and used it. The sculpture/spirit doll was right! Nothing else would have worked!

Then there’s Mojo Woman, who wanted everything but the kitchen sink – I listened to her, too – not sure about this one 🙂 See how smug she looks with all that stuff?

Anyway, join the new Spirit Doll workshop if you need a new imaginary best friend who can be a bit bossy. But if you don’t like having somebody telling you what to do, you may regret it!

Take good care,

Lyn

 

Workshop Update – Meow

THE MYSTICAL CAT SHAMAN IS BACK!

The Mystical Cat Shaman Workshop was first offered in 2016 as part of the Artful Gathering summer class program. When the Artful Gathering group scattered, I decided to bring this popular class back to a new audience.

The NEW Cat Shaman workshop will be available until August 1, 2020 for $39 tuition, which is about half of its previous cost. In this new version, I have updated the handouts and added to them. The videos, for the most part, are the original ones, almost three hours of detailed instruction.

You can read more about it on my website. There is a free lesson from the workshop available that might help you decide if you want to create some feline magic. Ask your cat if she wants to help. Yeah, right 🙂

Click here for the CAT SHAMAN WORKSHOP info.

And there are new Cat Face Shards in my Etsy Shop!

If you decide to take the workshop, I will show you how to make your own cat faces, step-by-step, using about four or five different techniques. That’s always the best way to do it, learning for yourself.

But if you want to purchase some Cat Shaman from my Etsy shop, great!

I’ve added some new cat faces using the mold I made in the the original workshop. They are kiln-fired earthenware and they come in three finishes. They’re $9 each and there is a limit of 2 (I have only 30 right now).

You may find that they are sold out when you go to the Etsy shop. I sent an advance notice to my private email list last night, and the cats are going like hotcakes. 🙂

However, I’m making more earthenware cat faces today and they should be fired and  ready to go by Saturday. I’ll re-list them ASAP. (And if you’d like to be on my email list for previews and updates, you’re welcome to sign up).

Last note – I’m finally internalizing the reality of these times. Sigh. It’s going to be a long summer and fall without in-person interaction.

As a social creature and an artist who cherishes the company of my circle of friends and co-creators, I miss the times we could really look at each other’s work, touch the textures, laugh and hug in person.

But if there was ever a time to count our blessings, this is it. Be safe, trust yourself and trust the process, and take good care!

Creative collaborations

Earlier this month I got several emails from mixed-medial artist and tarot maker Dawn Zichko, whose work I’ve known and liked for quite some time. I wrote another SHARDS post about her about five years ago.

Dawn has a great blog called Mental Mohair which often features a daily card from her Everyday Tarot deck, which you can find in her Etsy Shop.

Four cards from Dawn Zichko’s Everyday Tarot deck

In her first email, Dawn sent a photo with a short note that said,

“Lyn, I thought you might enjoy seeing progress on a collaborative piece.”

Here was the photo (below) – very intriguing – and some of my faces were part of the collaborative design. I asked her if I could share the photo, and she requested that I wait until they had worked a bit more on it.

I’m including that unfinished version so you can see the structure of the body.

The following week she sent photos of the completed collaborative piece along with this description of the process:

Lyn, we created the Earth Protectress in ritual space. In brainstorming at earlier gatherings, the creation of a goddess was included in the list. So we all thought of creating her. In the sacred space we chose the parts we wanted to work on by chakra.

Essie (not her real name as she would like to remain anonymous) created the head/Third Eye/Crown, Patricia created the torso/Heart/Solar Plexus, and I created the base/Root and neck/Throat (this is the part that needed reconstruction — oh, the analogies!).”

The other women let me take her home and run with the additions. The clay faces, hair, pouch, and skirt were all done by me, but the additions were discussed with Essie and Patricia before working on them. I am blessed they trusted my creative ramblings. It was truly a touching experience to create this being in togetherness and sacred space.”

I think it’s just glorious – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and yet each part is amazing.

Artist collaborations can be tricky – sometimes it’s obvious which person did what part, but in this case, there is a seamless sense of sacred purpose. Thanks, Dawn, for sharing this work!
_________________________________________________________________________

Have you ever gotten involved with a collaborative project? How’d it work for you?

I have to admit, it’s something I’ve rarely tried, certainly not recently. But a lot of my artist friends, particularly fiber artists, love the collaborative process.

Surprisingly, there’s not a whole lot written about collaborative visual artwork, but I did find this thoughtful post called Cloth, Creativity & Collaborating with fiber artists Cas Holmes and Anne Kelly.

And I also found an engaging article about a mother’s painting with her five-year-old daughter called Making a Masterpiece Together.  Here were their guidelines:

1. We would each add one color to the canvas everyday.

2. We would do our painting while the other one was out of the room, so they would be surprised.

3. We would try not to paint completely over the other persons art work.

Those are great rules! They would work for any kind of collaboration, whether the artwork is done for a sacred and serious purpose like Dawn’s was with her friends, or with an informal group and just for fun.

The trick is always going to be keeping an open mind. No fair thinking “You messed up the part I did!”  Instead, you gotta think “Look how you enhanced my work.” Right??

Photo by Ella Jardim on Unsplash

 

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!