The After Effects


Messy Studio
Studio “Before” March, 2018


It’s been a jam-packed past year but the greatest push of it culminated throughout the past month. I find myself now in the rain shadow of a solo show, which dovetailed with a massive studio purge and re-org, and followed by a chaser of insights into my creative process.  A Holy Trinity of tensions and releases, really. Then there are the After Effects from all of it. I can name three.

After Effects of the  Solo Exhibit — I created the works for my solo show over nine months’ time. The parts, pieces and possibilities took over my creative space and nearly all my thoughts. It was great fun, actually, to be so willingly swept away. At showtime, however, all those projects left together and the tidal surge of purposeful focus and activity ebbed away, leaving me beached and a bit bereft. Fortunately I have come to expect this and was already looking beyond it by planning the Next Things. That sort of segue really really helps. What caught me by surprise was that my tiny studio was clearly wrecked, as you can see above. (The rest of the space was woefully worse and I could only walk in about 18 inches.) As I half-heartedly began to tidy my way in, it felt daunting: the normal touches of post-exhibit funk combined with literal blockage, not enough space to sort it out and no sane or happy way to begin even one of the projects I had on the clipboard. One cannot organize clutter, but one can purge. So I purged.

After Effects of the Purge — The purge became a total remodel: new huge storage shelves, new task lighting, new configuration of workspaces. It is still in the fine-tuning stage as I write, but enough radical rearrangement has occurred that I can no longer find things automatically, even if nothing is in my way. It’s created an odd Not-My-Life sensation. I bump into the edges of the new configuration, walk to the “old” spot to set something down, and feel like a visitor in my own place. As a kid I used to get all happy deep-cleaning my room (I know, that’s weird…) but then I would sit in it feeling strangely empty, utterly afraid to mess it up again. It’s sort of like that now in the studio and I relate it to the very real fear of a blank canvas. I gingerly started and stopped several new projects, making sure to stow them neatly on my designated Works-in-Progress shelves. But that feeling of needing things to stay unsullied is death to creativity, at least mine, so I spent some time wondering why and how I needed to be creative at this new juncture and had some freeing insights.

After Effects of the Insights I’ll spare you the wonderings and just cut to the epiphany and what it might mean. All this time (decades) I have thought that the art objects that I made, and especially what of them I shared with the world, were the point of my carefully coddled creative process, the crux of the biscuit, as it were. That a favorable reception of the beautiful things themselves – by me or anyone – was the goal.  It’s not.

I realized that the physical objects I make are merely the by-products – sometimes even detritus – of the process itself. Their existence, aesthetics, esteem, and economics are diversions. The classes, art biz books and websites, coaches and gurus, mentors and clay buddies, ceramic sales, festivals, exhibits, competitions and online events are busywork. My carefully defined core values, product families, price points, merchandising methods, and selling style are gimcrackery. The countless artist statements, social media posts and magnificent manifestos? Fluff. I’ve suffered failures, imagined slights, had inappropriate envy, false hope and creative exhaustion, thinking it was all necessary to the cause. Guess what? It’s not.

When these realizations sunk in so deeply that I felt the truth of them in my bones, in my interstitium, in my vagus nerve, I laughed out loud. For me, in this lifetime, Process is the Product! Any residuals are delicious gravy. The core reason I create is to give myself something I want to look at, marvel over, and fall in love with. Nothing more is really needed.

–Liz Crain, who of course reserves the right to carry on with the whole biscuit, apostrophes and all.

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You Go Back In The Studio and Apologize to That Clay!

Handle ceramic drum
Ceramic Drum with One Piece Handle


First off, a hearty welcome to new readers of the Studio Journal who joined us last weekend at my Open Studio. That annual crush of enthusiasts always gives me a chance to tell old stories related to how I came to make the stuff I do. Here’s one I’d forgotten and I thought to repeat it here because it contains one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received.

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Creative Deep Freeze and The Spring Thaw




When we last spoke, I was becoming curious about the workings of My Creative Block, hoping to at least ease the resistance and struggle, daring to think it could even be perverse fun. You don’t have to read that piece to understand this one, but it might illuminate. Anyhow, it was curiosity that led me to pick apart the components of the Creative Process to see if and how Blocks fit in. That’s what I’m gonna talk about here.Read More >

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Studio Tour Part One: North Wall


Liz Crain Ceramics Studio


Here begins a four-part virtual Studio Tour of my ceramic-making digs. We’re starting with the North Wall and will continue in the coming weeks to the other compass points. Expect sidetracks into the crannies of my small, semi-efficient  working space. I’m sharing my studio up close and personal as a way to augment my Artist Number 207 2015 Santa Cruz County Open Studio Art Tour.  During that Tour, visitors can peek in, but not enter this space.  Even if they could go in, they would not get this in-depth description. Besides, it’s all cleaned up then, but you’re seeing it un-staged and in use.

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Making Mistakes Right: The Artist’s Talk, T Minus 5 Days

Artist Talk 1

I was invited to give a three-hour Artist’s Talk/Demo at Cabrillo College Ceramics and it’s coming up this Friday.

While I gladly said yes about a month ago, I am now wondering just who volunteered me behind my back, because the scaredy-catted introverted hide-in-her-studio artist has got the dithers. My Inner Critic, Scylla,  is quite sure I will suck in the most boringly didactic way possible. That the crowd will politely suffer my foolishness and drift off at the first break and it will be The Worst Talk Ever.Read More >

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Chase the Dream, Not the Competition



After six years,  I’m stepping away from the Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour for at bit. I won’t even apply again until 2015 at the earliest. Good for me!

Like eating peanuts, I made sure I ended on a good one. This year’s effort was my best showing ever, in both artwork and presentation. It had the most attendance (over 400 visitors) and satisfying sales numbers in all categories.

I know other local artists who create a on-off Open Studio schedule, some as an every-other-year practice, some sporadically, as other projects and interests allow. Might it work for me?Read More >

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Tales of the Workshop: In Which Art and Spirit Meet the Creative Process in a Clay-Collage Mash-up



The Workshop  Art and Spirit led by the venerable Coeleen Kiebert, is a way to access and define one’s creative vocabulary, personal imagery, art-making process and style. Held at her stunning sea-view ceramic studio in Rio Del Mar – which also manages to be intimate and comforting – we found sharing, guidance and time for insights. While I’d taken this course in a longer format over a decade ago, it simply can’t be called a repeat; I am just not the same artist as when I first learned these methods. My goal was to arrive with as few expectations as possible, stay in the moment and tell the truth. Oh, and to circle back around to the intelligent, protective energy that Coeleen provides. What a week!

Day One: Re-steeping myself in Coeleen’s descriptive creative process and beginning again with the making of a found imagery collage on a huge 18×24 paper support. We are silent and it takes hours finding the pictures and words to select, where to place and interrelate each piece.  The collage-making proved intuitive and I did not over-think it.  Coeleen suggested we pause and look for evidence of the four elements in our imagery and colors.  I found tons of Earth (natch), reasonable amounts of Fire and Water, but almost NO Air. When the seabreeze kept lifting my unattached piles of papers and blowing them upside down and into different arrangements, I decided that Air was playfully present and I did not need to try to represent it with imagery. I dreamt of my images that night and returned in the morning to attach the last ones before we gathered to share and respond.



Day Two: Collage completed,  Coeleen introduces The Map, a conceptual grid of thirds which aids in interpreting our images by where in the rectangle they have been placed. The grid includes a continuum from unconscious to conscious, higher and lower realms, fears, undeveloped concepts, dreams, outward and inward movements, archetypal and Shadow areas.  What images and colors did I repeat or put in prominent positions? What meanings can I pull from them, literal, analogic and metaphoric? These represent a language I think in: a glimpse of my image vocabulary. She suggested we pick three images and fashion them in clay,  recommending that one of them be an image we don’t quite understand or are disturbed by.  I started with the piano-playing hands and the seed image from the lower left, then went to the straight-forward ceramic pitcher, the vessel near the center.  Side pieces appeared, but it was great to work with clay independently of needing it to have any sort of outcome: just be there and be attentive and responsive to what comes up. I could not decide on a third piece, but slept on it.



Day Three: In the morning I quickly made two clay pieces from collage imagery I did not understand. They were curvilinear and abstract,  and I wound up liking both really well, even if I still didn’t quite get them.



In the late morning Coeleen guides us to The Doodle as way to access a personal style. We have a few warm-up doodles and we’re off for an uninterrupted time, moving the oil pastels silently and goal-lessly over the page however we like. And, yes, it IS touchy-feely in just the right way: a supremely visceral and kinesthetic experience for me. Outcome is not important, but I do find myself wondering what the page “needs” to express itself: Another color? Another series of marks in this corner? It was a dialogue. We hung our doodles next to our collages and began to notice similarities of colors and patterns,  the division of space, the energy expressed. The collage and doodle processes are so different, and yet the results are clearly cousins!



Day Four: Time to doodle with the clay!  Grab a grapefruit-sized lump of clay, work with eyes closeddoodling in 3D for at least 15-20 minutes, open your eyes and continue working.  Out came this giganto spiky pod thing! What is similar here to my previous collage and doodle imagery? What has evolved? Insights? I’m beginning to think I enjoy seed pods and potential growth more than I thought I did.



Day Five: This last day is dedicated to refining the clay pieces and making one last foray into something we each wanted to understand better. I found myself making another collage. In this one I specifically was asking to understand what the concept of vessel means to me. The night before I had looked up all the meanings of the word, so I let myself find the right imagery for ships and veins and containers, even metaphoric ones as in, “He was a vessel of the Lord.”  I placed the new collage next to the old one, with my doodles and clay work alongside. I find only a few connections, and only the ones I had intentionally put there; I’m spent.  But the other workshop folks pointed to one similarity after another, the unity being obvious to them. And obviously I have tons more to apprehend, which I take as a Very Good Thing.


Coda: I took my wet clay pieces home,  finished and fired several.  The one I still don’t quite understand – the screw-like piece taken from the first collage – got a coat of black underglaze and after firing it,  I covered it unevenly with thin gold leaf. The aim is to have it look more like the mysterious gold object (originally an artifact in a National Geographic.) It’s hanging on the wall a glance away, just to the upper left of my monitor, the spot on The Map where dreams reside.


– Liz Crain, who is so happy to be working this way again, she signed on for six more weeks at Coeleen’s studio starting in late October!



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