This weekend marked the very last making push in the greenware stage so that I can finish everything before my next two events.
I’m doing back to back sales in May. My first show is the Colorado Potters Guild Spring Show that runs May 4-6, 2017. I’m also participating in the Horseshoe Market one week later on May 13, 2017. What this means for me right now is that it’s crunch time!
I’ve been making as much work as I possibly can so that I have enough ware for both shows. Inspiration strikes at curious times for me – often when deadlines are looming. So, this weekend really was my last making push with greenware. My goal is to bisque fire my kiln this evening, glaze tomorrow and then we load the soda kiln on Wednesday afternoon at the Colorado Potters Guild.
Did I mention that I’m also the chairwoman of the Colorado Potters Guild show this spring? It’s always a busy time right before the show, but now it feels doubly hectic.
New Forms – Creative Exploration
My schedule is busy and also why my creative muse always seem to show up when all pistons are firing…or maybe it’s just procrastination on my part? I’m not sure, but I’m starting to feel the crunch. This past weekend was really the very last opportunity for me to work on any “wet” ware. Of course, I took the opportunity to explore another form that has been lurking in my imagination – again based upon seed pods.
This form (see above) doesn’t exactly look like it did in my imagination. I’m going to fire it, but I don’t expect to make it again. It’s just too fussy for my taste. I probably could have used my time a little differently this weekend, but I’ve learned to answer creativity’s call when it happens.
I’m keeping this post short today, but will return on Wednesday when I’ll share some of the process of getting work ready to fire in the soda kiln on Thursday at the Colorado Potters Guild.
Kathleen Laurie is one of my favorite local Colorado ceramic artists. She lives in Evergreen, CO – a small mountain town in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Kathleen’s work bridges ceramic and two dimensional art practices such as painting and printmaking. I confess that I have collected several of ceramic pieces over the years.
We are both members of the Colorado Potters Guild. What does it mean to you to be a member of a clay community?
I joined the guild 18 years ago after working in other studio/classroom type scenarios. It is a unique space with my clay family. Being a potter usually means working in isolation unless you have found this magical place with my people who speak my language of art and clay.
How many years have you been working with clay?
I had my first experience with clay in the 3rd grade. It was a clay epiphany, an artistic lightning bolt. Overall I would say I’ve been working with clay for 40 years with some breaks in between but I’ve always returned to this medium.
Do you have a formal education in clay/art or how did you acquire your skills?
I have a degree in art/art education from Illinois State University. I’ve studied art my entire life. My mother nurtured my interest in all things art by putting me in classes, taking me to museums and encouraging my artistic growth. She was a science teacher and her interest in the natural world enhanced my visual education.
I spent most of my childhood outdoors running around in the woods and nearby swamps (where there was clay!) Over the years I have participated in workshops to learn glaze formulations and form making, some of them at the guild and some as far away as Vancouver Island with Robin Hopper at Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts.
How do you work (techniques/glazing/firing methods)?
My work encompasses wheel thrown pieces, handbuilt pieces, slabs, lots of texture and incising. Sometimes I combine wheel work with slab work. It varies from functional to sculptural. Wall work and garden pieces. It’s all how my brain tells me to proceed. It’s become intuitive. As I throw a large bowl on my wheel, I envision what kind of beautiful salad will live in it and what color glaze to consider.
The firings take place at the guild. I fire to cone 10 in reduction or soda kilns. Glazing is my way of painting. My art background was comprehensive with drawing, painting, printmaking and ceramics. Now all of that training has morphed into my glaze style which is very graphic in nature. Clay has become my canvas. There’s lots of layers of information, lots of marks, lots of overlapping glazes.
What does “being creative” mean to you?
Being creative means having the freedom to explore, invent, fail, succeed, move on, revisit, stall etc. I’ve always been creative and therefore the exacting left-brain talents are weaker.
Speaking of exploration, you recently confided that you have started hand building more. Can you share some work in progress?
I’m doing more hand building at the moment, decorating with slips, textures and decals.
(Editor’s note – I can’t wait to see these in person when we fire next week!)
What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
Music is part of my studio environment. I work at my home studio. Usually there is a fire in my pellet stove, incense going, I must bustle around a bit, clean up, organize, chat with the cat and after an hour I settle down to some actual work. I work in spurts. Can’t work 8 hours at a time. Procrastination is my nemesis. I jokingly say that I have Studio Attention Deficit Disorder, SADD. It takes a while for me to focus and let go of outside, everyday diversions.
How do you overcome obstacles or difficulties working in clay?
I keep working thru it. If I hit a stall or creative wall, it usually takes some time to get back to work. The drought passes in time and with experience I realize it’s just a temporary incubation where something is evolving into a new design or idea. Sometimes it requires discussing with my guild mates to get past it. YouTube is also a great source of quick training.
Do you pursue any themes in your art work?
Patterns, grids, linear designs, turtles, fish, birds, dragonflies, color.
Who or what inspires you?
Nature, traveling, reading, museums, artist friends, my guild mates, life experiences. Just about everything I see has a possibility of making an appearance in my clay work.
Where do you see your work progressing over the next year?
I would like my work to increase in height and volume! New forms are always on the horizon. Sculpture is happening.
I publish interviews with artists whose primary medium is clay once a week, every Friday. This regular segment is named “Feature Fridays”. Find past interviews on 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.
Several months ago, I had an idea while I was out walking with my dog to create some ceramic wall hangings. Initially, I imagined that the ceramic pieces would stand alone. The idea makes sense to me – especially since I already make ceramic wall art. Then, I became fascinated with the resurgence of the art of macramé.
Yes – the art of knot tying that had its heyday, most recently in the 1970’s!
A friend of mine from high school tagged me in an Instagram post of a macrame owl wall hanging that she made in the 1970’s with her grandmother. Isn’t this awesome? What a sweet memory and I love that she still displays her owl. To me it still looks fresh…but I do remember the art form falling out of favor in the 80’s.
History of Macramé
According to Wikipedia, “Macramé comes from a 13th-century Arabic weavers’ word migramah meaning “fringe”. This refers to the decorative fringes on camels and horses which help, amongst other things, to keep the flies off the animal in the hot desert regions of northern Africa.”
So, it’s actually a decorative and functional art that’s been around a long time. The art form later moved to Europe via the Moors and then to other parts of the world by sailors who passed their time making gifts using rope which was readily available on a ship.
So, as a ceramic artist, I decided to combine clay + macramé to create some home decor pieces. In preparation of trying my hand at adding fiber/cord to my ceramic work, I made a couple of stand alone wall hangings using some simple knots.
My first attempt was just okay. I was much more deliberate with the second one. My daughter loves it, so I gave it to her and she hung it up in her dorm room.
Can you see my vision? I don’t think that I could have made the ceramic components without first trying my hand at making some simple macramé wall hangings and practicing making various types of knots.
I even purchased about 600 feet of 3 strand cotton rope to finish my ceramic wall hangings. Also, I borrowed a couple of macramé books from the library to use as reference. I’m excited to finish these and perhaps make them a regular part of my online shop.
Page Kelly Piccolo is the owner and creative force behind Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery located in Montana. Page makes lovely functional pottery that feature botanical themes and the texture of fabrics.
Please Introduce Yourself:
My name is Page. I’ve long wished that I could just be monoeponymous (I made that word up). If I could legally go by Page, I would do it. Currently, I live in a bedroom community outside of Helena, MT, which is known both as Montana City and Clancy. I’m a fifth-generation Montanan, but I spent a good chunk of my early adulthood moving my furniture from one side of the country to the other and back again.
How did your clay journey begin?
I vaguely remember an art class in sixth grade, or so, where our art teacher, whom I can only remember as Mr. M???? (my brain continues to refuse to fill in the space) had a short ceramic section where we all had an opportunity to throw on the wheel. We also built a bust. Of all the pieces that I’ve lost to the kiln gods over time, that bust is the one I miss the most. My memory of it was that it was really good, but we didn’t carve out the centers, so everything exploded, likely due to residual water. I love figurative sculpture, and want to explore that work more in the future.
When I was a teen, I had the opportunity to do a studio visit with Judy Ericksen. She let me throw a couple of bowls on her wheel and then at some point we did a raku firing. I enjoyed it immensely. Sadly, I didn’t get the support or encouragement to explore pottery further.
Many years later, lifetimes, I left my second husband and returned to Montana to keep my mother alive. We’d lost three immediate family members in the span of two years, and she was sliding down a black hole of depression. We sold her “in-town” house and moved to a twenty-acre property where she, and I, could start over.
The road to our house went by the Archie Bray Foundation and I drove by twice a day for months. I finally stopped in and signed up for a class and I took my first official pottery class July and August of 2003. Jeremy “Jr.” Kane was my teacher. The following January, I had enrolled in Carroll College with the intent of getting some kind of degree. In the fall of 2004, I took a class through the college that was in cooperation with the Bray, and Ben Krupka was my teacher that semester. The semester-end crit was brutal, I was unprepared for it, but in the long run, it has been the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given.
I’ve since taken several classes and workshops at the Bray, and I was a studio tech for Ralph Esposito at the college for a couple of semesters. In 2007, I’d become frustrated with the community firing at the Bray and no longer had access to the ceramic studio at the college. This pushed me to buy a kiln and a wheel which I set up a little basement studio.
By and large, my education has been in my studio – pushing myself to do better, to try something new, and to problem-solve. I’ve had four physical spaces in the last ten years. Between some interruptions of moving and having a daughter, I’ve found those breaks have led to great leaps of improvement in my work. The time off quiets my hands, but not my mind as I constantly obsess about clay.
I’m curious about the name of your clay business, “Zephyr Valley Pottery”. Is this a place or region in Montana where you live?
I’m fuzzy on the timeline, but some time before Montana was a state, my Great-Great-Grandfather had registered a livestock brand with the territory. It reads, “Reversed Hanging Z V.” This brand was eventually inherited by my grandmother who had a ranch in a valley in Meagher County. When I was a teen, Gram made a sign with the name “Zephyr Valley Ranch” which had the image of the brand on it.
I wish I knew what happened to that sign, I’d love to have it. In any case, my grandparents are long dead, the ranch has been sold, but my mother retains a quarter of the rights to the brand. In homage to my grandma I named my pottery business Zephyr Valley Pottery and now it’s Zephyr Valley Ceramics and Pottery. I use an image of the brand inside the jug form as my signature on my pots.
What happens if you ever leave Montana? I ask, mainly, because my creative business was called Colorado Art Studio at one time. In 2013, I rebranded my as ceramicscapes so that I could easily move in the future should I desire. I also really debated whether to use my name, but my last name is so difficult to pronounce and spell. Naming a creative business is more challenging than it seems – have you ever considered using your name instead?
As far as the business name goes, I don’t have any issue in taking it with me wherever I go, because it really is more of a familial connection rather than a geographic one. The problem that I’ve recently come across is connecting my business name with me, the artist, and the work that I’ve been exhibiting.
Last year I began applying to juried shows in earnest, and I’ve been very fortunate to be accepted into many of them. The galleries put Page Kelly Piccolo on the labels, not Zephyr Valley Ceramics so I don’t think the connection is necessarily being made. Fortunately, Google has me covered, but folks have to think to search for me there. This is just one of the areas where being an artist in business can be challenging, there is no clear path or one right way.
I am excited to learn that you (and another friend, Judi Tavill) have both been invited to show your work at the AKAR 2017 Yunomi invitational. I am thrilled for both of you. Did you apply to the show, or did AKAR find you online and invite you?
I can’t even begin to express how excited I am to be a participant in this show. For me, this show is THE ceramics show of the year. I always buy a piece (or three) and sit at my computer hitting refresh waiting for the show to open. I LOVE this show.
This truly is an invitation only exhibit – I did not apply. I’m not entirely sure how they found me, but a couple of things happened. As I mentioned, I had earnestly applied and been accepted into several shows last year. Two of those shows were pretty big – one at Companion Gallery and one at the Charlie Cummings Gallery. I was so excited to be selected to those shows.
The other thing that happened was a post by ClayAKAR on Facebook that I commented on. I read it as a kind of fun, ‘hey we’re sending out invitations, is there anyone we should be sending invitations to’ post, so I was like “Uh, yeah, ME!” (none of this is the actual quote, but the essence). Maybe three or four weeks later, I received the questionnaire asking if I would like to participate. I might have hyperventilated a little.
You recently moved to a new home after building your (what appeared to be) dream home. As someone who moves fairly frequently as well, I understand the impulse. Why did you make the move to the new place. How has that impacted your clay practice?
Yeah, I really have to quit moving. Where to start…. My husband and I actually built our dream home in 2012. We have another business, BearGrass Homes, which is a construction business, now more property management. When we built the 2012 house, we were in a neighborhood where we could pick which school our daughter could attend.
In 2014, I had a health issue that caused me to quit working in the studio for an extended period, and I had to get a full-time J.O.B. outside of my studio. We set up our life and work schedules based on my daughter going to a specific school. They had an after-school program that the other school did not, which meant that I could go to work and not worry about her after school. We discovered when we went to register her, the school had drawn hard lines, and we were outside of that line by two blocks. They also made a rule that they were not accepting out-of-district kids, no exceptions.
I couldn’t mentally or emotionally get to the place where the other school would work, so I moved my family. My husband couldn’t be convinced to buy a house that was already built, so we found a lot and built another home. And that house was another dream house, one level living with a few bells and whistles with a studio in the basement. But, I was regaining my health and working in the studio again. Also, my husband was unhappy with the location.
As I achieved more success with my pottery business and started getting more wholesale and consignment accounts, the path to being a full-time potter again seems really viable. But the mortgage on the new dream house would never have allowed for that. I started looking for a home that had an outbuilding and needed some TLC, something inexpensive that we could improve on.
I found it. It was back in the old neighborhood my husband and daughter loved, and the school district has different rules for existing students, so we bought this beat-up repo house. Now I have my dream studio and the family is glad to be back in the old ‘hood. I’m closer to being financially able to go full-time in the studio again.
My clay practice has had a lot of interruptions. Emotionally, it’s incredibly challenging being away from the creative process. Mentally, it’s challenging because I’m not producing work, so I get behind on orders or goals. Right now, I don’t have anything to submit for exhibitions because I’m in full order-filling mode.
I work 60-70 hours a week, 40 at my day gig and the rest in the studio. I hope to find balance someday. Strangely, these breaks have a strong positive impact on the quality of my work because it has improved by leaps and bounds. I think a lot of that has to do with all the time I think about the work and the process, and the challenges I want to overcome.
I imagine that Montana has a fairly decent, but seasonal tourist season similar to Colorado. How do you sell your work typically? On Etsy? Or is your best market local such as galleries, shops or craft markets?
This is a tough question. My hometown is an odd place for me. I don’t fit into any specific cubby, and until recently it’s been challenging to find a place to sell my work locally. I don’t really do the Montana touristy stuff – graphics of the state, elk, moose or the like. And, I’m not one of the elite potters that have been through the Bray residency.
I’ve done okay with Etsy, and I think that continues to improve over time. I did the wholesale trade-show circuit in Montana, but I ran up against the “oh you use photography? Can you put a moose on that?” To which my answer was, “Can? Yes. Want to? Going to? No.”
Part of my impetus for applying to the exhibits last year was to see if my work would sell nationally. Now, I’m working on building a portfolio to send to galleries across the country, but I’ve also been developing my wholesale and consignment accounts.
I have a lovely boutique in Bozeman, MT that has led to a wholesale account with a farm-to-roaster coffee shop. Recently, a local gallery has added me to their stable. I’m also a member of Montana Clay, and last year we had our first studio tour. It was very successful and we are hoping to build on that. Helena has a Spring and Fall art walk each year, and I try to participate in that.
One of the primary goals I had with this last move was to have a place that people can come to and be more informed about the process and buy from me directly. I will be hosting studio sales once or twice a year to bring in the larger crowds, but I am always happy to have locals come by. I’m hoping to hold an Open-House style event here in the beginning of June. This is all part of rebuilding the business, and it takes time. At the same time, I hope I can keep up!
You take wonderful photographs of your ceramic work. Photographing work is challenging for a lot of potters, myself included. In scrolling through your Instagram feed, I’m curious about your photo set up that you posted on April 1, 2017. Can you expand on the equipment and techniques you use?
Thank you. My husband should really get all the credit. I take most of my pictures but he has done all the work on figuring out how to get the effects I’m looking for. He’s the kind of guy that gets interested in something and then has to figure out how it all works.
A few years ago, he became interested in landscape and astral photography, so I challenged him to help me with my pot pictures. We started with a lightbox on the kitchen counter, we had a space in a storage room where I hung a cheap canvas wrapped in tinfoil from the ceiling to use as a bounce light. We tried all kinds of options.
The set up that you mention is now in my new studio. I’ve got a roll of white paper, a piece of foam board to use as a light bounce, and a strobe light with a soft-box. Along with these essentials is the stands to hold everything up and in place. The strobe is on a remote, so instead of a flash, I get a much stronger burst of light. The angles of the light and the bounce board are about 90° to each other. The benefit is a controlled outcome and I can take pictures in my studio and not worry about any environmental light from windows or the ceiling.
I get a graduated background effect when I want it, or I can open up the angle of the light and bounce board, add a light, and have a white or grey background. Because my pots are white, the graduated background helps make them pop a bit more. I love natural light pictures, but my schedule doesn’t allow for me to take pictures on Mother Nature’s schedule.
I’m excited to see what ClayAKAR does this year with the Yunomi Invitational. This year they are posting 360° views of each pot.
I had to delete the Periscope app on my phone last year because I ran out of space. When I replaced my phone I never re-installed the app, because I found the notifications distracting. Are “scopes” automatically archived now to watch later? Are you still active on Periscope? If so, what does it add to your clay practice?
Periscope is awesome. It’s also extremely distracting. (you can turn the notifications off in settings, btw.)
The clay community that has been built around the ‘Scopers and the viewers is amazing. Initially, it was really addicting and I watched and broadcast a lot. There were a few hiccups initially, but Periscope has improved a lot of its features in the last year.
So here’s the bottom line: As a broadcaster, I love it when my viewers interact, ask questions, engage. Hearts are like applause (tap the screen to give a heart). The trolls can be really really super awful, so I limit who can chat to those who follow me. I can look at your profile and see if you are someone who is actually interested in ceramics. Also, when I’m doing throwing demos it’s really hard to split my attention between my pots and the conversation, and it really slows me down.
I’m more likely to ‘Scope these days when I’m glazing or applying decals or the like. The broadcaster has the option to save the broadcasts or delete them, so yes, they can be archived. To conserve space on my devices, I delete the videos. I occasionally upload them to my YouTube channel because I will be referencing that video in a blog post.
And that last bit is really what Periscope has added to my practice. I re-started my blog on my website, because I felt like there was more information to share. Photos of completed work, links to other artists or products or whatever that was discussed in the broadcast. It helps fill in the spaces, and I think sharing information is one of the things that I most love about potters. We tend to be supportive of each other, and I want to pay that forward.
Who or what inspires you?
My daughter inspires me. Mostly to be the woman she can look to as an example of someone who is strong, independent, caring, kind, thoughtful, inclusive. I want better for my child than I had or did, so I try to model that for her.
Beyond that, in my art, I’m a sensory inspired person. I love texture, pattern and love subtlety or things that make me want to engage or investigate. Attention to how things feel is maybe more important than how my work looks.
What do you do for fun outside of pottery?
Right now, I work mostly. I’m intent on getting back into the studio full-time and I’m doing everything I can to make that happen. I’ve also managed to get my arthritis and fibromyalgia under control so that I can physically handle going back to the studio. I study nutrition and am always working toward getting healthier. Recently, I started taking a pilates class once a week.
My mother-in-law taught me some knitting basics, so I’ve done a bit of that. Always looking for balance in life, never quite getting there. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of girl. I also hope to get some camping in this summer.
I publish interviews with artists whose primary medium is clay once a week, every Friday. This regular segment is named “Feature Fridays”. Find past interviews on 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.
Today, I share some of my botanic inspired ceramic work in progress – and some finished work from my last soda firing at the Colorado Potters Guild.
All of the work in progress is “green”, meaning it hasn’t been fired yet. Greenware needs to be “bone dry” before undergoing the first firing, also known as the bisque firing. At this point, if I mishandle or bump one of my fragile, bone dry pieces, it will break.
Bisque firing makes the work slightly stronger and able to withstand bumps etc. Glaze firing pieces makes ceramic work vitrified, or water tight and much stronger. Of course, being ceramic, all work will break if it’s dropped on a hard surface.
I’m having a lot of fun with these. In a sense, it reminds me of my childhood a bit. I could spend hours and hours playing by myself in a world of make believe. I would create environments or rooms using my cracked open books for my dolls. The end papers of my books made beautiful wall paper or even a forest. I developed elaborate story lines that could last for days until I decided to move onto a different activity.
Today, I’m using some of the botanic or flora photographs as inspiration. In some cases, I attempt to replicate what I see, in others, I take artistic liberty to depict a flower or seedpod. In truth, it is really hard to make the real thing better.
Other Botanic Inspired Ceramic Work
I’m also fully aware that I am not the first artist to attempt to capture seed pods or flowers in clay. Just check out my most recent Pinterest search. What I find incredible, is the range of interpretations. Each person has a unique life view and will interpret the exact same subject differently. We each have our own way of working with clay – our touch is different, our tools, our mindsets, our preferred color palette and even our firing methods. All of these inform our making and interpretations which makes ceramic art (and all art) really exciting.
Finished Botanic Inspired Ceramic Work
Why have I moved in this direction? I’m not sure, is my honest answer. I have been content to explore drawing and clay. In fact, I still am. This newest work seems to be an tangent of my sculptural explorations and my stacked ceramic totem sculptures. It’s fun and joyful which makes going to “work” in my studio a great day.
One of my goals for this work is to create functional ceramic objects that are also beautiful on their own.
I do my fair share of hand building with clay. In fact, my first successes in my ceramics 101 class were because I learned how to hand build using slabs of clay. Success on the pottery wheel came much later.
I’m gearing up for my next soda firing at the guild towards the end of April and will be hand building mugs, bowls and other functional pottery. Paper templates are an easy way to achieve a uniformity in size and shape for hand builders.
I’ve made my own cup templates in the past, but in the interest of time, I decided to peruse Pinterest for templates. Low and behold, I found an online template maker – specifically a truncated cone template that is helpful for hand builders interested in making tapered cups of all sizes.
I already have a tumbler sized template ready to go, but would like to add some wine/juice cup sized ones. Also, I like drinking wine out of a handmade cup and, frankly I’m too lazy to do the math and draw it by hand.
What I like about this template, even though the site really caters to paper crafts, is that it’s scalable. Users need only enter their desired measurements for the bottom and top diameters and the height in either inches or centimeters.
Here is my wine/juice sized truncated cone template for hand builders:
My template measures 2.5″ in diameter at the base, 3″ up top and 4″ high.
The only tricky parts that users need to account for are how to print a template and clay shrinkage.
Larger templates will not likely fit on an 8.5″ x 11″ letter sized piece of paper, so you will need to either bring it to a printing company like Kinkos or print it out on multiple pieces of paper and piece together.
I guesstimated a reasonable size for my truncated cone template. Originally, I plugged in measurements of 3″(base) x 4″(top) x 4″(height) which was more of a small sized mug. I printed and cut the template out to check if the size works. After printing my first one, I downsized my measurements to 2.5″(b) x 3″(t) x 4″(h). This seems just about right for wine or juice.
I’m not concerned with volume at this point. I just want to make a cup that will hold about 4-5 ounces of liquid. If you are working on a custom order for a shop or gallery, however, you will need to do a bit of math (or use an online calculator) and also understand your clay shrinkage if a specific size is requested.
For further reading, the LaPellas, who I interviewed for Feature Fridays, have an easy clay ruler tutorial on their blog. Or, if you know your clay body’s shrinkage, you need to take this into account to make a template that accounts for your clay body’s shrinkage.
I like to laminate my templates with packing tape so that I can reuse them over and over. They’re water resistant and won’t warp or buckle after placing it on damp clay. Simply cover the front and back of the paper template with packing tape, being careful to overlap the tap about 1/8″. Trim the excess tape from the template afterwards.
Stay tuned for a tutorial on my hand building process.
Jim Bridgeman of Bridgeman Studios is a ceramic artist from Georgia. While his ceramic work is minimal in color and finish, his creations are functional works of art that beg to be displayed.
Please Introduce Yourself:
Hi, I’m Jim Bridgeman. A retired air traffic controller, husband and father and now ceramic artist? (I struggle calling myself an artist/potter)
How did clay hook you?
In 2006 I was forced to take an early retirement from my job as an air traffic controller due to some health issues. Unsure what I was going to do with the rest of my life, my wife found a pottery wheel throwing class offered at the local rec department. I was hooked day one.
I’ve “known” you since about 2007/2008 when we were both members of the Etsy Mud Team. Your work has taken a fairly dramatic stylistic shift since then. Can you pinpoint when this happened or was it gradual?
Yep, dramatic is correct, but not unexpected to me. In May 2012, I discovered Neil Gaiman’s graduation speech to The University of the Arts. A month later I spent 10 days in Uganda helping out in a remote village and spending time with two kids we sponsor there. I listened to Neil Gaiman’s speech over 50 times during the two weeks in Uganda and travel time to and from. Upon returning from Uganda, due to budget cuts, I was let go from a job I held as a contract air traffic control instructor for the FAA. This allowed me to begin handbuilding where much of the work is both very time consuming and time critical.
The “dream” bottle is one of the first pieces I made after being let go and was greatly inspired by the portion of Neil Gaiman’s speech where he says:
“A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.”
Your current ceramic work is very architectural, where do you find your inspiration?
Well, I actually went through 3 1/2 years of VA Tech’s 5 year architecture program before changing my major. Clay allows me to pursue and explore forms without getting caught up in the minutiae.
Do you still sell online, or mostly at in person events? Why?
Almost all of my work is sold in person at art shows for a couple reasons. The first is the time consuming aspect of the type of work I make. I haven’t reached a point where I feel I can safely set aside work to list online and still feel comfortable with the amount of work I am bringing to shows. The second reason is that every piece is unique as well as every side of each piece. The time needed to photograph, edit, upload and list images of all sides of a piece wasn’t making business sense in terms of time spent vs sales from those listings.
I love your new t-shirts – they’re very pottery “punny”. How did you come up with the idea and why did you decide to get into the t-shirt business?
The Pot[tery] Makes Me Happy!!! shirt was a design I submitted for a yearly pottery show I participate in here in GA called Perspectives. The intent of the design was to grab people’s attention from a distance with Pot Makes Me Happy!!!, then when they got closer they would see it actually said “Pottery” as well as the name of the show which had been on the bottom of the design.
The show went with a more traditional design than the one that I submitted. I can’t say I was surprised.
(Author’s note – check out Jim’s t-shirts in his Etsy shop – only $24.95 with FREE shipping! I plan on wearing mine to my next in person event.)
What do you do for fun outside of pottery?
I volunteer at the elementary school where (my now) high school aged kids attended to help kids with reading and math – I love it! I also like to take the dogs to a nearby nature area to hike a few miles a day. Feed the chipmunks that live around my studio.
Winter Park, FL 3/17-19 Dogwood, Atlanta 4/7-9 Fired Works, Macon, GA 4/21-30 Artisphere, Greenville, SC 5/12-14
Reston, VA 5/20-21
Decatur, GA 5/27-28
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.
During the month of February, I’ve been making some more experimental work. I’ve felt drawn to stacked ceramic totem sculptures as a form and method of arranging components which is entirely new for me.
Since I’m not quite sure how to execute larger ceramic totem sculptures, I decided to repurpose some table lamps that my husband and I were going to donate to our local thrift shop. The size and shape of the lamp base is perfect for a table top ceramic totem sculpture.
My husband kindly removed the electrical bits of the lamps and yesterday, I started to play with the placement of the ceramic bits that will make up the pair of sculptures.
While, the minimal white of the components in the video is beautiful, I envision a more graphic composition. I’ll be working on the decoration today. Stay tuned.
After this firing cycle, I plan to work on a ceramic totem for my garden and think I have figured out how I will anchor it in the ground. There just doesn’t seem to be a ton of info out there, so I’m drawing on my experience in landscape design to figure out how to anchor the sculpture so that it does not topple during weather events.
Meanwhile, check out my Pinterest board where I’ve been collecting images of ceramic totems.
What is a totem?
“A totem (Ojibwe dodaem) is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe.”
While it is somewhat controversial for me to use the cultural term “totem” to describe my sculpture, it’s descriptive of a tall stacked sculpture and easily understood. I will need to really think about the language that I use as I finish my pieces in the future.
More appropriate terms include stacked ceramic sculpture, columnar sculpture, garden tower or garden stacks. Ultimately, I want to be thoughtful, respectful and deliberate.
I’m super please to announce that I have published my first online Skillshare class! This class is for beginning students and is adapted from one I teach in person.
What is Skillshare? Skillshare is a subscription based learning community where anyone can discover, take, or even teach a class. Class topics include everything from crafts, illustration, fitness, software applications, photography, tech classes, gaming, culinary and more. The wonderful aspect of taking a class on Skillshare is that you do it at your own pace. Classes are broken up into short segments that you can pause and resume anytime you’d like from the comfort of your home.
If you’d like to try Skillshare without committing to a full blown subscription, you can sign up for a three month trial of a premium subscription for $0.99 after which time you can subscribe for a full year or cancel if it’s not for you. Use this link for your free trial.
Skill lever: Beginner
Pottery has never been more popular and now you can make easy clay dishes at home without having a pottery wheel or any other pottery specific equipment*.
Join me in my home studio where I will demonstrate how to make slab built dishes in different shapes that can be impressed with texture, personalized text, special dates and more.
When I was a beginning clay student, the pottery wheel was super frustrating to me. After learning a few hand building techniques and best practices for working with wet clay, I had instant success. It was just enough to keep me going to enable me to graduate with a degree in ceramics.
Keep in mind, that a degree isn’t necessary – just a willingness to try and you can be on your way making pottery to keep for yourself, gift and even sell.
Warning: Clay is very addicting!
* I use a cone 6 white stoneware clay body that needs to be fired in a kiln to approximately 2232 degrees F for durability. If you do not have access to a kiln, many community pottery studios and/or private studios will often fire work for you for a small fee. Alternately, you may use air dry clay and acrylic paint or polymer clay, but these materials are not food or dishwasher safe.
I really look forward to developing more online classes in the future! I really learned a lot about formatting a class and also how to film and edit for clarity.
Shortly after New Years, I didn’t have much going on in the studio…it was quiet after the holidays and a couple of online classes popped up on my radar and I thought, “Why not?”
I signed up for Molly Hatch’s/Ben Carter’s “Think Big” class and enrolled in Diana Fayt’s “The Clayer – Surfacing” class which ran concurrently for a bit. Why? I had been humming along just fine, but felt a bit bored creatively towards the end of 2014 and decided that learning something new would be a good jump start for the new year – a way to make some creative leaps with external motivation in the form of a class. I had already started the process of mixing things up in the studio, but then stalled once the holidays crept up.
I’m typically the type of person that jumps in head first and gives 110% to whatever it is I’m doing. It was no different for these e-courses. Emotionally, I was all over the place in the Think Big class. We were asked to do some real soul searching about the direction we wanted to move towards creatively, spiritually and financially. I am really inspired by Molly Hatch’s multi-faceted career as a maker and designer and I always look forward to Ben Carter’s interviews with “artists and culture makers” on The Tales of a Red Clay Rambler. At first, I didn’t think that I was interested in expanding outside of clay, but now I’m rethinking the possibilities.
I have always been a Jill of all trades, mistress of none. Yet, I have worked hard to focus on clay in the past two years in an effort to craft a career in ceramics. I have not dabbled in other mediums – I have concentrated on clay. The effort has not been for naught. I lost momentum in 2009 when I decided to go to graduate school for landscape architecture. I returned to clay in earnest late 2013. I also returned to making and working like I used to do before taking a clay sabbatical. In essence, I found it necessary to relearn how to work with the material, to understand the work flow, the making cycle and more. Going back to what I knew was easy. Switching gears is hard, but I’ve done my homework.
Graduate school was both a blessing and a curse for me. I loved stretching myself mentally and physically – accomplishing things that I never thought possible. It was a bust in that I adopted a more contemporary aesthetic that wasn’t totally authentic to me and I decided that I didn’t want to practice landscape architecture. The gifts that graduate school gave me are endurance, thick skin, humility and an ability to think bigger. Did I need to go to school to learn that? Probably not, but I can’t change the past.
The Clayer – Surfacing class was great! Diana is a fantastic instructor and was very encouraging to everyone. I wasn’t sure if I was interested in many of the techniques that she was teaching, but I love her work and have followed her on social media for years. We were given assignments every week and shared our efforts with each other and sometimes the world via social media. I have learned that I like Mishima (or the art of slip inlay) as a technique. I love creating my own patterns through the use of hand carved rubber stamps. Mono-printing on clay is cool. AND I really like hand building with clay.
I found joy again in creating, trying new things and working in multiple mediums. It was almost as if I were given permission to play and to go back to what I was doing before I went to graduate school. It’s the freedom to do what I want with no expectation of a particular outcome. I also know that I am throwing my whole business plan out of the window.
Between these two classes, I have discovered that I actually have something to say and that I want to share these creative explorations out loud. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook just don’t have enough space to delve deeper.