Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Out of my Comfort Zone with Sculpture

Although I'm officially finished with my 6-month apprenticeship with potter Larry Watson, I've still got a bit of work to do at his studio. About two weeks ago, I started on this giant teapot. It was one of those moments where I thought -- 'hey, as long as I'm making another teapot, I might as well make a huge, super-complicated teapot.' (This goes along with thoughts like, 'hey, as long as we're cooking pasta for dinner, we might as well make a seven-veggie sauce to go with it.' Guess who gets to clean the dishes...)

If you missed my previous post, I've been working recently with plaster molds, which allow me to reproduce complex forms and designs using a technique called slip-casting. Traditionally, you would make a cast by pouring plaster over a finished piece. Instead, I've decided to build the form in two halves made entirely of solid clay. This allows me a lot more freedom for creativity,
as I can add and subtract big chunks of clay, and not have to worry about the structural integrity of the vessel. Of course, the final slip-casted product will be hollow, and (technically) functional.

In the meantime, my teapot has gotten much more complex. I have never done this kind of
sculptural work, but after some initial self-doubt, everything just started to flow. I was thinking a lot about how potters from all over the world have used pottery as a form for telling epic stories. For example, I've read that a lot of the images on Mayan pottery that look like arbitrary design elements -- swirls, zigzags, lines,etc. -- actually represent characters or gods in Mayan mythology. And the juxtaposition of these elements might describe some epic narrative involving these characters.

Anyways, that's just one way to look at it. Mostly I'm just having fun and moving clay around until it looks right.

I'd love to hear your comments/thoughts/questions/whatever. If you're an artist-type, I'd love to hear how you have used narrative in your own work.

Happy Gravy Day!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Deep Thoughts: November 18th, 2009

What if I could have as much fun washing my dishes as I do making them?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fun with Plaster Molds

Now that the Minneapolis Art Show is finished -- and thanks to everyone for making it such a fun success! -- I can start thinking about making new pots again! And that's great because I've got a lot of different projects floating around in my head.

For those of you who don't know, I've been apprenticing with Larry Watson for the past five months. He works in a style far from what I was used to, which has been a great opportunity for both of us to explore new creative possibilities. A couple months ago, I decided to focus my efforts on hand-building. This is new and scary terrain, but I was feeling trapped by my familiarity with the wheel.

The first hand-built pieces I made were ugly, really ugly. And as I surveyed drooping globs of stacked coil, broken slabs, and unidentifiable forms I thought: "This is good."

So further and further I fell into the rabbit hole of hand-built ceramics. Right now, I'm working a lot with plaster molds. This is fun, because I get to work from solid blocks of clay. After I make a mold from the solid clay, I can slip-cast the entire piece which leaves me with a perfectly thin-walled vessel.

Traditionally, when one creates a plaster mold, they'll start with a finished pot/scultpure and then create molds for each half of the object. Instead, I'm making each half separately, which has left me with some pretty funky non-symmetrical shapes!

This week I decided to go all out with a humongous teapot (below). You can see that I start by outlining the profile of the pot, then build up from the outline to create the form. It's kind of an excersize in thinking backwards, and I'm blown away by the grotesqueness of the objects that I've managed to make.
Too much fun...


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Minneapolis 'Autumn Art Fair' Starts Today!!!

Ah... a beautiful fall day in St. Louis Park. The sun is shining, birds chirping, leaves all fallen and gathered for mulch on my dad's expansive garden. In other words, a perfect day for an art show!

And what a reward for the 12+ hours of driving through barren cornfields it took to get here from Cincinnati! I've got to say, I'm a big fan of using windmills for energy. Anything to break up the monotonous landscape between Indianapolis and Beloit, WI!

The four of us -- Shira (my mom), Ellen Ogman, and Nancy Daley, and I -- have set up a colorful display of jewelry and scarves, quilts, and handmade paper art. It's so exciting to see all this new work. I feel like they have all been hiding something from me, working in secret. But now it's out for all to see.

And there's nothing left to do but wake up with some coffee (out of a patented E.S.P. face mug, of course!) and wait for the crowds to come.

I wish I could come more often to do shows like this in the good ol' Twin Cities. There are a lot of people I want to see and catch up with. But man, that's one long road trip!

So you'd better get here before the rush, while all the best art is still available!


8113 Westwood Hills Dr.
St. Louis Park, MN

10-4 Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7-8.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Pots, Fresh from the Kiln

It's been a while, but I finally got some new finished pottery from the kiln! These are mostly the newly redesigned vases/jars I was talking about in my last post. I've been having some trouble with my blue and brown glazes, so I've gone back to using the old standards. So nothing completely "new," but man, I love these glazes! Nothing beats Malcolm Davis Shino, and the Tomato Red is a new favorite, especially paired with a brighter Celadon Blue.

And now I've got a few more pieces to show off at the show in Minneapolis this weekend.

So I'm thinking, why stress out trying to develop all new glazes. At least for now, I've got enough other things on my plate, and these look great just how they are! Let's leave this project for another day.

And speaking of new things on my plate, I'm working on this really cool new technique using colored clay slip on plaster molds... but you'll have to wait for the next post! I think there's
a "follow me" button on here somewhere you can click to make sure you don't miss it. Or you can follow me on Facebook, too.

(click here to see more of my work. Hey, you could even buy some for yourself -- I ship anywhere in the US!)

Friday, October 2, 2009

On Thinking Up New Designs

It's probably the scariest moment when I'm working in the studio. Maybe I'm standing in Larry's studio admiring a set of new vases I've made with some kick-ass design. Or maybe I'm carving out that same flowery pattern on a planter for the 24th time. Or I'm sitting at the wheel, my jeans still relatively clean and I think, "what if that was my last good design?!" What if all of my pent up creativity was finally unleashed in one fantastic but short-lived set of pottery designs? Could that really happen? Does it happen?

In the summer after graduating high school, I took a workshop at Penland School of Crafts in the
Blue Ridge Mountains of western, NC. We had an awesome teacher, a master thrower who had
trained with the best of them, and was now successfully selling his work as graduation and
wedding gifts in a tourist town in Virginia. I remember him giving us a throwing demo of one of his "signature" mugs.
Our small group sat around him like preschoolers at story time. Wiping only some of the clay from his impressive beard, he told us how the location of the rim of his
mugs had moved up and down the pot over the year --as day-to-day potter, how this had made things "interesting."

Well isn't that depressing!?

So here I am in my studio, shelves nearly filled with the 20 or so pots I've made in this same design thinking -- damn it! I'm already sick of making these! Aren't I trying to wholesale my pottery? Just this week I wrote up an inventory of how many of each design I want to make by 2010. Really? I want to make 50 of these frickin vases?

I threw eight this week. And this week, the bellies were wider, the shoulders higher, the lips a bit more distorted, the walls a fraction of a centimeter thinner . And I'm excited as all hell about them! And I guess that's what's so exciting about forms in clay. You can push a tiny bit one way or another, and suddenly you have a whole new life before you.

If "we are the clay, and God is the potter," how is the world not boring after the four- or five-billionth iteration? Maybe small changes make for lots of fun...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fractals, Pottery, and the Natural World

I just saw this really neat documentary on PBS about the history of fractal mathematics. They (people much smarter than I) were talking about how fractals allowed mathematicians to measure certain phenomenon in the natural/visual world for the first time. Fractals, basically, are self-similar structures. For example, a tree is basically a branch made of branches, which are in turn made up of their own branches, etc.

Fractals look really cool. As an artist/crafty guy/potter, I'm really interested in why people are attracted to certain designs. So why do fractals look cool? I'm thinking that maybe we first evolved our artistic eyes through certain evolutionary demands. Maybe we like bright, contrasting colors because their a good hint that we are looking at fruit, or fresh meat. And maybe we like fractals because they signal a certain landscape or object that would be conducive to eating, safety, or sex. From this perspective, the role of the artist is to trick you into thinking you're looking at something much more exciting than paint on canvas.

I read an article in Discover magazine where researchers analyzed Jackson Pollock painting for fractal patterns. They found, amazingly, that not only do Pollock paintings closely resemble fractal patterns found in nature, but that they could actually estimate the price of the painting based on the type of fractal pattern it resembles -- and call out fakes that have no fractal pattern. Either I'm a huge art/science nerd, or that is really cool (no comments, please...).

So the obvious question on everyone's mind is -- how can this make me a million bucks? No need to go back to school for that MBA, just find a why to design art that closely resembles our primordial needs from that natural world. I've noticed that my favorite pots remind me of a million different things in the natural world -- kind of like looking up at the clouds and finding shapes.

This is something I want to keep working on as I explore my own personal aesthetic. Stay posted! And check out my Etsy site for my latest work!