Article 25

Artists’ Rituals

In Uncategorized on 03/29/2016 at 4:04 pm


Sprout form, porcelain, by Pam Korte.

The Dream World, Knolling and Trying Harder

By Anne Skove

Inspired by Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, we have approached a number of artists to find out what makes them tick. Each month three individuals who paint, write, sing, dance or otherwise create share their habits with us. This month we feature Christine Green, Judith Serling-Sturm and Pam Korte.

Christine Green stomps her foot

Christine Green

Christine Green

Philip Roth claimed, “Writing isn’t hard work, it’s a nightmare.” Is he right?

“Sometimes. Writing can be completely effortless and led by something totally outside of yourself. Yet at the same time it can be teeth-grinding, tear-producing, and foot-stomping hard. (Clearly, I act like a toddler when I write.). Simply put: It’s a mix. Some days are hard and awful and other days it is easy and the words just flow.”

Playwright Arthur Miller said, of the writing life, “The only image I can think of is a man walking around with an iron rod in his hand during a lightning storm.” Can you summon up a different image?

“I actually love this image. Like I hinted at above, the best writing that I’ve done comes through me from somewhere else. Not ‘god’ per se, but from a place so deep inside it feels like a galaxy away. I know that sounds vague and sort of New Agey, but I guess what I’m saying it that it is about letting go of fear and resistance. So holding that metal rod to the skies is precisely what HAS to be done. Faith, fear, exhilaration.”

Anthropologist Margaret Mead hated to waste time. Currey recounts an instance where a symposium meeting was postponed, infuriating Mead: “Do they realize what use I could have made of this time? Do they know I get up at 5 o’clock every morning to write a thousand words before breakfast?” Does every minute count?

“Meh, Mead is being a bit dramatic. Though, as a fellow anthropologist and writer I embrace drama myself! In all seriousness, even though good writing comes from a place of letting go, you still have to actually clock some time at the computer.

“My best writing comes from two places: my dreams and my memories. The dream world and the world of memory is filled with imagery and emotion and can lead to great writing.”

Christine Green is a freelance writer and a literary arts columnist for Rochester, N.Y.’s Democrat & Chronicle. She has been published in Story Bleed, Genesee Valley Parent, aaduna, the Democrat and Chronicle, the American Cancer Society’s Choose You Blog, Healthy Urban Kitchen, Germ Magazine, The Light Ekphrastic, Naptime Notebook, and Mused Literary Review. She has essays in the anthologies Mother Muse and Motherly Musings. She hosts Words on the Verge, a monthly literary reading and salon in Brockport, N.Y. You can learn more about Christine at

Judith Serling-Sturm takes a walk

Judith Serling-Sturm

Judith Serling-Sturm

“At any given time I have a number of pieces in progress, so being organized is important as well as a struggle. I keep notes. I keep a notebook for every artist book I do, beginning with when I commit to an idea and I keep notes on everything I tried that didn’t work
I tack ideas I have but have not yet committed to on the wall.

“I have my ‘muse shelves,’ Styrofoam that would otherwise not rot in a landfill filled with natural objects I collected because their shapes or their textures or their markings communicated something. These pieces are often incorporated in my work; other times they serve as an image bank of design elements. I always have plastic bags with me because I never know where I will find my next ‘treasure.’

“I line up the tools I will need for whatever work I will be doing prior to beginning them with, much the way a cook might get all the ingredients and tools before beginning a recipe.

“I learned a while ago to use only clear bins – I am always reorganizing, especially since projects have different space requirements, so it is extremely helpful to be able to see what is in various boxes and bins.

“Thanks to Tom Sachs, I practice knolling before leaving the studio, which means I put away everything I have used which I will not be using the next day, and what I do leave out on my workstations I square. This feels so impossibly good and makes it much easier to launch into work the next day. In addition, I leave myself notes of what I want to work on the next day.

“But the most important thing I do is walk to the studio. It is 35 minutes that I use to think about the work – or not think about work – and center my mind. By the time I get to the studio and change my clothes I am ready to get right to work. I waste so much less time when I walk and am much more productive.”

Judith Serling-Sturm creates custom handmade books for milestone events, original manuscripts, collections and whatever a customer has in mind. In addition, she creates blank journals that she sells from her studio at the Pendleton Art Center. Her greatest interest lies in artist books, and she has exhibited her work in shows around the country. Her artist book Home-Michael is in the permanent collection of the Cincinnati Library. She has been a visiting artist in classrooms up and down the East Coast. She wrote the book arts curriculum for the Washington, D.C., Waldorf School and taught it for five years. She is a participating artist for the Taft Museum’s Artists Reaching Classrooms (ARC) program and is the chair of the Cincinnati Book Arts Society.

Pam Korte counts backward

“When it all comes together, a creative life has the nourishing power we normally associate with food, love and faith.” (Twyla Tharp)

“The habits of creative people are not only nourishing like food, love and faith but they require the discipline that making food, having love and building faith require. I see all of these pursuits requiring time, craft and application on a regular basis to stay in the shape that produces success. Actually these are four pursuits that I hold dear, and none of them has been internalized without practice. You are not born a craftsperson, a cook, a lover, a believer. You have a hunger to express something, you study, place yourself with a mentor, try, fail, try harder. I have seen people with loads of talent but no discipline; they are not making their art. This learning curve of practice, failure, practice, success, practice, more questions, practice, new idea, practice, practice, practice informs the ability to develop any skill.

“The formal constraints of working with clay are served very well by discipline. You can’t physically make pots on a napkin even though you could sketch an idea. I try to work if not every day, then designated days that have a group of hours to them. Getting elbow deep in clay is not something I can do for an hour here and an hour there. I mostly try to work in four- to five-hour blocks; the body complains and is less effective after that. There is for me a physical process of warming up, clearing my head, kneading clay or stirring glazes, perhaps lining up tasks from easiest to most challenging. With show deadlines, you are always counting backward: work due here, last possible glaze firing here, glazed no later than this day, bisque firing by this date, all work bone-dry this day, last day to make and trim work! Oh and my personal mantra: Make twice as much as you need so that you can pick your best work for the sale or show that you are preparing for.

“My muse is most active when I court her with attention to the universe. New ideas come from observation in the garden and frequent perusal of my collection of botanical books. These sources keep me connected to the structure of growing habits, the variety and scale of detail in natural form, the bounty and emphasis of color in nature. Leaving time for dreaming, reading, especially poetry, are the personal habits that ensure an active imagination. I keep a notebook by my bed. Sometimes a phrase strikes me as a concept for a work or group of works. What would that look like in clay? How would I make it, glaze it? When can I try that?

“Creativity is a place where my spirit and the Spirit meet to play. I walk from my house to the garage, which houses the studio. At the top of the stairs is a white room flooded with light from windows on three sides. My potter’s wheel faces the gardened backyard that is also a flyway for birds seeking the plants and feeders. In this space I let ideas come out to play, prayers to form, peace to enter. Working in clay embodies the freedom to open to my true self, courage to press physically and visually beyond what I have done before, mindfulness at being in a very specific moment with my hands and heart.

“I know that I must work creatively. If I am stymied in the studio, I head for the kitchen to try something new. Not making, being too busy to play in this way makes me crabby! I hate the month of August because of the heat, which is discouraging to studio and kitchen work. Often I take time away from the studio in this season. When reasonable temperatures return, it is such a relief to get back to this work, like meeting up with your best friend.

“A funny personal quirk is that I try to do an hour of housework before I head for the studio: bill paying, laundry, cleaning, arranging flowers, something that will quiet the house voice that screams, ‘Do me, do me,’ and has the added benefit of removing most of the guilt from my upbringing that says houses were meant to be tidy and inviting at all times. I find that order does make room for creative thinking but I don’t want to have earned the epitaph, ‘She kept a clean house.’

“Most of what I make is functional work for flowers and the table. Increasingly I am making work based on my observations in our garden; pots that are inspired by the life force in the shapes of our flowers, seed pods and vegetables. I am not worried about what work in the world these pots will do, like a bowl designed and destined for salad. These one-of-a-kind pots feel like an expression of the life and beauty that I hold and want to share with the world.”

Pam Korte is retired after 30 years as assistant professor at Mt. St. Joseph University, where she taught the ceramics program. For eight years she also taught writing for art and design majors in freshman and senior seminar classes with Professor Loyola Walter. She has maintained a studio practice in various locations for 36 years and participates in selected regional shows. She has served as an artist-in-residence in area schools and her work has been featured in Ceramics Monthly magazine and other publications. Korte is a member of the 5th Street Gallery, a co-op gallery of Greater Cincinnati artists. She is an original member of Studio Collection, a women’s collective exhibition group. She lives and has a studio in Madisonville, where she and her husband, writer and poet Richard Hague, are also gardening and restoring (constantly) a 120-year-old house.



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