The Revealing Truth about my Contemporary Ceramic Sculpture

People are constantly asking me how I got such "vibrant" and "different" colors on my contemporary ceramic sculpture. They seem taken aback because they've never seen anything like it before.... that's because they have't. Over the past two years I have created a new genre of contemporary ceramic sculpture.

You see, I was that person at the ceramic studio who would regularly ruin kiln shelves with my glaze experiments. One of my pieces even blew up in a glaze kiln firing because I had made my clay body so colorful with underglaze that the kiln loader just assumed that it was meant for a glaze fire and not a bisque fire. Sufficed to say, I felt really bad.

What all of my experimentations and failures did was build my understanding of glazes and how they react with one another and different clays....

You see, the Traditionalists in Ceramics usually stick to one glaze, a glaze that they've usually mixed themselves from a recipe that a 100 other potters have been using for 15 years....and it's usually brown or very neutral. Not to say that traditional ceramic techniques don't create beautiful functional-ware or interesting sculpture....but I personally don't think they're very exciting. They don't inspire me. In fact, when I look at them I get a little depressed because they make me think that nothing is ever going to change...and then I walk away with a feeling of being stuck. And really who wants to decorate their home with artwork that is going to make you feel stuck? Not me!

I want to feel inspired in my home! I want to feel like anything is possible!....and that's exactly how I approach my contemporary ceramic sculptures. I treat each sculpture like it's own little experiment that should be as innovative as possible. 

How I Create my Contemporary Ceramic Sculpture Forms

First, let's start with initial sculpting process. My philosophy is to "let the clay do what it wants to do." Essentially, I work with my clay like I try to work with my life... you have to go with what feels right....and forcing a lump of clay to be a boring cylinder does not feel right to me. What does feel right is rolling out a big piece of think clay and placing it on a mold (wrapped in newspaper) and letting it fall over the mold in a natural way...and then curling up the edges so that it has beautiful organic-looking edges.

After the forms have dried a bit I smooth out all of the rough edges and apply an underglaze (depending on the look I want). My goal in this process is to make the forms look as alive as possible...things that are alive don't have straight edges...they're smooth and fluid...and I personally am much more drawn to things that exude life...things that allow me to feel connection...

How I Make my Contemporary Ceramic Sculpture So Colorful

My process for glazing starts before I've even made a sculptural form...months, sometimes even years before. Because my process starts with test tiles. I test hundreds of glaze combinations. I log each individual experiment and put a number on the back of the tile so that I can go back and compare what I've I can know what works and what doesn't work (and a lot of them don't work, believe me!). My tests usually consist of brushing on a coat of one glaze, letting it dry, and then brushing on another coat of a different glaze. Sometimes I'll put on as many as five layers. 

Unlike painting they don't blend together literally. For example when you mix yellow and blue it doesn't make green like with paints. Instead it can be a complete surprise! Because glazes are made up of various minerals that have a chemical reaction when combined so for example the blue, red and yellow wall plates are the result of a blue glaze with a cream glaze layered over it. The resulting red and yellow veins of color occur when the glazes are fired at a specific temperature and when the veins are particularly prominent when the piece is fired flat.

It's almost like a dance. You have a room full of all of these different personalities and you have to pair them and see how they get on. Most don't hit it off but once in a while you get sparks! ....and I really do believe that glazes have personality (In fact I think clay does too)...and when I listen to its individual likes and dislikes I can start to gauge what other glazes it's going to hit it off with. 

How Creating Ceramic Sculpture Has Made me More Intuitive

Over the past two or three years I've let go more and more of my need to control my art (I still a ways to go...I'm a constant work in progress:))...and as I do my intuitive voice has become so much clearer. It whispers to me and let's me know to try certain things. Or I'll just be sitting on a bench in a park and an image or shape will pop into my head fully formed and I'll know that that's my next project. 

It seems to a cycle where working with the clay relaxes me and allows me to let go. In turn every time I let go more I create more and more innovative and beautiful sculpture, which then encourages me to relax and trust my intuition even more. It's really a beautiful cycle and I'm so grateful that I found clay.

What helps you trust your intuition more?

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