Archive for the ‘Artist’s Thoughts’ Category

Comments Off on Back to Not-So-Basics

Back to Not-So-Basics


MugPhlute 2013 This year took a turn (no pun intended) to wheel-thrown pieces. That ‘turn’ is one I did not expect to take a full 12 months. Making functional wares is not my favorite thing to do, but the process is one that has deepened my respect for those who do this full time. Immersing myself into several hundred pounds of porcelain and stoneware also improved my skill level immensely. The exercise of making 300+ mugs (and improving along the way) alone became a challenge as well as significant time for personal reflection. There are clear signs that ‘production pottery’ is not a direction that suits me. I still trim the bottoms of my pots and I consistently texture the bottoms and imprint my initials…those actions take time. For some production potter friends, it is more time than they spend throwing and finishing a pot of the same size. I can’t seem to cut loose that fact…and am OK with that realization as well as the financial consequences.

I am revisiting the sculptural aspect of clay. The hand-built MugPhlute image on this post is something that I made 2 years ago, but did not glaze fire until the end of 2013. The form did not seems to stand on its own and I was afraid to glaze it, knowing that multiple glaze firings would be risky with so many joins and varying clay thicknesses.  Now that it is glazed, I think I can call it a completed sculpture with functional parts (a couple of horns and a ocarina).  Even completed, I am having second thoughts…

Clay is such a plastic media and I love taking advantage of that plasticity.  There is a point, however,  where functional plasticity and clay gymnastics cross that I want to explore.  The MugPhlute in this post crosses that line too far, methinks.  If I had to create a Likert Scale that ranged from Pure Function to Sculptural Whimsy, this one falls off the end of the whimsical scale.  Somewhere in the middle of that scale is a point where function is implied and sculpture re-enforces the implied functionality…the piece is still true to its functional roots but stands on its own merit as an artful sculpture.  Although I cannot put my finger on it, my thoughts lean toward religious icons from a number of past civilizations where pieces possess middle-ground qualities of  functional narrative and figurative sculpture,  simultaneously.

It may be back-to-ocarina building time for me. It may also be back-to-figurative sculpture time. Maybe I can train my wheel to take some of those functional, basic forms and get to that not-so-basic middle-ground world. Or maybe, I should simply take less allergy medication (having just re-read what I wrote above) *grin*.

Comments Off on Hope House International Project

Hope House International Project


Hope House Project MugsA few years ago, I was invited to attend a gala dinner event for Hope House International, a non-profit organization that does incredible work with orphans in Ukraine. As part of the event, there is an art show that features paintings from children in Ukraine and others from area artists. My host friends were talking about this one day and we bounced around a few ideas of how some of my clay work might end up in that show. Well, here we are, about 6 weeks away and I am frantically wrapping up the pieces to be fired, glazed, and prepared for this event.

I have my own orphanage story from Ukraine. It isn’t one associated with Hope House, but it remains fresh in my memory as I work in the clay that ultimately turns into something (no pun intended) that will have some small impact at Hope House. In 2004, I traveled with the Belmont University Sports Evangelism team to Ukraine to work with a local church In Zhitomir. One of our adventures took us to a nearby orphanage where I met Aleksandr and a couple of his friends. The three boys played with my camera/video gear while I watched nervously, and although I understood nothing of the words spoken, we had a good time. I thought little of it until our leader stopped me a while later to say that I had no idea how special that time was for those boys. That time with the boys and the comment from my team leader stay with me even today, several years later…knowing always that there is still much to be done to bring hope to the many children who find themselves in Ukranian orphanages.

I continue my support of Hope House International and am happy to be a part of this year’s gala event. I would like to say Thank You for the quick turnaround (and solid advice) for the custom clay stamp from Joel Socwell at

Comments Off on Reflecting on Studio Efficiency – Meet Lori Watts

Reflecting on Studio Efficiency – Meet Lori Watts


I have yet to meet a clay artist outside of school settings who claims to have more space than they need to get their work done. Most, including me, have carved out a space somewhere that works just as long as there is some semblance of order. I have written about the work flow in a clay studio before and confess that I tweak that process with some regularity. It is refreshing to read that others face similar struggles and that they stop to reflect on the process occasionally.

Assorted Mugs - Lori Watts

Assorted Mugs – Lori Watts

Lori Watts is a clay artist living/working in Augusta, Maine. Her blog, Fine Mess Pottery, is one that I frequent and one that I recommend to other clay folks as an example of someone doing it right. In a new year’s post, Lori writes about her clean-up and re-organization of her studio workspace…and titled the post, A Work in Progress. It is worth the read if you have ever considered having your own studio. Lori’s focus on efficiency speaks well of her effort to keep her Fine Mess from becoming a Big Mess, a focus that I’ll need to remember. For me, there are points from her post that I will have to address that I have not seriously considered…like a place to process/package orders and where to keep those favorite books so they’ll not get covered in studio dust.

Enjoy A Fine Mess…and bring along a cup of coffee. I’ll stop now, before my coffee gets any colder.

Comments Off on Ditto… Thinking “Ghost” are you?

Ditto… Thinking “Ghost” are you?


It is hard to believe that the steamy Demi Moore – Patrick Swayze potter’s wheel scene in the movie Ghost is over 20 years old. It isn’t so difficult to believe that fans of that movie can still tell you what the reference to Ditto means. So, imagine that I am cruising the art and craft galleries in Anchorage one day and discover a lovely display of pottery at Arctic Rose Gallery & Art Center. I pick up an interesting looking mug, flip it upside down, and carved into clay is the single word, Ditto. If that just gave you Ghost cold chills stay with me. If it didn’t, simply believe that I was in that gallery to keep the single degree temperature outside from chilling me!

Jenny Ditto -

Jenny Ditto – Anchorage, Alaska

As it turns out (no potter’s wheel pun intended…ok, well maybe), “Ditto” is the signature of Anchorage clay artist and entrepreneur Jenny Ditto. My discovery of her work began with a Google search of clay studios that I might find within walking distance of the Westmark Hotel in downtown Anchorage. Midnight Potter Studios comes up in the search but it is several miles from the hotel. I called the studio anyway, convincing myself that a cab-ride adventure might do me good. Jenny let me know of an upcoming, weekend open-house in her expanded studio space and let me know that I was welcome. I am so glad that I ventured out…but not so sure that walking back to the hotel in 12F temperatures was all that smart (but that is another story).

To me, Jenny the artist-entrepreneur is where the world of clay arts is headed. Talk to most clay artists and they will tell you that being consistently productive and adaptable to market trends is hard work and not always as profitable as they would like. Bills, on the other hand, are relentless. Passion to keep the fires going drives an entrepreneurial spirit that leads clay artists to expand into teaching wheel-throwing classes, collaborative projects with other artists, partnering to share space/expenses, and being extremely creative/frugal with the resources available. Jenny Ditto is about all of those things. Jenny’s vision includes a cooperative studio space downtown where multiple artists produce, teach, display, and generally expand the arts community. I love that! Note to any angel-investors reading this: Funds provided to Jenny Ditto’s project will be fruitful, I’d bet Demi Moore’s potter’s wheel on it! *grin*. I definitely vote for downtown, if nothing but selfishness to avoid defrosting my toes again. Jenny would welcome your help, even if it is something as simple a donating a Gleco trap for a sink.

Be sure to visit Jenny’s web site: Midnight Potter Studios

Allow me one last, goofy, Ghost movie reference. If you’re ever in Anchorage and tell Jenny, “I love clay”…she can honestly reply, “Ditto”. Yes, I did go a long way to say that…so shoot me 🙂

Meet Wendy Gingell


I may have been freezing my rear end off while stomping around the streets of Anchorage over the week of Thanksgiving, but there were a number of people who warmed up my stay and made all that walking well worth it. My last few days in Alaska coincided with the Craft Weekend at the beautiful Anchorage Museum. Among a host of artists and authors at the event was Wendy Gingell, a ceramic artist who is a relative newcomer to Alaska.

Wendy Gingell

Wendy Gingell – Anchorage, Alaska

It took about two seconds to see Wendy’s smile as I introduced myself to her at the show. Wendy is a gracious hostess and shared great information on her graffito style and glazing technique. Her work is focused on function. Mugs, plates, and bowls are all handmade and include Wendy’s special touch of designs lightly carved through a layer of underglaze. Wendy’s passion for clay-art and craftsmanship shows in her work as well as her conversation…and it is contagious. I suspect that her students get hooked on clay like so many of us who are fortunate to have teachers like Wendy.

The Anchorage Museum shop displays some of Wendy’s work…and, in my opinion, would do well to include more. She shows in several places across the lower 48 and has a web site that is well worth perusing: You can follow Wendy on Twitter here: @WendyGingell and find her on Facebook here:

I understand that there are days in Anchorage when the temperatures actually gets above 19F…I might have to check into that some day. In the meantime, I’m confident that any visitor to Wendy’s studio or any of her shows will receive a warm welcome and a terrific impression of her work.

Comments Off on Dealing with Old Axiom-Idioms

Dealing with Old Axiom-Idioms


In the many hours of lab work that go along with getting a degree in architecture also came a bombardment of idiom-axioms that apply to the design process. Many are attributed to famous architects. Other idiom-axioms, I think, were just annoying things that my instructor would say for lack of something original in the way of a critique. You may have heard, “Less is more” and “Form follows function”…those still rattle around in the back of my head. I’m OK with those iconic-architectural skeletons. Those quotes take on different shades of meaning when applied to clay art rather than architecture.

Runner-Exercise Mug Trophies

December 2012 – Mug “Trophies”. High fired stoneware with stains & glaze in reduction…approximately 6″ tall.

When working on a personal assignment this semester, another old idiom/axiom floated to the surface: “Good is the enemy of the best”. This generally speaks to process more than it speaks to results in terms of design. That first sketch of a project might contain glimmers of brilliance (good), but additional development with an eye toward uniqueness often leads to “better” and “best”. I have experienced this on many levels in my years on a personal level as well as a collective/collaborative level. In a Google world, it is humbling to sketch up something that appears to be world-shattering-unique, only to discover that another individual has already done something similar and posted it online. But that is where the Good-Best uncomfortable dichotomy comes into play. Yes, I look at those sketches or the results of other artists and ask, “Is there another level above this? Is there a best that would be the enemy of these (good) results? Is there a twist, parody, derivative that will take me there?”

There are many questions that I ask myself when reflecting on sketches that have been set aside to mature or mellow. What once looked like a great idea becomes something better simply because of the original glimmer of good. So, enemy might be harsh, considering that good isn’t all that bad. But when it comes to striving toward best, a shot of reality harshness, be that from a humbling Google search, a mellowed sketch, or constructive criticism may be what it takes to be unsatisfied with good.

What may be the most difficult lesson to learn is that the trash can is your friend when good sketches push you toward best designs.

Comments Off on Inspiration Happens

Inspiration Happens


McAfee Concert Hall - Belmont UniversityTwo events of the last day or so  inspired me. One of those events was viewing the YouTube video that you see at the bottom this post. The video clip displays an udu-lamellophone performance.  It is an unusual combination for ceramic musical instruments and it isn’t completely unique, but it is interesting that my sketches of a more complex instrument of the same combination never came to reality because I couldn’t imagine anyone being particularly interested in such an oddity. Certainly, the market is a narrow niche, but it does re-affirm that there are people who seek out unusual instruments to play and enjoy.  This inspiration is one of the kick-in-the pants variety.

The second event happened last night. Deb and I attended the grand opening of  Belmont University’s McAfee Concert Hall.  There are hardly adequate words to describe the amazing acoustical qualities of the space and the performances.  Belmont’s music faculty and students deliver excellence consistently and last night was no exception. The chill bumps kept popping up on my arms all evening long.  If my musician-dad had been there, it would have taken a seat belt to restrain his elation .

There was one thing said at the grand opening that hit very close to home…and I wish I could remember who made the remarks. In describing the architectural treatments and the intentionality of how music would be affected by the space, the speaker said something about the architect-musician becoming one.  Both the architect and the musician build, if you think about it.  And the fruits of the musician and architect have an impact on the people touched by their work.  I needed to be reminded of that.  The architect and musician parts of me, even if shelved as part of my past, resonated a bit when those words were spoken.  As I wrote at the first if this post, I  was inspired…and caught off guard when it happened.