Creativity Block?

Blocks are not just for writers anymore – all of us can find ourselves struggling to think up new ideas and fresh perspectives. The trick is not to avoid those times when creativity blocks happen because let’s be honest, you can’t escape, but instead to look upon it as an opportunity.

I find that I go through cycles with the texture patterns I create in my work with the same patterns emerging over and over until I’m stuck in my comfort zone. Since what else is a creativity block except getting nice and comfy, all curled up in the same old thought processes?

I have some tried and true methods for helping me break out.

For an easy fix, I set-up out in the “wild” – somewhere that will bring me into contact with lots of people. I’ve always found engaging others as part creators of my work forces me to solve for the unexpected. I never quite know what someone will do when I give them free reign to place an imprint a piece of clay. Viewing this unknown as a problem that has to be solved (I’m not allowed to simply scrap it out of the gate) usually introduces fresh ideas into my work.

Sometimes though I’m stuck just a little bit more than one of my quick fixes will help. I find in those situations that I need to completely leave behind my main medium, clay, and explore other mediums. Whether it’s through research into these other mediums or actually creating non-clay works, it puts me in back in the realm of a complete newbie. I can’t fall back on any past experience, but it typically doesn’t exist for these other areas of art. I might explore outside of the world of clay for a day or a few weeks before feeling that I can return recharged for my work.

What do you do to help get yourself out of your comfort zone?

 

Oh, That Drip

Glazing … it tends to be the bane of most ceramic artist’s existence.

Why? Well, where to start?

I suppose I could begin with sharing that the glazing process is a chemical reaction activated by the heat of the kiln. Before firing glazes all tend to look kind of pinkish, brownish, white-ish, red-ish or sometimes grey-ish, but certainly never the color they will be after firing. Its enough to drive a person batty imagining the “correct” color.

Catch those quotes in my last statement? Chemical reactions also mean that glazes don’t necessarily combine based on the color wheel or logic. My favorite example of this is a beautiful turquoise matte glaze that turns maroon when a clear is applied over it instead of a shiny turquoise color.

I could go on about glaze application thickness and application methods, but I fear I’m digressing from that drip I mentioned. All of that activating heat also means that glaze doesn’t like to stay where you put it. Instead glaze tends to run and pool. This can be extremely helpful as well as frustrating.

You see, glaze that runs can run right off of the pot onto the kiln shelf fusing your pot to the shelf. So, that intriguing little drip when it happens is sometime that gets ceramic artists very excited. This is especially true when that lovely drip stops just before disaster and instead leaves behind a focal point on your piece.

You can find this bottle and more of my work at Artisans Etc. in Big Bear.

Feathers

I love crazy coil pots. Really and truly – to me they are the easiest way to be completely free in my creative process. I love using them as both a coil construction project, but also a creativity project with my students. That’s where this little bird came from – a class demo with my beginning students this past session. I had no idea I would end up with such a definitive subject matter for this pot when I started, but that’s what I love most about them!

Spring class session sign-ups are in progress! Classes at AMOCA Ceramics Studio start April 4th!

Is It Bathing Suit Weather Yet?

As you may remember from my tree bark mug post last week, I recently moved to the San Bernardino Mountains. Even if you don’t live in California, you may have heard that this has been the wettest winter in like a decade and has almost wiped out our draught. Although I’m thrilled that California’s water situation has drastically improved, but I’ve been a little less thrilled with my part in it – namely, my newly developed arm muscles from shoveling all of that snow!!

So, in the interest of thinking warm weather thoughts, I thought I’d share one of my newer vases inspired by sewing patterns for corsets. This one, in particular, has always made me think of one of those bottom ruffled bathing suits. Now if we can just find some warmer weather to go with it – we’d be set!

Check out this vase and others from my corset-inspired forms online in my Etsy shop!

Do You Believe in Sanding?

When most people think of ceramics sanding is not the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, it is really an integral part of the ceramics making process. I have fuzzy memories of the first time I learned about how my work could be smoothed of rough spots, but the first time I ever taught it to my own students is crystal clear.

It all started when one of my students asked about how to prevent the work he was making from scratching his table. I told him I would show him how to correct for that issue in the next class’ demo. I gathered up some of my own work that had recently been glazed fired, wet/dry sandpaper and a big bowl of water. At the time I had three classes back to back and I covered the pros and cons of sanding at each stage of the clay process. Other than making a mental note to include it again in future sessions, I figured that was that.

Boy was I wrong!

Apparently, my innocent little demo on sanding had spread like wildfire throughout the studio. Just like it hadn’t occurred to me before being asked, it hadn’t occurred to any other instructor either to cover with their class. The fact that those of us who sold our work sanded every single piece blew the minds of some of the studio members. Not in my class, these studio peeps didn’t get the benefit of the before sanding and after sanding work I passed around for folks to examine, leading one to ask my student, “Do you believe in sanding?”

It still makes me laugh to this day just thinking about it. The phrasing did and always has struck me as so funny that every time I sand pots I’m reminded of it.

So, why do I (or why should you) sand ceramic pots?

Basically, clay shrinks. My work, which is fired to cone 10 or 2365º, actually shrinks three times. First, during the initial drying process as the water evaporates from the piece before the first firing. Second, during the first firing, otherwise known as bisque, much of the organic materials burn away further condensing the clay. Last, during the glaze firing when the clay vitrifies and any porous aspects of the clay close up. It’s always startling to folks new to the medium how much smaller their work gets.

The shrinkage is important to note because modern clay bodies are typically not a single type of clay, but rather a mixture of various types combined to support easier construction. Oftentimes this mixture includes sand or grog (among other additives) to help provide strength during the forming process. Both sand and grog (which is pre-fired clay ground up) are already shrunk when they are added to the clay mixture. Each successive firing of a piece pulls back and condenses the clay and brings the sand and/or grog to the surface – hence the need to sand what otherwise seemed a smooth surface.

For the ceramic artists out there, here are some tried and true tips for sanding your work.

  • Sanding greenware, or unfired clay, is usually not worth it since the piece is so fragile at this stage. If you feel you must, then the drier the piece the better. Be sure to do it in a well ventilated area, preferably outdoors, wear a dust mask and use scotch brite pads.
  • Sanding bisque ware is typically only valuable if you notice a previously missed sharp or rough point on your work – remember it’s only going to shrink again in the glaze fire. Wet/dry sandpaper of typically any grit will work and be sure to get the piece and sandpaper thoroughly wet to prevent dust.
  • Another good time to sand bisque ware is if you need to level the bottom of a piece. It is an ideal time since the partially fired work is still soft. Thoroughly wetting the sandpaper and the piece are necessary. Tape the wet sandpaper to a table if you have no one to hold it in place for you and move the piece back and forth to level.
  • After glaze firing, sand the bottom or any raw clay portion of the piece using a rough grit wet/dry sandpaper (the lower the grit number the more rough). Be sure to get the piece and the sandpaper thoroughly wet to prevent dust. I do this even if I’m working outside so I’m not breathing in all of the dust.
  • After glaze firing, sand over a glazed surface using a fine grit wet/dry sandpaper with a grit of 400 or higher. Using such a fine grit sandpaper will allow you to sand the glazed surface without scratching it. Again thoroughly wet both the piece and the sandpaper to prevent dust … did you get that part about preventing dust yet?
  • Technically any kind of sandpaper will work, but wet/dry sandpaper is made to be used when wet and will last longer. Regular sandpaper will fall apart quickly when used wet.

Here’s a little behind the scenes of my own sanding process this week. I use a big five gallon bucket to wet each piece and the sandpaper before sanding and again afterwards to rinse the pots off. I typically let them dry overnight.

 

In Search of History

I adore texture and, equally as important, texture making tools. Just when it seems like I have enough different tools to make impressions in clay I run across another one I just have to add to my collection!

I have long been a fan of the work of Michael Wisner and the simple yet amazing textured surfaces he creates. So, much a fan of his work that I had a demo of his imprinting technique on my beginning class’ project schedule for this past week.

It was just random chance that I happened to learn about the work of Kenneth Standhardt when scrolling through the explore tab on Instagram. Kenneth approaches his surfaces much in the same way that Michael does, but with even more amazingly intricate results. Unlike Michael who creates his own tools out of hacksaw blades, Kenneth uses mainly two common enough items – church key openers.

Using these everyday items, Kenneth creates patterns on patterns on patterns for an end result that defies explanation. I’ve shared a brief video of his process below so you can check it out for yourself!

Needless to say I am in the market for my very own church key opener – both the standard one that is widely available on the internet as well as the notched one. I expect I’ll be haunting thrift stores for the foreseeable future looking for that small piece of history.

Standhardt Studio from Engaging Media on Vimeo.

 

Unusual Tape

You may know that I recently have gotten really into using custom masking tape stickers to create texture on my mugs and planters. This mug is a little different. The tape I’m using to create the skinny lines of bare clay actually comes exactly this super thin width!

The moment I found this super thin tape at the store I knew I had to have it! I don’t think I even had any idea what I would do with it when I bought it at Daiso.

Weeks past and one day at the studio I was so over cutting out custom sized masking tape stickers. I wanted to stop for the day, but I still have a handful of mugs to sticker. That’s when I remembered this tape. It was so super easy to quickly add vertical lines of varying lengths around my remaining mugs.

I really love how this particular masking tape resist design turned out … which is nice since it’s so easy to do in comparison to other patterns!

Oh, and just what is this super skinny tape supposed to be used for when its not decorating mugs? It creates dividing lines on dry erase boards. Check out this mug and others like in my Etsy shop!

 

Repeating Stamps

As some of you may know, I hand make a lot of my texture tools from clay. Among my absolute favorites are the stamps that can be used both as a single impression and as a repeating one that creates an entirely new pattern.

I love when I learn that one of my stamps is capable of creating a pattern or two. For those who don’t work in clay, it’s not possible to fully test a new stamp until after it has been fired. It can be like Christmas getting new stamps back for their first impression testing and not all of them make the cut let alone the creating a new pattern cut.

I thought I’d share one of my favorite pattern creating stamps with you today! I created this one using a plaster carving technique to achieve fine lines in the stamp.

First, a single impression of this stamp.

Now, here is the start of building the pattern. First, I did a row of the stamp all oriented in the same direction across the length of the slab. Then, I flipped the orientation 180 degrees to create some great rounded rectangles in the negative space.

I really like when I figure out great patterns like this one to create with my stamps. I love using the positive and negative space to leave some parts of the pattern bare clay and some parts glazed. Sometimes I alternative which parts are glazed and which parts are bare clay. It really gives me so many opportunities from a single stamp!

Here are a few behind the scenes shots from my photo shoot of my stamped pattern! This is my baby boy Bennie! He is 15 years old and loves being a studio cat!

Bark vs Snow

It can be so hard to know where an artist gets the inspiration for their work – such is the case with this lovely little bark mug.

I’ve been making fake tree bark, or faux bois if you want to be fancy, in clay for what seems like forever. An artist I met some years back, David Gilbaugh showed me the basics of creating bark and even gifted me a special tool he had made to help create realistic bark.

I’ve never achieved David’s level of expertise – he’s a true master and can accurately re-create the bark of any specific tree with ease. Definitely check out his work if you get a chance as it is stunning.

I can, however, create basic generic tree bark easily. It makes a great parlor trick to show my students and I’ve been pulling it out of my back pocket for years as a fun impromptu demo. In fact this mug was created during one such demo a few weeks back.

I was showing some studio folks not in my class the mug pre-glaze and one of them offered up that I must be getting inspired by all of the tire tracks in the snow now that I live in the mountains.

Sadly, no. Snow has yet to inspire anything, but hard physical labor in me this winter season. Have I mentioned how much I *enjoy* shoveling?

I did, however, love getting the reminder that even in what appears an easily interpreted piece of art can take on so many variations when viewed through another lens.

Check out this mug and more non-snow inspired work in my Etsy shop!

Purple Flowers

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” – Alice Walker

I think about this quote from Alice Walker every single time I see a purple flower whether it’s growing wild by the side of the road or in a garden somewhere. It always makes me smile in gratitude for all of the beauty in the world.

This planter reminds me of the purple wildflowers I see growing by the side of the road in the springtime. It’s so so so purple and definitely floral inspired that it really stands out against the more earth toned planters in my collection. It makes me smile every time I see it in my online shop. Maybe I need to keep it for my personal collection or make more … I can’t quite decide.

Either way be sure to enjoy this little pop of the color purple today!