Twenty years ago, I was younger, better looking, and making more money... but I wasn't enjoying my life. I was very hard on myself (yes, even more than now, friends), stressed out from overworking, struggling with anger and sadness, and generally dissatisfied. I started taking a weekly ceramics class as a way to relax and enjoy myself. I'd tried ceramics classes before that, always thinking I would love it, but never made it beyond the first day. Actually, I tried and quit a lot of pursuits (artistic and otherwise) because I had a hard time struggling through the beginning. I did not consider myself an artist and I felt self-conscious in the studio. I believed it didn’t matter how much I practiced; I’d never make work I liked. After a decade of signing up and dropping out of classes, I'd grown enough to stick with the uncomfortable process of learning, trying and failing, and trying again.
I did not consider myself an artist and I felt self-conscious in the studio.
I think I always loved clay and the wheel, which might be odd because I really didn't know anything about pottery or ceramics. I didn't own any handmade pots that I can recall, and I didn't understand what my instructor was talking about when she discussed the beauty of handmade objects, of the beauty of imperfection. She would say, “The clay knows,” and I thought that was kind of silly, to ascribe consciousness to clay; but, I felt mesmerized by seeing a malleable material become a beautiful form in skilled hands. I found that working in the studio was compelling because I had to focus all of my attention on it. I couldn't work in the studio and think about my outside worries, and a whole day could pass without me thinking about the things I normally obsessed over. Over time, I came to understand that the clay did know, because it perfectly recorded everything I did to it, and it reflected back to me something about my own inner state of being. I wish I could say I stopped judging my work harshly, but the truth is that I learned to be uncomfortable with what I made, because the pleasure of the process was worth my discomfort with the result. This was the beginning of my learning to let go of the outcome and follow my heart not just with clay, but in life too.
Regardless of my focus on process, quality craftsmanship is still very important to me and something I admire in others' work, so I was excited to see that over time, my skills developed. Three years after taking weekly classes at my local community studio I went to The State University of New York at New Paltz for a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and studied ceramics exclusively. While part of me thought a career in ceramics was an indulgent pursuit that my work wasn't worthy of, that it would never be good enough that people would actually pay for it, another part of me believed it would be even more indulgent to waste an opportunity to do what I really wanted to do because of fear of failure.
Graduating during the economic recession of 2008, I wasn't sure I would be able to keep making ceramics in that climate. With some luck and lots of perseverance I was able to find or create opportunities for myself to stay in the field and continue on my creative path. Much of life, like the path to becoming an artist, has been a struggle, and so now my reason for making anything is enjoyment: my own enjoyment in making the work and seeing people respond to it, and the enjoyment people have while using it. I want people to love looking at, holding, and using my work to eat, drink, socialize, connect with, and enjoy the people in their lives. I can't think of a higher purpose for what I make than to be part of connecting other people in meaningful and memorable shared experiences, and bringing them happiness and enjoyment in those moments.
Making work in my studio is essential to my life. Sometimes it is still a struggle, but now I am more open to the challenge. Whereas in the beginning, I couldn’t imagine myself as an artist, now, I can’t imagine not being an artist. I am still critical of my work, but that criticism is also balanced with two decades of experience and an appreciation of beauty that I didn’t perceive before I began this journey. In a surprise to myself, I have also become more appreciative of my inner critic, because she propels me to keep striving. I’ve learned many invaluable lessons in the process of becoming an artist: the importance of practice, patience, vulnerability, perseverance, and acceptance. Most important: I’ve learned to enjoy myself, in spite of my struggles. Pursuing ceramics has taught me so much, not just about how to make pots, but about how to make my life.
A list, organized by stage of the process, of the tools and materials I use or mention in the video (and in some cases where I get them to help you locate your own):
Tips and Tools for Designing
(Seriously, try getting one or more made for you if you can! But if you can’t here’s your shopping list:)