Studio Tour: Tarja Cockell

photo (1)Nearly 7 years ago I moved my studio to Western Avenue studios in Lowell. It is a great artist community, which has seen some changes during the time I have been part of it. This old mill building has grown to five floors of artists studios and section of live and work artist lofts. I believe there is about 240 studios at the moment and over three hundred working artists.

My current studio is on the fourth floor in A-Mill. It came available in the fall of 2012 and when I saw it I didn’t have to think twice. This used to be Classic Elite Yarn’s office space and that is why I have those nice wood floors. I do my weaving with the two looms I have in my studio. Mostly I like to weave interior textiles, like rugs and wall hangings. For my wall art pieces I use mixed textile mediums, like woven textures, painting, dyeing and sewing. My studio is a place of inspiration with all those wonderful artists around me.
I want to keep that “open feeling” and that is why I do my sewing at home.

Western Avenue Studios is open to the public every first Saturday of the month from noon to 5pm. If you happen to visit the Open Studios, my studio number is A412.

Creating a ceramic castle

Creating my ceramic castles is a joy.  It brings me back to my childhood, when my sister and I would create homes for our small dolls out of shoe boxes and found materials.

Castle ture


This is a photo of several turrets drying after being thrown on the potters wheel.


075 - Copy


3 turrets attached and to a base.  Carved and decorated.




Post glaze firing, two castles cooling in the kiln.




The finished product.

Working from a Home Studio

Studio wideangle-close

By MVA artisan, Ritva Ojanen.

Visiting Western Avenue Studios in Lowell I’m pricked by a little stab of envy. There are so many wonderful artists doing interesting work there. It’s such a vibrant community with their monthly open studios, gallery, and displays of artwork along the hallways.

They even have a coffee shop in the building for lunch breaks with other artists. Here I am working all by myself in my rough and ready basement studio, and my only companions are audio books from the library.

Before I feel too sorry for myself, I have to remember that I have experienced the community of artists in dedicated studio buildings. When I was living in an urban setting, having a separate studio from my apartment seemed like the perfect option for the messy ceramic work I was doing at that time. And the camaraderie of a coop studio and the experience of other potters was a valuable education in my early career.

When we bought our house, here in the outer suburbs, and while expecting a child, it made sense to establish my studio in the basement of our home. My studio and my work was always just a flight of stairs down from all the daily chores and childcare.

Twenty five years later, here I still am. Multitasking is the daily life: the washer and dryer are humming away as I’m bent to the task of bead weaving, and when the dryer buzzer goes off, it gives me the perfect break to get up and stretch. My afternoon yogurt break is timed to the Ellen show, and computer work gets accomplished in a second floor office. I should wear a pedometer to see how many steps I take daily going up and down between the floors. And now in the wintertime, I am happy not to have to shovel out the car and face the nasty elements every day commuting to a studio.

These days the computer provides us with easy access to information and connection to friends and artists. But nothing beats face to face chatting, so I’m grateful to my artisans’ group with monthly meetings and the occasional coffee get-togethers.

Explaining Your Work


By MVA artist Lynn Ferrillo

I’m a weaver who loves to listen to the Boston Symphony Orchestra out at Tanglewood. I remember at one concert two of the works were by living composers. Stylistically, they related. What was different was the way they described their new works to their audience beforehand. At our craft shows we try explain our art to our visitors, and so I understood very well where both were coming from.

The younger of the two composers wrote extensive program notes and delivered a 20 minute talk before the dress rehearsal. During his talk he described what had been a lot of back and forth going on in his mind over the course of the work’s development. The commission requirement from the orchestra was minimal — 10 minutes in length max, and allegro in character. He cast around and around for ideas.

Ultimately, he resorted to a small science breakthrough his librettist had recently read in the news. The news article gave him the rhythmic underpinnings for the piece, several motifs, and prompted the title, but to me did not seem to relate to him personally. He had a tool chest full of musical forms, and he used this mastery to finish.  Comparing his project to the visual arts, I could tell he was accurately and fully explaining how the pieces of the creative puzzle fell into place.

The older, more established composer did not deliver a talk, and he wrote minimal program notes. “I am frequently asked to comment about my work,” he wrote, “but I really don’t like to do so because I feel it will impede the listener’s own interpretation and enjoyment of the piece.  This recent work of mine explores… (some stylistic feature, I forget).”  About two sentences.

Is this an object lesson for seeking a middle ground?  Seems to me both approaches have their pluses. What do you think?

Evernote for Artists

Evernote Snapshot 20140226 210716 Evernote, if you haven’t used it before, is a cloud-based suite of programs designed for note-taking and storage. Many people use it for scanning receipts and storing personal data in the pursuit of a paperless desk. Others use it to take notes in business meetings, keep track of clients, or collect recipes.

If you’re an artist, especially one who might be organizationally challenged or not particularly computer-savvy, there are many ways that Evernote can be particularly useful for you:

1: Collect ideas and photos without having to know where you put them, and have them available wherever you are without pesky file transfers. All you have to do is create a few “notebooks” in Evernote, and collect away. You don’t have to worry about file structures, or whether hierarchically your “color ideas” are stored in your “inspiration” folder inside your “art folder.” Put ‘em all in your Art notebook, and you can just search for what you’re looking for whether you’re at home at your computer or on your smartphone.

2. Keep track of important process details. If you’ve painted something with a specific mix of oil colors, for instance, take a picture of the painting with a note describing how you mixed the colors. If you fired a glaze at a particular temperature and time, take a picture of the pot with the firing details. Was that image transfer using Purell or gel medium? Don’t rely on your memory.

3. Keep an inventory of your art supplies. Take a picture of everything, and put the product name in the title. That way, when you go to the store and can’t remember if you’ve bought that green Ranger ink pad, you can check on your smartphone.

4. Collect inspiration. Take pictures of patterns, colors, juxtapositions. If I see a great fabric pattern I might wan to use for Zentangling, I’d snap a picture, probably with the title “Fabric pattern” and the tags “pattern,” “inspiration,” and “zentangle.” Then later if I want to look at patterns, be inspired, or I’m stymied for a tangle, I can search for that tag and see what comes up. Don’t let your pictures languish in your camera roll. Take important art-related pictures in Evernote and let them be catalogued.

5. Your Evernote account comes with an email address. You can forward all your receipts from your business to your Evernote account via email, either manually or using a mail filter.

6. Not organized enough to use a planner but need to remind yourself of things? Use the Evernote Post-it pads, then snap them into Evernote using your camera phone. Even if you have the Post-its scattered all over your house, they’ll all be in one place in Evernote, and you can even direct them to specific notebooks or tags.

7. Use Evernote’s tags to your advantage to search for a specific need. Yes, you could use Pinterest to create separate “inspiration” boards for “Blue,” “Ocean,” and “Backgrounds” — but what if you were specifically looking for that background image that you knew was of blue waves. You might find it if you didn’t have too many items stored on your boards, but you’d be able to call it up quickly in Evernote even if you had a gerbillion items stored.

8. Take advantage of Evernote Premium’s image text search feature. You could take a picture of all your paint labels, and then later do a text search to find out whether you have a certain one.

9. We all want to graze on other people’s web pages to find inspiration or tips, but never have the time to read everything. Certainly we don’t have the space to print everything out. Instead, save a web page to Evernote, and later when you’re puttering around and wonder “didn’t I come across an article on new digital cameras recently?” you can just search your Evernote notebook.

10. Don’t keep your client information on your computer and worry about when was the last time you backed it up. Keep it safely in the cloud, on multiple devices. In fact, free up space on your hard drive by keeping a lot of your files in Evernote.