Developing fresh pottery ideas is a challenge. When you begin your mud odyssey, you make a few ceramic pieces. But then the potting obsession takes a firm hold, you learn your craft, and begin to dedicate yourself to producing good work. How do you expand ideas from tiny germs to a body of solid ceramic work? What is your process for developing fresh pottery ideas?
HandbuildersMonthly turned to a couple of Facebook clay groups for help and got a heartwarming response. We had great input from several potters. Someone suggested we talk to Darren Cassidy, career potter in Ireland. I am so grateful for that suggestion. Darren (and his wife, who helped him respond to our questions) was generous and a delight to work with.
I am so glad we took this direction to bring you advice on developing fresh pottery Ideas. Hop over to part 1 of this series, Finding Pottery Ideas and Inspiration.
Darren Cassidy on Developing Fresh Pottery Ideas
Darren Cassidy, recently featured on the podcast, The Potters Cast, makes gorgeously unique ceramic work. You would not find more beauty if you walked the Irish seashore, uncovering shelled creatures with your bare toes. Darren’s work is finely detailed, touched with nature’s colors, and so evocative you can almost hear the sound of the ocean when you look at it. I’m in love.
The question is, how does he keep creating such strongly personal one-of-a-kind pieces? Keep in mind, the man does this full time. I wonder if he ever scraps a piece and slams it into the reclaiming bucket like I do?
Here’s our conversation with Darren.
Hello, Darren, happy to connect with you. Can we talk about how much of your time relates to clay work?
Darren Francis Cassidy: (Did we mention he’s Irish?)
I’m very happy and lucky to say that I am a full time ceramist.
I start each morning at 8.30. I go through my to-do list that I wrote the night before and organise it into items of importance for the day ahead. I must say I put a lot of stock in to-do lists. Throughout the day I tick off the list as I complete each task. At the end of the day, I can look back and see what I have accomplished, transferring what I didn’t do to the start of tomorrow’s list. It feels good. It clears my head so I can get to sleep at night, too.
I take lunch at one- ish for one hour and then back to it until around seven. That sometimes can stretch to ten, and the weekends vary — but can be full days as well. It all depends on the mood and what’s on.
I believe if you work for yourself, you need structure — and this works for me. All my time isn’t spent building. You have to wear many hats (unless you have staff, which I’m sorry to say, I don’t) from graphic designer, promoter, maker, tutor, photographer, dreamer, etc….
Q: Sounds like you’ve got it under control. What about continuing to learn — do you actively take or teach classes?
A: Up to recently, I taught two classes for beginners, five hours a week, which I really enjoy. You learn so much yourself teaching others. You really have to scrutinise each technique before and during teaching. I used to be a boy scout, and “be prepared” is still a motto I adhere to.
Unfortunately, I had to put my teaching on hold for the moment as we are moving house and everything is a little up in the air. I still do demonstrations and talks when asked, which is lovely, and I like the social aspect of it. We ceramists spend so much time in our own company in the studio. Of course, solitary time seems to suit most makers, I think.
Q: Would we find you handbuilding or throwing more often in the studio?
A: I jump around a lot. Throw. Handbuild. Slab. Coil. Even slipcast. (Slipcast: A word that some of your readers might have an allergic reaction to. I am sorry — but I just can’t help myself.)
In ceramics, there are so many different techniques to learn and enjoy; but my heart still lies with the coil technique. It’s so versatile. Early on, I started making carved and sgraffito tiles, then went on to coil built sculptural work. At present, I make non-functional vessels, but I do return to the other two every once in awhile. Recently I have been playing around with some functional work, but they’re not quite there yet.
Q: Where do you primarily sell your work? Is that a big part of your clay life?
A: I sell through galleries here at home, in Ireland. Just a few days ago, I was asked to be stocked in a few foreign galleries. This took me by surprise but clearly a nice surprise to be considered.
I recently launched my own website and now sell worldwide. My biggest customers are in the United States and Canada. For me to continue to do what I love, I have to sell my work.
If I didn’t sell, I would eventually be found buried under inventory in my studio. Not a bad way to go for an artist, but not very practical for living.
Q: Now the meat of our inquiries — how do you develop fresh pottery ideas? How in the world do you keep going to create pieces at a rate that could bury you? Not that we’d like to see you under a mass of clay.
A: Like many artists, I look to nature for inspiration — it is a muse that you will never grow tired of with all its complexities and wonders. At present, I have returned to the rock pools that once held such a fascination for me as a child. They reignite my curiosity in what lies beneath the surface.
I constantly observe the inhabitants and fauna of these ever-changing tidal pools and the deep and far reaching oceans. That has brought me to the realization that the possibilities, through observation, to progress my work is overwhelming. Like all tasks that at first seem impossible, one has to just begin.
I don’t make a conscious decision to produce a new body of work. I love what I do. As I make and play, I experiment with the clay. I may stumble upon a new technique and follow it. Sometimes it leads somewhere great and sometimes it doesn’t, but in all cases I enjoy the journey. With each of these explorations you grow as a ceramist and with that growth, your approach changes. It evolves and so do your ideas.
Developing Fresh Pottery Ideas — What Fellow Potters Have Shown Us
So passion fuels inspiration. And while we, as artists, need quiet contemplative time, we also refuel by connecting with other artists. Whether we teach or attend classes and workshops, these events freshen our ceramics outlook. Interplay with others revitalizes us to develop fresh pottery ideas .
Without structure, discipline, and a sense of organization, who would have time for inspiration or brainstorming? Embracing a variety of technique is critical; we draw on processes to inspire ideas. Making a lot of work teaches us to be inspired. We learn what works and what could be done differently.
Observing the world around us brings inspiration. Watching other artists helps, too, as long as we develop our own voices, esthetics, and points-of-view.
Sometimes, a life change fuels inspiration. Darren tells, in his artist bio, how he dove off a corporate cliff into his own studio and never looked back.
“By day, I was working in a tedious job that made me nauseous just thinking about it but, as a consequence of many conversations with my potter friend, I realized that a happy, fulfilled life doing what I loved was possible and attainable with the right attitude. As a result, although it took a while, (and with the blessing of my wife) I saved enough money to buy a kiln and to cover all my major bills and expenditures for a year, before I gleefully handed in my notice. I had now given myself this time to figure out how to make my dream job and lifestyle work. That same week, I bought a book by Barbara Winter, called How to Make a Living Without a Job. This was to be the first of many self-help books. I knew it would be hard work and long hours, so I put my head down and began.”
Darren Cassidy is a treasure in the world of pottery. His his artistic voice is increasing its reach. He’s an artist to watch. Collectors — we encourage you to consider Darren’s work. You could hardly do better.
Connect with Darren Cassidy
Website : DarrenFrancisCassidy.com
Facebook: Darren Cassidy
Instagram: Darren at Instagram
Pinterest: See his picture thoughts
Be sure you read part one of this two-part article on developing fresh pottery ideas at HandbuildersMonthly — Finding Pottery Ideas and Inspiration
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