Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Su Griggs, Ceramic Sculpture Artist, Tells Her Story

Although I studied painting and illustration in art school, my work in recent years has been focused on ceramic sculpture. I am intrigued by the figure and how it can express the complex world of human emotions. By tearing off the masks we choose to wear by our own nature, or those imposed on us by others or society, we begin to understand what it is to be human and how we are connected.

This angel, above, tells the story of connection, to nature and the earth. The sun, moon, trees, fish and birds are carved in the clay before I bisque fire the piece. They symbolize her essence. I use a low fire clay body and a slab/coil method of construction.

I am motivated by a desire to connect to a creative energy and to have a deeper experience within myself of being inspired (in spirit). Influenced by classical realism and surrealism, I like to re-interpret that era and apply it to the present, with a contemporary twist. I may embed found or recycled items into the piece to invoke a sense of wonder and mystery.

With just a slight turn of the head or closed eye, the piece will convey a story. It may capture a feeling of whimsy or playfulness, or convey an inner world, one of wonder and mystery, or sadness and loss. Two people may look at the same piece and read different things into it. I like to keep it ambiguous in this way so as to open the imagination of the viewer, rather than telling the complete story.

I was fortunate to travel abroad a lot growing up, as my father was a tour director, and I was amazed by the skill and beauty reflected in the works of art at the major museums. I think my imagination was inspired by these travels and how uniquely expressive the artwork reflected different cultures.

My inspiration comes from everywhere really; music, literature, philosophy, science, quantum physics and nature, to name a few. I go in my studio each day to work, with music or an audio book playing in the background. Although, my starting point may be a sketch, I particularly like making a series of miniatures as they let me get into the flow. I like to step out of the way and become the observer. Interesting things can happen that way. The creative process takes over and I constantly surprise myself!

My work can be seen in my Sarasota home studio by appointment, at one of the fine art events around the country where I exhibit, or at the galleries that carry my work. For a compete list of venues, please visit

You can also connect with Su on Facebook. This is Week 29 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Sus story today!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lin Oakerson, Photographer, Tells Her Story

Since the age of seven a camera has been an integral part of my life. Through the lens I view, record and understand the world around me. I have always been a visual person and appreciate beauty everywhere and in everything. Photography allows me to totally occupy and honor the present moment.


I photograph across many genres but have always had an affinity for portraiture because it’s an interdependent and collaborative experience. There is a fundamental freshness, vulnerability and openness about it that I love. It’s also freeing to find myself more attached to the “dance” of it with the other person and less attached to the outcome. With this in mind the outcome takes care of itself. Both my subjects and I mutually surrender to the process of discovery during a session. 

Sharon and Strider

In this photograph of Sharon and Strider the image does not fully reveal the interesting story within the story. Sharon and I were in the woods doing a study of her when Strider, a local dog unknown to us, appeared seemingly out of nowhere and in our frame. His size and bigger-than-life presence frightened Sharon but as he relaxed and got comfortable in our little space, so did she. It was a beautiful thing to behold. She went from being tense and uneasy to totally letting go. It just unfolded in front of me. They worked it out with each other and this image transpired. Viewers often think it’s a portrait of a woman and her beloved dog.


For decades I processed and printed my own black and white film and prints. There’s nothing quite like the aroma of Dektol to keep you happily absorbed and firmly rooted making magic, hour upon hour, in the darkroom!

Then, the emerging digital revolution hit hard and it was a very humbling experience. It hijacked photography as I knew it. I felt like I was accomplished in the medium and resented that I had to start all over again: new equipment, post production programs and classes, lots of classes. It was like learning to speak a new language. I was slow to embrace it but for the past 12 to 15 years I have been exclusively a digital photographer.

Typically I allow myself at least 35 to 50 exposures before I feel a session is anywhere near complete. On occasion my favorite image is the first spontaneous photo made in a study, as in this portrait of Paule. But sometimes it’s the last photo, signaling the session has concluded.


I’ve had formal training in both photography and video production and they each inform the other in delicious ways. I am keenly aware of composition when shooting video and have always loved the sense of motion in photographs. My portraits sometimes feel like stills from a film, a small slice of the continuum of my subjects’ lives. I often find the images that remain in my mind’s eye after seeing a beautiful film are the faces, portraits that reveal the inner world of the characters.

Mother and daughter

I enjoyed a very rewarding 30 year career in K-12 public education with Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. The years spent with my high school photojournalism students were some of my most rewarding. After retiring I went on to work with individuals who were blind or had low vision. As an Orientation and Mobility Instructor I taught safe and independent travel skills to adults and children.

Brandon and Kristina

In this photograph of Brandon and Kristina, I was touched by how totally present they were in this moment, appreciating the warmth of the sun’s radiating energy on their bodies and sidewalk. They are both totally blind. Vision is certainly a sense associated with our eyes, but it’s also felt and perceived on many differing pathways to the brain.

Thank you, Brenda Smoak, for featuring me in your stimulating Artists Tell Their Stories blog. I have found much inspiration in your weekly features.

My photographic muses are many: Judy Dater, Imogene Cunningham, Emmit Gowin, Mary Ellen Mark, Diane Arbus, Joyce Tenneson, Ruth Bernhard and so many others who have come before.

Lin lives in Bradenton, Florida and can be reached through Facebook (Lin Oakerson) or

This is Week 28 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Lin's story today!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wanda Fleming, Artisan Soap Maker, Tells Her Story

Once Upon A Bubble

The moment of this gesture makes it all worthwhile: A young woman walks to the table which is piled precariously high with soap--- circles, rectangles and squares, all redolent with heady scents. She carefully eyes the entire landscape, and then plucks a favored one. Holding the bar, she inhales it, closes her eyes and sighs. In that moment, I am in heaven.

Love in the Time of Van Gogh

When I was a young girl I wanted to be a spy and detective of superhero note, a White House pastry chef, and a writer—all in no particular order. Today, I create a line of over thirty artisan soaps in my River Girls Soap studio. My work reflects the nuances of each of those once fantasized careers — the persistence of a detective to find a blue azure dye that recalls sea glass; the tenacity of a chef to design and redesign the best recipe for a salty air scent, and the wordsmith laboring of a writer to describe just so, a fragrant soap and the experience it evokes. 

River Girls Soap reflects my personal intersection of a wish for a life of quiet work and the daily chance to create for others a heady slice of simple joy.

Artist Contortions or Multitasking to Nirvana

Soap crafting is a vocation that requires a great deal of patience, an impeccable nose sense like those perfumers of ancient times possessed, a designer’s eye for hue, and an ability to brainstorm names.

Confetti Betty

The extraordinary marriage of science and art is what makes it interesting. Making it work as a business is an entirely different animal. In a given day, the process may encompass everything from the vital drudgery of lifting and chopping heavy blocks of plain glycerin soap to grating pounds of fresh chocolate scented cocoa butter, to measuring and blending fruit and nut oils. Perhaps the most jubilant and time-consuming task involves perfume blending and fragrance creation.

From an eyedropper, I squeeze droplets of scents onto paper strips. I am forever hoping to create something unusual or provocative. For every attempt that falls flat, surprises invariably arrive. Sometimes these creations will sit in the dark for days and weeks to cure.

Ginger Kisses

My studio armoire houses over 200 amber glass bottles of fragrance and essential oils – all wanting to be blended and tinkered with. These oils may come to me from as far away as Egypt or sunny California. They may smell of rose geranium or blood oranges. When I cannot dream of anything fresh and new, I lie on the wood floor, open bottle upon bottle, and simply close my eyes.

The Utter Surprise of It

The act of unmolding or cutting into a loaf of soap is the most satisfying of all. It is the Christmas equivalent of tearing wrapping paper from a gift. I never know what will greet me until the suction push from the mold’s cavity or that first press of a cold steel knife to a loaf.

Every bar and loaf is different. Like a sunset or fireworks display, the appearance can never be truly replicated. How the design appears, the manner in which swirls fall and weave, and what colors choose to pop or recede are a one-time show. Now you see it; now you don’t. Indeed, you can never make the same bar twice -- ever. To me that uniqueness embodies the craft’s highest beauty.

Meant to Bee

Naming Names

The naming of soaps often involves a trigger. Triggers arrive whenever they wish, perhaps after a thunderstorm sweeps through the backyard, in a cellar box of forgotten letters, or in a patch of pulpy sweet blackberries.

Each batch I pour maintains its own mood and character. Its name must reflect that. Artisan’s soaps should suggest who they are and what they might be in that long hot shower ahead. Often, it is not enough to say simply, Rose soap, for indeed, what kind of rose? Is it the kind the first person who broke your heart recalls? The rose of the backyard bushes of childhood barefooted hide and go seek games? Or could it be the rose left anonymously drying between the pages of an abandoned flea market book?

Cobalt Doves

P.S. Love Your Craft with No Apologies

The most challenging part of being an artist is clarifying foremost to yourself your work’s worth in heart, not hard currency. Why do you do what you do? The answer is most imperative not for the world, but for you. I was never trained for the soap crafting I engage in daily, yet I love my work. It sprang from accidental interest, and turned earnest with an unexplainable intensity. I dream persistently now in scents and colors.
In the early years, I felt embarrassed by the deep resounding joy my pursuit gave me. After all, I held two degrees so shouldn’t I be advising some rogue politician how to get your vote, or hunkered down in a lab, discovering the cure for what ails you most?

More than a decade later I can say confidently that an education is for all of life’s pursuits be they commercial, scientific, artistic or family. I think when we send our educated out only in the pursuit of corporate and material gain, then it sends a message that artistry -- be it painting, literature or artisan endeavors -- is of is of little value in our society. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ultimately, it is the beauty in such simple things as a shower, eyes closed, with fragrant soap that offers the brief serenity for the arduous hours to come.

Peony '63

In June, River Girls Soap celebrated its 15th anniversary!

Beatrix & Peter

This is Week 27 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. To see more about Wanda’s soaps, please visit her website and her new blog. Thank you for reading and sharing Wanda’s story today!