Friday, December 30, 2011

On Critique

            An important aspect of creating art is the process of assessing the effect of what you have made. Objects are made with some kind of intent or purpose in mind, whether it is a cup to simply hold a hot or cold beverage, or a sculpture with many parts and a complex message to portray.
            The artist is often focused so closely on his or her work that others’ reactions to the finished piece can be surprising – and very valuable. You may think while you are working that the intent of your piece will be perfectly obvious to the viewer, and yet when you show others they come up with all sorts of different reactions that had nothing to do with what you were thinking. Perhaps it is back to the drawing board, or perhaps these reactions spark a desire to pursue something different for a while. Regardless, it is this interaction between the artist and the rest of the world that is most valuable. Without feedback, it is difficult to impossible to know how your work affects others. As an artist or craftsperson, this is a very important thing to know. It might even be the point of making what we make in the first place.
            Now that I am no longer in school, my primary arena for critique is gone. I will have to find different ways to get feedback on my work.
            Thus, I am introducing Friday Critique posts. Each Friday, I will post images of a pot or sculpture that I am working on, or that I have made in the not-too-distant past, and also a discussion of different aspects of that object.
I’d like to encourage any readers out there to add comments – otherwise it’ll just be me mumbling away to myself with no idea if anybody’s listening or looking. So if you have something to say, don’t worry about whether it’s profound – even saying “I think the edge of that foot is too sharp!” can be helpful. As long as you’re polite about it, that is.
I will start next Friday with the first Friday Critique. I hope to hear from you!  


            I have always been interested in animals of all sorts, including mythical and fantastical beasts. When I was little, I thought a griffon would be a really awesome pet. (Never mind that it would terrorize the horses and eat my dog; I could train it somehow to not do that, right?) But dragons have always been the most compelling to me.
            Dragons are not the sort of creatures that would make good pets. They are unpredictable, and tend to set things on fire when they are unhappy. Dragons also tend to be intelligent enough or powerful enough, or both, that they will not stand to be treated as less than an equal. In fact, they usually prefer to be in charge.
            Dragons are epic creatures. They do not do things by halves – if they are angry, they destroy everything they can until they are tired; if they are tired, they sleep for a hundred years; if they are bent on gathering pearls, they will pursue them to the ends of the earth and beyond. They live alone, for fear of some other creature stealing their treasure, but when they have company they cannot resist talking for a while, even if they mean to kill the visitor anyway.
            A dragon’s physical qualities are so vague that dragons can come in all shapes and sizes. There are dragons with friendly temperaments and dragons that are always angry at something.
            These are creatures that are good for stories. They can be hidden away in caves until they are discovered at a critical moment, or they can be fully part of the world and take part in the entire story line. They are a powerful force to reckon with, and are never tame enough that you can assume they will behave a particular way.
            The possibilities are endless, and I like to imagine what sort of stories different dragons might be part of. I like that they are not clearly defined. When I see an image of a dragon, I can imagine him or her to be any kind of dragon with any kind of story.
            When I am making a dragon, or putting a dragon on a pot, I think about what the dragon is doing. I think about whether it is angry or curious or thoughtful. I wonder what other creatures this dragon encounters in its world.
            I hope that others who spend time with my work also wonder these things. Imagination is all we have to make dragons truly come alive.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

The exhibition

Here are some more pictures of the exhibition. All the plants are live plants. Some of the plants that are not in the water are not mine. These I borrowed from the housekeeper of the building the exhibition was in. (Thank you, wonderful housekeeper!)

There are some fish in the largest of the pools. They are zebrafish, danio rerio. There are five of them. One of my hobbies is fishkeeping, and I couldn’t resist making the environment more complete. The fish were very shy, however. They had just begun to settle in by the end of the exhibition, and few people saw them. They were fat and healthy when I netted them out, however, so they can’t have been unhappy. They liked to hide inside the trunk. (Now they live in one of my tanks at home.)
I tried to take pictures of them, but they look just like long pieces of gravel.  


The dragons

            During the second semester of my thesis, I made the dragons that live in the environment I created over the summer and previous semester. I thought at the beginning of the semester that they would take less time than the stump and log and tree trunk, since they were smaller. It turned out that this was not the case. Originally the plan was to make between 15 and 20 dragons. I ended up with 6.
            This was a good number to have placed in the environment at any one time. I wanted to have more largely because I planned to wood fire them. I wanted to be able to place some of them in riskier parts of the kiln without fear of ending up with fewer than I needed if they warped or cracked excessively, as things do in the wood kiln.
            I made three of the dragons from a red stoneware, and three of them from a porcelain intended for wood firing. 
            Porcelain dragon:

            Red clay dragon:

            This is what they looked like in the exhibition:

            I used some sticky putty on their feet to make sure that an accidental bump would not send them splashing off of their perches, although they were well balanced enough that they would not fall off on their own. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Making of the trees

            The next fountain idea I had involved mushrooms, too. I would make a stump with shelf mushrooms growing on it, and the water would flow out of the center of the stump and down over the mushrooms. I was imagining a pool in the forest with the stump of a fallen tree in it.
            Both of these ideas are rather fanciful; mushrooms do not pour water over each other in the natural world, and stumps do not have streams flowing out of them either. But this is a world with dragons, and therefore is a magical place where things like this can happen.

            In progress:

            As I was making this stump, I thought about what sort of environment it came from. This was a place with dragons. What would the dragons be like? I thought that they would be small dragons that would fit in a person’s hand. That is, if you wanted to risk holding a spiny little creature that can breathe fire and use magic in your hand. It seemed to me that even though the dragons would be small, they needed a larger environment than just one stump.
            I thought about ways to expand the environment, and I struggled to imagine the precise nature of these small dragons. Were their scales shiny? Were they brightly colored? How “real” did I want them to look?  While I wondered about these things, I worked on another part of the environment: a log lying down on its side in a pool of water. 

            When deciding how to create a bark or wood texture, I kept in mind the magical nature of the world I was making. I created a swirly texture inspired by the way knots in wood look. 

            The stump was fired at the end of the spring semester. The log was left in the Simon’s Rock studio after I finished it, swaddled in plastic and left to dry for the summer. Because of the nature of the policies at Simon’s Rock, I could not continue to work in the studio on campus for the remainder of the summer and needed to go elsewhere to work on the next piece. This piece was the largest yet, a tree trunk that had fallen on its side and exposed the roots of the tree.

            It looked very different before and after I put the texture on it. 

            The studio I made the tree trunk at is IS183. Once I finished the tree trunk (it took 2 months), we moved it into the largest electric kiln in the place and let it dry there very very slowly. I say we, because it is too large for me to lift alone, and I certainly wouldn’t have tried when it was leather hard. We had to take the kiln apart, put the tree trunk in, and then put the kiln back together.

Beginnings of the thesis

            My thesis started out very differently than it ended up. The original idea was to make ceramic fountains, and somehow incorporate dragons. The first fountain I made as a test looked like this:

             No, no dragons there. The reason it’s sitting in that sad bucket is that the clay basin that was supposed to be there exploded in the bisque. I attempted to dry it too quickly, and apparently I didn’t succeed at getting it all the way dry. Since this fountain was just a test of concept anyway, I didn’t make another one.

How I came to the world of clay

            In the previous post, I linked to the homepage of my college, Simon’s Rock. Simon’s Rock has been such an important part of my life and interest in clay that it bears some discussion.
            I spent the first two years of my college career pursuing a degree in music. In the spring of my sophomore year, I stumbled upon the ceramics studio, which I had been mostly unaware of. I found myself coming back again and again to watch others work with clay while I wrote essays and response journals (yes, musicians have to write essays, too).
            The following semester, the fall of my junior year, I took an introductory ceramics course. I knew after the first week that I was going to keep working with clay for the rest of my life, if only as a hobby. It was just too fun. The more I learned how to get the clay to do what I wanted, the more ideas I had for ways to manipulate it.
            One of the many remarkable things about Simon’s Rock is that all students who stay for four years and receive their Bachelor’s degree must complete a senior thesis. This is a two semester project that includes substantial writing. For the arts, there is usually also a significant component of making or performing.
            I don’t know at what point I decided to pursue ceramics as more than just a hobby. It is just as hard to say when I became frustrated enough to lay down my music for a time. These two processes happened over a long period, simultaneously and slowly.
However, the summer before I was due to begin my senior thesis, I suddenly realized that the objects I was sketching in my notebook would be an excellent basis for a thesis. And just as suddenly, I realized that I really did not want to create a thesis in music.
            And the product of this realization, three semesters later, was this: 

My exhibition in the Daniel Arts Center at Simon's Rock.

Monday, December 19, 2011


            Hello, internet. I am a young ceramic artist looking to make a life for myself with clay. When I am asked what I like to make, I say that I like to make dragons. This, of course, does not answer the question; the questioner usually means “Do you like to throw or handbuild? Do you make functional work or sculpture?” Well, I make some of everything. I want to try everything I can before settling down with one thing or another, and I am skeptical of the idea of settling down into too comfortable of a routine anyway. I like my mind to be engaged in what I am making, and that usually means trying new things.
            Although I am graduating with a BA this December from Simon's Rock, I still consider myself a student. I have a lot to learn, and I will never learn everything, so I had better keep moving even outside of school. In fact, I feel like it is time for me to experience the clay world outside the setting of my comfort zone – Simon’s Rock’s ceramics studio is my first studio, and feels like home to me. But there are a great many different studios out there, and different ways of doing things.
            This blog is one way for me to move out into the world and keep my mind working. I intend to take and post photographs of all manner of ceramic objects – those that inspire me and those that I make myself. I intend to discuss my interest in dragons, and how that has affected my work and how it continues to affect my work. My hope is that as I navigate the transition from college to the real world, I can document in an interesting and valuable way my reflections, progress, failures, and successes. I hope that sharing these things with the world will in some small way make it a better place for someone.
            Whatever it is that I do, I strive to bring more beauty into the world – there is more than enough suffering and ugliness as it is.