Walking on Broken Glass

Part One: An Introduction

There is a quote from Somerset Maugham that I read in Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art: “Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. ‘I write only when inspiration strikes,’ he replied. ‘Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.'” (Pressfield, 2002)

There is a beautiful myth around art making that you go into your studio and spend unstructured time in some magical space of divine creation. It’s a nice story, but it doesn’t work for most people. Even God had a deadline.

The last couple of years have been difficult art production years for me. It has been a monumentally rough go. My husband had a scary brush with cancer. Then my father died. Then my country lost its mind. Then my friend took his own life just steps from my front door. Then I shattered my ankle in a life-changing accident.

On one side, there are people who say that it is okay for my production to be a little bit low through all of that. On the other I seem to find people who are surprised that my production was low given all of these feelings that I have to take into the studio. I think both of those groups are wrong. Production is work, and we have to ensure that our muse shows up from 9 to 5. And, trauma does not lead to quality work. Working can lead to healing trauma, but that sort of work tends to lead one farther down a personal path, not an artistic one.

For the next few weeks I’m going to sort out some of these thoughts about production and pain in my studio notes. I am currently sitting on my couch with ice on my splinted ankle, recovering from surgery. It has been ten days since surgery, and I have been productive for seven of those. It helps me to not sink into pity. It has required a lot of naps. I think of it like walking on broken glass. It isn’t hard if you know what you are doing, choose the right materials, prepare, and go carefully.

While I was preparing for my convalescing time, my therapist asked me “Is being an artist directly tied to your output as an artist?” I immediately answered yes, but when I examined my feelings about artists in my community and about artists who have walked away from art, I changed my answer to no.

Especially in an academic setting, the quantity of work is very important because you have to have a lot of your own work to reflect on in order to progress down the path. This is also true in the studio, to a point. In order to move forward, you have to be making work that feeds more work. However, there are productive ways to sit with the work that you already have. You can take time to read and to look at the work of other people — and, what a privilege it is to be temporarily disengaged from your work enough to see it through a lens other than the lens of your art practice! You can flip through old sketchbooks and find forgotten ideas. You can restructure your practice to better serve the you that is waiting on the other side of your healing.

Which is to say, if you are hurting right now, and the art is not coming, you are still an artist. Your art does not stem solely from your production. It stems from all the adjustments that have gone on in your brain and your being that happened during all the production you have already done. Stay in communication with yourself as an artist. Your artist self may not serve you well while you are healing from grief and pain, but you should still stay in touch with them. Much like I have to do work to keep my unused muscles fed with blood, keep a flow moving through your practice, simply by reminding yourself that it is still there.

If we tie our self as artist to our production, then the moments when production is stymied will stall our artistic progress. Instead, take the time to know the non-producing artist in you to keep that flow going.

Be gentle with yourselves. Be diligent with your practice. Let’s talk more next week.

Pit Firing – Ocean Beach

Pit Fire Forms
Title: Pit Fired Forms (Set of Three)
Sizes: 5″ x 3″, 5 “x 4″, 5″ x 3.5”


5735988824_0ea4241741_bThese forms were fired in an open pit fire on Ocean Beach with Tom Decker and the Fort Mason Ceramics Guild.



The fire pits were created by metal artists in San Francisco to preserve the tradition of fires on Ocean Beach.  Because this firing was done in a raised pit instead of a sunken pit, the firing goes much faster and has greater thermal shock.


The pieces are set on a cushion of saw dust and copper and iron for coloring.  Then everything is covered with wood and set aflame.  As the fire burns down, the pit fired pieces emerge from the fire.5735448221_afc2757a62_b

5735453225_bd06a11f39_bIt is an exciting and communal way to finish thrown ware.


Memory Urn

Memory Urn

Title: Memory Urn – Marilyn Anderson
Size: 12in x 7in
Medium: Soldate Clay; thrown and then carved with stories of a life; raku fired, using her old sheet music and letters I had failed to send for the reduction fire.
Memory Urns are designed as memorials to the dead.  They are not for holding ashes, but for holding the relationship that existed between you and the person that was lost.  They can hold mementos as well as notes that contain the things you want to say to them.

Memory Urn

Installation: Baker Beach Cave Flowers

Cave Flowers is a series of ceramic pieces, created as public art installations in hidden places. They are intended to create a moment of magic for the viewer, as he or she comes across the unexpected flowers in his or her environment. They can be either fired ceramics, left there to either be broken or taken or left for other; or they can be greenware/unfired ceramics, left with the intention that the environment will wash away the flowers.

These flowers were installed at low tide on Baker Beach in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. They were buried in the sand just above the tide level. During their installation, I answered questions of anyone who approached me, but I did not approach anyone until they approached me. I intentionally did  not do anything to interact with the environment in which the flowers were placed, letting the entire environment (e.g. birds, people, dogs, waves) do what they would with the flowers.

Journal Notes:

7:51am – finally set up.  Surprisingly many people here.   I’d like to have the camera closer, but don’t want to move it.  I’ll have a better idea of how high the tides actually go next time. 

7:55 – First shot.  Water just came over.  Rocks clicking together in the surf are awesome sounding. 

8:00 – 2nd photo.  Lady with 2 dogs came by and admired them.  One of the dogs licked the solitary flower and made a sad face.  Apparently, art is pretty but not tasty.

8:05 – 3rd pic. Water starting to hit every 5th wave or so

8:10 – 4th pic.  Couple on walk looked at them but seemed kind of irritated by them.  Found the vid setting on the other camera.  Took 30 sec video.

8:15 – 5th pic

8:20 – 6th pic.  Fisherman nearby almost got in the shot.  Rocks are washing up through the flowers.

8:23 – Big wave knocked some over.

8:25 – 7th pic. Petals washing father up shore.

8:30 – 8th pic. Flowers being pulled out to sea.

8:35 – 9th pic.  Flowers full of water and sand.  When I walk over to take close ups, it’s hard not to fix them.

8:40 – 10th pic.  Almost got a fisherman again.  Odd conflicting feelings about wanting this to go fast and slow.  “Hurry up & show me what comes next!” mixed with sadness at seeing them go.

8:42 – 30 sec vid

8:45 – 11th pic.  More dogs, but these liked my blanket more than the flowers

8:47 – Guy throwing ball for his dog keeps tossing it about 6” away from the flowers

8:50 – 12th pic . Waves pulling more away.  Only two left standing.  Clay looks soft.

8:55 – Guy stopped to ask if this was for a photo class.  13th pic.  1 hour.

9:00 – 14th pic. Guy came back to tell me about ceramic classes inDaly City.

9:03 – took lame vid trying to capture the flower bodies rolling away in the surf

9:05 – 15th pic. Battery warning… uh-oh

9:10 – 16th pic.  Almost unrecognizable now.  Fav comment today  “So it’s like an Andrew Goldsmith kind of thing?”

9:15 – 17th pic. Can tell color changes in rocks from light.  No longer dawn.

9:20 – found some clay that fell next to the camera.  It is fully softened.  18th pic.

9:25 – Wave bent the flower over 19th pic.

9:30 20th picture.  Can hear rocks in the surf again.

9:35 – 21st pic.  Some pieces rolled back up.

9:40 – 22nd pic.  Jusst little nubs left.  Some tubes left, washed way to the right of the frame.

9:45 – 23rd pic.  Concerned about zoom.  Did I rezoom all the shots?

9:50 – 24th and 25th pic.  Felt like a 2nd… Tube washed up and washed away again.

9:54 – Wave finally caught me on a close-up.

9:55 – 26th picture

10:00 – 27th picture

10:05 – 28th picture

10:10 – 29th picture