Glynnis Lessing

An Artist’s Blog

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Nests

A lot of my imagery comes from what I see on the surface of the pot after I’ve painted the slip on.  I look at the brush strokes on the surface and they suggest images to me.  Perhaps that’s why I have a lot of birds and fish on my  pots; they are generally shaped like a typical brush stroke. 

Birds have manifested themselves in my subconscious as the caretakers of security, of home; they are the ultimate good and selfless parents and they are omnipresent  (in real life too- the always -everywhere ambassador of nature). 

I also started drawing nests on my pots.

I didn’t think much about it until I started looking at the birds I was drawing with the nests. They sometimes looked menacing such as the large one in No Fly Zone done the first year of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

 

No Fly Zone

No Fly Zone

 

 

The nests require a lot of time and energy as I painstakingly draw the individual strands and twigs. It’s not quite the same as building one but it’s the best I can do.

nest-bowl-2

 

Nests are a wonderful metaphor for home and protection and parenting. The parent birds spend all this time and energy working on this nest, crafting it just so, sheltering the delicate eggs and working ceaselessly to feed the little hatchlings –

 the hatchlings crap all over the nest and eventually jump out and take off. A thankless job to be sure and of course there’s that empty nest there.

 

Empty Nest

 

 

Still beautiful, a bit worse for wear and its purpose is over -depending on the breed – some birds reuse their nests every year; fixing them up in the spring; others abandon the nest and it eventually falls apart. 

Then last year, I made this lovely nest but somehow the bird I saw coming out of it was HUGE.

 

Too Big for the Nest

 

 

That was weird but fine however,  when I made a second one, I had to stop and wonder why. Of course the minute I looked at it-  hmmm a strident bird too big for the nest and I have a teenager  – it became clear.

So the nests seem to be about home, parenting and safety no matter what their various states; one or two eggs or empty or,

surprisingly, filled with a huge loud bird that is definitely still in the nest but not happy about it. I don’t think the mommy bird is too thrilled about it either.

Posted 8 years, 10 months ago at 7:52 pm.

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Proportion

Yes, more on branches! Are you sick of branches yet?

 

 There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.  –  Francis Bacon

 

I love this quote because it so perfectly expresses that which  was instinctive for me when looking at various trees.

I look at trees wherever I go.

I notice them and their shapes and outlines against the sky, as shadows on buildings, silhouetted by the sun. The best trees are at the cemetery (along Clark Avenue). They are all deliciously creepy and twisted just as you’d expect trees in a graveyard to look.

Why? And by “best “ I mean the most gnarled; they have that strangeness of proportion Bacon is talking about. Those are the ones that look best to me ; look best on my pots, are the most interesting and pleasing to the eye.

 

I have favorite varieties; Catalpa:

(and note how all last year’s vertical hanging seed pods make such a wonderful contrast to the curves and snaky turns of the branches)

catalpa

Catalpa Tree

 Honey Locust, (almost everything ends up pointing upwards by the time you get to the tip of the branches even if there are lots of detours along the way- this isn’t even the best example)

honey-locust

Honey Locust Tree

and Hawthorne (crab apple)

I’m not sure what this tree below is but it is one of the most stunningly perfect trees I’ve every seen. It’s possible it was trimmed but I just love all the writhing the branches do before they all agree  reign it in and to end together in that lovely curve.  This is the kind of tree I want on my pots!

new-york-city-crabapple

– these are the most interesting and gnarled and therefore inspiring trees.

Okay, so why is gnarling pleasing? I think there’s something about the way the branches head off in some completely unpredictable direction only to come arc-ing back for a very balanced composition. There are more curves (which I always find more pleasing) and an innate balance that could possibly be based on the physics of how the tree must grow to stay upright.

In language, storytelling that is, we often find the unpredictable quite funny or exciting. I think the same goes for visual unpredictability.

I dislike Ash trees – they are boring and ugly and I would be embarrassed to put one on a pot- note how they branch symmetrically  that is, the branches come out directly across from each other instead of alternating up the main branch. It kills the movement and life in the form.

ash-tree

Here is another very straighforward predictable tree although I think this is a Maple.

boring-tree

Boooooring!

You can see why- nothing happening here- it’s all balanced and pretty straightforward  with straight branches staying on course and ending up exactly where they meant to be. Hmmm, I’m starting to see parallels with life here!

Perhaps I need to do something wildly unpredictable.

Anyhow, many Maples leave me indifferent unless it’s autumn.

autumn-maple

 

What’s exciting for me is that now that I am keeping this blog, I am beginning to look around me with new eyes. I write about my urban environment, and the animals in it, then I look at how trees are … constrained by the environment and also how they appear differently than they would in nature.

First of all, we trim trees to keep them away from our houses or power lines which alters them or conversely, they often stand alone in parks and are able spread symmetrically; forming a “perfect tree”  as opposed to in a woods where they have to grow to accommodate the other trees.

We also plant them, choose the variety, stunt them, water them, and generally affect their growth. They are by definition “artifacts” along with the rest of our environment. How bizarre to be living in an almost completely artificial environment. 

And my pots are all about that believe it or not.

 

Shadows and reflections

Here in the city, tree shadows are cast onto unnaturally flat surfaces like roads and buildings. I have to say I find it lovely.

 

 

shadow-on-bldg

 

tree-shadow-on-sidewalk-and-house

 In nature, this only happens on the rare bare cliff

tree-shadow-on-a-bluff

Starved Rock shadow

and  on snowy fields, common only existing in pastoral settings, which are also man-made.

Here’s one distoted and reflected in a stream; also pleasing for it’s perversion of the form of the tree.

tree-reflected

Why all this excitement about tree shadows and reflections? Well, a tree is three dimensional. Branches stick out every which way- it’s hard to draw them true-to-life in 2-D without making them look fake or wrong- unbalanced somehow- branches that are actually sticking out of the back or front, look oddly out of place when I try to draw them flat. But the shadows and reflections flatten them out nicely.

My pots look a bit like trees have cast their shadows upon them.

 

santa barbara shadow

Santa Barbara Eucalyptus

 

 

Posted 8 years, 10 months ago at 8:20 pm.

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What’s on my pots?

My Pots are so much about surface decoration.

I believe in having a very strong, aesthetically pleasing form to put those decorations on but I find myself looking forward to making the images more than the pots these days.

So the question is, what to put on the pots?

I love nature. I grew up on a farm, in the countryside. I wandered the woods and ravines most of my life, often alone.

I read somewhere (and I must find it) that a shared element in the lives of creative people (famous ones) they spent time in nature alone.  One must feel the power and the beauty of nature.

I find there is something soothing and comforting about realizing one is just a speck in the wilderness.

Here, going to the lake renews me, refreshes my sense of being on the planet.

 

I also love animals.  LOVE them. I was the kid who rescued the baby robin and fed it worms all day every day until it flew away. I was the one, up in the middle of the night with a doll baby bottle, feeding kittens who had lost their mother. I was the one with the boa constrictor in her dorm room in college.

So the things that appeal to me for surface decoration is what little nature and animals I see around me in the urban environment in which I find myself.

Since the dawn of “modern” humanity, artists have represented what they saw around them. From cave painters 40,000 years ago to the more recent petroglyphs of Africa, Australia and the American southwest to the prints of the Inuit Eskimos, to much folk art, we see represented, the animals they lived with on an intimate and daily basis.

Those animals symbolized things to them- we’re not quite sure what- but we can guess that their livelihood depended on some and many had magical or spiritual meaning.

Since I find renewal from nature, I would have to say the animals I see now remind me of natural environments, of living in the moment, of survival.

And they are simply lovely in and of themselves. I find beauty in their lines. I like the curves and forms and textures of animals. (As I do of branches.)

 

 

I have deep affection for our little urban neighbors; those who have figured out that we’re no longer hunting them. The biggest danger to them are our cars. Birds, rabbits, rodents, squirrels, raccoons, opossum, deer and the occasional coyote or cougar venture into our urban spaces. They live in our yards, parks and alleys.

I just bought a book for its title; Field Guide to Urban Wildlife (okay that’s maybe not the exact title- I can’t find it!)  I did find another book I also bought for the title; it is called

“Flattened Fauna; a Field Guide to Common Animals of Roads, Streets, and Highways” (by Roger Knutson) which is almost the same.

But I digress.

 

I want to remind people we still depend on nature, on the earth for our livelihood; we still have to share the planet with animals, we are still earthbound. I also think we are terribly lonely as a species.

 

 

Posted 8 years, 10 months ago at 7:01 am.

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More on branches

 

 

Walking the dog in the rain this morning I enjoyed seeing the water droplets on the tree branches.

I thought about how many things rest or hang from branches:

flowers

flowers

snow

snow-on-branches

ice

iced-branches

flowers

berries

crabapples

leaves

fall-leaves

water drops

drops

and how great they all look.

I was thinking about how I would represent water droplets on branches on my pots. What about just a little ball of glass? Melt on a clear glass bead perhaps?  It might work or it might look tacky as hell.

Let’s pause a moment and define tacky    

tacky  [tak-ee]

1. Lacking style or good taste; tawdry

2. Distasteful or offensive; tasteless

3.  Crass; cheaply vulgar; crude; gaudy; flashy; showy.

 

I guess it is “tasteless” that I am most worried about.

So how to represent those things without looking tacky? And what is it that indefinable thing that makes something art and not tacky? 

Why is it that makes those practically 3-D paintings with the paint slathered on until the buildings represented stand out from the canvas a good half inch  kitsch?  and Van Gogh sublime?

Or, for example, pottery with gold on it — paint it on and it looks cheap, but take, for example, Spanish lusterware (or artists inspired by those traditions such as Liz Quackenbush or Julia Galloway)  and their work is amazing.

I believe it has something to do with being true to materials; being authentic. But that’s not the only criteria. There is some history involved- how many other people have done it? Has it been mass produced?  Is the representation cliched or fresh and original?  Just how many ways can you represent a cardinal on a pine branch? or ducks? Context and intent play a part as well. I believe defining them and those boundaries comes from a certain sensibility as well as education and cultural context. It’s such a fine line and sometimes those things cross that line over time as the context changes.

Take cave paintings for example, we think they are amazing now. We believe we see them for what they are- expressions from people who lived 30,000 years ago. But in the 1800’s when they were first discovered people thought they were crude and primitive with almost no artistic merit whatsoever.  And how will they be viewed in the future? Will we ever know why they were made and how they were regarded? We can only see them for what they are to us now and part of that perception includes the mystery and the shared experience of simply being sentient humans.

There is always the fear in a craft such as pottery- a craft that struggles so hard to be counted among the arts- the fear that what we’ve made is not sublime but merely mundane or worse, trite and tacky.

Posted 8 years, 11 months ago at 10:11 am.

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Branches in Santa Barbara

 

 

Branching occurs in nature on so many scales. I think we find branching pleasing and satisfying to the eye. I am fascinated by how it repeats itself everywhere- water erosion patterns, wind erosion patterns, patterns of growth in leaves, branches, lichen, moss, crystals….

It was pretty much the theme of my recent trip  to Santa Barbara.

I was so happy to have a window seat for the flight- after Denver the landscape was endlessly fascinating and varying.  It’s interesting where humans have utterly sculpted the geography to suit them, it’s fairly uniform;l a grid laid out with only minor variations and interruptions for steep hills, various bodies of water and streams and rivers.winter-fields-of-the-midwest

But west of Denver, the surface of the earth is much less tolerant of all the petting and combing and arranging we do in the mild midwest. It’s filled with mountains and wild erosions and rocks and desert.

streambed-from-the-airsomewhere over the west

mountains-from-the-air

canyon-riverbed

After I landed, my brother drove me directly to the beach. Looking down at the sand, I felt like I was still flying.sand-erosionsand-formationssand-formations_2then we walked to the pier and there was the pattern again! This time floating in the water.kelp

and of course all those branching streams and mountain ridges, sand and seaweed only served to remind me of my beloved tree branches. 

tree-branches

Santa Barbara is like one giant botanical garden.  I have never seen such a variety of beautiful and fascinating plants just by going on a walk! 

I am refreshed, rejuvenated and inspired by all that I saw there.

You should be seeing some Santa Barbara flora showing up on pots in the near future. I have all sorts of new ideas.

Posted 8 years, 11 months ago at 9:14 pm.

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new work out of the kiln

It’s always exciting and really  kind of miraculous when work comes out of the kiln. It goes in, utterly fragile

unfired greenware plate

and emerges stone-like, ready to serve for the next few thousand years.

I’m quite happy with this new group of bowls (note- it seems my photo is distorted- I’m working on fixing that)

 

9-new-bowlsI’m using a slightly different technique for these “production” pieces in that I am roughly painting the branch  and then just refining it with sgraffito.

What I’ve done in the past- and actually  it gives me more freedom- is to cover the entire surface with black slip and then draw the branch out free hand. Then I carve away anything that isn’t the image.

 This is somewhat quicker and also gives  a more painterly quality to the black. You can see the brush stroke and direction.

I’m also including color for the first time! This truly echoes what I see in the winter. A bare black branch with a few bright red berries made all the more vivid by being set against the white backdrop of snow. It is the same for cardinals- in the wintry absence of color, red  catches the eye.

I also got some vases out- these are a good size. About 8-9″ tall.

A note on where inspiration comes from. I was riding a school bus full of noisy children- a field trip chaperone – and we were going down Lake Shore Drive when I thought, for the briefest moment, that I saw a rabbit on the very lowest  branch of a tree silhouetted against the lake. Of course there was no tree-climbing rabbit, but it was such a lovely image in my mind that I decided to put in on a pot.3-vasesIt is the left -most pot.

Posted 8 years, 11 months ago at 3:24 pm.

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