As we head into the 60th volume year of Ceramics Monthly, we look back at what was, realize how far we have traveled, and look forward to what will undoubtedly be an exciting year in studio ceramics. I have not been with the magazine for most of its history, in fact I was born about a third of the way through, but I still feel a close connection to everything the magazine has done. It’s kind of like how we are all pushing ceramic art forward for the time we are here and involved with it, but we feel a connection to the entire legacy that has come before. Some things we keep, and some things we leave behind along the way; perhaps they are no longer relevant, or maybe they just stop being interesting. It’s not as sad as you may initially think, because there is always something new coming along to join the mix.
I have given up on a lot of things I used to think were an absolute necessity in the studio. Heck, I’ve given up on entire areas of ceramics, because I just don’t have the time to do them all. I have long since stopped making my own clay body. First of all, it was never as good or as plastic or as reliable as commercial clays—mostly because I settled for one of my first efforts and was more concerned with the pride of making my own rather than using what was really the best thing for me and my work, which, honestly would have been a commercial body. I’m not saying this approach is for everyone, but I do not miss slaking down 300 pounds of dry materials, I do not miss trying to mix the resulting slurry by hand—or even with a drill mixer—and I certainly do not miss slopping it onto drying bats over the course of several days and tending to it until it was the right consistency, reclaiming the parts that got too dry in the process. What I do miss, however, is the pride of having touched every part of the process myself.
This progression was a bit of an internal struggle about materials, and what I came away with was the realization that I enjoy sourcing and using my own raw ingredients as much as I enjoy making my work, but if I have to choose one, I’ll choose the work. So, I have found smaller materials projects to enjoy, but they have a larger visible impact on my work. Many of you will recall my adventures in digging up a tree stump and finding earthenware clay for making planters. I also burned the wood from that tree in our fireplace and saved the ash, along with several other kinds of wood, so I now have a big batch of mixed ash to use in glazes. There is something romantically satisfying in using the materials you find around you. But like I said, it’s time consuming trying to do everything yourself from start to finish. So many people have spent so much time researching and experimenting and making one thing work really well that I have, after trying and failing to match them, become a big fan of relying on their expertise so I can concentrate on the things that will make my own work—well, my own. Red underglaze is a perfect example. I don’t want to make that myself, but I still want a bright red glaze accent. Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone, so I spray a mixture of my mixed wood ash, ball clay, and frit over the top of it to make it run and bleed. It’s the next great, fun result in my studio, and even though some of the material was made for me, I still get to take pride in the fact that the final result is mine.