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To look is to see

I came across this quote recently and thought I would share it:

“And I always said, ‘The teaching of drawing is the teaching of looking.’ A lot of people don’t look very hard.”

-David Hockney

I’ve taken several art classes over the years, and every teacher has emphasized the importance of the still life. Fruit, plants, chairs… I can’t tell you how many inanimate objects I’ve drawn, arranged in various positions and from different points of view. The task is always the same.

Focus on the negative space. Draw the shapes. Don’t worry about getting it exactly right. Look at the shadows. Look at the light.

But as an impatient teenager who desperately wanted perfection, I was too caught up in the details. I sketched hard outlines, hoping that my drawings would be unbelievably lifelike, but I was left with lines that lacked the grace of my visions. They were heavy and clumsy and not what I wanted.

Senior year of high school was a little better, but I still hadn’t grasped how to draw with ease. It wasn’t until college where, without strict instruction, I was able to focus on my love for art, for drawing, and I began to understand what it actually meant to look. I figured out that getting it perfect wasn’t the point of drawing.

I began to see proportion and shadows and the proverbial negative space. My lines became more fluid. The contrast came more easily. My drawings became something I was proud of.


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Quick sketch from senior year of high school (left), senior year of college (right)
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Is it hot in here, or is it just me?

When I first became interested in ceramics, I never knew just how cool it was going to be. You’re constantly up to your elbows in wet clay. If you’re lucky, you have your pick of an endless and beautiful array of glazes. And there are also many different firing techniques: gas, electric, soda, salt, wood, raku, etc. There’s just a huge range of diversity, each technique producing a unique finish that you can’t get any other way.

It can also be pretty dangerous. I mean, you’re dealing with kilns that can reach thousands of degrees, in which the pieces somehow transform from fragile dirt into some resilient rock and the glaze turns into molten glass that magically settles into beautiful, organic patterns.

I got the chance to take part in 2 raku firings in high school. It was pretty small scale. We fired in tiny kilns that we would manually lift off of its platform. Then using tongs, we transferred the pieces into trashcans full of newspaper, let them burn down, and then delivered the freshly fired pieces onto the grassy hillside.

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That’s me in the tie-dye shirt

In college, I got to participate in a more sophisticated process. Dressed in a heatproof (and hopefully fireproof) suit, I was given the task of removing the pieces from the kiln with very long and heavy tongs. Despite the suit, I could still feel the immense heat radiating from the kiln. I quickly, and as carefully as possible, deposited the pieces from the kiln into waiting trashcans filled with wood shavings so they could continue their process to create the iconic metallic finish. I, unfortunately, am also the clumsy type and actually dropped one of my classmate’s pieces onto the concrete, shattering it into a million tiny pieces. Right in front of him. I swear it happened in slow motion. (I still have nightmares about it…)

But the whole experience really was amazing. I came across this video the other day, showing a ceramist named Alex Long removing one of his 50 lb. vessels from a raku kiln using his hands (conveniently protected by a fireproof suit) that you can check out if you’d like to get a better feel for the process. Completely mesmerizing.

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Staying Motivated

Taking any length of time off from clay is difficult. I’ve been lucky throughout college, in that I’ve been able to work freely with clay under the best instruction–but only when I could squeeze a clay class into my otherwise busy schedule. Now that I’m graduating, I’ll be leaving the world of academia and entering into this real world everyone keeps talking about, and my love for clay could soon easily turn into a relic of the past. It’s going to require constant and thoughtful intention to keep myself in this practice.

I find the best way to stay motivated is to stay informed: of recent work, of working artists, and of local happenings in the art community. Pinterest is a great tool to get started. I can easily scroll through my home page and see an endless supply of beautiful work that I repin and store for later perusing.

I also enjoy frequenting farmers’ markets and craft fairs. Here, I get a chance to speak to each of the artists so I can understand their background, their process, and their love for art. I also am allowed to handle their work in a more personal way because they’re there to be touched and sold and loved. I can see how an artist handles things like balance, color, proportion, and clay body. I can feel the hours of work put into each piece. And I can get a better idea of how I can transfer that into my own work.

Most importantly, its important for me to engage in other artistic practices because this keeps my hands moving. It helps make my ideas more fluid so that, in future clay pursuits, I can easily transfer my mind to the medium.

Here is some of the clay work I’ve been looking at recently:

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