Panopoly: Ceramic art and craft, by Lynae Zebest

On Simplicity and Perfection

Happy New Year, everyone!

with chain

There is currently a lot of small tweaking, fudging, updating and overhauling going on in the Etsy shop. Most of it will go unnoticed, and that’s kind of the idea. I am hard at work getting everything a little bit simpler and a little bit better. Soon I hope to go through a re-photograph a lot of my older stock to get things looking a little more polished and uniform.

sold, but made to order

I am also now going to be offering a number of my already-sold, but very-loved, items on a made-to-order basis. They will be sold at the same rate as my in-stock items. I believe this will make it easier for me to get my customers the pieces they want. All made-to-order pieces have a turnaround of a few weeks.

planter in hand

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the direction of my work. I feel like 2010, in many ways, was a time of stasis for my ceramic pieces. It was a momentous year for other parts of my life: I got married, spent a month traveling in Europe, lost two beloved family members, made many new friends and had many wonderful, unique experiences. But my volume of work decreased, and in a lot of ways, I wasn’t “feeling it.”

Now that I have my new, big studio space to work in, I am allowing my artistic self to come out of the doldrums. I want to really listen to my inner voice and encourage it to speak up. And the only thing that is holding me back, is me.

i compare my work to other people’s too much.
I forget what I want from myself.
I get distracted easily.
I worry things won’t sell.
I worry that I’m not good enough.
I am afraid to push my limits.

For me, I hope 2011 will be a year of confidence and growing. I want to make beautiful things. And I want to share them.

A Personal Touch

For a while now, I have been struggling a bit with really letting my artistic “voice” shine through in my ceramic pieces. Before I got into clay, I was primarily interested in drawing, linocuts, and screenprinting. It was all about illustration and words for me. I was constantly thinking about how to merge words and pictures together.

The problem was, I didn’t have any particular stories to tell. I had lots of IDEAS and very vague CONCEPTS but I just…found it terribly hard to be inspired. Before I was a failed 2D artist, I was a failed writer, for the same reasons. I loved the act of writing but could never think of anything cohesive to write about. I think many people whose talents lean toward the arts have similar problems.

Making pottery was like a revelation for me. I felt like…oh, it’s so hard to describe. I felt like I didn’t have to come out and SAY things with ceramics, that I had the freedom to be as subtle and intuitive as I wanted. I realize now that this is equally possible with 2D art, but I still don’t find it as easy. I feel like the little fingerprints left in my pinchpots, the carefully burnished surfaces of my plates, are all telling their own little personal stories about me, but when people look at them, they’re just like, “that’s a pot, that’s a plate” and they either love them or leave them. Their mind either absorbs the tiny little tale they’re telling, or it doesn’t, but they’re not sitting around wondering what the plate MEANS. Which…may or may not allow that portion of my work to be considered “fine” art, but does feel terribly liberating to me.

delicate bowl on rough pavement

At the same time, after taking a several-years-long break from illustrative work, I am now yearning to get back to it–or rather, to bring it back into my ceramic work. My now-husband Orin and I are both growing in our own artistic fields, and it’s great, because having someone to tell a story with has made all the difference in the world to me.

This is, I think, more and more where my work will be headed–telling stories, once again, through words and illustration, and blending that love with my other love of clay. Of the flexibility, and yet permanance, of the ceramic medium. I am finding more and more ways to do these things–through my poem pendants, through plates and bowls with paintings and sgraffito carvings and words stamped into them, and through the wall art I’m now developing. And it is awesome that I’m able to do this.

illustrated goat plate

Rolling in Clay!

Not literally. I kind of wish. But no.

No, but yesterday I did have an opportunity to visit IMCO Ceramics. What’s great about this place versus your typical ceramic supply store, is that they mix all their own clay on site. There are bags of dry clay being carried around on forklifts in the parking lot. Their facility is massive; it looks like it used to be a dairy farm before they took it over in the 60s. It’s right on the railroad tracks on the outskirts of town, and it’s dusty with lots of faded signs, and it’s beautiful.

I am excited to really start gearing up for the holidays soon, so I took a big leap and bought 150 pounds of clay in three different varieties. This is a leap because I ‘ve been using the same 50 lb box of clay since April. But I am really hoping to start cranking out ware until I have arms like a lumberjack!

(Lumberjack tee, by timberps)

I’m not very happy with the clay I’ve been using–Laguna’s B-Mix with Sand. It doesn’t shrink a lot, and is very reliable, but it’s hard for me to work with. This is partially my fault; I asked the advice of the salesperson at my local ceramics store, and told her I was handbuilding. It is true that I handbuilt all my work and never use a wheel, but my work is small and so it doesn’t need all the extra support that large handbuilt work often does. So I have moved on and gotten some new clays:

Firstly, some porcelain. In the near future, I’m hoping to be making most of my pendants from the porcelain, as well as, probably, my buttons and beads. Porcelain is such a fine, smooth clay, and very strong, but it’s also notoriously hard to work with. We shall see–I’ve never used it before!

I also got something similar to my current clay, only with less grog. (Grog is basically sand, used to strengthen the wet clay). I’m hoping it will be a good standard clay for me, when I don’t need anything special.

And lastly–the one I’m perhaps most excited about–I got some gorgeous dark red clay. Sort of a darker version of terra cotta. I cannot wait to see how my glazes look on this stuff!

All in all, it was a very successful trip, and I briefly spoke to the head honcho there, who told me he might give a tour of the facility if I can get a group together! So many fun things to work on and think about…I don’t know where to begin!

The “Green” Scene

I want to direct you all to this wonderful entry in Diana Fayt’s one black bird blog. The article, written by Laura Zindel of Zindel Ceramics, includes information from various professional ceramicists about whether or not ceramics are eco-friendly. This is kind of a hot topic at the moment, and I think it’s also something about which people not familiar with the process of making ceramics could be easily confused.

To give my two cents on the issue:

I find it a little deceptive and opportunistic for people to label ceramics as “eco-friendly” without explaining the hows and whys of the word. It’s taking advantage of a current buzzword and not being particularly accurate.

Silica is an essential element in ceramics. It’s also damaging to your lungs when inhaled. People have compared it to asbestos in that regard. There are ways to minimize this health risk but not to eliminate it. Firing ceramics does use a significant amount of energy and does produce potentially toxic fumes. If precautions are followed, these fumes shouldn’t actually harm anyone, but the risk is still there. The materials used in glaze are often commercially mined, which can damage the environment, as can the clay digging practiced by commercial clay suppliers.

On the other hand, however, ceramics (and here I’m talking about handmade ceramics, NOT industrial ceramics, because I don’t know much about them) are much more friendly to the environment than many other things, including many other artforms, are. Our materials come almost entirely from nature–clay, elements, metals, water, etc. Fired ceramics are not disposable one-time use items, and even if they were broken or thrown away, they wouldn’t damage the environment at all. Nonfired ceramics can almost always be recycled into new wet clay. Ceramics fired in an electric kiln, such as the one I use, don’t cause harmful emissions and are relatively energy-efficient. It is possible to construct virtually any type of ceramic item without using any gas or electric tools, so the construction process is also energy-friendly. I have also met people who have used their ceramics skills to build ceramic homes that are ridiculously beautiful, affordable, and eco-friendly by way of their minimal impact on the landscape.

I would argue that most supposedly eco-friendly items are still damaging to the environment in some ways, and that, at least, ceramicists tend to have a good awareness of their impact on the environment. So I guess I’m saying that ceramics may not be eco-friendly, but they are eco-conscious.

I actually found that original article while doing some research into whether or not my products are vegan-friendly. I am of course aware that since I’m not a vegan it’d be pretty hypocritical of me to label my products as vegan, but I would also like to have said products be available to a variety of consumers, and I know that vegans are often concerned about buying products that they are not sure uphold their values.

So, are my products vegan-friendly? I think so, to the degree that any product could be considered vegan. It’s quite possible that during the mining process to acquire my materials, animals’ lives may be harmed or compromised. I don’t know. I do know that the materials I use are not derived from animals, and that once the materials are in my hands, no animals are harmed. I vent my kiln in such a way that animals can’t be harmed by the fumes, and I dispose of my glazes properly. If anyone knows why a ceramic product would not be vegan, please let me know.

More rings are going into the kiln tonight! Whee!