Friday, March 23, 2012

Featured Artist - Doreen Baskin

A recent call for submissions brought us in contact with an amazing, vibrant and totally badass (in my opinion) artist from Brooklyn. Teeming with ambition, primitivism, Doreen's characters bring on a stormy dissonance of color and expression and demand a reaction.  Getting to know Doreen a little better has had the interesting result of setting her work to music in my head. Smokey, bloodshot Lou Reed characters come to mind.  Yeah, I know, it's getting loud in here. Step out on the fire escape, have a drink, get to know one another.

What is your typical day to day like? 

First of all, I can’t start any day, typical or otherwise, without a huge cup of coffee, in a ceramic mug, of course.  I have three kids; my older son is 12, and the other 2 are my 9-year-old twins (boy and girl).  The first hour of any day is spent feeding them and getting them ready to go to school, sporting activity, etc.  On school days, I walk my twins to school, then go home, pour myself another cup of coffee, and head downstairs to the basement, where I have my studio, and work.  I work until I have to go pick them up from school.  This should mean that I have five hours straight to do my work.  But often, household chores, grocery shopping, errands, hunger, etc. interrupt the day.  Two days a week, I teach a children’s ceramic class at an after-school program at my twin’s school.  I also teach on the weekends.  

Apart from making things from clay, what do you enjoy doing?
I love to make things in clay.  Apart from that, I love to doodle. I call these my drawings. I don’t draw every day, but often enough, for my drawing to share space with my ceramics on my website.  When I’m not doing the things I’ve already mentioned, I could be found reading or watching movies.  I enjoy most genres, but my favorites are sci-fi, fantasy, action, mystery, and horror.  Lately, I’ve been reading and watching the “Walking Dead” series.  That’s why I was drawn to the show, “Pirates vs. Zombies”.    

Other things that I like to do are swimming in a lake in Vermont (my mother-in-law has a house there.)  I also love to go sledding in Prospect Park, the biggest park in Brooklyn, where I live, but we don’t seem to get snow anymore.

Describe the moment you fell in love with clay.  Have you ever cheated on it? 
To be honest, I can’t remember.  I’ve always loved clay, but I didn’t take it seriously until my second year in college. I’ve cheated on my white clay with terra cotta.

Who has been the most influential instructor in your life?
I’m going to be vague here, too.  I don’t recall any one influential instructor, but was driven by the punk rock music of the seventies.  Since I had no musical talent, I released all my teenage angst by doodling.  My doodles were found by an art teacher at my high school (I don’t even know his name) and he encouraged me to take art classes.

How much of your own ceramic pieces do you use in your own home?  Other people’s?
A lot.  I make work whether I have a place to show it or not.  My studio is also filled with unfinished work.   Back, before I had children and still had the energy to do retail shows, I used to trade with other artists.  I would trade my ceramics for jewelry, but mostly for other people’s mugs.  We live in Brooklyn, and don’t have a lot of space to collect larger pieces.

Do you tend to collect deep from one artist or style, or broadly across many artists and looks?
See above.  When I made a trade, it was mostly because I liked the person.  Usually, if I like a person, I will like their work. I have a collection of mugs of various styles.  One day, I’d like to have everything in my house be hand-made, and not commercially produced.  But that could be expensive.  I’ll wait until my kids are out of college.

Have you had any fun experiences eating or drinking out of your works?
Last New Years, we had a small party and served scotch in my drinking vessels (shot glasses, mugs, and even the tops of candle stick holders.)  Some of these vessels were functional, and some were definitely more sculptural.  It didn’t matter because after a few shots, the folks drinking out of the vessels with flat, even rims were dribbling just as much as those drinking from the sculptural ones.

What would be the title of your biography? Who would write it? What would the NY Times reviewer say? 
“I Wanna be Your Joey Ramone”
The New York Times would say that that title is already taken so I’ll get back to you on that.
I, of course, would write my own biography so I could embellish the truth…and that’s the truth.

Where does your inspiration come from? 
Joey Ramone.  Well, as I said before, as a teenager, I didn’t have anything but angst until I heard Punk Rock.  Punk Rock didn’t change my life; I still had a lot of angst.   The music just happened to be there when I was coming of age.  I loved the energy, anger, etc.  My version of releasing my creativity was visual, instead of musical.

As an artist, how do you feel about mass production?
In a perfect world, nothing would be mass-produced, especially food and art.

Who is your favorite artist not working in ceramics?
Frida Kahlo, but for a woman to say she loves Frida Kahlo is as ubiquitous as an artist saying she/he is inspired by nature.

Does the change of seasons affect your pottery? 
Yes.  Over the summer, when my kids are not in school, I have way fewer hours to work in clay.

If you could visit the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be? 
Maybe Robert Arneson.  He’s famous, and he lives in California. 

Do you ever get potters’ block?
I have the opposite problem.  There always seems to be too many things going through my head, which causes me to shut down because I can’t focus on one thing (or two, or three.)  When that happens, I paint an unfinished piece that has been lying around for years until I can focus. 

Where would you like to be in ten years? 

Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for potters and ceramic artists just starting out on their own. 
Don’t stop.

If you could live in any time period other than this one, what would it be?
The future.  I’m dying to know what’s going to happen to the human race.  Also, I’m too afraid to go to the past, fearing I’d disrupt the space/time continuum.

What book or movie have you read or seen recently that rocked your world? Lately, I’ve been reading the books my twelve-year old recommends.  One of the more recent books is “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins.  I love depressing, post apocalyptic novels.  Anyway, I’m taking a group of twelve-year old boys to see the movie on the 24th.  I hope I’m not disappointed, just depressed.

Doreen's work can be seen in the upcoming Pirate vs Zombie exhibit at MudFire Gallery, and in shows across the country.  Go Brooklyn!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Massey's Time Machine

For all you non-believers... you shoulda been here last Friday.  Dr. Massey was giving free rides in his time machine. 

Featured Artist - Dow Redcorn

Looking at Dow's work, you experience nature, up close and far away, at the exact same time, with the visceral feeling of skiing downhill, very fast, with pine branches whipping around you, and foxes and wolves leaving tracks in the snow, and a warm cup of cocoa spiked with a bit of whiskey waiting for you down at the lodge. Yeah, it's like that.

Dow is always making. Always smiling. Always surprising.  We are so incredibly thrilled and honored that his first solo show is at MudFire Gallery.  And we'll always get to say "We knew him when..."
Read on, you'll be very surprised at his world of influences.

Apart from making things from clay, what do you enjoy doing?
I have quite a few oil painters in my family, so I have always been involved in painting. After I began airbrushing my ceramics with under glaze, I was inspired to airbrush oil paints on canvas. The result looks contemporary and I can finish these paintings quite quickly as the paint dries much faster than traditional oil painting. I also enjoy gardening, cooking and eating…. Is that a hobby? As far as sports, I really enjoy downhill skiing. Riding up the ski lift, surrounded by tall, thin white and red fir pine, is probably  one of the reasons why my current ceramic images are what they are.

Describe the moment you fell in love with clay. Have you ever cheated on it?
It was at MudFire. I had not been a member for long when I had an idea to make a cabin out of slabs of clay. It was probably too ambitious for a beginner, but it actually turned out quite nice. At that moment I felt like this was my medium and one I could succeed at and enjoy. I do cheat on it occasionally, but I always return to it.

Who has been the most influential instructor in your life?
Hands down, my father has been the most influential instructor/person in my life. From my earliest memories, he has always excelled in just about everything…art, sports, business, hunting, fishing, relationships, etc.  I was exposed to so many things by the time I was 21, it really shaped me at an early age. He also loves to travel. It seems like my sisters and I were constantly in the back seat of the family car (having “piggy fights”) and going somewhere.  Being originally from Denver, we were in the Rocky Mountains quite frequently, hiking, camping or fishing. The most important lesson he taught me? To enjoy life today.

How much of your own ceramic pieces do you use in your own home?
Actually I use very few of my own pieces. I use my coffee mugs occasionally but I use my salt pig almost daily. “Oink, oink”! My favorite pieces by others are mugs by Shadow May and Kyle Carpenter. Both are large and substantial vessels for coffee.

Is there a ceramic artist whose work you most admire?
 Alice Ballard. She makes nonfunctional forms and sculpture. Her work has probably had the most effect on my ceramic forms and designs. I think her artist statement perfectly describes her work… “The metamorphosis of Nature's forms, as they change from season to season, that attracts me to that universal world in which differing life forms share similar qualities.”

I also admire Beth Cavener Stichter. Her large sculptures of animals are incredible. I would love to sculpt figures this large one day.

Another ceramic artist that I admire is my Aunt, Jeri Redcorn. She makes traditional Caddo Indian Pottery. One of her pots actually resides in the Oval office.
Who would write your biography?
I’m not sure what the title of my Bio would be, but if David Sedaris wrote it, I’m sure it would be something funny or weird or perverted. It would get great reviews but only because David took my average stories and made them funny.

How important is the human or organic touch in your work?
I was once in Crate & Barrel and saw a slip cast, mass produced vase that was sprayed with brown tea dust glaze and it looked like a tree stump. It was $50 or $60 dollars and I thought to myself “I can do that...but make it more interesting”. So tree inspired ceramic forms and designs are what I have been doing over the past several years. I don’t necessary like close replication of natural forms. I like the artist making their interpretation of it. For me, inspiration can come from anywhere. I’m a person who notices everything, the small unnoticed details in things.

Who is your favorite artist not working in ceramics?
I love the artwork of British painter Francis Bacon. 

If you could visit the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
Francis Bacon’s studio and home at 7 Reece Mews in London’s South Kensington neighborhood.  For the last 30 years of his life, the studio was never cleaned, so years of canvasses, brushes, photographs, sketches, notes, etc. piled up until his death in 1992. In 1998 the entire studio contents were removed and reassembled in the Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin. So, next time I’m in Dublin I could actually see it.

Do you ever get potters’ block?
I have not really experienced any potters block. I like to sketch ideas in notebooks so I always have somewhere to look for past ideas that were never pursued or to reinvent previous ideas. Sketching has also helped me be more focused in executing my forms as originally planned.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I’m going to quote another MudFire potter’s answer on this question… “Alive and making ceramics”.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Featured Artist - Tracey Broome

Tracey's work is featured in the upcoming House and Home exhibit at MudFire Gallery.  When we unpacked her houses... we needed to know more!
Tell us something unusual about yourself.
I am an only child, I grew up in Myrtle Beach SC, hanging out on the beach a lot and skateboarding every day. My dad worked in a furniture plant and at night reupholstered furniture in a tiny barn out on a friend’s farm. He would take me with him and I hung out in the barn ripping fabric, nails and staples off of furniture frames for him. He drove a truck and to this day, I love to see an old Chevy or Ford truck pass me on the road. My uncle was a painter and my mom always thought I would end up being an artist like him. My dad worked for a lot of interior designers and I decided that was what I wanted to do, so I went to school, got a degree in design, met my husband, and spent the next twenty years as a designer married to a photojournalist. I worked for furniture manufacturers and retail furniture stores, traveled all over the country and later designed sets and props for the theater. I found clay in my 40’s and took a lot of classes and workshops before I decided to make it my full time profession. I am still married to the man I met in college, he is a staff photographer for the Associated Press and we have a daughter in film school at UNC School of the Arts in Winston Salem. She is studying to be a screenwriter, and we are like most parents, very proud of her!
What is your typical day to day like?
I don’t have typical days. I am not a good planner. I don’t sit down and say, ok, today I will make this and this. I walk into my studio, mess around with the piles of found objects I have and see what inspires me. Deadlines and orders can loom in front of me and I will get distracted and make something completely off track from what I should be doing. I make two or three pieces a day with lots of distractions in between the making. I will never be a production potter. I take a long time with each piece and I work very slowly. I know I should speed up my production and increase the number of pieces I make, but I am a slow southern girl. I once had a boss that called me “speedy” because I was so slow and methodical with everything. I make what I want to make at a pace that I like, that’s the best I can do!  At least once a week, I try to check in with other friends that are artists. We will meet for coffee, lunch or dinner and a movie, but it always inspires me and keeps me in touch with others who are doing the same thing I’m doing. I also like to visit a gallery or museum a couple of times a month just to feel the presence of other artists out there.                                
Apart from making things from clay, what do you enjoy doing?
For years, my husband and I were rock climbers. We climbed a couple of times a week, we had canoes and paddled whitewater a lot. Then he got this job with AP and I found clay and now there is little time for that these days. We still like to be outdoors, camp, hike, he climbs when he can, I don’t climb anymore, but sometimes think I would like to get back to it.  Now, I enjoy time with my friends and family, really good coffee, really good food, good films, art, all the good stuff we need in our lives!

Describe the moment you fell in love with clay. 
When I was a little girl my grandparents liked to visit Jugtown and Seagrove and they would take me there when I stayed with them in the summer. My grandmother had a great love for pottery and I loved those rides through the country to visit the potters down in Randolph County. I remember walking into the shop at Jugtown and feeling such a sense of history there. But I truly fell for clay at the State Fair in Raleigh. There was a potter in the Yesteryear pavilion with a wheel and he was shouting out at the crowd as he made pieces, telling stories and talking about what he was doing. I can’t tell you a thing he said, but I can still remember the sight of that clay on that wheel. I looked down at my daughter who was very small at the time, and I said to her, I am going to do that! Soon after that, I signed up for pottery classes and never looked back. I would love to know who that man was that influenced me so greatly!
Who has been the most influential instructor in your life, and what was the most important thing you learned from him or her?
I have had many amazing instructors and I have taken many many classes and workshops. They include: Meredith Brickell, Ronan Peterson, Susan Filley, Adrian Arleo, Debra Fritts, Steven Forbes deSoule, workshops with Amy Sanders, Po Wen Liu, Hitomi Shibata, Blaine Avery, and there are more I’m sure that I am forgetting. I picked up so many techniques and tips from each of these artists that I use in my work every day.
But the two instructors that have helped me the most are Deborah Harris and Barbara McKenzie. I took classes from these two potters at Claymakers in Durham when I first moved to Chapel Hill. They taught me above all else, the importance of a well crafted piece. They taught me to take the time to do things right. They also taught me that it doesn’t just come overnight, that you have to do the work, you have to not be afraid to try things and fail, and they helped me understand how to move on, not get attached to a piece that was obviously not working and just start over. They have both been endlessly giving of their time and knowledge as I have grown as a clay artist and they have both become very great friends.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Most of my inspiration comes from old discarded objects, antiques and treasures that people give me from their attics and drawers in their homes. If it’s rusty, old or broken, it inspires me! I am inspired by the architecture of the rural south. I love old cemeteries, plantations in South Carolina where I’m from, barns, dilapidated houses out in cotton fields, old paint on weathered wood. I also like to wander around in flea markets and antique malls. I feel so nostalgic when I am in one, especially if they are playing really bad music on their intercom. I love the crazy people that run their stalls at outdoor flea markets. I like to just hang around and listen to the conversations. I hear some crazy stuff, let me tell you. For instance, yesterday I was in an old shop in Asheboro, NC and I heard these two elderly ladies talking about the way things were when they were young girls. One was saying that they didn’t have yard sales when she was a girl, when they wanted to get rid of stuff they just threw it away. She said “why we took a bunch of our furniture one time and pushed it over the bank down the road from us.” Now THAT inspires me!! Only in the south!

Who is your favorite artist not working in ceramics?
Jean-Michel Basquiat  and Andrew Wyeth, I know extremely different, right?! but I love them both. The Basquiat movie is in my head all the time. I went to the Wyeth museum in Maine last summer, I just stood in this room with Andrew Wyeth’s paintings and cried.
Do you ever get potters’ block? How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I do get blocks, I seem to reach these plateaus and I get to a place where I feel that I don’t know what to do next. I get moody, irrational, lack confidence in my ability, question why I do this. And then, like a flash, I get a spark of inspiration from some crazy thing, and I’m back at it. I have gotten more used to it, I can feel it coming like a tidal wave and I just wait it out. I know that it will pass and something will come, I just wait for it. Many times I get out of these funks from something that wakes me at 3am, some glimmer of an idea, and I will grab my notebook and write it down. Recently, a girl I blog with wrote about a note in her friend’s studio that said “just work”. How true is that? If I just go out to my studio and do something, anything, something else will follow. Just Work! When all else fails I call my artist friends and go have coffee with them or I call my daughter and something they will say strikes a chord and I’m good to go.

What book or movie have you read or seen recently that rocked your world?
Movies:  The Radiant Child, Basquiat, Harold and Maude, Stalker by Andrey Tarkovskiy, 2001 A Space Odyssey
Books: I recently read A Different Kind of Luxury: Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance and it changed the way I thought about a lot of things. 

Check out Tracey's wonderful houses the House and Home exhibit opening March 2 at MudFire Gallery.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Featured Artist: Shawn O'Connor

Shawn's unique wood fired work has everyone at the studio talking.  We decided to circle back around to find out more about our favorite Downeaster.
What is your typical day to day like?
I try to treat my studio as a normal job. I typically work Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm with and hour break for lunch. Many nights during the week I put a few hours in doing paper work or photographing work. I try to take weekends off from the studio, but frequently find myself working if I haven’t left town. I typically throw in the morning and trim and assemble in the afternoon.       

Apart from making things from clay, what do you enjoy doing?
I’m an outdoor person at heart. I love to hike and camp, but pretty much enjoy any outdoor activity. I’m also enjoy music, of all types. I frequently go to shows and concerts.       

How much of your own ceramic pieces do you use in your own home?  
I try and use my own work often. I feel it is important to understand fully how my work will live out its life in other people’s homes. I will often make changes to future work I make, from the experience I have using it. I have a good collection of other people’s work that I typically use every day.     

Is there a ceramic artist whose work you most admire?
One of my favorite potters, and friend of mine, is Jennifer Allen. Our work is visually and physically very different, but we share some of the same artistic values that go into our work. 
Why is handmade better than mass produced?
The hand made offers the aspect of the human connection. Often the value of the maker is entwined in the object that they make. The user, or owner, of the object will often have a personal connection to the maker, adding significant emotional value to the object.  Mass produced objects are often sterile and cold void of human emotion and connection. The tactile qualities of my work are very important to me, as this is part of the experience I am creating for the user. My work is meet to be used in the service of food and drink, so it is important to consider all the senses when making these objects.      

Who is your favorite artist not working in ceramics?
Probably Richard Serra. I love his use of form and surface to create work that gives an experience to the viewer on a monumental scale. 

Do you ever get potter's block? 
I sometimes do have potters block, but find if I start working through a series of forms that I have already made, I usually end up creating some new one at the end.  

Where would you like to be in ten years?
I would like to have some roots somewhere in ten years. Hopefully before then but, you never know how things are going to play out. I’ve been moving around a lot the past five years, grad school, residencies, jobs. I’m starting to feel a lack of “home” or stability in this transient lifestyle. It’s not really an ideal situation for a studio potter.       

Visit Shawn O'Connor's solo exhibit at MudFire Gallery in Atlanta or online

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Best of Kiln - Ginger Birdsey's Pastel Pinch

This week's "best of kiln" award goes to the always fabulous Ginger Birdsey for her gorgeous cup and serving tray set in soft pastels.  Check out the way the glazes pool and interact in crevices, and don't forget to set your internet browser to "feelie" mode to get a sense of the luxurious satiny texture. This set is marvelous!

Ginger used a white stoneware glazed with 2-D blue and Apricot glazes.  The set was fired to cone 6 in oxidation.  2-D can be finicky, with a thick application resulting in pinholing, so test a bit, to get the right consistency on your work. Apricot, on the other hand, is a magic glaze that can make even your flattest glaze super-sexy variegated. Get down!

Custer Feldspar    44
Whiting               19.9
Flint                    10.7
EPK                    10.7
Lithium Carbonate    5.3
Talc                      3.1
Frit 3124              6.4
Rutile                   7.7
Bentonite             3.2

2-D Blue
Dolomite             21.8
Whiting               3.3
Nephyline Syenite    47.5
Ball Clay             24.1
Frit 3195             3.3
Cobalt Carbonate    0.5
Rutile                      4
Bentonite                1.9

Friday, February 10, 2012

Connected - Short Film

While I've come to think of YouTube as a complete waste of time, I was never really smart enough to think of it as a place to fill the void left by the absence of short film festivals at the Biograph on M Street in DC. Until someone recommended this to me. I have to admit to being quite excited to explore this side of YouTube.

Featured Artist - Andrew Massey

We met Andrew Massey in North Carolina last fall, by almost walking right past his booth...thinking the work was metal and we, of course, care for nothing in the world but clay... Luckily, a double-take, and next thing you know, we're buying stoneware wine cups (ultimately, everything is a wine cup!) that look like copper pipes with nails and rivets and threading.  We're very pleased that Andrew has a solo exhibit, aptly entitled Massey's Machines, coming up shortly at MudFire .  But first... we invite you to meet the maker!

What is your typical day to day like? 
Well I live and work in the River Arts District of Asheville so i typically wake up to the sound of the train coming through.  (I am by no means an early riser but would much rather spend time working late into the night)  I probably get up around 9 or so and have a nice leisurely breakfast while i deal with emails, website, scheduling and business related things, all while listening to some wonderfully classic vinyls.   On nice days I'll walk down to the studio (I've been loving the weather this winter).  When i arrive at the studio I make a list of the things i want to accomplish for the day, though i find that most of the time these lists are a bit over ambitious which leaves me with no shortage of things to do.  I will create most of the components for my work early in the day and try to start assembling late in the day or save them for the next day.  There is always a bit of fun to be had with my fellow resident artists throughout the day as well.  I enjoy working in the community studio environment.  The energy between the 6 resident artists as well as the rest of the studio keeps everything interesting and fresh.  We will often talk about each others work in little mini critiques which helps us to each keep pushing our work forward.  I don't typically get out of the studio before 10 or 11pm with many times being much later.  I find i am at my most productive late into the night.

Apart from making things from clay, what do you enjoy doing?
In the time between creating in the studio I love to just be outside.  I live in one of the most amazing and beautiful places in the US (Asheville, NC) and it is always a struggle to balance all of the many things that i love.  I have been climbing for close to 12 years now and i really try to take advantage of that as much as possible.  I live 30 minutes from several crags and i am really trying to get out once a week or so, even if its just for an afternoon.  I was sidelined by two separate shoulder injuries this past year and now that i am through it i'm trying to not waste any more time.  Besides climbing, I love to get out hiking, backpacking, biking, or even just floating down the river.  I love the culture here in this city where we can just be out on the mountain all day  or in the studio all covered in clay and go right down to the Wedge Brewery afterwards with no one giving the dirtiness a second thought.  One of the things i try to never miss, if i can help it, are the music, art, and beer festivals around here.  These are the times when you see the real asheville come out and play.  It is even better when these festivals line up with the end of a long hard push to get new work out for a show.

Who has been the most influential instructor in your life, and what was the most important thing you learned from him or her?
My most influential instructor has to be my ceramics professor in college, Nathan Cox.  I probably wouldn't be here and playing in clay everyday if it weren't for him.  I had just gotten into art with my hands just dabbling in a bit of clay.  I really loved working in clay but i would never have changed my major and really focus in without his encouragement.  I had many times where i would sit down with him and just try and figure out what i was doing with my college life and where i was going afterwards.  I really just can't say enough about how much he helped me focus in and believe that i could do something with this newly found passion.

What is your favorite food to eat out of your own pots?
Definitely my favorite thing to eat out of my own pots is a red curry dish.  A few years ago i was always frustrated by the store bought bowls i had just not quite being big enough for my curry dish.   I did the logical thing for any potter to do, I  made my own set of bowls at precisely the perfect size.  They have plenty enough room for all of the goodness i wanted to put in them.  Red curry is absolutely one of my favorite things to make.  I add chicken, green peppers, onions, red potatoes and a bit of basil to a big bowl of rice and curry sauce i have made and oooo.... it just hits the spot.

Where does your inspiration come from?
I take my inspiration from my long lasting love of mechanical objects and many of the things i see in and around old industrial buildings.  I have always been mechanically savvy.  From a young age i was taking things apart just to see how they worked and reassembling them.  I always loved doing all of the engine work on several of the old vehicles i have owned as well.  I can see that my process has stemmed from learning how to make a basic teapot and seeing how the different components all assembled together.  Just as every child loved to build with legos, I love to build with clay.  I also take much inspiration from industrial steam-punk objects and how each contraption is seemingly assembled from many random pieces taken and re-purposed from other objects.

Who is your favorite artist not working in ceramics?
I can never keep to just one favorite, but i can say that I have been recently very intrigued with Alexander Calder.  I recently traveled to the High Museum in Atlanta for their "From Picasso to Warhol" exhibit.  It was the first time i had experienced Calder's work in person.  I love his use of physical balance in combination with visual balance and it is something that i try to hold the same characteristics in my own work.  Another aspect of his work that i really love is the subtle kinetic properties.  His pieces are so balanced that they will move and change with the slight air currents from viewers just walking around.  I love kinetic sculpture in general, and it is something i am always looking at, but have yet to explore.

Where would you like to be in ten years?
Haha.... 10 years is a long time, but hopefully I will still be creating.

Andrew Massey's solo exhibit Massey's Machines, will open on February 24 at MudFire gallery and online.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Potter to Potter Interview: Shawn O'Connor

In this first of a series of Potter to Potter interviews, Christina Kwan recently spoke with Shawn O'Connor whose work is featured in Daily Conversations, a solo exhibit at MudFire Gallery.

I have to admit, the idea of speaking to Shawn O'Connor intimidated me at first. His pots are so robustly elegant and his artists statement so eloquent that I thought I would have to be at my most "on" to be on par with his conversation. Quite the contrary happened. Shawn is as casual and friendly as the potter on the wheel next to yours. And his genuine candor made me feel like I was talking to an old college buddy. I guess at the heart of it all, that's what his pots are truly about - an invitation to connect, an opportunity to nurture, and just a natural sincerity. I guess maybe all pots are just mini-me's of the potters who created them.

 CK - So just to start off, where are you from? In a nutshell, how did you get where you are now? 

Shawn - Well, I grew up in a small town in Maine named Minot, so Maine has always felt like home to me. After I ended a residency at Arrowmont, I really just didn't want to move back into my parent's house.

CK - Of course, no one wants to do that. So what are you doing now?

Shawn - Luckily, an opportunity just sort of fell into my lap - working for the Robert M. MacNamara Foundation. They pay for me to live and they fund my studio work. 

CK - Well that sounds pretty much like every artist's dream. You're very lucky. Is clay your primary medium? How did you first become interested in it?

Shawn - Yes, Clay is my primary medium. I was always into art growing up, so it naturally evolved from there. In college I was a sculpture major and in my junior year, I took my first ceramics course. I initially took the class in order to use clay as a sculpture medium and I just fell in love with the material itself. That eventually turned into learning throwing and then solely making utilitarian pots.

CK - I think that's how it happens for most people. It starts off as just a human impulse to create and express oneself and then you decide to take little steps here and there and before you know it... you're a potter! That's how I got interested in clay as well. As your career continues to develop, what part of the process are you most enjoying and what are you most surprised by?

Shawn - What I most enjoy doing is being in the studio and just making the work. What I'm most surprised by is how much work is needed beyond just making stuff. I'm always surprised by how much self-promotion is really involved in being a working artist; you really have to work to get your name out there and keep it relevant. It's funny how much that affects your business. Whether or not your work has true merit, if your name is "branded" or easily recognized, people will be more willing to purchase the work and consider it worthy. 

CK - Yeah, they never teach you that in college. The "real world" of being an artist is never a topic of discussion in art courses. So why is it that you make primarily utilitarian/functional pottery?

Shawn - I'm really interested in creating the experience of using the work. Of course the actual object and its aesthetic is important, but what I'm truly trying to do is create a connection; it's more of a sociological way of looking at pots. I like the idea of people using my pots day in and day out, with that experience becoming a part of their everyday life. 

CK - I completely understand that. I think that's actually an essential core of functional pottery making and most potters probably feel the same way you do. It's a way to build human connection through an object. What techniques do you employ that make your work different? Are they traditional or things you've invented? What makes your pots special? 

Shawn - That's a tough one. Right now I fire my work in a wood kiln, which is a method of firing that's been around for ages so it's pretty hard to "break new ground" in that discipline. I'm constantly experimenting in trying to break the traditional aesthetic and I actually just wrote an article regarding this very topic (Ceramic Technical Nov Issue).

CK - So do you think you've succeeded in doing this?

Shawn - I think I've succeeded in doing this in the sense that I'm continuing to find new ways, new possibilities to break the tradition of the past. I feel like we're in this period that's sort of like how Raku was in the 80s.  Woodfire is a real trend right now, but everything is looking somewhat similar. I'm just continuing to try to set myself apart from that. 

CK - When did you first learn to woodfire and why did you continue working in this type of firing?

Shawn - Well my first woodfiring experience was up at a residency at the Watershed Center in Newcastle, Maine. That was when I learned how to woodfire and I immediately felt a soulful connection to it because of my family background. Wood firing involves stacking and splitting wood and that was just something that was engrained in me throughout my childhood. I went back to Watershed the very next summer as a staff member and I just kept doing it. The more I fired, the more my interest (and love) grew for it. 

CK - Very cool. Not many people have that sort of background so it's great how strong of an affinity you have to working with wood. How much of your time to you devote to "making"? Are you also teaching or doing other things to supplement your craft?

Shawn - I am fortunate enough to just be making. I spend about an average of 50 hours a week in the studio. Sometimes it's more because, for instance, this past week I worked Monday through Friday just in my studio and then I spent the weekend wood firing. So if you count firing as part of "making", then it goes beyond 50 hours sometimes. 

CK - What accomplishments are you most proud of at this point in your life? 

Shawn - I'm pretty proud that I got my graduate degree, my MFA. I never would have thought I was going to get an advanced degree of any kind. When I was young, I hated school, so it was never a thought in my mind that I would do that. I also have had two articles published in Ceramic journals and that's another thing I never would have dreamed I would be doing. 

CK - What has been your motivation or your inspiration? 

Shawn - To be honest, my motivation is that I just love what I do. I'm really a maker of things and so it never feels like "work" for me. I love being in the studio. And as far as inspiration, I think it was one of my graduate professors who said it best; he said, "You're not a butterfly. You don't go through a metamorphosis; you evolve progressively." So I agree with him in that there's no overnight change or inspiration that results in any dramatic change in my work. There's a slow progression and evolution so as I learn and experiment, the work sort of inspires itself and I just continue to figure things out and move forward. Does that make sense?

CK - Of course. It's not always about eureka moments, but rather, development and growth that happens over time. So my last question is how do your collectors feel about your work and what kind of feedback has been the most memorable or most influential?

Shawn - Wow, umm.. you know, I don't really recall particular "collectors" per se, but I did get a memorable email recently from Jack Troy. He's a ceramics guy - a real figure in woodfire. I've admired Jack for a long time, both as an artist and as a person. He sent me this short email saying that he was using my cup and thinking of me. Though it sounds so simple, it really made an impact on me. To have someone I've really admired say that their using my work is a big deal because Jack truly understands what a good pot is. Knowing that he's using my pot on a regular basis is really… fulfilling. 

CK - Yeah, I can only imagine. It's sort of like your work coming full circle, to have someone you really admire admiring your work. That sounds like a really satisfying validation of everything you've been working towards. Congratulations on being awesome!
Check out Shawn's Solo exhibit online or in person at MudFire Gallery.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Featured Artist - Forrest Lesch Middelton

To say we're excited about Forrest coming to teach a workshop at MudFire this quite the understatement.

Here's why...

If this looks like fun on the screen, consider joining us! This is going to be a high energy, intensive, three-day workshop. As of now, there are a couple of spots left.  But probably not for long.  For more details or to register, please visit our workshop pages.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Best of Kiln - Lindsey Elsey for Blue Steel

Some things come out of the kiln and catch your attention like nobody's business.  This tends to happens a lot when 150 talented risk takers are constantly experimenting, mixing, blending and testing.  Crowd sourcing at its best!

The Esteemed Glaze Academy (Fair, Balanced and certainly not above Bribery), was formed on February 1, 2012, with a stated mission of sharing Best of Kiln results and glaze recipes. And so, without further ado... the premier "Best of Kiln" nomination goes to (drum roll please) Lindsey Elsey, for her crystal blue combination The Academy will henceforth refer to as "blue steel".

Check out the flowy crystals! Lindsey dipped the entire piece in Bright Blue Sky (from Ron Roy's and John Hesselberth's book on glazes), then dipped the piece in Jen's Juicy Fruit. The piece was fired on white stoneware in light reduction to cone 6. This has the potential of being very runny, but in this case, the glaze combo behaved.

Jen's Juicy Fruit   
Neph Sy         44.5
Silica               10.9
Whiting            10
EPK                9.1
Frit 3124         8.2
Lithium Carb    8.2
Soda Ash         9.1
Rutile                5.5
Red Iron Oxide 1.8
Bentonite          1.8

Bright Blue Sky
G-200                   20
Frit 3134               20
Wollastonite           10
EPK                      20
Talc                       11.5
Flint                      18.5
Cobalt Carbonate  1
Rutile                     6
Red Iron Oxide     0.5

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ceramic Decal Printer

MudFire recently launched MudFire Labs, a creative play-space for exploring crossover between ceramics, printmaking, technology, and production. Our first big project was a technology evaluation and purchase for a a ceramic decal printer. In this post we'll talk a bit about the technology, the costs, and what the printer is capable of.

But first, take a look at this...over 940 glaze tests we fired last night...

The best part was NOT mixing 940 glaze tests. I found a 14 page Pantone color chart on the web, and imported it into Photoshop and divided into tiles. Then hit print. Awesome!

Technically these tests are overglazes. They were fired on top of commercial porcelain tile with white glaze. The printer prints ceramic pigments. There are four colors in the printer, it is a standard CMYK four color laser printer with special toner. You print using a special Photoshop color profile onto decal paper, prepare the decal paper with a covercoat & flux/glaze, apply the decals to pots that have already been through a glaze firing, and then fire the pots to 1500 F or about Cone 011.

The system includes the ceramic toners, the modified laser printer, decal paper, covercoat, and flux. Industry uses the phrase flux, but it is really a fritted glaze that melts the ceramic toner into the glaze on the work.

Several years ago, purchasing and outfitting a printer system like this cost $30,000 and there was only one vendor in the US that offered a solution. Due to advances in technology and a more competitive market with multiple vendors, you can now purchase a system for under $10,000 with an affordable maintenance contract to protect against unexpected expenses.

MudFire evaluated different options, ranging from a very established pioneer in the field, to hiring a consultant to modify a printer, to outsourcing our decal printing, to a relatively new company in Phoenix called Digital Ceramic Technologies, or DCT. We went with the DCT system. Their website is

Many of you may remember Andy Brayman's service which seems no longer to be active. Janet at has picked up where he left off. We had the good fortune to meet Janet during our evaluation and at our DCT training session in Phoenix. If you need someone to print labels for you, don't hesitate to call her. She has I think four printers in-house running full time and was planning on buying another from DCT.

The founders of DCT, Mark and Joel, were early users of another vendor's products, and they started DCT to provide a very customer-focused, high quality, lower cost solution. We think they've achieved that. Visiting their training class in Phoenix was an amazing experience and we were so excited to get back and unpack our system and get printing. They've come up with a simple solution that prints well, having developed their own toners, papers, and coatings that work extremely well together for great color.

We're surprised at how few clay studios have this sort of technology available. I think with DCT out there, that is going to change quickly. If you'd like to read more about my personal vision for how and why I'll be using the printer in my work, check out my personal blog entry. Here's a peak at the first actual pots out of the kiln with color decals.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Featured Artist - Martha Grover

Martha Grover's process involves an unusual combination of various glazing and assembling techniques, resulting in the whimsical, functional forms she describers as "reminiscent of images orchids, flowing dresses, and the body." Thrown and altered porcelain forms are combined with slabs, with most seams left decoratively exposed. The work is fired to cone 04, and then finished with a layered glaze process that involves both pouring and spraying.  The snowy, seashell like patterns on Grover's surfaces are achieved by layering a colored, opaque glaze over a clear base coat.  Ultimately the finished piece is fired to cone 11 in an electric kiln.

Martha learned to throw from a high school teacher, but it was while she was studying architecture in college that she discovered the field of ceramics. "I was lucky to have a great teacher and I fell in love with throwing, but not one told me you could actually go to school for that.  I come from a science-driven family of engineers,  and I have always been interested in the arts, so the logical decision was to major in architecture.  But the ceramics studio was right next to the architecture department.  I never looked back.  By the time I completed by BA, I knew my passion was clay."  

Since then, Martha's work has been published in Clay Times, Ceramics Monthly, 500 Pitchers, 500 Vases, and 500 Platters and Chargers.  She has been honored on the cover of Ceramics Monthly as a winner of the 2010 Ceramics Monthly Emerging Artist Competition and is currently working at the Archie Bray Foundation, where she has received the Taunt Fellowship.  "When I took the Myers Briggs, my personality tested on the borderline between introvert and extrovert, and I think my pots have a similar quality.  Outrageous but quiet.  A little frilly, but still functional.  And there are details that you don't see at first, that you discover through interaction."

Her pots have a striking, special-occasion quality to them, meant to encourage the user to pause and fully experience interacting with the ceramic vessel.  "In our lives, we often move past the objects surrounding us at a very quick pace.  My goal is to create an undeniable presence, one that acts as an invitation to explore the work thoroughly, taking time to know all of its many facets.  Only through sustained interaction we can truly know and appreciate someone or something."

Tell us something unusual about yourself.
I have an Airedale named Harvey.  I got him as a puppy just after I finished undergrad in 2002.  As anyone who has a terrier can attest, they have their quirks, challenges, and very entertaining characteristics.  I affectionately refer to Harvey as the “Monster.”  As a puppy, he looked (and still sort of does) like a Sesame Street Muppet—curly brown hair and mouth hinged open wide with a little pink tongue inside.  At 10, he still acts like a crazy puppy, in manner and discipline.  I thought that after a few years he might calm down, but no, he is still just as energetic as ever.  

His name is from the Jimmy Stewart movie “Harvey.”  In the film, Harvey is a 6’ 3.5” tall, invisible rabbit, and a pooka: a benign but mischievous creature from Celtic mythology.  And mischievous my Harvey has turned out to be!  Airedales talk, constantly.  He loves to make noises—grunts, groans, squeaks—he tells me all kinds of stories about his day when I get home from the studio.  

Harvey also tries to sleep on my pillow, whether I am using it or not!  He is a constant source of amusement, and frequent frustration—the kind where you can’t help but laugh and shake your head at the same time.

What is your typical day to day like?
I usually start the day by getting into the studio at 9 AM.  I begin with a cup of tea while checking email, responding to inquiries, and other paperwork that goes along with being an artist.  Then I spend 30 to 60 minutes at the wheel throwing parts for the pieces that I will assemble later in the afternoon.  My throwing time varies depending on the volume verses complexity of the pots I am working on that day.  
Once all the parts are thrown and starting to set up, I do any necessary altering and slab preparation for assembly in the afternoon.  By the time I’m done prepping everything, it’s time for lunch.  After lunch, I move into hand building for the afternoon.  I spend the rest of the afternoon assembling the thrown parts and slabs into finished pieces.  Around 4 PM I will throw another batch of pots to use the following day or sometimes later that evening depending on how busy the season is.  At 5 PM, I take a break to go home and walk the dog and have dinner.  A few nights each week, I will go back to the studio after dinner and finish a few more pots.  I am usually in the studio six days a week, seven during the holidays or when a big show is coming up.  

Interspersed with my regular production schedule, usually while pots are drying, is packing work to ship, taking slide photos, and the usual re-checking of mail at least two more times during the day, then another cup of tea and taking care of recycling clay (I try to make this a continual process so it doesn’t become overwhelming).   

How much of your own ceramic pieces do you use in your own home?  Other people’s?

I have a great collection of pots at home—more than can reasonably fit in the cupboards and on the shelves!  I love using handmade work.  I use a few of my own pots at home, but mainly the house is filled with other people’s work.  I already spend 8 to 12 hours a day with my pots, and there is something so enjoyable in using another potter’s work—it is almost like having a conversation with them.  If it is a pot made by an artist that I know, then the experience is also a walk down memory lane—a time to think of them and their work and general thoughts about handmade objects.  For me, the use of a pot strengthens so many connections, between me and the vessel, me and the maker.  The use of other pots also encourages me to think critically about my work—the decisions that I make with each piece.  It’s an ongoing dialog.   

If you collect pottery, do you tend to collect deep from one artist or style, or broadly across many artists and looks?
I collect broadly from lots of artists—mostly pots but some sculptural work.  My collection has benefited greatly from my time at different residency programs and working in different galleries.  I like to collect and use other people’s pots because it is very instructive to me as a maker.  I learn about form, weight, contours, and style through use.  I like to have pots in styles that contrast from my own.  Other artists make decisions in their pots that often differ from my own, and I may not fully appreciate those decisions until I actually use their pots.  

What is your favorite food to eat out of your own pots? 
While it’s not necessarily my favorite food—I love too many to pick—my favorite pot that I made and use most frequently at home is a small pitcher/creamer.  It is a light textured green, with a longish spout.  I fill it with homemade maple syrup every weekend for Saturday brunch.  My dad and grandmother make the syrup on the family farm in Maine every year.  I love it on pancakes, waffles, or French toast.  The little pitcher pours perfectly—not a single drop of the precious syrup drips down the front!  The handle is just the right size for one finger.  One of my favorite features was quite unplanned.  I store the syrup in pint-sized mason jars, and at the end of brunch, I can tip the pitcher upside down on the jar to drain.  The spout and top lip of the pitcher are shaped in such a way that it rests perfectly on the mason jar, so that it can be left to pour out any last remaining drops to save for the next time.

Where does your inspiration come from?
The simple/short answer – flowers, dance, old movie costumes, and antiques. 
All of these played influential roles in my childhood, and thus are the forms that my hands long to make.  My parents’ house is filled to the brim with antiques.  Old china, furniture, paintings, dishes, candlesticks, and silverware filled my visual realm as a child.  I was raised in the woods of Western Maine.  My family grows most of their own vegetables.  Along with the food, they grow just as many or more flowers.  I was constantly in the flower beds as a child, looking at the intricate details of the blossoms.  I also studied ballet from the age of 3 until 18.  And my sister and I were, and still are, fascinated by old movies, especially the lavish movie musicals of the 50s and 60s.  

All of the ornateness of the antiques; the delicate edges and details of the flower blossoms; the lift, shape, and movement of the dancers; the grace and style of the old movie stars; and the handmade/homegrown mentality of my parents have shaped what my work is today.  

Do you ever get potters’ block? How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I don’t think that I do, but I know there are times when I make fewer new forms.  For me, new creativity comes in bursts.  A few times each year I get really excited about a new form or variation in my work.  The rest of the time I just try to focus on making the established forms that people enjoy.  The life of a potter is filled with repetition, and I think this helps me in some ways with not getting “potter’s block.”  There are always more mugs and bowls to be made, which gets me through periods of less creativity.  

This past spring I was very inspired to make a new form – Tulipieres.  I had wanted to make a large-scale vase form for quite a while and was having cracking issues when I attempted to make them as one piece.  It suddenly dawned on me that I could make them in smaller parts that would stack – the layers could then be fired separately and reassembled out of the kiln.  It made firing and glazing easier, and the stacked vase has the added benefit of being more versatile to fit various sized flower arrangements depending on the situation and space.  The technical problem in a way ended up being the creative boost to make an exciting new form.

I have had many other instances where a simple conversation sparks a new idea.  The latest was a chat about the abundance of cupcake shops.  This lead to the thought, “Maybe I should make cupcake stands,” then “What about cake stands?”  This was followed by some internet and book research of what others have made and then experimentation in the studio.

Being creative and coming up with a new form in my style can be a challenge, but I enjoy the process, and if I ever get stumped, I try to bring it back to my core goal of functionality and my personal aesthetic influences.  

View Martha's solo exhibition at MudFire Gallery online and in person from January 27 - February 19, 2012.

Also check out these "how-to" articles published by Ceramic Arts Daily:
Seamless Transitions: How to Spray Layers of Glazes to Softly Blend Glaze Colors

Treasure for Treasures:  Lidded Box Form