Intentional Creativity

Yesterday, this article appeared in the New York Times  about why ceramics are white hot right now.  It gave me a moment to stop and think about my own creative journey with ceramics and what I want to do.  I have been, for the last ten weeks or so, deep in the planning stages of officially launching a ceramic art business.  I have made ceramics for over 20 years.  Many of my guests from our B&B days have pieces of mine in their homes, and this has always brought me a great deal of satisfaction.  But I have had so many fits and starts with ceramics, and have never really given it a fair chance as a business, where I launch my own creative ideas in a way that is clear, makes a design statement, and moves me forward as an artist.  

The reasons are many.  But the most significant is that ceramics is a profession of phases and rituals.  It requires a great deal of focus and repetive work.  Losses are huge - a piece can break in the kiln, effecting all the pieces around it, you can make a calculation mistake when mixing a glaze, and the smallest impurity can smudge an otherwise flawless piece.  Yet, I perservere, because I love it, and I have always wanted to make a go of it.  Since ceramics are white hot, there may not be a better chance  than today. 

So I am in the process of starting a few lines.  I've had two full kilns of tests over the last three weeks, and now can see which directions I can go. It's been a matter of which clay bodies, which forms and which glazes to use. It's really the first time since I have done ceramics that I've taken an organized approach to creating with intention.  I have learned so much from so many.  There are such excellent potters out there, and it's made me want to raise my game on every aspect of production. 

Stoneware pasta bowls

Stoneware pasta bowls

I've committed to cleaning up and renovating a second work space in our barn, and am planning on starting to give pottery classes in the fall!  I have the space and I'm pretty sure with pottery's popularity right now, there will be sufficient demand.  I even have the idea in the back of my mind to do a pottery workshop - one where a couple of people can travel and visit me here in our village in the Black Forest for a pottery intensive with writing, hiking, food and wine thrown in...

Tea cups and egg cups 

Tea cups and egg cups 

After I've finalized my design ideas into a clear vision, I will be attending a couple of local art fairs this summer and launching my online business - for the last time.  I've had too many stops and starts in the past, and only want to launch when my offering is where I want to be, but you can get some ideas from these photos of the direction I'm moving. 

Stoneware bowl

Stoneware bowl

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Ceramics are a creative journey.  The pieces here are functional tableware, which is where I focus almost all of my time.  However, I'm adding wall art to the mix as I have always been intrigued in the mixing of ceramics with painting.  I've got several designs worked out on paper and I only now have to dedicate some studio time to new prototypes to make this vision a reality. 

Oh, and I'm knee deep in writing a book... but more on that later.   

So as I settle down into all of this, I am getting very excited thinking of a spring full of gardening, ceramics and art.  

 

 

I'll try my best

I'll try my best not to worry today.  Not to worry about all the things that could happen that I can't change.  Not to succumb to a path of assuming the worst.   Because all that worry and a dime will still get you bubble gum, and not very much of it at that. And it doesn't help, it never has and never will.  All it does is detract from possibility, making every good thing seem impossible.  Today I'll take it a moment at a time, and treasure the beauty that is all around me, just waiting to be found. 

I'll try my best to center today.  Because centering is what brings me back to my core strengths, and reminds me of my purpose.  It's the tool I have at my disposal when life gets tough and complicated. Come back to center.  Come back to what I know to be true.  

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I'll try my best to create beauty today.  Because this world is going to be saved by artists and dreamers, gardeners and writers.  I want to be among those changing things for good.  It's up to us, and us alone, to manifest beauty and love.  

I'll try my best to be kind today.  Because in this byte-driven, distracted and hyper-stressed world, only kindness can break through and let us exhale. Just being nice is not complicated, and doesn't require anything from us other than to assume the best instead of the worst in each other.  

I'll try my best.  

 

 

 

 

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Slow Steps

Porcelain platters in the greenware stage 

Porcelain platters in the greenware stage 

 

Well, I never intended for MONTHS to go by without posting, but here we are.  It's been a challenging time.  I seem to have misplaced my mojo and although I've searched for it high and low, it's still hiding.  But life is like that at times, and I am learning to accept things as they are far more than I ever have been able before.  Because if life's taught me one thing, the only way to it is through it.  

Our little house in Italy continues to be a project - we didn't manage to get it completed this summer.  There is still work to be done - punctuated by the fact that I had to leave the project with our belongings inside but with no door or windows and return to Germany.  We accepted the fact that there was no way to complete the project at this point and let the idea of a deadline in 2017 go.  We'll go down in spring together and knock off the remaining to-do list and get the place livable. 

This process has taught me something important.  I realize that I no longer have the desire or the intestinal fortitude - or the gumption - to do this type of thing anymore.  It's been a hard lesson to learn.  I believe that I had to take this one on to internalize how important it is that I don't push myself so hard anymore - and the difficulties we've encountered have been the milestones toward learning that lesson.  

It was a tough year for me, one where I was forced to listen to what was really going on inside of myself and how I want to carry on from here.   It's my 60th year, this one, and it's not lost on me that I am reckoning with many of the aftershocks of the changes we've gone through over the last two decades. The monstrous projects, the homesteading in foreign countries, the cultural shifts, the language learning, the getting older.  It all came to roost this year, breaking me into teeny pieces to once again look at and reassemble.  Taking on too much has been a theme in life for me, as it is for so many women.  But age and experience are slowing me down.  I want to make room in life for new possibilities that aren't mountains to scale, but rather soft hills and rivers to savor. 

I've taken stock of what I want and what we need.  I have returned to my studio and have rededicated myself to the art of making simple pots.  This spring, I will plant a garden.  I will write here. I will help my husband with his wine business.  Those are the things I know for sure.  I am trying - the best I can - to take it day by day.  Not to look too much into a future which feels so uncertain to me.  I know, intuitively, I need to ground myself in real things that heal me and heal the earth around me. More, right now, I cannot do.

 So I ask you to join me on this step by step, slow gentle journey, hands in the earth, face in the sun.  I have missed writing for you.  I hope you will still want to read my words as I very much want to feel and hear your response to it. 

There is only so much time.  And only so much energy.  Let's be gentle, continue forward, and take stock of all the good around us.  

May Love Lead (us home)

The Call home   mixed media on gallery wrapped 4 cm deep canvas.  50 x 70 cm. (available) 550 euro plus shipping.  contact me privately for details .

The Call home   mixed media on gallery wrapped 4 cm deep canvas.  50 x 70 cm. (available) 550 euro plus shipping.  contact me privately for details .

We're here to live.  To love.  To create. To give to each other and to experience ourselves as part of life.  

I often forget this myself, and become mired in worries and regrets.  It takes conscious effort to pull out of a bad space and back into the here and now. This moment, this precious moment of knowing that everything, right now, is fine.  It's partly brain chemistry, partly habit, and honestly, partly events that are challenging. 

I am in Italy presently, working on the renovation of our Tiny House here. I'm aware I have not written about it in a long time, and that partly has to do with the sense of stress I feel doing this project. I thought it would be easier as I have a good deal of experience in renovating properties, especially in this country.  But now, in the thick of it, I find myself mired in details - trying to make the right decisions that take the house in the right direction.  We will be doing some of the finish work ourselves, and we'll be trying some things we've never done before to make that happen.  I hope it works out.  This past week, we've run around in the tortuous Italian heat getting second and third bids on tiles and windows.  Those decisions are now made and we've met with the plumber and the electrician and everyone has a clear idea of what will (and will not) be happening. 

the walls have been stripped back to this wallpaper.  There's no insulation on this left wall, so studs and insulation will be added, and we'll coat that with some kind of wood treatment that will be painted.  That's the plan, anyway...

As I move through this project, I find myself feeling at times brave and at times terrified.  It brings back a great deal of memories for me, of course.  I keep reminding myself that the house will always be only 50 square meters, or 500 square feet.  And Micha helps calm me down.  There is only so much you can do in a space of this size.  I have to say I like the energy of the space, and feel incredibly blessed to be attempting this at all. 

Old houses.  They get me every time. 

Which is probably why, when it comes to art, I am focusing on houses more than anything else right now.  My long, endless search for home comes through in each of these.  Home is a theme that comes back to me always.  Whether I am painting or making vessels to use in the home, the theme is always there for me.  It's been my muse for as long as I've been an artist.  I find myself just now giving myself over to its creative pull. 

She Built Her Own House 40x40 cm mixed media collage on gallery canvas.  (available)  200 euro plus shipping

She Built Her Own House 40x40 cm mixed media collage on gallery canvas.  (available)  200 euro plus shipping

Two houses in the woods  40x40 cm mixed media collage on gallery canvass.  (Private Collector)

Two houses in the woods  40x40 cm mixed media collage on gallery canvass.  (Private Collector)

I've become so enamored with these house paintings.  I feel led to paint people's homes - in this stylized, primative and organic way.  If you would like to consider having your home painted in this way, you can contact me privately.  I would be honored to recreate your home or the home of a love one in this way.  

In that essence, in the essence of home and calm love and hope for beauty to permeate your life in every way possible, I give you these closing thoughts:

We are here for but a fleeting moment, a moment we can take to share love and creativity in the best ways possible.  I want you to know that you, dear reader, you are love.  You incorporate love in your body and your soul.  You are the essence of spirit, sent to live this life of duality and confusion and beauty and pain, all twisted into a fabric of color and light and dark.  These days are sacred morsels for us to treasure.  When difficult moments come, remember brighter ones will follow.  Nothing stays the same in our fleeting moment here on earth - we're challenged to absorb and learn from continuous change.

May love lead- us home. 

Diana

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The Italian Tiny House Project

The 2 rooms in this tiny house are full of unbelievable ambience, even with the old wall paper and curtains. 

The 2 rooms in this tiny house are full of unbelievable ambience, even with the old wall paper and curtains. 

Last summer, when we were least needing or wanting a project (we were up to our necks building a one-of-a-kind online business to sell Piemontese wine throughout Germany and the rest of Europe), we came across something that caught our attention and wouldn't let us go.  

My friend Annika from Sweden posted on an Italian renovation facebook page that she was starting to think about finding an apartment or other property in Italy that she and her family could use as a vacation spot and possibly retirement residence in the distant future.  It needed to be very affordable, it could require cosmetic work and should be exactly where she wanted to be. As happens on those kinds of open calls, the entire community chimed in with ideas and opinions.  I started scouring  the sites I knew for properties she might like.  I didn't find anything for her.  But, as destiny would have it, I found one that interested us. 

That particular property ended up getting sold almost before I could write an email requesting information.  But as I was letting go of the idea, another property popped up; it was half the price of the one I had seen previously, was closer to the area we have come to love, and had a smaller garden (an advantage to us as there is little gardening work to do).  It had about 48 square meters, or about 516 square feet, of living space and about 35 square meters of cellar space.  It was located just on the edge of the Langhe Barolo village of Novello, and enjoyed views both vineyards and the Alps.  It's located in a borgata of about 12 houses, full of life, kids, animals and friendly people. Yes, there's a connector street in the distance too, but that was a small compromise we were willing to make; we've since discovered that small, very well priced properties like this never stay on the market for long as they are quickly snapped up by locals who know the owners. 

The living space is upstairs, and the cellar opens up to a terrace which leads down to a small lower garden.  It's attached to other houses on both sides. 

The living space is upstairs, and the cellar opens up to a terrace which leads down to a small lower garden.  It's attached to other houses on both sides. 

Up to this point we had kept a long term rental in Piemonte.  After selling our B&B and moving to Germany, our plan was to start the wine business, requiring us to be in Piemonte for long stretches of time.  The rent is super fair and the apartment has been very good for our needs, but we  both want Piemonte to be a permanent part of our lives. We loved the idea of having a small  bolthole of our own that we could design to our own specifications -something that could be bought and renovated for a modest budget.  We don't do vacations in a traditional sense.  We go home to Italy.  That's what we love to do.  

Neither of us were compelled to do a large renovation project in Italy.  We'd had a 6 phase monster of a project under our belts and it had been an exhausting, frustrating process.  But we also felt that we could take on something small, and try to use all of our experience to extract the best ideas with the least amount of money possible, creating a minimalist space that would be functional, cool, and welcoming.  We knew, even though it's a small house, that this would be a challenge.  Italian builders and geometre (the surveyor that helps you get your plans through the city) almost always have an extremely conservative viewpoint of what materials should be used, and also assume that foreigners have deep pockets.  So, with that in mind, we were prepared to stand our ground during the design process. 

Here's the original floor plan.  You enter from the car park (driveway) into the living room (soggiorno).  The shower is located outside on the balcony (wc).  You can see the exterior staircase that leads from the driveway to the basement.  This is staying.  We thought about bringing it inside, but the costs were too high and the compromise on interior space too great. 

And this is the basic redesign plan that we'll apply for: 

 

We're removing the wall between two of the rooms to create a long space - it will most likely require an iron support beam which will be left exposed. This space will be about 9 meters long and about 3 meters at its widest.  This will be an open plan kitchen, dining, and living space with a wood burning stove as a heat source.  It opens onto the back balcony.  The bathroom has been moved and will contain a 70x 100 cm shower, sink and toilet.  The bedroom also opens onto the balcony.  The headboard will double as end tables, with a shelf and lighting.   The floors will all be simple concrete that we'll either acid wash and polish or paint with Carte Colori floor paint. This was a tough sell with the geometra and he's still not really buying it.  The existing ceramic tiles will come up and a reinforced concrete screed will be poured.  This would need to be done even if we were putting wood or tiles down.  The concrete will be compressed with a concrete compressor and then treated. 

For wall color, I will be mixing my own natural lime wash with pigments.  I hope to get the advice of my friend and natural color artist  Alison Faith Kay in the process.  Alison's work is amazing.  We've known each other for years, and watching what she's doing now in terms of living life on her own creative terms is so inspiring.  

We opted against an expensive central heating system, much to the consternation of our geometra.  The space is small and can easily be heated with the wood burning stove.  We're going to be there a few weeks in winter only, so why do more than is necessary to be comfortable and have a great atmosphere? We'll have a very small water boiler for the hot water, enough for a couple of showers and service to the bathroom and kitchen.  More is simply not necessary.

The far wall of the kitchen is planned with white subway tiles up to the ceiling.  My neighbor here in Germany is a blacksmith and is helping me make thick wood slab shelves with iron shelf brackets for that back wall, which will be spot lit - I plan to make a set of natural wood ashed glaze plates, bowls and cups specifically for this house.  This will be showcased on the natural wood shelves. 

Our plan is to be in the space by August.  The cellar space, which we had originally planned to renovate with the house, will remain untouched.  We've had several ideas for the cellar space.  I think, in the end, it will be a wine cellar and art studio.  Turning it into official living space would have been costly.  The ceiling highs downstairs are 260 cm, and Italian building regs require 270 ceilings on renovations.  That would have meant digging out the cellar and repouring the floors 10 cm lower, lowering doors, windows, etc.  In addition, there would have been a 5% change of use tax on the renovation costs. We simply lost interest when we carefully looked at why we are doing this project.  It's to provide us with joy, not headaches and anxiety.  We are putting in a tube to be able to install a wood burning stove at the lower level.  Next year, we might have the builder just put down some rebar and a cement screed to level off the floors.  But the rest of the downstairs we will do ourselves over time.  What's the rush, really?  

This whole project is a bit of an experiment in letting go of things that do not serve.  I have been fascinated by small spaces for years, ever since making Tammy Stroebel's acquaintence on the internet back in 2009.  I would like this house to be of good design, and the lessons drawn to be of living large through going small.  

So this is a bit of a spiritual journey, this little house, quite an unexpected one.  I am finding myself very excited at what is to come, about doing art work there and seeing what results.  

Here's a short video of how the front and interior look right now.  I'll keep filming through the renovation and completion - the good and the bad :)  I like to say the Tiny House is all Annika's fault!  I will make her pay by coming and sharing a bottle of wine with us when it's all finished!