Meet Sarah Christensen Ceramics

Sarah Christensen is a ceramic artist and the creative force behind Sarah Christensen Ceramics located in Denver, Colorado. She is known for her highly decorated wheel thrown functional work and ceramic wall pieces. 

Sarah Christensen Ceramics
Sarah Christensen Ceramics

Please introduce yourself:

I was always encouraged to be an artist, and I always wanted to be one.  While I dabbled in lots of mediums as a kid, I didn’t touch clay until high school. Only then, did I really think it could happen. I went to college to blow glass, but after many burns, found clay to be more conducive to how I translated my ideas with my hands. That was all it took, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Wheel Thrown Bowl
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Wheel Thrown Bowl

How many years have your been working with clay?

I’ve been working in clay 25 years.

Do you have a formal education in clay/art or how did you acquire your skills?

I have a bfa in ceramics from Alfred University, which gave me a great base of knowledge from which to work.  I think I am still processing all the info I absorbed there. Since graduation I have been more interested in finding my voice in my work, and have chosen to limit my exposure to new techniques and influences. I love seeing what others are doing, but I get distracted easily and overwhelmed with new ideas which limits my focus.

Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Covered Jar
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Covered Jar

As a graduate of Alfred’s ceramic program, one of the most respected clay programs in the nation, can you speak to the rigor of the program and how it has prepared you to pursue clay full time in recent years? 

I can still hear my professors when I am working. It is rare for me to make anything without thinking, what would they think. Is this piece up to standard?  It has made me a harsh critic of my work, and others work as well. I’m okay with that, I want to make the very best work I can and I want to encourage others to do the same. 
 
Often, I still think of the advice my pottery teacher gave us to wait to put the work out there and to make it the very best you can. Once the  work is in the world, that is the work people will expect you to make, so don’t get stuck making under developed work. I’m not sure anything prepared me for life as a full time artist, but I do feel like I want to live up to the standards set by my education and the talented people I went to school with.
 

Were you ever interested in pursuing a MFA in ceramics?

 
I’ve always debated MFA, no MFA. I still think about the possibility, if it’s something that would enhance my work or open up opportunities. I guess I haven’t made a conclusive decision about it yet so it’s still on the table.
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Sugar and Creamer Set
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Sugar and Creamer Set

How do you work (techniques/glazing/firing methods)?

Working on lots of projects at once keeps my day interesting. I throw for part of the day, then switch to handbuilding or sculpting. It is easier on the body to move around, and I don’t get antsy doing the same thing all day. I throw functional ware in porcelain, handbuild slab pots, make decorative wall hangings, and sometimes make attempts at what I call “real art”, but it’s really just playing in the studio.

All my work is very focused on surface decoration. I like simple forms that give me a canvas to use slip, glaze pencils, glaze and stamps, to layer color and image.  Soda firing has always been a part of that process. It adds that extra magic to a surface, and it is always a surprise.

 

We are both members of the Colorado Potters Guild. What does it mean to you to be a member of the guild?

When I joined the guild, I was desperate to have a place to fire, but otherwise I was fine working in solitude. I didn’t realize at first how enriching it would be to have a group of clay friends to talk shop with. These days I am constantly grateful for all the enthusiasm, problem solving and fun that being in this group brings.

Sarah Christensen - Spraying soda into the vapor kiln at the Colorado Potters Guild
Sarah Christensen – Spraying soda into the vapor kiln at the Colorado Potters Guild

We have been firing the soda kiln at the Colorado Potters Guild together with a few others and you lead our firings. What is your philosophy or end goal for a soda firing as it relates to your work since it’s so highly decorated with color and fine line work?

The end goal is always the same. How can I get the most exciting, beautiful surface possible on a pot? It has certainly been a process to find just the right firing to keep the decoration intact, while making sure the soda does its magic. 
 
Lately, my interest is in getting what I call “radioactive” color. Most people associate high fire with brown or subdued colors, so I love that I can get bright colors, but retain the complexity that comes with higher temps. The soda has the potential to really enhance the glaze colors, while also softening the design work and making it more variable.
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Wheel Thrown Mug
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Wheel Thrown Mug

Technically this makes you teacher or instructor by taking the lead in our firings (and you’re good at it). Have you ever thought about teaching classes to other potters or aspiring potters? Why or why not?

I have done a little teaching, but have not found a good fit yet. There are times I think I would like to teach, but it is hard to give up my own studio time for it. I wouldn’t rule teaching out if the right opportunity came about, it just hasn’t been a goal particularly.
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled

People love your functional work and I think your sculptural wall boxes are under appreciated. Would you like to move more into the sculptural realm, or do you enjoy straddling both functional and sculptural?

There is something very comforting about making pots. They are art objects, but their function gives them purpose and meaning and definition, so I don’t have to. As long as my pots function, they are what they were meant to be.  Its nice to have the container of function and it takes the pressure off when I’m not feeling especially creative, but still want to work.  
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
 
I never intended to show the sculptures when I started making them. They are an exploration of a personal experience, and I really wanted them to stay private. I guess I (mostly) got over this feeling, plus I ran out of wall space to store them.
 
Sarah Christensen Ceramics - Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
Sarah Christensen Ceramics – Ceramic Wall Curio Box Untitled
 
I have been missing making them lately, but the functional pots have taken precedence as I try to get them into the world…. I would love to make more of the wall pieces, but I feel so much more pressure to make them meaningful, to have them say something about me or the world. Sometimes it’s just really nice to sit down and make a mug.
 

Who or what inspires you?

I’m loving Danish midcentury pottery right now. But inspiration is everywhere, all the time.

Where can people find you?

Online:

Sarah Christensen Ceramics
Colorado Potters Guild Website
Instagram: @sarahsclaybits

Galleries:

Boulder Arts and Crafts Gallery
Gallery 1505 

Upcoming events:
 

I publish interviews with artists whose primary medium is clay once a week, every Friday. This regular segment is named “Feature Fridays” which can be found when searching the Ceramicscapes Blog using the category search function on the right hand sidebar. Interested in being featured? Visit the Apply for Feature Fridays page for more information.

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