What is it about pushing our own boundaries that is so scary? I mean, who really cares whether the next pot I throw flops or works? Who cares if that next drawing I make is awful? Nobody but me will even see it. But … somehow … it feels as if the world depends upon me doing something perfectly, expertly, beautifully … what??
Too often I let fear inhibit, or even stop me, from doing something creative. What is that really about? I don’t even know. But I have found that joining with others in some sort of collective helps. I have taken a few online classes for pottery and drawing that have been of great benefit in helping me “just do it.”
Right now I am in an online porcelain class, offered by the extremely talented Antoinette Badenhorst, whose work in porcelain is absolutely stunning. Like this:
Seriously, this woman is talented! And she’s a great instructor, too — providing excellent guidance as well as personal encouragement in her classes. This is my second class with her, and frankly, I’ll sign up for ANYTHING she offers, because I have learned so much about porcelain and how to handle it from her. I highly recommend her classes! You can find them here: Porcelain By Antoinette, and her Facebook page is also amazing!
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.
This picture shows the comparison of the same pot — unfired Cinco Rojo clay dipped in porcelain slip, and then glazed with a clear glaze and fired at cone 6 (which is 2269 degrees F). There is quite a difference in the color of the clay from unfired to fired–rich, deep red to a chocolate brown. The clear glaze actually seems to accentuate the speckling in the stoneware.
Next time I fire this clay, I think I will take it only up to cone 5 (which is 2205 degrees F — a difference of only 64 degrees.) BigCeramicStore.com has this very useful chart that shows the correlation of temperature to cone number, and also which type of clay “matures” at what temperature. According to this chart, firing this red clay that additional 64 degrees took it beyond its melting point, which could account for the change in color. Not that it isn’t lovely as a chocolate speckled stoneware. It’s just not what I wanted to see.
It’s not very glamorous, but I am very thankful for my 1/4th of the garage, all my own, which I call my studio. Small, yes, but it has everything I need: work space, wheel, kiln. I look forward to the day I have a larger room and windows, but for now, we just throw open the garage door, turn on the heater (or sometimes the kiln, depending on how cold it is!) and get to work.
Angus also has part of the garage for his motorcycle transformations and furniture building. This is where we spend our weekends and evenings after work!
Armadillo Cinco Rojo, dipped in Laguna Frost Porcelain; here ready to fire. I love working with Cinco Rojo–it is friendly and easy, and is a beautiful color while in the making stages. I am anxious to see how it turns out after the firing! I am also learning to work with porcelain, and am curious to see how my experiment of combining the two turns out.
The porcelain slip used here has been collected from my throwing water and then blended with a hand mixer. I dipped the pieces into the slip, and wiped off the bottoms. Into the kiln they go, fired to cone 06 for bisque.
Linda Fahey has a great formula for the self-taught potter: Have a curious mind, and attend a million workshops! But sometimes workshops are expensive, or too far away. With that in mind, I want to recommend Diana Fayt’s online course, called The Clayer. You can take this class from the comfort of your own home at a GREAT price!
Diana is a marvelously talented potter who has created a couple of online classes, sharing her knowledge and expertise in surfacing techniques. I have taken both of Diana’s courses, and highly recommend them! She shares so much of herself, and her vast knowledge and experience. PLUS, she’s a great teacher.
I had been wanting to make some plaster molds for awhile, but was too intimidated to do it on my own. In Diana’s course, she walked us through it step by step, and now I’ve made several, and am at ease working with plaster. Sometimes you just need a little push in the right direction! This course also covers the water abrasion surface technique, along with carving and using paper stencils. It’s truly a fabulous bargain for all the techniques you will learn!
Potter Ben Carter produces a wonderful podcast series titled “Tales of a Red Clay Rambler,” where he produces thoughtful and interesting interviews with potters and other artists. This past week, he interviewed Linda Fahey, whose work is wonderful and imaginative. Linda is a self-taught potter living and working in the Bay Area, where she also runs a a fabulous shop called Yonder. The shop is located in Pacifica, about 15 minutes south of San Francisco (find it online at Yondershop.com).
In the interview, Linda talks about her journey of becoming a potter and full-time artist–and her new role now as shop-owner of Yonder. (The tag line of her store is “discover beautiful things every day.” Indeed!) The whole interview is great, but I was particularly struck by her words about being self-taught. I am also on a self-taught journey, so I find her words (and work) very inspiring:
34: 54 I’m not confident enough to think I’ve arrived, ever. it is what fuels me to get better. We talked earlier on going through an academic program and what that entails, versus someone like myself, who is essentially self-taught, worked under people, but self-taught. There are gaps there that you have to find and then you have to figure out how to make it better. The academic environment is designed for you to not have a lot of blank spots. You are going to come out of that program and be pretty tight, right?… So this over here, me, working in the dark sort of, I mean I’ve gone to a million workshops and I have a very curious mind so I’m out there trying to find the information, but I don’t know what I don’t know. I still have a long way to go.
Though Linda may feel that to be true (that she still has a long way to go), it’s clear by her body of work that she is quite accomplished at making the world a more beautiful place:
In Ben Carter’s podcast, she also talks about what she’s learned from working with Anthropologie, being a store owner, incorporating her environment into her work, and her future goals. Play her interview while you are in the studio–it’s wonderful inspiration. You can read her blog and see her new work here.
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.