As classes begin again for a new term with lots of new students I’ve been thinking about the ‘right’ way to do things. I am a firm believer that there are many ‘right’ ways to do things. While I am there to teach my students how to make things in clay I let them know early on that I am beginning by teaching them one way to work with the clay but there are many ways, all of which are ‘right’ (as long as they don’t blow up in the kiln or break) and that they will find their way of working which they find most comfortable. I teach the ways I have found to be safest, and by that I mean the most consistent for achieving great pieces with few problems, cracks or all out disasters. Of course they still happen but generally they are fewer than some other methods I have used over the years.
I teach these methods as the basics then as students progress they bring in more challenging ideas and stretch their skills (and mine sometimes!) to develop their own voice and style. The joy of the journey is to experiment and explore clay with all the myriad of possibilities it brings in both form and finish. It’s an endless journey for me as I’m continually learning and experimenting with new materials and methods. I’m continually being inspired by the cleverness of others and how they use clay to achieve a strong aesthetic with a unique voice.
I’m sure I’ve said it many times before, but I do love clay! All the mess, potential and longevity of the finish appeals greatly to me.
I’m excited! I’ve started work on some new pieces that build on the work I’ve been doing around the Intrinsic Extrinsic concept, particularly the idea of decorative interiors and turning functional into non-functional by decorating the functional space. You can clearly see a lot of my previous inspirations like seed pods and sea life but there also seems to be a definite femininity coming into these pieces that has surprised me. In the past I’ve thought about most of my work (particularly the figurative pieces) as masculine so I’m intrigued by this new direction and wonder whether it’s because I now have a daughter… I still don’t think it’s ‘pretty’ work but that’s never what I intend. I prefer to make something that inspires a reaction in the viewer whether it’s curiosity, wonder or dislike. I don’t mind what the reaction is as long as it’s memorable and maybe, just maybe, makes them wonder why such a piece makes them feel that way.
I’m trying out new ways of finishing the pieces (well, new for me anyway) as well as returning to an old favourite. I’m working with slips, printing onto the surface of a slab before building and layering with sgraffito. Layering up glazes and oxides then adding metal leaf to glazed pieces for a further depth to the finish. I’m playing with melting glass into pieces to add jewel-like surfaces into pieces and exploring the single firing method too. So many things to try and so little time! It’s fabulous fun to feel free to create!
There’s still a long way to go with these pieces. I’m going to look towards lighting and still need to consider the textiles and beads which I think could work really well with this idea but I’m loving the start of the journey and will have to continue to make sure I set time aside to develop and make new work for galleries.
With new classes starting last week I’ve been thinking about how I introduce people to clay. While it can be a technical and highly skilled pursuit I do believe it can be introduced in such a way that even those touching clay for the first time can make something that surprises them. I believe the best way to learn is to work with the clay so in the first session, in addition to introducing the basics of what clay is, I get students straight into making, starting with a refined pinch pot technique. From this they make something like an owl, dog or decorative sphere. Week two is a decorative box and weeks three and four are coiling a vase or bowl allowing students to quickly feel like they’ve made something beautiful and worthy of putting on display at home. All of this is helped by the right clay. I use Potterycrafts Raku clay and I love it! It’s a lightly grogged stoneware clay which makes it strong and, a nice forgiving clay for beginners. It has a wide firing range and fires to a buff colour making it great for exploring glazing and decorating techniques. I use it for all my own work so it is also a clay I am very familiar with so I have a very good idea of how far it can be pushed.
Hello and welcome to my creative journey!
I am planning to post a new thought/fact/opinion/story weekly and aim to cover a wide range of topics from what’s happening in my studio and classes, anecdotes and facts about working in clay through to opening discussions on creativity. I will use my work as both artist and teacher to inspire me. I hope you enjoy the journey with me 🙂
This week I am inspired by my students and what they make. This is the beautiful owl made by one of my students. It was her final piece made at the end of her 10 week course then glazed during her next 10 week course and it is gorgeous. She hadn’t made anything in clay since school and was looking forward to making but didn’t think she would be good at thinking creatively. She wasn’t alone in thinking this as another of my students echoed this sentiment exactly.
This started me thinking about several things (including what we consider creativity is and why we think we’re good/not good at it; and the appeal of and barriers to trying new things but I’ll leave these for another blog for now) but mainly it brought home to me what it is about teaching that I love most… the way students almost always seem to surprise themselves with what they are capable of achieving.
For me clay is such a fabulous medium to work in to encourage this because it is both highly malleable, so you can make it into whatever your imagination can think of, while at the same time requiring some basic technical skill. This means that people are able to concentrate on learning those new skills at the beginning without the worry of having to think of something to make. They can get a feel for the clay, see what it can do and how they like to work with it before they have to consider what they would like to make. By then the clay has usually inspired them enough to have an idea of what they would like to make and some discussion can refine that if necessary. I try to pass on the skills while giving each student the space to express themselves creatively. I love to finish a workshop and see the variety in the pieces made. We bring so much of ourselves to everything we do, all I do is bring the opportunity to express it.
It is amazingly rewarding to watch the journey students take during workshops and classes and I am a firm believer in everyone’s ability to make something fabulous 🙂