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. I am painfully SLOW at typing, and I wouldn’t say that returning emails in a timely fashion is my best quality. Here, I will answer questions that I have actually received. If you have questions I do not cover, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope this is 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 over time, 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 through making, working with my hands, and figuring out how things go together. I do my best thinking when my hands are moving. When I am a little distracted, I can get out of my own way.
Second, I have specific inspirations for different bodies or groupings of work. If you visit the “Archive” section on this website, you’ll find links to different exhibitions that I have made and a paragraph addressing the ideas developed in that exhibition. I keep all the exhibitions there so you can see a progression of my work and ideas.
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 that 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 only 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. That studio was a place where I could think and just be. I had a bit of a knack for throwing–to be good at anything in high school is pretty lucky! – so I was drawn to the studio because I stood out a bit. It gave me a place to go. My high school teacher, Mr. Lane, let me work in the studio outside of class, and that made me feel pretty special. I bought my pottery wheel when I was a junior in high school and I named it after him.
What other Artists do you look at?
I try to stay open minded and look at everything. Generally I am more interested in looking at three-dimensional objects than paintings. I am seduced by high quality craftsmanship and beauty– though works where this is not important are of great educational value to me. 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 have 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 Artists 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 artists; 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 ceramic 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 artists are often portrayed in Hollywood or mainstream media. Artists are not lazy, stupid, lack ambition, possess no other skills, or are crazy people painting with blood of their murder victims – really, come on – that’s stupid.
I can make a general observation that the 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 over time.
Parents often ask 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. “Traditional” jobs that are currently available will continue to radically change over the next ten years. 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 I 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 decided I was going to teach the way that I learned best–through a combination of clear smart ideas and a sense of humor. So, in September of 1996 in front of all the fresh, shiny-faced students, I was suddenly very funny! I was able to tap into a sense of humor, and the energy of the group egged me on. I realized right then that if I became a college professor, I would 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 did that for a few years. When a job opened up at the School for American Crafts at RIT in western New York, I was lucky enough to get the job. I loved working at a crafts school.
How do you get the blue to run on your clouds?
First, start with: why have I 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 those. 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; nothing like what a cloud really looks like. However, the run of the glaze, and the drippiness of the blue in the clouds – the materiality and phenomenon of the glaze – carries the idea and brings 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 the shape of the cloud on the piece with an exact-o knife. Then I take slip that is made out of my clay body plus 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, exact-o knife, sponge or water, by 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 too wet, too dry. You can also try to use more mason stain and less oxide 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 without YouTube! That’s what I did.
questions about professional activities
Do you teach Workshops?
I teach workshops and 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 for the audience to sit through or make time for. I can be entertaining – but not that entertaining! I often prefer to give a workshop in 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, though 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. Since moving to Montana, traveling is much more time consuming so I teach fewer workshops than I had 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 through my website as it takes up a lot of my making time. I am represented by Radius Gallery where you can find available pieces for sale.
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.