Frequently Asked Questions
I get a lot of emails with questions about my Making Processes: creative process, inspiration, influences, and glazes. I also get questions about Professional Activities: will I come teach a workshop, or participate in an exhibition / work with a gallery.
As I am a painfully SLOW at typing, and I wouldn’t say that returning emails in a timely fashion is my best quality. I am going to answer as many questions as I possibly can here. If you have questions I do not cover, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Below are all questions that I have actually received; I hope it’s helpful.
Questions about Making Processes:
Have you always wanted to be an artist:
Being an artist wasn’t really a decision that I actively made. I was interested in making pottery and the better I got at it, the more interested I became. I went to Art School because it meant that I could keep making pots. Slowly overtime, it dawned on me that I was an artist.
What inspires your artwork?
I have a two-part answer to this question.
First, I am inspired “to make.” Well, maybe more like driven to make. I understand the world though making, working with my hands, and figuring out how things go together. I do my best thinking when my hands are moving and I am a little distracted and can get out of my own way.
Second, I have specific inspirations for different bodies or groupings of work. On my website under “Gallery” there are links to different exhibitions that I have made – and there is a paragraph addressing the ideas developed in that exhibition.
In general, for a broad answer, I am inspired by work – the labor of making, by where I am working or living, and often by historical pottery. Historical pottery from Iran, Persia, China, Japan, Korea, Europe, and Native American are ideas and aesthetics that I can build on. It is a way of paying homage to the pottery that came before me, – and building on history.
Have you always made pottery? Do you make any other kind of Art?
I have been making pottery pretty much since high school. In undergraduate school I took all kinds of art classes, sculpture, painting, drawing, but somehow I kept coming back to pots. Honestly, I am interested in looking at all kinds of Art, but really want to work with pottery. I find the structure of utility freeing. I am crazy happy that other folks make other things, that leaves me to make what I want.
How did you get started making pottery?
I started making pottery at Brookline High School in Boston. We had a big ceramics studio in my high school and I loved how spacious and quiet it was. Hat studio was a place that I could think I could just be. I had a bit of a knack for throwing, and to be good at anything in high school is pretty lucky – so I was drawn to the studio because I stood out a bit, and I had a place to go. Y high school teacher, Mr. Lane let me work in the studio outside of class, and that made me feel pretty special. I bought my potters wheel when I was a junior in high school, and I named it after him.
What other Artist do you look at?
I try and stay open minded at look at everything. Generally I am more interested in looking at three-dimensional objects than painting. I am seduced by high quality craftsmanship and beauty; though think works where this is not important is of great value to me educationally. I grew up in New England so have a bit of an “old European” aesthetic. I love the period rooms in museums, cases of old tools or medieval church doors. I like things that look difficult to do, and often has a little narrative in my head about what one would do with that object. I also enjoy reading prose and always hope that the general sophistication of a well-written word will rub off on my pots in some way.
There are many Contemporary Ceramic Artist that have influenced me, for different reasons – maybe I am interested in how their work looks, or is used, maybe their ideas knock me off my feet, maybe I am interested in how their work changes, how they touch clay, how they have put their lives together, how they have influenced artist, the important place they hold in the field – or honestly, maybe just because of who they are. It is a great shortcoming of mine that I am not as familiar with contemporary ceramics artists outside of North America.
This is a crazy all over the place short recounting of a very long list: Betty Woodman, Mark Pharris, Alec Karros, Walter Ostrom, Linda Sikora, Matt Metz, John Gill, Andrea Gill, Liz Quackenbush, Linda Arbuckle, Scott Chamberlain, Jeanne Quinn, Bill Daley, Bill Perry, Karen Karnes, Josh DeWeese, Justin Novak, Bruce Cochrane, Ayumi Horie, Andy Brayman, Steve Godfrey, Paul Katoula, Neil Forrest, Scott Goldberg, Michael Kline, Aysha Petz, Jae Won Lee, Cris Staley, Tony Marsh, Peter Beasecker, Akio Takamorie, Joan Bruneau, Doug Jeck, Gail Kendell, Paul Mathieu, Martina Lantin, AnnaBeth Rosen, Roberto Lugo, Sandy Simon, Robert Brady, Kurt Weiser, Robert Turner, Ovidio Giberga, Tony Hepburn, Xavier Toubes, Michael Simon, Margaret Bohls, Linda Christianson, to name a few…
Can you make a living as an artist?
I wish there was an easy answer to this question – but there just is not. I resent terms like “starving artist” or how artist are often portrayed in Hollywood or mainstream media. Artist are not lazy, not stupid, nor have a lack or ambition, can’t do anything else or crazy people painting with blood of their murder victims – really, come on – that’s stupid.
I can make a general statement that people who are most successful in the career part of being an artist are very hard working, get along with other people, value community, keep their overhead low, are fragile, have a great joy in what they do and stick to it overtime.
Parents often as me what their child will get out of going to art school. Peter Beasecker gave the best answer I have ever heard – and it is absolutely true. “When your child finished undergraduate school they will know how to be incredible problem solvers and how to make decisions, they will know themselves and who they are as people, they will know how to speak with others and communicate clearly, they will develop a strong work ethic and they will be able to do projects from beginning to end, they will be able to discuss the strength and weakness in a project – theirs or others and they will be able to work with and value community.”
Currently the employment climate is in great flux, and what traditional jobs that are currently available will have radically changed over the next ten years – so, strong living skills are essential to any success today.
Why did you become a teacher?
I have always been a bit of a ‘studio rat’ and when I was young, I thought that I would make pottery for a living – live in the middle of rural farmlands somewhere with a wood kiln, a dog and would become the unknown craftsman – HA HA HA. Really, nothing about that would fit my personality. The first time Iectured in front of a classroom, I was so nervous, I was teaching at the College of William and Mary as a sabbatical replacement and I was pretty out of my depth as a college professor. However, when I got up to demo I thought, I am doing to teach the way that I learned best, and that was through a combination of clear smart ideas and a sense of humor. So, in front of all fresh shinny faced students, September of 1996, I was suddenly, very funny – I was able to tap into a sense of humor, and the energy of the group egged my on. I thought right then “if I am a college professor, I will laugh more” and that idea stuck. I thought it was important for me to make a living as a potter before becoming a professor, so I went and did that for a few years, and then a job opened up at the School for American Crafts at RIT in western New York. I was lucky enough to get the job and I loved working at a crafts school.
How do you get the blue to run on your clouds?
First, start with: why have a developed these glazes and use this technique on my pots. This aesthetic – or look of runny glazes is a historical one – from the Tang Dynasty in China and the Iranian potters of about 800 AD. They were using lead based glazes, and that kind of glaze run is a characteristic of a lead based glaze. The first contemporary artist I know to use this aesthetic is Betty Woodman. On my pots with clouds – I am drawing a rather dull shaped Charlie Brown cloud – really, nothing like what a cloud really looks like. However, the run of the gaze, and the drippyness of the blue in the clouds – the materiality and phenomenon of the glaze carries the idea, and bring historical pottery and meaning to the work. The abstraction of the clouds through the raw nature of the glaze melt gives the viewer clues about the idea in the pots, and also room for their own experience.
Second, There are many ways to achieve this runny glaze – probably a different answer for each of the many many people who are using this technique. When the pot is still leather hard,
I draw with an exact-o knife the shape of the cloud on the piece. Then I take slip that is made out of my clay body with about 15% Mason Mazzerine blue stain and brush it onto the inlay cloud, I put on several coats until the inlay is flush with the surface of the pot. I clean off the extra slip with a metal rib, and exact-o knife, a sponge or rinsing it under the faucet in the sink. Next I bisque the piece and when I glaze it, I use a cone 04 glaze on the inlay lines and fire it up to cone 6. The glaze runs and pulls the blue out of the inlay lines. I am using a clear glaze, not a blue glaze to get this effect. If you are getting a lot of smearing when cleaning off the slip from around the inlay lines, your piece is either to wet, to dry or use more mason stain and less oxides in your slip. Good Luck.
How do you make the pillow lids in your cream and sugar sets?
I bet if you look at it closely – you can figure it out! Think it through and discover it out without YouTube! That’s what I did.
Questions about Professional Activities
Do you teach Workshops?
I do teach workshops, give lectures on my own work, contemporary ceramics, historical pottery, contemporary crafts and give critiques. Usually I book 1-2 years in advance. For demonstration workshops I prefer one to one and a half days. Two or three days are pretty hard to the audience to sit through or make time for – I can be entertaining, but not that entertaining. I often prefer to give a workshop on conjunction with jurying a show or along with an exhibition of my work. This is more interesting to me. In a demo workshop, it does not matter to me how large the workshop is, I prefer more than 20 in attendance or the energy can really lag. It is also helpful if you tell me specific things that you would like me to cover during our time together. For 1-3 week workshops I need a very specific curriculum and access to reliable equipment. For all workshops the host pays for all travel, food and lodging. Prices available upon request. Warning – sense moving to Montana, traveling is much more time consuming so I teach fewer workshops than in the past.
Where do you exhibit your pottery?
I exhibit my pottery all over the place. I have been working with some of the same galleries for a long time and developed a strong and trusted relationship with them. Outside of this group, I prefer to exhibit in venues that are rooted in education, so via conferences, art centers, and schools. I do not sell my work on line directly as it take up a lot of my making time, and my galleries do a great job for me, so I want to keep working with them. For questions about where to see your work and how to price your work, please visit the field guide for ceramic artisans chapters 3 and 9
What do you think about the field of contemporary ceramics today?
Ok, big questions – I will get back to you on that one.