Finding the Words


Knitted Porcelain Place setting
Knitted Porcelain Placesetting – 2019

As you know, Dear Reader, in the past year I have been deep into the making of radically new ceramic work: figuring out the methods of design and construction, finding and developing the best practices for it, fiddling around with how far I could stretch, often failing and surprisingly not minding. After an intense year, this fledgling body of work was ready to show in several increasingly high-stakes debuts. Showing has its own demands, which in my case proved to be more verbal than anything. And you DO need to be able to talk easily and well because your art doesn’t speak for itself: YOU do. You also need to write about it and sometimes support it in articulate non-verbal ways as well. Yet, for the longest time, I foundered, uncharacteristically speechless, unable to find my Unmute button. Turns out it’s the Play button which does both for me.

SO many words are needed in support of one’s art anymore! It’s way beyond just having a personal aesthetic manifesto in your Artist Statement. I do believe that a solid body of actual work- not the concepts or intents of it – must come first, and that the right words for how to describe, explain and “package” it come later, especially after the curious ask their natural questions and you find yourself wincing and feeling a bit cornered when blatting out your first stumbling, awkward, TMI, or defensive replies, possibly while suffering the all-too-human challenges of aching feet, a frog in the throat, uncomfortable weather or whatever. Here’s an annotated list of the types of words I need to have at hand:

  • The Big Idea: The tagline for my work is “More than Meets the Eye.” It has served me well for the past five years with the Rusty Cans, the Henpecked Bowls, the Games People Play, and it certainly continues vital. (Shout out to Priscilla, my website maven, who coined it!) And now, with this new body of work, I see it’s not only an aspirational phrase, but an exactly true one.  I delight in the fact that clay can assume nearly any guise and I feel the best about my work when it carries a strong aspect of that wonderous ability.  The eyes say one thing and the touch says another. Some folks insist my porcelain is still fiber. Others think I knit with tiny clay coils.  It’s OK, I want to fool them a bit, so when I do, I have met my jolly alchemist goals and we both take delight.
  • Methods: Here’s where the nitty gritty Shop Talk holds sway. Some want the grinding details and others are yawning at the first mention of clay bodies and firing temps. It takes a lot to know when to mention only highlights and bullet points so as not to lose your audience, and when to drill down. Do I have any trade secrets? Nah. Whatever I say or don’t say about my process, I know darn well will it be filtered, interpreted or ignored. Besides, in order to do this exact style of work, you first need to like to knit. A lot. So I have no secrets and will go as far into it as a questioner questions. I wrote about the reasons for transparency a long time ago after I had been subjected to an expensive Saturday workshop with a stingy presenter, and I wrote about the myriad reasons why no one needs to do that. (If you hit the link and just scroll to the ABCD points, you’ll catch it.)
  • That Darned Artist Statement: Always tricky to write, here’s where the prose can get pretty purpley. Beware! Art Babble is not only off-putting, it’s dated, IMHO. And anyway I absolutely cannot write a statement that serves all my purposes for all time, so I tend to be continually rewriting and updating it, to relate what’s happening now. I see that I’m more comfortable with the language of invitations, conversations and storytelling, with perhaps a few philosophic zingers sprinkled in for zest. My latest statement is at the end of this essay below my sign-off. It’ll do pretty well. Til the next one.
  • Answers to FAQs: This is why having words for The Big Idea and all the versions of your Methods which you are at peace with counts, because the questions will be gushing forth. How? Why? Really? No way! How Fragile? May I touch? Wait, tell me that again… How?
  • Taking Advice And Defending Your Choices:  Why all white? Why not bigger?  Why don’t you just……? Have you heard about……? YKHYCDT? (Alphabet string for “You know how you could do that?” learned from Melissa Joulwan in her fabulous cookbooks.) It’s a dance of love and caring, so I always listen and often take notes. But I do have my reasons for my current choices and generally stand by them, so I need words at hand that address a teachable moment, not stonewall or rebut. Kind words. Firm words. And an open mind because some folks offer gold.
  • Elevator Speech to Artist’s Talk: Knowing what to say when you officially have the floor for ten seconds or longer. Tell stories!!!! Be funny and a little self-deprecating, but Know Your Onions because you really mean it and you practiced. Maybe you even wrote down some talking points first?
  • Promotional Stuff and Interpretive Messaging: What flavor are you serving up here? Even your short descriptors, postcards and wall labels have an opportunity to align with and reiterate your Big Idea and Methods. It’s slightly more than a logo, but along those lines.
  • The Process Storyboard: This a specialized Interpretive Message, because some folks won’t or can’t talk to you, but are still curious. The illustrated process storyboard is the perfect visual. Keep it short, pictorial and sweet – focused on highlights and maybe even a bit mysterious, inviting engagement. The storyboard is for both kids (part comic book) and nerds (part graphic novel,) so have fun with it, too.
  • Website Copy: When you aren’t there in person in real time: Reiterate and, yes, sell that sizzle and keep it current in all the corners of your site. I can always improve mine because I write by the seat of my pants sometimes just to get the hell off the ‘puter. (Except here in the Studio Journal where I agonize for typically a whole week over an 800-1000-word post.) Do what you do, but understand the connections to your work.
  • Pricing: a message in numbers. Prices, like the works they’re attached to, denote and connote. They speak in the dog-whistles of belonging, relationships, echelons, and playing fields. I’m no different; I struggle mightily with pricing, but have come to chuckle over it. I generally wait for my gut to second the motion regarding pricing points and still I will hear from others  Too low!!!! Too high!!!! Gotta take this like any other “Defending Your Choices” stance. Awake. Aware. Gentle.
  • Your Whole Display: a visual support language. My former ceramic work – rusty vintage cans – was colorful and funky and the ways I presented it attempted to let their colors glow while echoing the rustiness and vintage labels. Now my work is translucent white texture and shape, so I’m having fun playing with simple background visuals of black and gray and, ahhhhhh, all shades of soft turquoises to provide pop and satisfy my soul. But I remain open to other colors and patterns, like the deep purple damask tablecloth I pressed into service as a backdrop in the photo up top.  Understated, but lush and resonant. My point is, if I hadn’t changed the visual support language in my displays, my current work would have to fight uphill to even be seen clearly, much less understood. So, once ya got it, frame it well.
  • The Big Idea II: The Claytriarchy and the Goddess are aspects of this work I sense, but don’t quite have the words to further explain. No worries, the Muse wants to find you at work, anyway, so whatever archetypal tension-of-the-opposites I’ve stepped into with this trompe l’oeil passion – Masculine rusty cans to Feminine knitted porcelain – I trust it to be a simple gift and I can come down right by taking just the next step and the step after that, knowing that the words will find me.

–Liz Crain, who doesn’t ever know definitively what she thinks until she has to put it in words and explain herself. To that end, an Open Studio, a Festival Faire booth, an Artist’ s Talk or, most commonly, a website with a shop and a blog, all provide the needed ongoing impetus.

For more: I have current and upcoming occasions to share my work and my words. You can check them out on the Events Page. 

But for now, here’s that Artist’s Statement!

Liz Crain, Artist Statement, September, 2019

This current body of work enfolds two ancient crafts into one alchemy which I call Knitted Porcelain. Yet calling it that may hijack one’s concept of what it is, for I do not actually knit with tiny porcelain coils, as a viewer once surmised.

But “Porcelainized Knitting” sounds clinical and, besides, sometimes I crochet or sew, embroider or felt my pieces. So the descriptor “knitted” takes a step away from referring to a specific handicraft and comes to mean “united.”

The literal infusion of the cotton or wool with the liquid porcelain takes both materials over the threshold to a brand new place. The clay slip permeates the soft fabric constructions in and out, sets up and dries slowly and, when kiln-fired to vitrification, sees the fibers incinerate and the clay turn to lovely strong translucent white porcelain which retains the imprint of each stitch down to the threads of the twine’s ply.

Each piece is handformed in fiber, sewn, shaped, appended, soaked, and coaxed into soft expressive gestures as their innate structure allows, the fiber being a transitory armature. In drying, they continue to find interesting resting places. The heatwork of the kiln and the natural shrinkage which occurs there further accentuate the abiding structural tendencies. A huge part of this unifying yet transformative art is welcoming the idiosyncracies of each material and each physical process each step of the way.

In the end, this union of two heretofore stand-alone radically separate pursuits in my life, feels to me like a yoga of a myriad of archetypes, a metaphoric knitting together done in a viscerally material way.


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6 thoughts on “Finding the Words

  1. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

    1. Sorry for us both, Louis! Would have LOVED to have read the whole of your thoughts… Next time!!!! And thank you.

  2. wow, Liz, your posts are always worth reading. This one is so thorough, I want to refer back to it, as writing about my art continues to be a challenge. It helps to know this beautifully crafted piece took some time, as mine do. I had to smile at the reference to the Shaker song, our land was once part of their Pleasant Hill, my neighbors farm is called “Simple Gifts”. Thank you for your uniqueness, an inspiration for me. and I love this new work, being a knitter, I see the intricacy involved.

    1. Big Hello Kathleen! It’s wonderful to hear of the many (more) ways we’re connected. Knitters! Music! Writers-Who-Take-A-Long-Time! And I’m really glad you enjoy my words (now that I found a few) enough to want to refer back to it! One of the best things you ever did for your intricate necklaces is that color card naming each bead. I have “Talisman for Eire” and it’s a beauty I feel I know very well because of that one extra touch. Let’s each walk out on our land today and send good wishes to each other. Thank you.

      1. Hi Liz,
        This is Amy, one of the early arrivals at your studio on Saturday. Thank you for your time and great spirit of sharing. I’m attempting to purchase shot up beer cans but can’t add to the cart. I hope it doesn’t mean they are all gone.
        Best wishes from the other side of the hill.

        1. Hi Amy!
          Thanks for visiting my Open Studios in person. Sorry you’re not able to make the SHOP Cart work here. I sent you a separate email as to how we can get you some shot-up beer cans another way. Hoping you got it and also hope to hear from you soon as to your decision(s). Will have the site Check-out and Cart checked-out in the meantime! All the best, Liz

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