NCECA 2012: Education post from The Evolving Role of Residencies Panel

Anderson Ranch - Snowmass, CO
Odyssey Center - Asheville, NC
Canton Clayworks - Canton, CT

An excerpt from my talk for the Evolving Role of Residencies panel. I will be joining Martina Lantin, Jill Oberman, and Cynthia Consentino to talk about our experiences and observations. For my part I will cover the residency as a form of business education. I open by contrasting observational and curriculum-based learning styles. My time as a resident helped solidify the way I approach learning in my own studio life. If you are in Seattle stop by and join the discussion. Seattle Design Center Ballroom 6C Thursday 2:30-4

Through study at a four year academic institution I learned art history, aesthetics, and technique. These tools were essential to my foundation as an artist, but without real world application they remained intellectual pursuits. It was not until I left the academic cocoon that these tools attained their practical value. The transition from the safety of the institution to the realities of artistic self sufficiency was a jarring experience. Whereas ideas are the currency of academia, cash is the currency of the real world. Turning ideas into cash is a challenge that was both overwhelming and confusing. To help smooth my transition from student to artist I chose to participate in both short and long term residencies. These communities offered the advantages of shared costs, interaction with other artists, and access to established networks of patrons.

The switch from academia to the residency system involved a switch from curriculum-based learning to observational learning. By default curriculum-based learning has a defined form. Within this form the teacher externally motivates the student by assigning problem solving tasks that progress in a linear direction. After completing the curriculum the student has attained the knowledge embedded in the assignment. This style of education is one size fits all. It can be spread over large groups of people to standardize the quality of education while maximizing the quantity of learners.

(Diagram A: Curriculum-based Learning)

In contrast observational learning is self-directed and unique to each learner. For me this starts when I experience an idea or object I cannot easily understand. My lack of understanding feels like an intellectual itch that I have to scratch. To satisfy my curiosity I work backwards from solution to question in an attempt to reverse engineer the understanding that I am seeking. It is an intuitive process that involves lots of wandering and mistake-driven redirection.

(Diagram B: Observational Learning)

I have found it helpful to give a loose form to this non-linear process, which shares many similarities with the scientific method. First a catalyst for observation is chosen. This might be the intricate patterns of a historical piece of pottery or another artist’s explanation of their aesthetic. With my interest piqued I search for any information on the subject. I might ask my fellow resident artists, or if no personal connection can be made I head to the internet for information. Armed with a breadth of knowledge I test different research paths hoping to find one that will yield a repeatable process. This style of learning is not efficient in terms of time but it creates a comprehensive understanding of the subject.

Observation does not guarantee understanding but it allows the learner to choose the form learning will take. This freedom of choice is empowering, leaving the full responsibility of inquiry on the shoulders of the learner. When an individual has taken ownership of their learning unexpected and exciting discoveries can happen. This style of learning has continued beyond and throughout my formal education. As I re-evaluate my knowledge base I see the reciprocal nature of both curriculum-based and observational learning. After participating in three residencies where I learned mostly by observation I went back to graduate school. Re-entering the academic environment with a more developed sense of observation served me well. I was able to approach curriculum-based learning with an engaged perspective that helped me yield more information from the assignments I was given.


NCECA 2012: The calm before the storm

After a quick day and a half install our Pottery Workshop 25th Anniversary show is up. (click here to see the digital catalog from the show. I'll post more display pics later.) Part of my love of gallery work is the time I spend with the individual pieces during installation. It is often the most time I spend with other people's work (excluding the functional pots I use everyday). In the quiet of a track lit gallery I see the pieces in a new light both physically and metaphorically. The pristine environment created during exhibitions highlights details in the work that are missed in a studio setting. You might recognize from other posts that I talk a lot about recognizing detail. Going from the macro to micro perspective is a practice of mindfulness that I find very important. 

One of the most visually interesting pieces to be installed today is a wall piece from Ying Yeuh Chuang. (click here for her website) This Toronto based Taiwanese artist sent a massive fabric element that supports her press molded porcelain pieces. The piece is stimulating to the max. The heavy contrast between the crisp white porcelain and the bright fabric creates an optical crescendo that demands your attention. NCECA did a great job giving us a space large enough to display a work of this magnitude. 

It has been nice to have some down time before the NCECA rush begins. The first bus tours start tomorrow and we are expecting multiple thousands to view the show during the next week. I'm looking forward to talking to people about the artists and our organization.

Click here for a link to the exhibition guide. Over 190 shows will be a part of this years NCECA.


NCECA 2012: To the Space Needle and Beyond!

I'm settling in after a long flight across the pond. I'll be in Seattle for the next week participating in this year's NCECA conference. For those Red Rambler readers from other countries this is America's largest clay festival. It is part reunion, part exhibition, and part educational conference. This gathering is one of my favorite events of the year.

This year my goal is to understand the bigger picture of growth in the ceramic community. I'm interested to see who is setting trends and redefining our field. Every year a small group of break out artists exhibits work that sends ripples across the clay community. I'll be shooting pics, video and sound clips to try and put my finger on what is driving American ceramics forward. A conference like this is a great chance for me to interview people while seeing their work in person. A NCECA organizer told me today there will be over 190 exhibitions in the Seattle Metro area. A big round of applause to NCECA for pulling this conference off.

After I touched down this afternoon I went right to the Seattle Design Center to set up our Pottery Workshop 25th Anniversary show. It is about 80% installed with a few more pieces arriving in the next day or so. I'll write more about that in a future post. For now I'm off to sleep for some much needed shut eye. I'm hoping to out run the jet lag this trip.


Drawing from the bottom of the world: Bridging the Gap update

Bridging the Gap is a little over a month old and it is already 80% funded! I want to extend a big thank you for donating your time, money and awareness to the project. Your generosity is the engine pushing this project forward. (If this is your first time hearing about this project please click here for more information.)

With every day that passes I am closer to my April departure for Australia. I can barely wait to get there and start my work at Ernabella. The prospect of one solid month of studio time has my mind racing with new ideas. I have not had this much dedicated studio time in a few years and I plan to use it wisely.

One area that I will work on with my Ernabella collaborators is drawing. Watching other artists draw will be a major learning experience in its own right. Every artist makes marks in their own distinct way. Drawing is as unique an identifier as our finger print, or the individual hues of our eyes. During my trip I will make ceramic forms that other artists will decorate. I don't often turn over complete decorative control to someone else so this collaboration will be a great learning experience. I'm sure my understanding of design will be altered from witnessing what the Anangu artists decide to do with the forms.

You can see from these images that the Anangu style doesn't easily fit into one category of decoration. In general it is in the "more is more" category with each artist using drawing to craft a narrative. The dense patterns filling up every inch of the surface is similar to my own drawing style. They also use materials that are similar to my own. Their native Australian terracotta is a vibrant red color providing an excellent base for sgraffito drawing with slips. You can see from the teapot detail image below that sgraffito (scratching through slip) is one of my favorite techniques for image making.
Even with our similarities I see many differences between the Anangu approach to art and my own. This project is about exploring these differences and learning from them. One main difference is the role art making plays in the community. It is a central component of story telling which extends and strengthens their culture. This essential role excites my curiosity because the culture is not large in number. While the human impact of American culture numbers in the millions, Anangu culture can be measured in the thousands. The town I will be living in has around 500 members and this is a relatively large settlement for a group that transitioned away from a nomadic lifestyle within the last hundred years. The role their stories, music and art play in protecting their heritage are of great interest to me.

Another difference is the level of artistic training that the Anangu artists have. With few members of the community leaving to go to art schools their art making exists on the stylistic fringe of the contemporary art world. I look forward to seeing how this distance has impacted their sense of design. Many years in academia have sculpted my understanding of design in a logical and some times predictable fashion. While I would never trade that knowledge I am interested to learn from artists who have no formal training. I often find the approach of an untrained eye is not limited by art world fashions and trends. The mixtures of colors, patterns, and themes can be unexpected and beautifully fresh. This outsider stance has produced amazing art work in cultures spread through out the globe. (Click here for more information on other "outsider" art traditions.)

To wrap up this update I want to thank you again for your support. I will be posting more images and thoughts as I prepare for my trip. A quick plug for social media sharing. Your voice carries much farther than mine alone. If possible please post the following messages to your social media sites to help spread word about the project.

FACEBOOK: I just made a contribution to the Bridging the Gap project. I support artistic collaboration and you can too! Get involved by visiting http://kck.st/xdescR

TWITTER: I just pledged to Bridging the Gap. Support creativity & cultural exchange by pledging your support. http://kck.st/xdescR @carterpottery


New video: Decorating a mug with under glazes and sgraffito

The interchangeable parts (handle, foot, etc) and intimate scale make the mug a perfect testing ground for larger design ideas. In my latest batch of mugs I explored an asymmetric scheme that I discovered the last time through my making cycle. In this scheme I heavily load the handle side of the mug with decoration while I leave the non handle side bare. The negative space that is created lets the decoration breath. This is very similar to tension/release themes in music where players contrast their complex melodies/rhythms with points of stillness. I often find I learn visual art through listening to music. Any one else find they benefit from cross disciplinary learning?

Check out my video explaining the process for decorating a mug with this scheme. Click here to see the Decorating a mug with under glazes and sgraffito video.

Undecorated mug with vertical carving on the lower third. The carving subdivides the space setting up the decoration.
Here is the mug after decoration. I filled the handle side with a dense honeysuckle pattern. The opposite side was left undecorated leaving a large open wide space.


Japan to England to Carolina and back again- Riding the Kohiki train

I came back from Japan with a few Kohiki pots and a lot of inspiration. It was great to put a name to a technique that I have been using for the last few years. Technically Kohiki is the practice of dipping a dark clay body into a white slip which is then fired in a reduction atmosphere. This gem by Kanetaka Mineyo shows the warm peach blush that is possible if you fire the kiln on the fine neutral line between oxidation and reduction.

When I first saw those halos of color I was reminded of the time I spent working at Rock Creek Pottery. When I was going to school in Boone, NC I would head down towards Bakersville for an occasional weekend to talk pots and philosophy with Will and Douglas. One of my jobs was sanding the bottoms of the pieces after a firing. This enabled me to look closely at the surface of their pots. I fell in love with the speckled surface that came from their lightly salted wood kiln. You can see from the bottle below they knew exactly how to load the stack so the kiln would surround their brushwork with marks of the fire.

I stopped atmospheric firing to pursue the English/European slip ware version of Kohiki. It seems like most cultures have some version of dark clay covered in white slip. If you look closely at the slip surface on this English Rooster platter you can see similar haloing to the tea bowl above. In this case the shadowy affect comes from the slip interaction with the lead glaze. I love the running/leaching affect that the lead has on the iron slip trailing. While I was in Tokyo I visited the Mingeikan which was showing selections from their slip ware collection.

Like many earthenware potters if I want depth I need to create it in the way I dip my pots. Deflocculating my base slip allows it to be thin enough for the clay underneath to show through. When the slip is just right it will run off the high points of a pattern while still giving the clay body a solid base coat.

The predominant characteristic I have been absorbing from Kohiki pots is their carving. The artist's have an amazingly steady hand when carving the intricate line work. They use the texture to frame large portions of the pot's form. I'm working with a similar idea to divide up decoration space on these mugs. The mug pictured at the bottom shows a carved version of the classic Herringbone pattern. In the west it is heavily used for men's suit fabric but the basic pattern exists in many cultures. I like that the heavy texture is softened by the slip. It sounds obvious but I want the texture on my pots to be more tactile than visual. By covering the texture with the white base slip I can have a texture that doesn't overwhelm the other decoration.

Kohiki reminds me of the practice of white washing the exterior of a house. This simple architectural treatment is frequently used to give brick homes a fresh start. When I first started the Red Rambler blog I wrote a post about this practice. Click here to visit that post from 2009. I can't believe its almost been three years since I wrote that. May will be the third anniversary of this blog and I'll do a give away to celebrate it. Any one have a specific form they would like to win? Leave me a comment and I'll get to work in the studio.


An Afternoon with Hamada Pt. 3: His Studio

Click here for a video of Hamada's studio and kiln.

The pot shop held seven inset kick wheels like the one below. The sun bursting through adjacent windows made each wheel's surface look like it was glowing. In my mind I could imagine a team of potters turning bowls as the junior apprentices continually replenished their supply of clay. Although the studio would be considered small in overall size it was well organized with shelves that hung down from the ceiling. This over head storage system kept the main floor space open.

A few green ware pots were left scattered around the studio. I'm sure they were not original but they did help establish a context for the otherwise empty studio. During the decades it was in use thousands of pots emerged from the studio. These three bowls sat frozen on the shelves waiting to be trimmed before they could be decorated.

Our tour concluded with a viewing of Hamada's eight chamber noborigama kiln. Many of the chambers where destroyed in the March 2011 Fukushima earthquake. Seeing his kilns reduced to rubble was quite sad. Although Hamada died in 1978 the quake has added a chilling epilogue to his legacy.

This travel series springs from my visit to Mashiko Japan and the home of world renown potter Shoji Hamada. Along with the help of Bernard Leach, Kanjiro Kawai, and philosopher Soetsu Yanagi, Hamada popularized the Mingei movement. For more info on the movement please visit the Mingeikan website by clicking here.