It seems that many potters I come across have developed their work around one specific clay body. I’m not sure this approach is for me!! I am just so drawn to different types of clays and what can be achieved with each.
I heard great another podcast by potter Ben Carter, this one featuring Sandi Pierantozzi and Neil Patterson (Podcast No. 86), and Sandi expressed for herself the way I feel about clay and ceramic expression: she defined herself as an “explorer.” This is a paraphrase of what she said: there are just so many things to try! As long as she feels engaged in the process, she has learned to be okay with not settling on just one thing.
It was helpful to hear such a successful and truly gifted potter express what I had been feeling … validation can be encouraging when one is venturing out into the unknown!
I love working in several different types of clay bodies. I adore the friendly and pliable Cinco Rojo red stoneware clay. BUT, I also am completely enthralled with gorgeous porcelain and its stunning translucency and purity. This approach, however, does present some practical problems!! Switching over from red clay to porcelain requires a heavy-duty studio cleaning. I think of it like a manufacturing “switch-over” — everything has to cleaned and “sanitized” so that the porcelain environment isn’t contaminated by one speck of red clay.
But the switch-over has to include the table workspace as well as the wheel. While at Lowe’s looking for a new board of some kind to lay across my work table, I found this kitchen counter segment (below), which works perfectly as a secure porcelain workspace. When I am ready to go back to red clay, I’ll simply move the countertop, and box up all my porcelain tools, keeping everything clean and un-contaminated. Switching out the entire workspace, and keeping two sets of tools will prevent frustration down the line. Though a bit cumbersome, it’s a great solution for my tiny studio space.
English painter Harold Speed described the goal of the artist as developing command over both representation and expression, in order to create something worthy. This resonates with me. Take for example, this lovely basket by studio potter and artist Joy Tanner:
Joy clearly has command over both representation (we know it’s a basket) and expression, which is what makes me exclaim, “How lovely!” when I look at it. It is her particular expression of the form (basket) that draws me. Though, obviously, in order to create the artistic expression, she also had to have command over creating the form itself.
Though Speed was primarily a painter, he also wrote instructional materials for developing artists. In 1913, he wrote “The Practice and Science of Drawing,” now available in the public domain. In the text, he beautifully describes those invisible things surrounding good art. Like this: “The strength of appeal in artistic work will depend much on the power the artist possesses of expressing himself through representations that arrest everyone by their truth and naturalness.” Right?? So right! Here’s another basket by a different artist, Adrina Richard:
Adrina also has command of representation of form, and a very different expression of creativity than Joy. Same representative form–a basket; two artistic expressions, both of which are highly appealing in their truth and naturalness.
Speed also encouraged the artist to look for the “hidden rhythm” and “emotional significance” in the appearance of any object. By doing so, the artist can capture what moves her (or him) and then express it with their own creative passion. Both Joy and Adrina have clearly done so with their baskets.
So let’s challenge ourselves to look this week for hidden rhythms and for emotional significance as we notice nature, our surroundings, or whatever it is we are looking at. Let’s study form and think about how that form we are admiring might transform into a work of art with our particular creative expression.
I have decided to chronicle my journey of fear and insecurity as a developing artist in the hope that it will encourage and inspire someone else–maybe you. It’s scary! But, you might be scared, too. So … I figured we’d just go along together!
For starters, here are my fear-based confessions: When I come across a potter whose style impresses me (and there are many!), I will often think, “Well, that’s it. This person has created the pottery I would have created had I been good enough. It’s now time to throw in the towel.” As if they’ve used up all the potter talent in the world, and there’s a possibility there isn’t any left for me to find. Or that I’ve started to late in life (about halfway, if I live to 100). Or that if I can’t make something jaw-droppingly stellar in my first few attempts, I never will.
When I watch the wonderful DVDs that Ceramic Arts Daily produces, or the YouTube videos so many share, or read various potter’s blogs, I am so impressed with their vision for creativity … but mostly what I see right now when I look at my lovely rolled out slab of clay is a scary blank canvas that I likely don’t have the wherewithal to transform.
I’ve been obsessed with clay for about 3 years now (today is July 19, 2014.) But in real time — between family, job, other interests, life’s drama, and what-have-you, the total number of hours spent/clay worked is more like 6 months/a handful of boxes of clay from Trinity Ceramic Supply. Any studio potter would tell me to get over myself and throw a few hundred more pots before whining. That is one reason I love John Britt’s fabulous YouTube videos! He always ends them with something like, “Now go make 25 of those and we’ll see you in the morning.” A great reminder that effortlessness requires hours upon hours of effort.