Carving Out More Time for Art

It’s been a while since I wrote a post. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, and in a funk. I’d spiraled down to that place where I walk around in my slippers muttering (or hollering), “Why do I DO THIS? Why do I bother with ANY of this?!”

This = write books, paint birds, make art.

We have those days, we creative people. I know I’m not alone in this. But it still sucks. Sometimes it feels like you’re just shouting into a void, posting photos on social media and checking to see if anyone saw them; checking traffic in your Etsy shop to see if anyone is looking; following your Amazon author page to see if anyone else has discovered your book and (GASP) perhaps written a nice review to give you a nice, “Atta girl.”

But there are lots of days where it feels like shouting into a void. And if you’re an introvert like me, doing things like “being active on social media” is pretty dang hard—or at least, it’s hard to do it in an authentic way that is more fun than walking over hot coals.

So here’s what I decided: I needed a new creative outlet, and I needed to make more things. I needed to get my hands dirty. I was frustrated with painting, and I was damned tired of staring at a computer screen. (Spoiler alert: I write novels in my “free time.” My day job, graphic design, consists of me staring at a computer screen all day. I started having headaches recently, and felt like my eyes were going to actually fall out of their sockets. When I took some time to think about how many hours a week I was staring into a computer screen, I kinda had a fit.

Ergo, the tantrum in the fuzzy slippers.

SO. I decided to sign up for a pottery class down the road at our community college. Y’all, I hadn’t made a piece of pottery in somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 years. I pretty much sucked at it back in the day, but it was fun. And since then, I’ve seen some other artists making some awfully cool things (just check out #ceramicartists on Instagram, and you’ll see) and I found myself thinking, “Hey, I could do something like that. Maybe.”

So I did it. I signed up for a pottery class. And I tried to throw on the wheel again, and it was an absolute fail. I made awful pots. (And ok, “pots” is being generous.) I smushed them and made some other things instead, like birds that started out looking like sweet potatoes.

Then I took another class, with a teacher who was really great. He’s like this blend of Yoda and Bob Ross and Dorothy Parker. I made some crappy stuff, but it it felt great to be building something with my hands, even if no one outside that classroom would ever see it.

And then something cool happened. I took the things I loved about carving woodblocks, and took my sometimes snarky sense of humor, and just started making some things that made me laugh. Like these bonzai/succulent pots:

And since the wheel is not my friend, I kept hand-building things, including a couple of cups. (There’s this shape I really like, but these aren’t quite it. I bought a cup when I was in the Outer Banks that the potter said was the same shape as the cups that were on Blackeard’s ship. Obviously this cup was decorated with Blackbeard’s insignia and was super cool, which is why I bought one—but the shape is perfect for your hand, with a slight taper at the top. I have yet to replicate it, but I will continue to try.)

These cups are my most recent: they will be perfect for holding coffee. Or wine.

I first saw this sgraffito technique years ago, done by artist Kathy King, who is a total badass and one you should google immediately. I thought her work was amazing, and thought, “Maybe someday I’ll try that with clay.” And then I forgot about that, for a long while. I did other things, like day jobs, and got lost in this space where I thought I didn’t have time for art.

But here’s the thing: that’s always our excuse. “I don’t have time.” And it feels 100% true when we say it, like the world is closing in, and we’re juggling all these balls and they’re about to come crashing down and boy it’s going to be hell to pay when they do. But really, you have to create time for what’s important to you. It’s more like what author Nora Roberts said at a reading: “Some balls are made of plastic, and some are made of glass. If a plastic one drops, it bounces; if a glass one drops, it shatters.” The key, she said, was to know which balls were which, so you can prioritize. And that’s what it’s like when you try to make time for all the things you love. After lots of jobs and shifting priorities, I’ve learned that my life is better when there’s more art in it. That’s a priority I can’t drop.

So when I got this wild hair a few weeks ago, and wanted to try ceramics again, I decided I would not fire these things in the kiln unless they (a) were useful or (b) made me smile. I didn’t want a whole bunch of ceramic tragedies sitting around my house or being tossed into the garbage. I would kill darlings, and it would be a good thing.

So here we are. My hands are dirty. They ache a little, but that’s ok. My eyes hurt less, because I am spending fewer hours staring into a blinding computer screen. I’ve experimented. I’ve made birds and smushed them, failed and failed better. I made a few pieces that I liked, some that might be gifts. I gave myself permission to play, and to just enjoy making things again, and it feels incredible. I feel more creative, and more inspired, and less like a person slogging through her work week. I have something new to look forward to, and am carving out more time each day to make things. Sometimes it’s just an hour, and that’s ok. I’m putting less pressure on myself these days—and that’s part of the balance, too.