finding my voice, literally…

On Monday of this week, I attended and participated in my first gallery show since college. The show is part of a process that I am going through in order to be juried into the Artisan Center of Virginia. As a way to bring the jurors to the show and allow them the freedom to view the work on their own schedule, the ACV put the show together. The artists in the show consist of those artists that are already considered a “professional artisan” with the ACV and a few of us who are trying to become “professional artisan”.

I arrived a bit late to the reception and the room was full of students of Mary Baldwin College, the school that is hosting the show. The show is called Artisans & Agroecology:The Cultural Connection Between Craft and Rural Life and is in the Hunt Gallery. I wasn’t expecting the room to be full and just expected to mingle around with the artists and whoever might be stopping by. In the back of the room, I hear the ACV director, Sherri Smith talking, explaining to the students how they are important to the ACV as the next generation of artists and craftsmen. Part of the discussion at the conference back in August was how to get the younger generation involved and this was the perfect audience for her to address with this plea.

When Sherri finished and had had all the participating artists to raise their hands so the students could recognize us, a woman asked if the artists would each come forward and tell a little about our work. It was at this moment that I realized I wasn’t sure what I would/should say.

As we worked our way to the front of the room, I had lots of things going through my mind but wanted to be brief. I am very self conscious about my North Carolina accent and that always is in the back of my mind but now I was going to have to say something about why I was there and what I do. Luckily, I didn’t have to go first so I was able to get an idea of how to do this by listening to a couple of artists that went before me.

So, basically, I said, “I am Susie Wilburn and I live in Toms Brook, just north of here. I am not considered a “professional artisan” yet but hopefully after this show that I will be. I have been in the printing industry for the past 26 years and after losing my job, just over a year ago, I have reverted back to my college love and trying to reinvent myself as a potter. I am experimenting with different clays and glazes and forms and am still trying to find my voice”. I didn’t discuss the fossils, frogs, how I come up with my ideas, a philosophy of why I do the images or my processes. I could have discussed the work in more detail but I am see myself as a newbie and don’t really see myself as having much to share. I think I need to rethink that.

I felt that I did okay, but the more I think about it, I am probably going to have to work on this some. I had one of the students approach me, not because of my work, but because she is originally from Strasburg so she want to just bond with someone from home. In talking to her, I realized the impact that I probably could’ve had on the students with my words. She was taking a ceramics class and they had just done pinch pots so I was able to talk craft with her some. For the most part though, I think that the students were there as a requirement and really not interested in me or my work. I didn’t see that many students really approach the artists to pick their brains for inspiration.

I have to also put a plug in here for the school that I went to 30+ years ago. In talking to the student, I was asking her about the art program at Mary Baldwin. When she told me about her ceramics class, I asked if they had a pottery and were they teaching the students how to throw a pot. Basically, it sounded like a very simple class and they didn’t have the extensive program that I came from. In explaining Berea College to this student and listening to my words, I realized just how lucky that I was to have had the experience to have a college that not only provided such diversity but to require that the students work and how inexpensive my four years actually was. I explained Berea’s goal to help the poor students of the Appalachian region attain a college education and that they didn’t charge tuition but only charged for room and board. She then volunteered that Mary Baldwin College costs $34,000 per year. However, the ranking page with US News lists the college tuition costs at $28K. Room and Board is an additional $8K. WHOA! I know that at current rates that Berea is only about $980 tuition per year and the room and board about $6K putting the yearly costs at about $7K.  What is this student really getting for that $34K? Have her parents taken on that debt or is she? If she is going to major in art, how is she going to pay that amount of money back and what kind of program does Mary Baldwin offer to help those students become employed after college to help relieve that debt? This would be a totally new post that involves lots of questions, not answers, I’m afraid.

So, as I go forward and see myself in more situations where I will be asked about my work and my processes, I need to work on this. Many times, I feel like I just do what I do and don’t really think about explaining it to someone else. I need to start thinking about breaking down the process better, thinking more about explaining where my ideas come from, why I use the images that I use and share more about why I love my new life as an artist. Hopefully, a “professional artisan” soon.


The jury is still out…

Yesterday, I spent the majority of the day on my computer. I have a ton of work to do in the studio but I need to start looking to the future and where to show my work and how to build a resume’ that reflects my skills that are not printing or printing related. I have several mentors in this new life that are giving me advice. Both are giving me excellent advice from their years of doing what I am now doing and while I really don’t feel that I am ready to apply to major venues or to major art related organizations but if I don’t try I won’t know, right? is one of the places where artists can find venues, fairs, if you will, that I can go and set up a tent and sell my work. I am looking for more local events and not wanting to spend a lot of time in my car. Time in the car is time away from producing and creating work. So I dove into the process yesterday morning and soon realized that my color correcting skills, again, will come in handy for preparing images for review and juries. After getting to know Zapplication for a few hours and uploading some images, I now know how to get venue information to schedule fairs for the coming months and years.

Items need to be photographed and done simply and look professional. I do this for my Etsy shop. Lots of time is spent to get my work onto the web and keep me out of my car, hopefully allowing me to not have to travel and have my work travel through the internet. I photograph my own work and then I use my color correcting skills to put the professional touch on the images so that they best represent the art. The gray balance is key. Using a backdrop that is a vanishing white to black provides my grayscale to allow me to check this gray balance and correct for that. Theoretically, if you have a good gray, the other colors should fall in line and because I am working with RGB not CMYK , I have a much larger color space to deal with and don’t have to worry that my colors won’t match the original art.

Taking the advice of my mentors, I chose to apply to the Artisan Center of Virginia first, to be juried, in hopes to be included in their list of juried artists. I learned about the Artisan Center of Virginia when I went to a meeting that our county tourism put together to include local artisans, agri-artisans, B & B’s and restaurants to put together an Artisan Trail in our county to feature local talents and unique businesses. I was really impressed with the talk that the director of the Artisan Center gave and wanted to be a part of this wonderful benefit for artists. Hopefully, even without juried status, I will be included in the trail and be able to get traffic here at my house from tourists to our county. I will get a sign to put on the house with this logo stating that my house is an Artisan Trail Site. That would be cool! And again, no traveling, they come to me.

I spent most of the morning, gathering images and checking the color and the resolution to meet the requirements. Each site seems to need a different pixel width. Then I needed to put the packet together to include, in addition to images, a resume’, an artist statement, a business card and of course the application fee.

My statement surprised me, being easier to write than I thought. The AC of V has a  document that helped me get started and that is usually the hard part. I then just talked about what I do in the process and what has inspired me to find the “voice” that I have in my work right now.

Artist Statement

My work deals with frogs and fossils, birds and nature. I am intrigued by layering and stacking of images and colors on my pottery. I love to experiment with a “story” being told in my work. A story that you see and imagine while you are examining my pieces. 

Using clip art, that I get royalty free from the web in the form of a photoshop brush, I combine these images in a theme, print them out on paper, cut them out with nail scissors and apply them to my wet clay pieces. When the final layering process is complete, I may have several layers of paper embedded into the clay under layers of colored slips (which are colored clay). The paper is removed to reveal the colors underneath and the shape of the images that I chose to put on the piece, telling the story.

After being in the printing world where graphic arts were a big part of my job for over 25 years, I was laid off July of 2011. In college I had been a ceramic apprentice for a couple of years and had always regretted not continuing with that life. My husband bought me a potter’s wheel for Christmas of 2010 and I saw my skill levels come back and help me to realize my dream of being a potter. Being laid off couldn’t have come at a better time.

Being a newbie, I hope that in the next year or so to expand my line of products to include more complicated shapes. I have seen my skills really improve in the past 6 months so with every kiln that I unload I see many improvements and can only hope that that will continue in the coming years.

I packed up the items, took it to the post office and sent it off. The deadline is June  1st. Now we just wait and see…I think being a newbie that I don’t have a chance but I need to jump into the mix and see what they say. I could get some great feedback for the future if I don’t. In the meantime, I have lots to catch up on today waiting for me in the basement. And eventually, adding more images to the site to find additional venues in my local area to sell work.