Figures and Mugs

One of my favorite pottery items to make is mugs.  I have never arrived at a shape or style that I particularly felt was ‘mine’, but it doesn’t lessen the pleasure I find in making a mug that touches on something that I’ve loved in other mugs.  There is, of course, also the element of use and necessity which, at least from some perspectives, is missing from sculpture and other purely ‘art’ forms.  I could go on at length about the necessity of visual and emotional and visceral enrichment, but that is for another time. Right now, I decided to make a series of mugs in simple shapes, to focus on working handles, aiming for them to feel good, and have a sense of life to them.  There’s nothing quite so bland as an industrial looking/feeling mug handle.  I made one mug a few years ago, which is now somewhere in New Hampshire, I believe, that had the most perfect handle I’ve ever made.  It was a large demitasse size, simple, and the handle fit perfectly.  It was sturdy enough at the top to feel like you were really holding something, and thin enough at the bottom that it almost seemed silky.  To me, it felt like an extension of my hand.  But I needed gas money, so I sold it.  Every handle I’ve made since then has been an effort to achieve something like that again.  I know you can’t go back, so what is perfect now may be different than what that was, but I keep trying to find the perfect handle for now.  I made these mugs at a Kansas Day celebration at Kauffman Museum in North Newton, with a varying number of people, young and older, watching.  The enthusiasm of the littles, trying clay, and checking out the motor on the wheel, and how the motor turned the wheelhead, and then the clay, and then the shaping, really made it worth it.  I wound up with about 35 different shapes and sizes, some of which didn’t survive, but here are some of the ones that did:


I’m really looking forward to seeing how they feel coming out of the kiln next week.  I’m pretty sure there is one that feels like that New Hampshire mug.  There may be a couple more that are perfect now.






This leads into a series of figures I’ve been working on, too.  There is a parallel between mugs or other pottery and figures, to me.  There can be similar gesture and energy in the forms, and there’s a sort of primal element, too, in the sensation of holding.  This series is an effort at body language, and finding forms and visual language to join to the images from the series’ of tiles going on right now, too.  Someday, these will join into the work that I am trying to get to but haven’t been able to get there till now, as I learn to put the pieces together.  So, these little guys, especially toward the last few, where angles and shapes became more gestural and free, will eventually inform the larger work I’m aiming for.  I’ll finish these in a couple of different colors, with a matte/satin low-fire glaze I’m working on, in an effort to find surfaces that fit the vision for what’s still coming.

IMG_0020 IMG_0023

Fourth Top Ten- Halima Cassell

Halima Cassell was born in 1975 in Pakistan, and now lives and works in England.

Her craftsmanship is impressive, the grace and smoothness of the curves and where the lines meet and join and separate remind me of one of my favorite tile pieces from a few years ago.  I like the energy of the lines and shapes, and how deep the carving is.


She has a series built out of shards, the reverse of the carving process.   I like that at first glance, the shapes may appear to be carved, but on further inspection they are added together.



She has a number of difference series she works with, tiles, platters, sculptures, wood, and other materials.  They all embody her graceful lines and attention to detail, and have a visual dynamism and energy that I am really drawn to.

Looking at these different shapes and textures changed how I was working on my series of figure studies- I let myself get looser and more gestural, and I am super happy with the shapes I achieved.  I hope, further down the road, to maintain that more visceral style on the figures, and draw in some crisp carved elements, balancing the loose and the precise.

Third Top Ten- Roman Khalilov

Roman Khalilov lives and works in the Ukraine.

According to, Roman is talented and handsome (which, while true, I think is a hilarious way to introduce someone).  He uses a lot of his native Ukrainian symbolism, and then adds a surrealistic turn to it.  He draws on his imagination to interpret this symbolism and I love the dreamlike quality of the imagery.  The intricacy of his designs and careful glazing is really exciting to me, and I hope to integrate something of the detail and color into my work.

Roman Khalilov catfish

Khalilov has exhibited in his homeland, as well as Germany, Italy, Greece, and Russia.  He currently works in the Art Pottery KERAMUS studio in Ukraine.  He also works in 3D sculptural forms, which retain the symbolic and dreamlike qualities of his tile work.  Many are hollow with cutouts and internal structures and additions, which is fascinating to me relative to my goal of joining the narrative tile series into the figurative work I had been doing prior to starting this program.

Roman Khalilov bird

Some of his work is also fairly monochromatic, and I love the staining effect.  It plays to my years-long interest in using shapes and texture to portray emotions and change the “feeling” of a piece.

Roman Khalilov 1 Roman Khalilov 2

And now, upon finding a typeset, it is difficult to sleep, because I want to make ALL THE THINGS!

IMG_0005In a fortuitous trip to explore antique stores, I picked up a full typeset!  It has a couple of different fonts mixed together, but it has everything I could want for text, even semicolons!


So, these are the first two pieces to come from that find.  I am much happier with the amount of text I am able to get onto a tile, and how the text is crisper, yet still has a slightly uneven feel, retaining a kind of immediate feel, clearly spelled out one letter at a time, and laid out to encompass the images.  I’m also super excited to be getting into more specific and beloved stories, especially these two of “friends”.  I’ll keep adding more photos in this post as I complete more tiles.

I am also working more specifically with a “block print” style aesthetic in this series.  So far I am very happy with the textures and shapes coming out of this.  I hope the results of glazing turn out to fit this plan.  I’d like the glazing to retain the carved look and emphasize the texture and lines.

Teaser for folks who know me: red corduroys, Charlie Brown thermos, and carrots vs Cheetos will be upcoming!  Also, please, if you know of stories I’ve told, please remind me of them.  I have a sketchbook full of image references, but I know I’m forgetting some.

Second Top Ten- Slavoj Banset

I was rummaging around in the backwaters of the interwebs, about 3 layers deep in ceramic artist searches from Pinterest posts, and found Slavoj Banset.  I love the crunchy textures and simple glazing he did. I love that his style is so dated, it’s easily apparent that he was working in the 60s.  The texture of his clay and glaze reminds of pottery my mom made in the 70s and had in our cupboards growing up.  The simplicity of his imagery seems kind of liberating to me.  I always seem to struggle with taking imagery or literal interpretation far beyond where I really want to.  Banset’s work will serve as a reminder to keep aiming for the intrinsic center of the image and not get overwrought on visual information.Slavoj Banset 1963Slavoj Banset cat

It appears Banset worked in the Czech Republic, most intensively between 1962 and 1965, working with heavy stoneware, and sharing studio space with his wife (?) who also made tiles at this time.  He had a show or did a workshop at some time in Faenza, Italy, where he won a “Gold Medal of the President of the Italian Republic” (according to Google translate on, and made a set of earthenware jars, which thus far I can find no images of.

I have been able to find very little information on him, but I will keep digging.  This is a prime example of why I love the internet.  I had no idea this person existed and I find his work viscerally exciting.

First of my Top Ten- International Narrative Tile Makers

For this series of research on international artists, I chose a theme of narrative tiles and/or murals.  This has proved trickier than I expected, especially as I keep finding excellent and fascinating artists who work in ways that don’t necessarily fall under the heading of tiles/murals.  However, given that much of this work is still wall-oriented, I’ve allowed for some flexibility in the definition.  An underlying element of this research also is specifically tied to the use of text, which has borne some great fruit.

The first person I’ve chosen to profile is Ruan Hoffmann,  a ceramic artist from South Africa, who works mainly with semi-autobiographical imagery and text on plate-like objects.  He does some sculpture work as well, which I have seen in searches of his work online, though his website only displays one photo.  I love the simple look of the plates and tiles, balanced against the tight shine of his glazing and the crispness of his font choices.  I am also intrigued by the separation of text and image, which makes me think of the space between the thought process and living life.  Like the act of living juxtaposed against the verbalization of the story of life.

ruan-hoffmann-ceramicist-plates-south-africaI do wish his website was working properly, the plethora of images available online would be great to see in context and with a little more information.

Ceramic-plates-by-Ruan-Hoffmann-and-perspex-brackets-R5107-each-TonicFrom a review posted on his website, Hoffmann has been working in clay for over 20 years, and recently broke into the American market with a show in New York.  He draws his inspiration from personal stories and observations, as well as his own political views.  This ties into what I am attempting to get at with my first series of pieces in this program, and the precision of his drawing and arrangement of text and decoration is inspiring and puts a name to some of what I’d like to experiment with over time.


Photos of the first series of pieces


These are 4 of the first 7 graphic novel inspired story board pieces.  As this series has unfolded, some pieces more successfully than others, this looks like it will become a sort of flow chart of life.  These will likely be headings, and then step over and down and follow the patterns of events and behavior that have shaped my life thus far.  The additional layers of this flow chart will explore additional ceramic techniques (high fire glazes, low fire glazes, different clays, construction techniques), delineating them from each other and allowing for deeper digging without making one giant series- letting the story lines stay a little more succinct and intimate.  Hopefully this will also allow each series to be shown individually as well as a whole conglomeration in my Faculty Show in the Fall.

Re-evaluating life/starting an MFA


So, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted in an extremely long time. A lot has happened. I started a series of organic figures, one of which semi-survived a car crash with me, and probably still has bits of my skin buried in its cracks somewhere.

This series of figures was supposed to continue the abstract storytelling I’ve been doing for years, graphing emotions with shapes and textures… It became a catalyst, because of crashing my car and nearly losing my favorite sculpture of all time (not to mention much more than that), to the idea that I need to get some things DONE. No more sticking to ideas I feel safe with and no more relying on a visual language I’ve learned inside out.  I am happy with, and at times, very proud of the work I’ve done to this point, but I know there is more.  At the risk of sounding pompous, I think my stories are pretty damn funny, also some heart-wrenching, but on the whole, would paint a pretty interesting portrait of a lot of what happens inside everyone as life occurs.  I want to make work that has ALL OF ME in it. That I am proud of and KNOW that I put everything I have in to.  In this, I hope the work I make will create a connection between all of us, a kind of psychological and emotional fist-bump between anyone who has ever been proud and chagrined and awkward and spectacular and shamed and perfect.

And then I balked. I couldn’t quite make the leap myself. I did drawings, revived research from a year before on graphic novels, woodcuts, carving, and had myself all staged to go… And choked. The stories I want to tell seem too vulnerable and too intrinsic to who I am to get them out by myself, and while I loved the series of figures that was developing, it wasn’t quite specific enough.  Which was so frustrating, SO FRUSTRATING, since I think of myself as unflinchingly willing to be vulnerable, and a good self-starter.  It turned out I needed a kick to hold me accountable to reaching for that best thing…

So, after a few weeks of crushing frustration during the summer, I thought, hm, maybe I should do grad school. I had always vaguely intended to go back to school, but this time the idea got in deep and would. not. let. go. I’ve gotten those irrevocable feelings before, and there’s no resisting. Whether it’s God or the Universe, or just that I can be stubborn when I know deep down, I don’t know, but here we are. So I applied and was accepted in a whirlwind of momentum and what felt kind of like destiny, and a fair bit of “oh, holy shit, what am I doing”, but there’s no stopping now, and if I did I would regret it forever. So, in January I started work on my MFA at Fort Hays State University.

As part of this program, I’ll be posting research, drawings, thoughts, photos, progress reports, and sundry other stuff.  I’m probably going to freak myself out pretty bad, putting all this out there… But that’s precisely what I’m after, digging and feedback. Abject terror and absolute confidence? That might sum it up pretty well.

This first semester, my goal is to take these pieces of research and ideas I’ve been carrying and use class projects to gain the “voice” and vocabulary I need to finish the program (in a few years) with work that I can say “yes” to, that I know for a fact contains everything I want to put into it.  And then go from there. It parallels years of (hard) work to gain my own voice for myself, and now it’s time to get it out there in my work.

I’m starting fairly basic, you’ll see shortly (I have a new, unbroken, camera coming!!), but I hope the underlying roar in me will show through as the story develops.

I appreciate all of you who have read my blog to this point, and I will continue to value that. Please comment if you feel like it, I would love to hear your thoughts as I go.

This, from a friend’s fridge magnets:  Speak your truth at all times, even if your voice shakes.