Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Q & A :: Courtesy of Isalyn from Guam!

One of the really fun things about blogging, or social media in general, or - even more generally - the internet, is the ability to connect with people (and ideas, and goods, etc.) from around the world that you would (sans internet) most likely never have the opportunity to encounter. Entering the world of pottery blogging has certainly allowed me to connect with great folks from all over (i.e, not here).

Robert Young is one of those folks. Mr. Young lives and works in Guam where, when he isn't sneaking some time into his own work, he is an art educator (you can see some work of his and his students' over at his own blog, Tropiclay Studio). It is in his role as an educator that Mr. Young has been able to bless me with what is quickly becoming one of my semi-annual highlights. 

Every semester, Mr. Young assigns a research project for his clay students to interview (and thus research) a potter. Potters that he has, primarily, connected with online, through blogs and such. Presumably, artists at all stages of their careers and all different focuses in ceramics. Amazing.

And so, every semester for the last couple of years, I've gotten e-mails from inquisitive international artists-in-training - and it's just a delightful experience. I thought I'd share with you my response to a recent exchange with Isalyn, who chose to contact me for her ceramic research project. The following is my response to her questions, exactly as I responded, for a different sort of reflection on my work:
Isalyn -

Great questions! Here I go, I hope it's helpful!

Who or what influenced or inspired you to create your art of pottery?
One of my biggest influences was probably my college pottery professor, Jack Raddatz (his website and work here). Because he taught me how to throw and spent several years critiquing and guiding my work, he's probably the biggest influence. I haven't yet started to break any of the pottery rules he taught, so his teaching and the tradition of pottery at the school have significant influence over the way I approach my pottery. My other biggest influence is my Uncle Tim, who was also a full time potter. He passed away in 2008, but he is (was) in my opinion one of the most talented potters and artists I ever got to experience personally. You can still see his pottery on his website here. Because I grew up with a potter uncle, his is the work against which I judge all other potters - his use of shape, color, line, and texture are an inspiration in my work in some very direct and indirect ways.

Outside of potters, I like to think that I'm somewhat influenced by (painter) Jackson Pollock and (architect/designer) Frank Lloyd Wright. I believe they represent different sides of the same coin, being nature, and different approaches to allowing nature to move and breathe into and influence the way we live life and "do" art.

How was the art of pottery introduced to you?
I did lots of clay in elementary and high school (primary/secondary) but all hand building - coils, slabs, pinch, etc. My real introduction to the thrown pottery was by my Uncle Tim who was a professional potter.  I got to spend *some* time in his studio with him when I was young and was always amazed by his work. So even though I worked with clay in school, I'd say my earliest knowledge of and association with pottery came from my Uncle Tim, the potter.
Has art been your dream since you were a child?
Sort of! I was always drawing as a kid - always had a notebook and pencil with me, always doodling. I enjoyed art classes in school, too - painting, sculpture, collage, clay - but drawing was always my favorite.  When I was younger I certainly did dream about being an artist - somewhere between dreaming about being: a zoologist, a rock star, and a superhero. Probably in that order. When I went to college I knew I was still interested in art, but I was not sure that that would be the major focus of my studies.

Did your interest in art come as a natural talent?

I think so, in general. Drawing always came naturally - something I loved to do, and I was pretty good at it.

Did you ever consider any other career to pursue?
Yes, and no. Right now I am not a full time potter - I have another "real" job that pays the bills - and I'm very thankful for that! I'm still pretty young and trying to figure out what I want to do - if I want someday to try and do pottery full time, or get certified to teach, or go into some other area. Art, music, writing - these are all things I am very passionate about and would someday love to "make a living" doing something related. So, outside of pottery other things I have thought about doing are: teaching (either art or English/literature/writing), graphic design, or of course becoming a rock star. :)

Do you have any siblings or family members that are also involved in the art industry?
I've mentioned my Uncle Tim; I have other uncles who are/have been photographers, painters, architects, and chefs - I do consider cooking an art form, especially the way my Uncle Joel does it (when he's not painting). My parents are both musicians. And I have two cousins who are deeply involved in the arts. I guess when I think about it - yes, the answer is yes.

Did you experience getting any education in ceramics? If so, where?
I learned to throw in college - Luther College (link: Luther College Art Department). I registered for pottery because all art students were required to take a 3D class. And it was so hard I nearly quit the class, but I'm glad I stuck with it. Learning to center the clay was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to learn before.

What type of art do you prefer to create?
I spend the most time focused on functional pottery (bowls, mugs, plates, and platters) that are meant to be used in and around the kitchen but also are decorative.  That is balanced with vases and less functional "jars" or "pots" that have a more ambiguous function and a focus more on aesthetics - the pleasing shape, the decoration, the lines and curves and surface.

How much time do you usually put into creating your art?
These days I'm lucky if I get to work on my pottery 10 hours every week. If I'm prepping for a show I'll put in considerably more time - closer to 20 hours a week. After a show or sale I tend to take a break from the studio. I really enjoy the time I get to spend throwing (and decorating) pots, but that's probably only half of the time required. The rest of time includes trimming, cleaning, glazing, cleaning, firing, cleaning, recycling clay, cleaning... :)

I hope these answers have helped - please do not hesitate to write again if you have any further questions or comments or if there's something you'd like me to explain a little better. Good luck with your report, and happy potting!

I think one of the fun things about this sort of project comes from the superficial level of how much fun it can be to simply talk about yourself.  And while blogging basically exists to meet that need, it's a nice change of pace to talk about one's self in a more formal, guided setting - knowing that the rambling, as long as it's on topic, is desired. Cause really, most days I don't have a clue if what I'm writing about is interesting to anyone other than my mother (HI MOM!). Also, I think these questions focus my attention to things that maybe I don't talk about regularly here - or maybe have mentioned in passing, but don't come back to regularly. Or things that I'm happy to talk about and find interesting but don't normally come to mind when I sit down to share my studio fun times with y'all.

On the other hand: after responding to Isalyn's questions I went back and looked at my response to previous students' inquiries and found that while most of the questions posed from one student to the next are variations on the same theme, and my answers are predictably similar, there are changes - small changes, little details, but changes. Growth. Development. The first student to contact me for this project did so when I was not active in my studio - hadn't set up at home yet, was no longer at the Guild - and so my vision of myself as an artist was different from after I'd set up my studio and finding my feet, compared to last fall in the midst of prepping for some shows, compared to this spring.

Anyhow, not to read too much into a slight difference in perception of who has influenced my art or what my creative process looks like in 2012 vs. 2010, but it was interesting. It might be interesting to post some of the other questions I've taken from Mr. Young's students here. Or not. Who knows? Have to try and find out, I suppose.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed Isalyn's conversation prompts - maybe learned something about me in the process. As always, if there's anything you've got a question about just drop me a comment, shoot me an e-mail, or tweet at me. I'm always more than happy to engage in conversation and dialogue over whatever it is that I usually do around here. 

Thanks again to Robert and his students (and again, check out what he's up to at Tropiclay Studio) - for making the world a little smaller. Who knows, maybe someday I'll get to come visit the island and meet my new pen pals for real. Wouldn't that be fun!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mobile Update: Happy President's Day!

Greetings after a nice long weekend! Normally these three day breaks in the normal work schedule mean more time for me to get into the clay, but this time around it meant getting out of town for a couple days. Krystal and I headed for the Hills for a couple nights for, among other things, spelunking.
This is a picture in a cave! What!

We didn't have anything set in stone, but mostly wanted to head to the "big" city for some fun and games, and hoped to find some adventure outside of Rapid City. We found it in the form of Jewel Cave National Monument - which is actually the 2nd longest cave in the world! Current surveyed length is somewhere around 190 miles, and geologists estimate (based on air flow exchanges and lots of math) that this accounts for less than 5% of the total cave volume. In fact, since early December surveyors have added an additional 4 miles of previously uncharted cave. Wild, huh? 

Then we braved a blizzard to drive back home and I got to work on some bowls. And here are some pictures, courtesy of my Boysenberry smartphone.
Trying some new things, decoratively.
A few of these.
A couple more.

So there you have it. Big city adventure times, exploring caves, braving blizzards, and blue-slipped bowls. That's it for now, folks. See ya later!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

#200 - for my Valentine.

I may be a day late, but I'd like to dedicate this, my 200th post - to my Valentine. It seems fitting. Krystal's a special gal. I made sure these were waiting for her when she got home from work last night.
Arranged them myself!
Nice vase!
I've been a bit sporadic, distracted from the pottery - I'd like to blame Krystal for some of it, if I could get away with it. In addition to the lovely Valentine's Day flowers, Saturday was also her birthday, so not much potting this weekend. See? Blame!

But blame is foolhardy. She's also the only reason I've come so far in my work, the reason I keep at it. My cheerleader, my critic, my curator. She encourages my work when I feel discouraged, and grounds me when I'm spending too much time on utter rubbish.

Lately I've been needing the extra encouragement to get down to business. No, not really talking about making pots, but taking care of "business" - pursuing avenues of turning MY pots into YOUR pots. And it hasn't been happening.

A few years ago I read Seven Days in the Art World, a book that takes a day-in-the-life sort of snapshot of seven different people/places/events of significance - the Venice Biennale, the studio of Takashi Murakami, a Christie's art auction, and so on. It was fascinating. A few years out of school, the chapter where author Sarah Thornton witnessed a marathon critique session at the California Institute of the Arts made me miss sorely the ever-so-mild and oh-so-rare critiques we had in our senior seminar - the camaraderie, the criticism, the praise, the constructive dismantling of the work. A vain comparison, my experiences vs. that described, but so deeply affecting.

There was a point, and I'm getting to it. I saved a quote from the book in a drafted blog post and never touched on it. From Paul Schimmel, chief curator of MOCA Los Angeles:

"Talent is a double-edged sword.  What you are given is not really yours.  What you work at, what you struggle for, what you have to take command of - that often makes for very good art."
-Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton, 2008

That's the kind of thought that sticks with you. Especially, I think, if you find yourself, like me, the kind of person who tends to avoid the things that don't come naturally. Not that art can't come naturally, but the stuff that comes out of struggle is often "very good good art." Getting into this work, this art form, has involved more work, more time, more energy, effort than I've had to put forth in anything else in life. Save, perhaps, married life. And likewise, both give back so much more abundantly in joy and reward.

There's so much more in that idea to be unpacked than I have the time or clarity of mind to do so now. Maybe later. Maybe when it's time to delve deeply into the clay, to reach into something that struggles, to come out the other side with art. Maybe when I've tackled some "business" - the hard work, for me - I'll discover the art in that struggle. Maybe when I get tired of my blue slips and sgraffito and decide it's time to go back to the beginning and dream it all up again.

But back to the point, that it was sort of a strange revelation, a moment of some epiphany, when I realized that part of my love of the pottery came from the struggle. That it was never completely mastered, never completely fulfilled. There was always more to learn, room to grow, room for more struggle and more success and more frustration and inevitably fantastic joys. That I had discovered something worth working at and fighting for. 

I find the two are somehow intertwined, this art and our relationship. And so I dedicate this momentous occasion, this 200th entry into the blog, to my Krystal.

(back to the regularly scheduled pottery in the near future.)