My Back Pages


ceramic centerpiece
“Centerpiece” Clay, Stains, Glazes, 2013


 Up in the attic pawing through tubs teeming with my older ceramic work, I sat chuckling and chucking a goodly portion of it. Then I hauled the remainder down into the daylight to plead its case for retention. Concurrently,  I clicked to the outer reaches of my Artwork Image Folders, creating sleeker organization and curating like hell. (Don’t worry, as of this writing 17,127 files remain.)  This trip through my overgrown creative back pages has served to both inform and to deeply overwhelm. SO much work and so many changes of techniques and styles! For clarity’s sake, couldn’t I have settled, made only one or two styles and just been happy?

Apparently Not

Along with the two-fronted massive sorting and selecting activities, came a third: expanding the Portfolio here in my personal corner of the Interwebs. I wanted to share more than just rusty cans with ya’ll.  But in gathering up and sussing out the scope of all that non-can work, I wound up more than a tad addlebrained by its confounding extent. I worried that I was experiencing the onset of a new kind of Senioritis or whatever it is you call it when, try as you might, the whole mess washes your discernment away and you just can’t pull your thoughts into useful formation. Decision fatigue is real, people. Luckily I found my way back round.

The Generalist

It’s been 20 years since I first touched clay and, wish as I might, it has refused to reveal neat thematic lines to me. I’m not a potter, not a sculptor, not a concept artist, but my works often contain elements of all three. While I knew that, even I wasn’t prepared to see the category-resistant varieties in that strange and wonderful ceramic menagerie I unearthed under the rafters.  SO many curious directions I have run off in, before, during and after my bona fide student work. Every summer retreat, every weekend workshop, every juicy tip in a clay magazine or shop talk with a clay buddy excited my maker’s heart and I often went deep into a new fascination, quite certain I would never, ever want to make anything else in any other way.

In my boxes and folders, there were whole arenas of juicy explorations I’d plum forgotten, too. Some tempted me to try them again, only this time I would know how to make them as I intended. To be honest,  I have already re-stated and re-fired two or three to good effect.

I am blessedly not alone among artists in dithering over direction, though. My brothers, both musicians, sometimes played together. It could be jazz, blues, country, or metal because that always depended on who else was in the group. They often didn’t even have a stated direction and just jammed to see what came up.  In one famous attempt at a group ID, my younger brother reportedly asked the sensitively searching — and later oft-quoted — question, “Just what kind of shit garage band are we, anyway?”

Yeah. So just what kind of shit ceramicist am I, anyway? And can that be categorized?

I See it Now

Since nothing’s forever, I came to realize that the ordering, labels, and categories of my back pages are as organic and inconstant as I am. Whatever the groupings, whether by claybody, function, technique, or narrative, they are eternally negotiable. One fine reason to hang loose is that one’s perception about older pieces blossoms. In those cardboard boxes and digital files was not only work I’d quite forgotten, there was work I was bored with (because I had figured it out), work I was disappointed in, if not outright ashamed of. (But there it was and really not as bad as all that.) There’s work I can see now that I did not fully address with enough follow through, iterations, higher design or workmanship standards. And works that stun me with their utter originality and fresh freedom. How, oh how, to compact it in neat searchable content categories? You simply don’t.

The UnCategorizable

Not trying so hard to make what I do fit perfectly all at once in past or future boxes lets me honor the incomparable. The sweet piece in the photo up top is in a class by itself. It’s suggestive, mysterious and uncategorizable to me. The making of it began with closed eyes in a guided creative process group meditation. My fingers moved to form the ball of clay into just so forms, but I did not know how or why.  Later the next day, as I refined and cleaned-up, I felt it belonged wholly to itself and it had only used me as a conduit to materiality.  Even then it seemed an ur-piece, something that is likely the Start of Something; that thing that stands just behind all the words, ever resisting explanation. In the past five years I have placed it in many locations around the house and enjoyed it from all angles. It’s currently on the front porch on a concrete plinth. I have let its ineffability steep well and know that whatever it sends next will arrive in good time, probably without a category.


-Liz Crain, who stumbled upon these nuggets from Neil Gaiman this week: “The things I’ve done that worked the best were the things I was the least certain about…” and this: “…where would be the fun in making something you knew was going to work?” – to which she adds, “or that would fit neatly into any prescribed order whether it be retrospective, reflective or projective?”

And if you have another bit of time right now, please visit the newly expanded, well-tempered Portfolio and spend a few moments seeing just what all the brain-addling was about.



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2 thoughts on “My Back Pages

  1. Ahhh…Liz.. once again your words squish through me with that deep sense of knowingness. Your whimsey abounds and soothes the wee hours of sleep-free nights reminding me new creations are clamoring to be realized.

    1. Yes! And may all your realizations of those creations be juicy, Dear Noëlle.

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