Art & Soul Studio, A Place to Grow…Creatively

In every place I have ever lived, I have had a studio.


When I was 11, I was allowed to move my bedroom downstairs into our finished basement.  The first thing I did was to ask to use an old white porcelain kitchen table.  I pushed the table into a corner and made a sign that said, “Studio”.  Now, fast-forward thirty years when my husband and I moved into our house.

Having apprenticed with a gifted potter for years, I bought my first used kiln, built a wedging table and pulled in a sturdy worktable into our unfinished basement.  I set about making my dream of having a real studio, rather than a kitchen table, a reality.

It was dark and damp with gray cinder blocks, with bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling.  The first year I realized that even with a space heater, it would be too cold to work in during January or February.  And so my “Art & Soul Studio, was born.


slab roller, kiln


wall mounted extruder, worktables

The first time we fired the kiln I remember my husband and I sitting on the basement stairs talking until early in the morning, hugging a fire extinguisher in case the kiln blew up.  Those early years I worked on developing my pottery and studio.  I was young and had the energy to work hard until early in the morning.  The isolation was hard and I desperately missed the water cooler conversations at my old job.

Then someone asked me if I could teach them what I knew  and that’s how my studio developed into a nice, creative place that served not only my needs but the needs of others.  In addition to teaching adults and. “firing for hire”, I also began Saturday morning kids’ classes.  I was lucky enough to have some of those regular students 5 years or more!  Several went on to art school, one is a biology teacher, another  a brew master in California.  Now they come back with their children and we make handprints in clay.


Along the way, my daughter arrived and had her own shelf in the studio at age 3.  Working at home allowed me to be at home a majority of the time for both of my kids.  I worked around naps; throwing mugs in the morning, adding handles in the afternoon.

I always have loved to draw and I studied drawing and printmaking in art school. I naturally incorporated my drawing and painting skills into my clay work and it’s reflected in the classes I now

Several years ago, my husband and I toyed with the idea of buying a house that had an area that would provide a heated studio space.  We looked at several houses and then decided to remodel our basement instead.

One of the things I was serious about was to have adequate electrical, so we upgraded to 240 electrical and I stood in the studio space and told the contractor EXACTLY where I wanted the electrical outlets placed.  Lighting was an issue.  I wanted it bright enough to work by and a mix of fluorescent tones to enable us to see color more accurately.  It also included a bathroom and had a press-existing laundry sink. And, thankfully, it has heat!


I wrote my mission statement on the door and had it blessed. That was about ten years ago. My studio has been in use ever since.  In the early days, I was throwing a lot of work on the potter’s wheel but over time my wrist took a beating and I decided to stop repetitive work and change to hand building.  I also discovered polymer clay, which ignited my passion for color and I  returned to school to study (Mobile)Over the years, I realized that my personal style was changing.  Although I love and respect clay it no longer satisfies me as it once did.  I have evolved into a mixed- media artist who combines drawing, painting, bead work and resin into whimsical one of a kind artwork.  I still teach ceramics and also painting, drawing, and sewing classes weekly. Several private students round out my schedule and I am a nursery school art teacher two days a week.

To accommodate everyone’s needs I rearranged my studio into two “zones”. The front zone is the teaching/working space.  The worktables can be separated to accommodate a maximum of six people at one time.  I have a clay extruder (much like a giant cookie press) and a slab roller.  The cubby shelves provide storage for clay pieces waiting to be kiln-

The front part is designed as a teaching space.  I once tried separating the class section from my personal office/work space by hanging a shower curtain.  Dreadful mistake.  The school cubbies that I bought from a church bazaar are so much better, don’t you think?  (A note, telling people not to touch the pottery accompanies the colored ribbon). The top of the cubbies provide some storage but also serve as a nice place to set up still lives for drawing.  The Halloween still life is really cool.

I have to change over from clay to drawing so my ceramic students work on canvas sheets that can be washed and their supplies are stored in a designated area.  The tables need to be wiped down thoroughly and floors swept before the next class. Image

The cubbies are both a visual and physical separation.  I have a tendency to just dump business stuff in my space.  I really need to work on that.  A friend once said that she noticed her studio was much cleaner when she was working in it rather than dumping stuff to be put away later. I agree.

I share this space with my cat who has a bed on my desk and my husband who helps any way he can.  He respects what I do and that means the world to me.  And my adult children pop in and out of the studio and over time have come to be part of an extended, blended family with my students.

At times I am overwhelmed at keeping my studio clean and serviceable and yet having it workable to suit my needs.  Due to my teaching schedule, it is often hard to leave things out “in progress”.  There are times when I resent having to clean my studio so others can create.  That’s normal.  This is my business and everyone has something about their business they don’t like.                                                                                                                                                                  .photo(139) photo(128) photo(129)

When I start getting jealous, I know that the answer is to carve in some creative time for me, ideally when I can get a 12-hour window to be creative, where I can leave things out while I work on them.  It is hard sharing your studio with others;

it’s all about balance.  So, this balance sits on the room divider constantly reminding me.  photo(131)


I inventory all my supplies twice a year so I can use those hidden items and not over buy. Once a year I try to have an open house that involves a quick “make it- take it”  with my studio flier and class schedule.

I have participated in the Empty Bowl project for over 20 years.  (see link)

People have said that my studio provides opportunities for brainstorming and collaboration, to critique and have your work critiqued by fellow artists, helping me (as well as others) to grow.  A friend recently told me that my studio is “a place where each person’s unique talents are invited to flourish. It is a place where ART lives and happens in ways you may least expect! “.

Over the summer, I offer longer “workshop session” where people can explore subjects in depth.  I fill out the week with private students and I teach art outside my studio in a nursery school six hours a week.

When I feel or sense that people are too stressed or grieving I try to invite them to come to the studio, no charge.  After 9/11 I made sure people could come and just hang out, or do clay work, or whatever their creative expression might be.  Every year I mark that occasion by displaying the sculpture I created that day that bears witness.

I know every single day how lucky I am to be living this life.  And I try to honor it by serving as both Sanctuary and inspiration to others, it’s a sacred trust.  I try to give back to the community any way I can.

I started out as a kitchen table potter and I know I could go back to that, but while I’m here I want to make the most of this beautiful, creative life.





About Juan

About Juan

I don’t often get to talk to Juan but when I do, I often find myself replaying the conversations around in my head for days after we have spoken. He’s a laid-back guy who’s passion for photography starts my brain to sizzle.

Part of what I enjoy, is being able to “ping” across a lot of different topics with him. It’s the fluency, the improvisation with someone else that shares that ability that is so fun. Juan is a photojournalist student who, this Fall, will continue his grad studies in Chicago. He is also the big brother to one of my students.

Juan and I talk art, politics, life, stuff. One of our recent conversations was about his new business cards. They are really cool. Each card is a beautifully composed photographic work of art. Each one a photo from his “photo a day” project.

Yep, that’s right. Everyday the challenge was to take a photograph and post it online. There are lots of similar programs around. There is a ” meme” project circulating about handcrafted pottery mugs. You live with them for a while, drink out of them, take a photo with the mug and post it, then pass it on. Others are drawing oriented like the popular Zentangle projects.

So Juan took his daily photos and had them made into his unique business cards. It’s a great way to showcase his commitment to daily art creating as well as showcase the diversity of his photographic skills. I like his shots of our deserted mall late at night as well as flowers, landscapes and animals and fireworks.

A bigger picture, is the determination of anyone to commit themselves to creating something everyday. Wether it’s a collage, photo, or drawing the intent is the same. To force discipline, just like with any diet or gym work out. It’s doing it even when you don’t feel like doing it. Now I admit to being a total failure with the first two but for whatever reasons, I find it easier to respond to the creating one. Maybe it’s because it’s fun. But it wasn’t always that way for me.

When I was a young studio apprentice, the most widely repeated piece of advice I received from different artists across the board was, ” Force yourself to go to the studio every day. Even if your studio is a kitchen table. Even if it meant only 20 minutes, make yourself go”. And it is the advice that has served me best in my 30 years.

Along with fitness trainers and dietitians, I’m often told by aspiring artists I meet, “I don’t have time to create”. And believe me, I do understand the time thing. But people, it’s never going to get easier or be a better time to create. Like all disciplines you have to commit and make it happen. And the truth is, life is short and a future is never guaranteed.

So maybe not every day, but for now, try committing to creating 30 minutes a day for 30 days. Get up 30 minutes earlier, do it on your lunch hour, do it instead of watching tv or looking at dopey emails,(yea, we all do it at times). Just commit to 30 days. And don’t set up unreasonable expectations for yourself that you’ll never be able to succeed at, so the whole exercise gets written off as yet another artistic failure.

Start simple. Draw a cup. Or an egg. Or a plant. Don’t judge your work AT ALL.

It’s not about whether it’s a great drawing or not, it is only about keeping the commitment to draw or create every day……for thirty days. Watch what happens. Take notice of what you discover. Write a paragraph about your experience, a non- judge mental paragraph. Then, take a break for a day or two.

Next, ask yourself, “what do I want to do next?” You can always do another 30 days. Maybe this time try collage or watercolor pencils. Over time you will become aware of your areas of weakness, (but few of us can acknowledge or strengths). So maybe you can work on your areas of weakness. For some it might mean difficulty in drawing people. So try drawing from magazine photos. If you can’t figure out your problem, its time to talk to a teacher. We can help if you let us.

The thing I know most, is that people often set unrealistic expectations for themselves, give up to easily, and only see their faults, never strengths. Committing to a creative challenge can be a great tool. Why not start today?

To see more of Juan Saliba’s work, go to…/6b