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Find me more frequently for the time being at Folk-Art-Life.


Karen McPhail

I came across Irish potter, Karen McPhail a couple days ago on Bloesem. What a sweet surprise! I love the graphic nature of the stencils and decals as well as the lovely quality of the linear decorative elements. Plus, creative handles and knobs are always a plus in my book. Also, I really appreciate, now more than ever, the simplicity of the cylinder and how wonderful it is when boldly decorated.

(images via artist's website)


Workshop Review: Julia Galloway

Maybe it’s because I was too busy writing notes or maybe it was because my camera battery died early in the demo, but I didn’t get too many photo’s of the Julia Galloway workshop that I attended last weekend with friends Linda Fahey, Hue Yang, Tiffany Schmierer, and Margaret Tassi. That being said, it was the best workshop ever!

I was completely blown out of the water by the artist. Galloway was hilarious, generous, commanding, eloquent, down-to-earth, talented, intelligent, informed, and brutally honest. I kept leaning over to Linda and Tiff to gush the overflowing awe I was experiencing in her midst. He he he... I think we were all equally inspired, because we all had huge smiles on our faces every time I checked. 

In an incredible six hours, Galloway covered throwing techniques, altered thrown forms, slab construction, unique handle pulling, pillow forms, spout building, glaze formulation, mishima, shellac resist, wax resist inlay, combined surface design techniques, surface design principles, color theory, creative philosophy, copyright issues, contemporary ceramics, history of ceramics, teaching philosophies, and of course a retrospective of her own work. And even after all that, she rushed over to Trax Gallery, to give an artist talk at the opening of her fantastic solo show.

Though I did glean plenty of technical tips from this workshop, the real gems of the experience were in the little moments of creative wisdom that Galloway shared with us. These moments were so fleeting and so plentiful that if you weren't paying very close attention (perhaps, even at the cost of great photographs) you would miss them. I highly recommend attending any workshop, demonstration, or lecture from the artist as her honest insight is unparalleled in the ceramic arts community. I hope that in the future I will have the chance to take an intensive workshop with her. I think there is so much more to learn from her and I am jealous of all the students at University of Montana in Missoula who have access to her wisdom all the time.

On that note, I'll leave you with one little bit of wisdom that made me laugh over and over again as she said it.  If all else fails, and "you get caught naked... just strut what you've got."

For more (and much better) photos and a couple more workshop reviews, check out Linda's post. Also, a big thank you to the folks who organized the workshop over at Walnut Creek Civic Arts Center. I had a lovely time and the potluck was delish!



After today, I will have only four more days as an undergraduate. Whew. I don't know what I'm going to do with my life. Wish me luck?



Open 4 Discussion: Figuring Out Form

So the proverbial form, as in form follows function.

This mysterious aesthetic angle continues to elude me. As I look at the pieces I've been creating as of late, I cringe at the silhouette that appears before me. In fact it seems a silhouette is not there at all. When I am making pots I pay so much attention to process, construction, function, and surface but so little to the shape of each vessel. It has me thinking about how exactly a potter develops her form.
This idea came to the forefront of my attention during the recent workshop with Christa Assad that I attended. The shape of her works is so clearly essential to her concept and has become unmistakably identifiable as her own. In the slideshow that accompanied Assad’s demo, several photographs were shown to explain the artist’s direct influence. It was interesting to see how an antique iron becomes a teapot via her imagination. But how do you accomplish such a feat? Assad explained that creating the perfect form doesn't happen overnight. A form is not perfected so much as it is refined, through constant working and reworking of the same vessel. I think this is a good point, but for some, including myself, a starting point can be difficult to come by. I have yet to find my own iron.

Inspired by the practicality of a Bauhaus education, I am now on a mission to provide for myself the course on three-dimensional design that I never had. When I studied 3D design in school it was more of a sculpture primer than a formal course in the fundamental elements of design. I've done some research online and checked out a few good books from the library on the subject including Johannes Itten's Design and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus and Later and Louis Wolchonok's The Art of Three-Dimensional Design. While it looks like these resources have a lot to offer me, I can't help but feel a need for something more specific to pottery.

My friend Amy Horn recently embarked on an interesting exercise to help along her own explorations of form.  It is such a great exercise that I don't know why none of my professors ever gave such an assignment. Working from the visual reference above, Amy embarked on a plan to copy every one of about 30 different forms- in the process discovering which forms felt best to throw, to hold, and to drink from. This is brilliant and ever since I have been in search of more of these "referential menus". (Please let me know if you have any you might care to share.)
It's also interesting to look at other artist's sketches (like Jake Allee's above and Euan Craig's below) to see how the develop shape in a two dimensional space. In my own sketchbook I have noticed that I only draw form once or twice before moving on to the next idea. In other artist's sketchbooks I'm noticed whole series of forms. Either drawn from one starting point to an evolved end point or in so many variations of one idea as to cover all of ones bases, these collections become a catalog of forms from which to work. And in trying many versions of the same idea, one might arrive at a resolved shape, as Christa Assad explained.

Euan Craig

But before you can even begin to refine your form through throwing exercises or sketches, one must consider what type of form best suits her work. Some questions to consider:

-Do you want a shape that suits your surface or...

-...will you find a surface that suits your shape?

-Does your surface design require smoothness or texture?

-Are your pots intended more for use or more for decoration?

-Will you make molds from these forms for quicker reproduction?

-Which methods of building pottery do you have at your disposal?

-What type of clay body do you care to use?

-Is it important to work in a cohesive series of forms?

-How much time do you have for each piece?

-How much time do you spend on surface treatment?

Kevin Snipes via The Art Room Plant
When I really get to thinking about my work, however, and when I try to answer these questions for myself, I realize that pottery, and more broadly clay, suits my work mostly as a blank canvas. I am not so interested in making forms as I am interested in decorating the surface and telling a story, similarly to artists like Kevin Snipes (above) and Greyson Perry (below). In realizing this my entire understanding of form shifts. I now feel less concerned with making objects and more concerned with how many different forms I can create with a relatively level plane over which I can build my story. While I still love pottery and am fascinated by the history of our media, I need to adapt all I've learned to the ideas I am trying to express. I used to feel frustrated by the fact that I couldn't invent spectacular shapes on the wheel or build intuitively coil by coil, but I've accepted this now. Perhaps the reason I couldn't develop these shapes is because my heart was always thinking about the surface- color, pattern, texture, motif, line. 

Greyson Perry via the Victoria and Albert Museum
I believe this is the greatest jump that I've made in all my seven or so years as a ceramist. I've figured out that my relationship with clay is not about what I can do with the clay but what the clay can do for me.  I am not a ceramic artist. I am an artist who enjoys using clay. And for me, that is perfect.


A couple more resources on form:

Emily Murphy wrote a great post on the subject on her wonderful blog a while back about wheel thrown forms.

And Ceramic Arts Daily posted a nice little video from Dennise Buckley a couple months ago about hand-built forms.

And if you don't already watch Ron Philbeck's videos, you should start now. He often discusses the relationship between form and surface with really clear insight.

Well, I hope some of you weigh in on this topic. I've been thinking about this post, and actually writing it for a few weeks now. I'd love to hear all of your thoughts, so do chime in with your own bits of wisdom.

Ally Howell

It's been a while since I last posted I know... But I have a pretty good excuse-

I'm graduating!

Yeah... there's a tinge of exhaustion in that exaltation. I've got exactly six school days left before I am completely finished with my B.A. in studio art. I kinda can't believe it, I don't know what I'll do next. Well, I kinda do, but that's an entirely different post.

Onto the lovely pots above. I've been harboring this post for a while, and well, today is as lovely a day as any to share. I haven't found much information on what Miss Howell is currently working on (or even where she is working from) but these pieces are nonetheless too lovely to pass up. I love the direction she is taking her work-- how she translates the influence or Fabergé and Rococo ornamentation into a cruder approach to handbuilding. These are so up my alley. (No pun intended, seriously.)

(images via artist's website and Flickr)
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