We had a guest artist lined up to talk about finding pottery ideas and inspiration. At the last minute, she couldn’t break away from her schedule. So I thought HandbuildersMonthly could reach out and ask a few potters how they keep inspiration fired up. It is never easy to make creative work consistently without being bothered by burn out or creative block.
Let us know in the comments how you keep your pottery work ideas fired up or how you develop new bodies of work. We’re tickled with the help we received from our three U.S. potters. I thank them for thinking about finding pottery ideas and inspiration and sharing with HandbuildersMonthly.
We’re pleased to have input here from Darren Cassidy, ceramicist extraordinaire in Ireland. Darren’s input is in part 2 of this article, Developing Fresh Pottery Ideas
Maryan Pelland’s Pottery Point-of-View
Myself, I spent decades as a professional writer. I found that for a writer to remain viable and authentic, she has to read a lot. Not that I copied other writers’ works, but I allowed myself to absorb and digest what others were doing. I learned so much from reading. And I learned an enormous lot from my students when I taught creative writing.
Thinking this week about finding pottery ideas and inspiration, I figured out that I
still use the same inspirational techniques. I read, but am more likely to read a recorded book while I’m in the studio than to sit with a printed book. I spend time reading good pottery and ceramics magazines (and writing one) to see what people are doing.
I peruse Pinterest when I’m resting—there are tons of bad ideas there, but there are also real gems. Artists I would never have known about. Work I would never have discovered. My last three or four sculpture projects derived from ideas I saw on Pinterest.
Facebook groups for potters—there are dozens of them and tens of thousands of members. You wouldn’t believe how supportive and inspiring, honest and helpful these folks can be. I get glaze inspiration in a group called Graze Craze.
I make work in a fabulous community college studio under the expert tutelage of Tom Visian. There, I concentrate on large non-functional work. Fellow potters’ comments are invaluable. At home in my studio, I make functional pots, and my family gives good input. Researching, interviewing, and writing this publication is awesome inspiration.
Ceramacist Louise Wheeler of New Jersey
Louise Wheeler, happily handbuilding, told HandbuildersMonthly that she sees herself as a hobby potter. She has enrolled in a 2.5 hour class each semester for fifteen years. Her work is inventive and engaging—have a look at an article on her in a local publication.
Louise works a lot on her own, too. Her goal is to formulate on a new set of ideas each semester. Sometimes she feels successful, and sometimes not so much, but it’s all about learning. wasn’t there an Oriental sage who said the difference between a master and a novice is 10,000 mistakes?
You never know when finding pottery ideas and inspiration will become part of your day. For example, Louise told us,
“This semester I was trying to make a platform for a piece I had made. I got really frustrated. In the end, I made something very different that was a happy surprise to me. Often, I get inspired by a piece that I take in another direction. I don’t even remember what sort of platform I was trying to make. Apparently it was a really bad idea. But instead of scrapping the slab, I picked up a plastic feather from a box of texture materials, rolled it into the slab and decided how to make a platter around it.”
Another inspiration, she recalls, stemmed from her trip to Hawaii. When she got home, she made five mountains using pictures from her trip as inspiration. It’s great to explore your photo collection from time-to-time and think about how images could translate to clay. Maybe you’ll find a new shape for a mug. Maybe an innovative surface treatment pops into your head.
For Louise, listening to others’ reactions to her body of work can spark new directions, too. Sometimes, she muses, it takes years for someone’s suggestion like, “You should add beads to your bowls,” to percolate into a working idea.
She says experimentation keeps her from boredom and causes her to produce a nice variety of work. Of course, there’s the flip side—apprentice potters in Korea, for example, may spend ten years making the same teabowl over and over to attain perfection.
Louise pointed out, “The drawback is that I get only a few successful pieces before I move on. It’s great for my personal collection but certainly wouldn’t work if I tried to make a living from it.”
Finding Pottery Ideas and Inspiration with Vickie Hundley of Vintage Garden Pottery
Vickie Hundley spends a fair amount of time in her studio at Vintage Garden Pottery. If it’s off-season for pottery festivals, she’s building inventory about twenty hours a week. When summer comes, Vickie doubles her time.
She says some of her angel figures and fairies can take twenty
hours each to throw and handbuild. A volume potter needs tons of inspiration and motivation to keep moving forward even when she may not be in the mood. Keeping a fresh approach can mean the difference between a successful season and one that is less so.
Vickie’s work focuses on fairies and angels with classic beauty and a contemporary personality. She creates intense details and finds surface decoration is essential to her work. Vickie often adds commissioned work to her busy schedule. The Sisters was a commissioned piece for a woman who wanted something special just for her and her sisters. Vickie gave each figure a specific personality.
Vickie talks about the intricacy of her work
“I can’t do plain bowls, platters or mugs. The clay screams it needs decorations. It’s functional art. My fairies and Angels are tealights. My mugs will have whimsical octopus tentacle handles or whatever crazy thing I thought of for that day.”
Vickie says she took her basic and advanced courses in the past, but she doesn’t always turn to organized learning for inspiration. It’s important that she look inside herself and draw out her own unique techniques and style. Even so, she recognizes the high value in staying on top of new tricks, tips, processes, and product knowledge. Like many of us, she knows socializing with other potters is helpful.
She has obtained a solid foundation for her work and skills at Winston Salem Sawtooth Center and in glaze classes at Randolph Community College.
Vickie recommends social media clay and pottery groups for exchanging ideas and encourages potters to seek out their local potters guild as well. Great places for finding pottery ideas and inspiration.
Most of her very personal inspiration comes from her backyard flower beds, a beautiful place to contemplate creative flow.
“Mostly nature inspires me. I grew up with a father that loved to fish, camp, make bonfires and tell ghost stories. I grew up playing in creeks, river banks and exploring the mountains and digging up wild flowers to bring home to replant in my flower beds. Now, I will often dissect a flower and use it like a sewing pattern on the clay to cut out and reassemble it. I also grew up with a mother who took me from one antique store to the next, giving me my love for vintage items.”
Ideas may arise from events in her life. She explains, “My angel holding a dog was for my daughter whose dog passed away. From that I made another for a friend whose cat passed away.”
A lot of pieces start out as gifts for her family. People who see the gifts want one, too. They tell two friends, and they tell two friends, well, you get it.
Vickie is determined not to duplicate anyone else’s work. She blends a generous helping of whimsical and personal style into everything she makes. Even though this ceramicist produces a large volume of work each year, she’s on the lookout — finding pottery ideas and inspiration to keep her work fresh and personal.
You can find Vickie on Facebook, too.
Ben Rosenfield, PhD of Woodstock, IL Tells Stories and Makes Ceramic Work
You can find Ben Rosenfield delving deeply into his brain’s right side at any given moment. A professional storyteller based at TheFrogGuy.com, Ben is also a prolific potter with a great deal of experience. He’s active in his local guild, Clayworkers Guild of Illinois where he has held every office over the years.
He works in high-fire stoneware, making large pieces like drums and yard art, as well as tiny decorative buttons and in-between tableware or functional art.
Ben finds inspiration in all of life, as far as I can see, but he has some particular go-tos for his clay work. Here’s what he told HandbuildersMonthly about finding pottery ideas and inspiration.
Question from HandbuildersMonthly:
Well, Ben, how much time do you spend in your studio these days?
I’m really just a hobby potter anymore. Maybe six to eight hours in a given week. But I do something, however small, every day.
Q: Do you actively take classes or workshops? I know we see
you at the Guild Workshop each fall.
A: It’s extremely rare, almost nonexistent.
Q: So are you handbuilding or throwing more at this point?
A: I do both, and I mostly make functional pieces, but I enjoy both functional and non-functional.
Q: How do you come up with new ideas? Where does your inspiration for a body of work or a new piece come from?
A: For me, it’s a variety. Books. Websites. Other potters. Even translating other forms of art into clay. I’m inspired by artistically filling a need with art rather than just following function.
Ben sells his work in stores and galleries. He’s well known in his community, and his pottery is in demand. We know for a fact that this artist engages as much as possible with other artists and has great respect for creativity. He is always interested in seeing what others are doing and in imbuing his own work with a new spin or theme.
Thanks to Marlynn Strauss-Chetkof for recommending we contact Darren Cassidy for the post on Finding Pottery Ideas and Inspiration. She’s a jewel and he’s a great find.
Read part two of this series — Developing Fresh Pottery Ideas
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