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Current Rants and Recent Rambles

Art is personal self expression

March 2006

A new ClayMate shared her work and she proved that she was proficient in manipulating the clay. I encouraged her to look within to take those basic techniques and make something that means something to her. Following tutorials exactly is what we do when we're learning technique. Once technique is learned it is time to express yourself.

Lisa, the new ClayMate, admitted to being afraid to work without a pattern. She said she's not art trained and a number of other reasons why she can't do clay without a tutorial. After all this she confesses she would like to make fairies.  Ah HA! Well we got to follow our bliss and now we have a bliss target.

I saw she was just being held back by THE FEAR.  So the following ramble is part of the discussion that other ClayMates were having about how one doesn't need formal art training to express themselves.


ClayMates, especially those who got THE FEAR about
personal self expression. 

I believe that everyone has artistic potential in
them. It comes with the package of being human. Cave
painting weren't made by anyone else but those pesky
humans. Things made by the hands of humans often
determined whether an area was inhabited by apes or
humans by anthropologists. We fuss with stuff. We make
things. It's part of our hardwiring.

I also believe that modern western society has a low
view on creative efforts. It's like being creative
isn't a serious enough enterprise. It won't make
money. It takes a person out of the "live for work and
buy a bunch of stuff" cycle. Artists are known to be
difficult. But what are they being difficult about?
They just want to express themselves and this is
disruptive in a commercial/political society.

If we look inside ourselves we might find sadness or
rage. But I counter that with if we look for what
gives us joy we will find those things that feed us,
heal us, make us unique and at the same time tie us
with other humans who are in touch with themselves.

Everyone has preferences to color, design and topics
that touch their heart.

Everyone can learn technique.

Put technique to a topic that touches our heart and
what we make is a personal creative self expression
and that is art.

Art is not some fancy pants "only those educated in it
can do it", sort of deal. That leaves out all the folk
art that has been made over time before there were art
departments in schools.  That leaves primitive and
outsider art which is created without formal training.

Art is made when we express something that is inside
us. No matter what our skill set is at the time, it is
art if it expresses something that means something to

Over the 6 years of guiding this list I've been on
this quest to have people leave the "kits" behind. We
started with 50 miniaturists and making something
according to very exact and specific measurements was
the rule. "Kit Bashers" were looked upon as those wild
ones who threw away instructions and made things from
the kit that ended up being a personal expression.

Because I was encouraging miniaturists to find their
own way I don't give exact measurements. I don't say
"take 2 ounces of this and put 1 ounce of that and
roll it out to a level 3 and then ..."  I don't do
that because I want folks to break away from exact
measures that were made up by other folks.

Ok, Lisa said she liked fairies. That shows me that
all she needs to focus on at this time is reviewing
the figures and faces tutorials.

Making an aluminum foil armature is something one can

Making skin colored clay by mixing colors is something
one can learn.

Building up muscle mass on a figure with leaf shaped
tools is something one can learn.

All this is technique. Like making a box cake, follow
the directions and it'll get done.

Once you have a figure made sculpting the face is
where you'll be told by the clay what is right and
what is not. Eskimos look at a piece of soap stone and
ask what wants to come out, rather than say "I'm going
to sculpt a seal out of this rock."

The techniques for sculpting faces is something one
can learn, e.g., the face grid.

Left to my own devices all faces come out Asian
because I'm used to seeing Asian faces mostly.

Once when I am sculpting a face and I thought to
myself, "This looks like Jean Luc Picard." and then I
moved in that direction to make it look more like
Patrick Stewart. The clay will call to you.

All of us have seen faces all our lives and when we
sculpt faces we know instinctively what is working and
what is not working on that face. Where we bother
ourselves is not wanting to start over. Being attached
to the amount of practice time on a face that starting
over is hurtful. This is something I urge people to do
to desensitize themselves: sculpt a face, roll it into
a ball, sculpt another face, roll that into a ball.
Don't get attached to what you're making, it's

When we have a figure that is not posed, a face that
is ok, we can pose the figure and cure it and then put
cloth on it. Or we can clothe the figure with "clay
fabric" then pose it and then cure it.

This is where the play comes in. What will the figure
wear? What wing technique will you use for the fairy
wings? What surroundings will the fairy have?

When one realizes that the majority of what we're
doing here is learning technique and then applying
those techniques to subjects that please us this whole
"Art" thing is demystified.

When I was a teen I was aiming to be an artist. I got
pregnant, married, had another child, got divorced,
lost the kids to their father. Only after decades of
finishing up a practical education and getting job
skills, raising two more boys, did I get back to
farting around with creative activities. What art
training I got is what I taught myself.

What I learned most of all is if someone made
something then I could do it too. If someone sculpted
faces then I can sculpt faces too. It's technique

But I can't be limited to what other people have done.
Ok so I learned how to sculpt a face. Let's make a
mold. Let's put patterned cane in the mold. Let's
surround it with flowers, leaves and "clay fabric". No
one else was doing this because it was just so weird.
That's ok, inside of me is a whole lot of weird going
on. I got to get out out.


This is what I'm asking everyone to do. Learn how to
manipulate the clay, it's just technique. Then what
you do with those techniques have that touch your
heart. It's more satisfying in the long run to make
things that mean something to you.

That sort of satisfaction you don't get from following
directions to the letter. This is not to say that
making things from specific directions isn't a good
thing to do. It is good to learn how to manipulate
the clay. That's the first step. The second step is to
know you have permission to express yourself in a
meaningful way.


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