The Clay Lady’s Books
A blog for artists and art teachers

The Clay Lady’s Definition of Being an Artist…

Take what you think, take what you feel, mix it all up, and make something real!

Since 1982 I have taught students my simple rhyme that illustrates everyone can be an artist. Although simple, I have found it holds great meaning and power. When I first began teaching my definition of being an artist, it was a straightforward formula for taking something ordinary, adding an artist’s best thoughts and feelings to this ordinary thing to make it the best it could be—an easy definition of what an artist does. As I progressed in my artistic life, I could see the power in this rhyme as I used it not just for clay, but for everything. I began to understand the power in making my thoughts and feelings real to create my business, my relationships, and my life. It was later in my journey as an artist that I uncovered the deeper meaning hidden in each word.


It is an important word. As a unique individual in the history of humanity, you have distinctive gifts and talents. But just like at a birthday – you can be given a gift, but until you TAKE it, open it, play with it… it is not yours. You do not own your gifts until you TAKE them.

What you think

We all have thoughts. We all have perceptions. Thoughts are a vital part of the equation in being an artist. Thoughts bring that first wave of inspiration. But they are just the beginning of the journey.

You cannot just give birth to a business or idea or art. You must learn to parent that business or idea or art. Consider my own experience as a clay artist when I am throwing a pot. I focus my thoughts on what I am doing. However, I must practice, learn, and experience to expand that thinking and express myself in the best way possible.

It is important to expand your thoughts: learn, read, take classes, talk to mentors.

It is good to have thoughts, they are the seeds of creating, but you cannot stop there…

Take what you feel

This is where a lot of artists start. We want to be an artist so we can express ourselves…the joy! The angst! I meet new artists that have a vision of how it will feel in their studio. However, the creative energy can be overwhelmed as they indulge in their feelings. If not balanced with thoughtful thinking, it can become drama and a story for only one. We are called to create—not only to enhance ourselves—but the world.

Feelings flow easily in this equation for being an artist. However, if the feelings are insecurity, anxiety, or fear, then your unexplored feelings can block your creativity.

It is an artist’s responsibility to develop skills to learn how to understand and think about their feelings, especially negative feelings. There is creative strength in knowing you can control destructive feelings with constructive messages of determination, tenacity, and persistence. There is power in finding the core of your motivation to make art—power in knowing your thoughts and feelings are yours to express. It must be an artist’s quest to express in constructive ways that connect to the viewer, that show the way to overcome.

Let me clarify that I am not advocating for art that expresses only positivity. I am advocating for art that enhances, not diminishes. A painting of a mother in mourning, although expressing wrenching heartache, can also create connection and understanding to a viewer which enhances their own healing journey.

Artists are constructive, not destructive.
Art enhances, not diminishes.

Mix it all up

As a pottery teacher, I have seen students find the logic of the potter’s wheel – the forces in play as the clay spins. They quickly make a vessel but may feel dissatisfied with the process. Other students strongly love the idea of pottery but may not be successful navigating the invisible forces impacting the clay. My job as a teacher is to balance a student’s thoughts of creating a pot on a wheel with the feelings of loving the act of creation. Thoughts and feelings mix to create a unique, individual expression. This expression changes with the balance, or imbalance, of the artist’s thoughts and feelings.

As an artist you must decide what IT is by releasing your own recipe of thoughts and feelings. The IT is the who that you are.

You must mix it ALL. The good with the bad – the thoughts of loss with the thoughts of gain. The feelings of loss as well as the feelings of gain.

And you must mix it UP. Upward. Up where the perspective is bigger, the purpose is higher.

and Make

As I sit at my potter’s wheel, it is empty; and after I begin, it is filled. What was a spark inside me is now in front of me. Even if I pull it down and start again, the clay is filled with memories, experience. The failed pot gives its life to teach me how to make the next pot better.

YOU make. Empty spaces are not made. Empty spaces are voids waiting to be filled by what you make. Infinite space is waiting to be filled by you.

Creativity is not just an idea, but the voice of the universe calling you to create.

Making is creating.


Your something. Your spark creating a fire in the void. Your thoughts and feelings made into your expression with its own unique voice. Your gifts and talents manifest. You are the creator filling a space with more of you. Unique, individual you.


Reality is sometimes defined as “It is what it is.” Or that which cannot be changed. Or the truth. We know there are many levels of perceptions. Let’s keep it simple and know that when you see your thoughts and feelings in front of your eyes, in whatever form, that’s real. Your art. Your gift. You, enhancing this world.

You can be an artist at anything by just adding the best of you to ordinary things. Clay is the most ordinary of any material on earth. Yet it holds within it magic and possibility. You hold the same magic inside you…

The good news is that if you are not satisfied with your reality, my definition also works as a prescription to help show the way.

I started The Clay Lady’s business in 1982. I did not go to college. I am self-taught. I have learned my way out of many spots with the right book or mentor. I have had my share of challenges, naysayers, and tears. However, when things were not going well, I always had my simple definition of being an artist:

Remember the word TAKE…
I am in control of what I think and feel.

Remember the word THINK…
I can always learn my way out of a bad situation.

Remember the word FEEL…
 I must follow my joy, not my fear.

Remember to MIX IT ALL UP…
not just the bad or just the good,
but lift up both.

What is in front of me is made with my thoughts and feelings.
 I can make it better.

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