A Visit to the Eye Doctor

Just returned from a routine visit to the eye doctor. My old one recently retired to Georgia, so when I called for the appointment I was told I’d have a woman doctor named Dr. Catharine Williams. I was happy to be seeing a woman.

I showed up at the appointed time and joined a relatively large crowd of people in the waiting room. Several emergencies had been in earlier that day so the office was backed up.

I was getting antsy and felt some relief when my name was called. A youngish woman with a blonde ponytail had come out from the back and was standing there with an iPad. She smiled at me and apologized for the long wait. Here’s what went through my mind, “She’s one of the office assistants so I could be huffy with her if I wanted to be.” The woman then introduced herself as Dr. Catharine Williams. This supposed feminist was wearing a lot of egg on her face.

The irony of being there to have my eyes and vision checked was not lost on me. Kharmically, I realize that it wasn’t a huge thing. It was one event. But how about the number of times those events occur over a lifetime? All I saw at that moment was the blonde ponytail.

When That Other Self Shows Up and Won’t Shut Up!

"That Other Self", 2018, 30" x 22", chalk pastel on paper

"That Other Self", 2018, 30" x 22", chalk pastel on paper

So….I’m supposed to be in France right now. I’d applied for and been accepted into the ceramics A.I.R. Vallauris residency in the beautiful south of France, bordering on the Mediterranean.

It was the morning of the day I was leaving when I called my Mom. My suitcases were not only packed they were zipped! Mom is very sick, and on Hospice. She suffered brain damage from a car accident 5 years ago. She’s since then developed Parkinson’s and Dementia. She’s still at home with around the clock help. I’m a caregiver but knew that she would be in good hands while I was away.

When I spoke with her on the phone that morning I knew she’d entered a new phase of the dementia. The difference in her behavior from the day before, when I was with her, to that morning, was remarkable.

Okay, do I stay or leave? The decision was about me, not Mom. These last 5 years of accompanying her through her illnesses have been the best ones we’ve ever had as mother and daughter. I’ve learned about patience, courage, and love.  But I’ve also struggled with how to take care of myself while continuing to care for Mom.

That morning, standing in my kitchen, looking at my suitcases, and listening to Mom, I knew I had about 2 hours to make a decision. I’d sacrificed a lot for my mother. I was feeling intense rage and compassion, lots of “selves” at war in my head.

As you know from the first sentence, I stayed in Baltimore. I’m working to make peace with my decision. The residency is allowing me to reschedule for October.

The Wall of Humanity

From April 24th until June 5th I’ll be in Puebla, Mexico, participating in an Artist’s Residency at the Arquetopia Foundation Mexico. My project is to build a wall of humanity one ceramic sculpture at a time. Puebla is famous for its Majolica technique. They use clay from the ground and produce their glazes. I use Majolica in my own figurative work.

I’m not literally building a wall. I’ll be creating an installation, covering a standing wall with faces and figures, creating a visual panorama of humanity. I see this piece as a starting place for many more walls that will be created by groups of people. I believe this project would work beautifully as a workshop or class. All we need is clay, a kiln, and bits of sculptural ceramic humanity created by individuals, exhibited together as a united whole.

Please contact me with your ideas about exhibition and/or teaching venues at mia.halton@gmail.com.

Sample of ceramic sculptures

Installation Sketch of Wall of Humanity


Last spring, 2016, I began the process of becoming a Buddhist. Let’s just say I have a long way to go. I chant Nam-myoho-renge-quo every day. It invites me to join the vast hum of that chant going on all over the world. It helps me secure my faith in the ongoing power of the essential goodness of humanity. And, it challenges me to know and be clear about my strengths and beliefs and, most importantly, to take actions based on them.

The Sky Is Falling!

"The Sky Is Falling", 2016, Red Earthenware Clay with Majolica glaze and underglaze, each approx. 10"x5"x5"

These are challenging times for us Chicken Littles of the liberal persuasion. For those of you who don’t remember Chicken Little, let me remind you. She’s the one who ran around warning everyone to take cover because the sky was falling.

I’m a self-diagnosed chicken little in recovery. We believe that we’re responsible for rescuing the world, large or small, from the forces of evil. We’ve deluded ourselves in a number of ways: we think the sky will fall (the world as we know it will come to an end) and we think it’s our job to prevent that from happening. We also think that we’re the ones who know how to get the job done right. It’s exhausting just thinking about it. Luckily, I’ve come a long way in my recovery.

In my experience the sky has never been so close to falling. On January 21, 2017, honored to be one of the 500,000 people at the DC March, I believe we could have, collectively, held it up. I also believe that as each of us continues to work, we’ll get the sky securely back, differently positioned, and having learned a lot along the way.

Stepping Into My Life By Stepping Out Of It

I was nervous about going on this trip. I knew I was going to have to step out of my comfort zone, that I might in fact have to make a big 'ol identity shift. I had to let go of the belief that without me there, everything at home would fall apart.

It hasn't. And I'm finding that the new identity has been there all along. I just needed to set it free.

I have a pretty good understanding of the salient aspects of Cambodian history and culture. I've eaten the food, made friends, seen a lot of countryside, and now Phnom Phen. I've collaborated with a Khmer potter and made drawings in the sand with Khmer primary school students. To say that I'm grateful is an understatement.

And now, on to Vietnam!

Visited the Killing Fields yesterday. You're seeing bones, clothes, and shoes of the victims. In back of the case is a dip in the land where bodies were buried. The Cambodians hold the past in their hearts but are hopeful about the future.


Clothes washed up and were caught in the tree. Bones, clothes, and teeth are still rising to the surface when it rains.

First Days in Cambodia

I had and still have certain things I planned to accomplish on this trip. I've only been here for 4 days but I feel like it's been a year. I had no idea what was ahead when I signed on for this.

I've wanted to go to Cambodia and Vietnam for many years, since the wars took place there. It was during that time that I began to see and consider a world that was larger than my own.

Since I've been here I've met interesting people, eaten delicious food, and visited extraordinarily beautiful temples and art historical museums. I've also visited the Landmine Museum, seen terrible poverty, and heard many stories about an unresponsive government. I had the opportunity to visit a Primary School this afternoon. It's a government school funded mostly by private donations.

I leave tomorrow to go to Vietnam. I'm not finished what I need to do in Cambodia. I don't know what that will be, but I've fallen in love with it.

Getting To Know You

It’s interesting, how it works when I continue with a long project. I’ve been involved in the concept of bullying for almost three years. As I live with the work I understand more about my own feelings, and about the subtleties and implications of the universal, devastating phenomenon. Right now I’m making pushovers, an extension of the bullying work.

When I first envisioned this phase of the project I thought about the masses of terrified people fleeing their homes, hoping to find safety, peace, and hope. The intention is to create a lot of pushovers for an exhibition in May. The vision was to mimic the numbers of people being bullied out of their homes. As I make the individual pushovers, however, I can no longer see them as faces in a crowd.

I work intuitively with the clay, allowing the characteristics and personalities to evolve. I never know what the figurative sculpture will look like when it’s finished. I’m almost forced to get to know them as individuals as I refine the surfaces and details. I don’t exactly name them but each of them tells me a story. Each of these sculptures are around around 10"x7".

Construct VS Concept

Studio shot of 2 in-progress Pushover sculptures, red earthenware, 15"x10"x10"

The studio shot shows 2 Pushover sculptures. One of them can stand on his own while the other one needs a little help from his friend. I use “him” to refer to the sculptures even though there are females as well as males. The Pushovers are an extension of the Bullying work I’ve been doing for about 2 years. The Pushover character is based loosely on the old clown toy who, when pushed, came right back up for more.

Now….here’s the rub. I’ve created several of these sculptures that can’t, because of their construction, stand on their own, and cannot recover after being pushed, even slightly. Conceptually this isn’t that big a problem. I’m using the character as a metaphor for the condition we all encounter at some point, to a greater or lesser degree. We’ve all been pushed around. Some of us recover, and some don’t.

"Pushover #2", 2014, 10"x9", unglazed ceramic

However, I want to create more free-standing sculptures than ones that need help.  I’m trying heavier bases. I’m also looking into wider, shallower bases. Problem is, I don’t like the look of the wider base. Please see “Pushover #2”. In my experience it’s rare that compromise doesn’t have to be added to the mix.

Because of the construction issues and having to re-think some of my ideas, I’m having to dig deeper into my beliefs about the pushover concept and phenomenon. I guess I should re-title this blog and call it “Construct and Concept, Allies”.


These are unfinished studio shots of the beginning of a series exploring the concept of secrets. They’re 30”x22”, Ink on paper.

I grew up in a family that kept secrets. They were bad but became a lot worse the longer they remained hidden. A dictionary definition of secrets is “information intentionally withheld”. The thing about secrets, and lies for that matter, is the covering up and compensating that follow, for who knows how long.

In these drawings I’m mimicking the twists and turns that life can take when a secret is part of the equation. I’m layering figures, objects, words, and other bits of life debris. The actual identities of the images lose significance as they become part of the larger concept. I see and experience these pieces as exercises in concealing and revealing. 


The dictionary defines “swoosh” as: “making the sound of fast-moving water, air, or moving with such a sound”. I’m surprised sometimes by some of the words that can unexpectedly be found in the dictionary. Who would have guessed? At any rate, I’m looking at the term as it relates to the small figure drawn in ink on top of the yellow rectangle. I did the drawing and must have mistakenly wiped my hand across the still-wet image.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could wave our arms, make a swooshing sound, and get what we want? We could just stand there and make things okay in our own lives and around the world. Realistically, of course, we know this won’t do much. What is “okay” anyway? I think it’s an organic, living-and-breathing continuum. We’d be constantly waving our arms and SWOOSHING! We’d hyper-ventilate, get things wrong, and miss out on the goodies that come our way to becoming temporarily okay.

Steppin’ Out and Up

I don’t make resolutions as far as my art is concerned. I just keep going with it. It’s what I do. I keep it in motion. I create alliances with it. Sometimes my work is ahead of me and tells me what to do, and sometimes (not often) I get to be in the driver’s seat. It’s great when we’re on the same page, so to speak. It’s when the materials, techniques, concept, and I are in sync with each other.

Sometimes I begin with an idea, particularly with ceramics. When I draw, not so much. I’ll let the line take me places. And I’m there for the ride! 

That Time Of The Year

It’s that time of the year. Stuff comes up; no matter how hard we might try to hold our breath and wait until the holidays are over. Don’t get me wrong; there are lots of beautiful moments during this time. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. My sister, also an artist, did a piece once that she calls; “The Hand We’re Dealt”. I’m reminded of this sentiment when I’d like to skip ahead of something I’d rather not deal with.

This is my first Christmas since Dad died. I thought I might actually get away with not feeling sad and distracted. No such luck. The sadness is sitting right here with me. Periodically I look over and acknowledge it in a friendly way. It’s soft, not harsh like it was right after he died. This sadness reminds me of my cat who waits patiently beside me, hoping for yet another snack!

Dad didn’t want me to be an artist but he ended being my greatest supporter. I guess it was in the cards.

New Stuff!

I’m continually applying for things; exhibitions, residencies, etc. And once in awhile I hear a resounding YES! Part of the reason I go through the agony of submitting applications is that I’m inspired to make new work. It’s kind of like hitting the artwork/studio “refresh button”. I’ve got several projects going at the moment. I’ll be showing the entire Pushover series, in a one- woman exhibition, at Clayworks in May 2016. I’ll get to see the work as a whole and, as I figure out how it will fit in the space, I’ll learn more about the concept, and make changes as I go.  

I have a commission to create a mosaic for a friend’s workplace. This will be my first official mosaic. I’ve recently discovered Mason Stains, an exciting new ceramics glazing material that will work well for the mosaic. I’m also collaborating with a writer on an illustrated children’s book that addresses the issue of bullying. We’re looking for an agent if you know of one!

Learning to Love the LIMINAL

The dictionary defines liminal as, “…occupying a position at, or on both sides of a boundary or threshold”. Being in between can work well. I’ve heard people say that they get their best ideas when they’re in transit. I sometimes take bus rides when I need to write something or come up with an idea. So, that’s fine, but when it comes to my personal life it’s a whole different matter. I realize that it’s in that liminal space where personal growth takes place. But, yuck! It’s so uncomfortable.

I struggle with this idea in my drawings. I like to pack them with images, pretty much leaving out any space between them. People have suggested for years that I simplify my compositions. I couldn’t do it. Until now. And I’ve only got my toes in, if you know what I mean. Love might be too strong a word for it, but I’m learning to like the liminal.

Starring In Your Own Life

What does it mean to star in your own life? And, I’m not talking about red carpet treatment either! We’ve been told ad nauseam that it’s better to give than it is to receive. And tis the season, after all. But for a teacher-type like me the opposite is actually easier. Hmm… As long as I’m doing the giving it appears that I don’t need anything. The givee, on the other hand, does.

There have been times when I’ve given when nothing has been asked for. This has been problematic, even detrimental in some situations. I’ve been known to some, including myself, as Chicken Little, the one who runs around saying the sky’s falling, only to rush in and save the day. I’m happy to say that I’m a Chicken Little in recovery at this point.

Running around in the role of Chicken Little was keeping me from starring in my own life. The image I included here is a piece I made several years ago. I thought it was a dud and stuck it in the bottom of a drawer. It didn’t resonate with me then but it does now. The woman is standing on a stage with a proscenium arch surrounding her. She has that star-dazzled look in her eyes. She’s not just playing the starring role, however, she IS the starring role in her life’s stage.

Fitting Together

How it all fits together, becomes a cohesive whole, and then guides you to your next step.


I’m in a re-creation phase. On the brink, as they say. It’s uncomfortable. I can see the past, experience the present, but I’m uncertain about the future. So, who isn’t?


My ex used to say that hearts don’t break. I agree. But they need to flex, so they can break open, but not apart.


These are terrible times requiring flexible hearts. It’s the only way to make sense of the world, be a part of the healing process, and imagine a future.

The Fine Art of Balancing

Unfired Clay, 5"x5"

I’ve been thinking a lot about that elusive and fleeting state of being commonly referred to as balance. We’re always working toward it and when we get there, if at all, it lasts for the same length of time that it takes for a shooting star to reach the ground. We might not even realize we’ve experienced it. It’s partly because as soon as we achieve it something happens to tip the scales and change the game altogether.

I imagine being conscious of that moment when my life is truly balanced and what it would be like to launch myself from that position. Since we never know what’s going to happen, I would be propelling myself with extra force into the unknown. If I were balanced, however, and knew it, I might decide not to launch at all. Why say no to a good thing that took a lot of work to achieve? I think it’s because we’re curious, we want to know what’s on the other side. How will you play the hand? I’d like to think that I would propel myself with extra force into the unknown!!!!


There are many ceramic artists at Clayworks who painstakingly create test tiles so they can predict, to a certain degree, their results. The science of glazing is enormous and complex. I have yet to make a test tile; instead I tend to jump right in, creating large vessel forms and applying glaze as if it were paint. I learned my lesson, I hope, with the most recent vessels. There were 4 of them that are in pieces now.

Glazes undergo a chemical transformation during the firing process. Unlike paint, what you see when you apply it won’t be what you get later on. I can be impatient; I will make test tiles now.

In the meantime, I brought the vessels home and began to drop them onto the sidewalk, hoping to get some pieces that I could use for mosaics. I tried to do the dropping discreetly. I didn’t want to create tiny ceramic shards that could cut little fingers. There was, however, no getting around the sound they made as they crashed to the ground. It was cathartic for me but I had to address the consternation of a couple of people walking by.

When I was working on the 4 aforementioned vessels, I knew they could be flops, not only because it was almost impossible to know what they would look like but because I was throwing in too much information. I knew it, but I had to see this through. I’ve always heard, “Keep it simple, Mia” from fellow artists, friends, people in the biz, and from myself.

I don’t know if I’ll use the pieces for mosaics. The process was kind of brutal, and expensive too. There’s the obvious comparison to “picking up the pieces”. I could go on and on about that. The take-away for me, however, is that simple is enough. When simple is done well, it suggests complex. For me to do simple requires listening, being patient, and making test tiles.