Monday, September 21, 2009

Change in weather, new love for tea bowls

Being the first cold day of the season, I had a lightbulb moment with my morning cuppa tea. Instead of the usual mug, I instinctively chose the non-handled tea bowl to warm my hands. I used to shun handles because I was terrible at making them - most beginners are - and at the time I preferred non-handled cups anyway... maybe that's just an excuse since I didn't like making handles & I hadn't found many mugs that I liked. In the past year I fell in love with mugs, but I have a newfound appreciation for tea bowls - it's all in the season. On cold days like today mugs might be used more for cold beverages, but a warm cup feels comforting cupped in the hands, more intimate. I can picture me sitting on the couch after a long day at work, wrapped in a blanket, watching the cats run around while imagining different pots form in my head, drinking a toasty cuppa tea. Though I enjoy the long days and outer warmth of summer, I welcome the change in seasons, with the inner warmth of tea, and wearing long-sleeved shirts.

I can't remember the last time I made a tea bowl... if ever. I make many cups, though none I would describe as a "tea bowl." In fact I don't know what it means for a tea bowl to be a tea bowl, except that I have seen enough labeled so that I understand the general form of one. Please, educate me on the history of the tea bowl if you can. Meanwhile, here are some beautiful yunomis (tea bowls that are generally more tall than wide) from one of my favorite artists, Kristen Kieffer:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Tuesdays are for ceramic artists interviews... but I haven't heard from any artists this week! So if you'd like to be featured here this week or next, take a look at this post for all the questions and my email address: ceramic artists interview. I'm always open to new questions.

p.s. Are you on Twitter? I post updates from my blog & other interesting ceramics links I find: ceramicerin on Twitter

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Green teacher

Today was my first day of teaching at the local pottery center, & I think it went pretty well. Not stellar, but not bad. For one thing I'm a novice teacher - I've taught kids at a summer camp handbuilding with clay. That's about the extent of it, and now I have two entirely different classes: adult clay building - a mix of hand building & throwing - & kids throwing.

The adult class consists of old-timers who have taken that same class together for months, perhaps years, and they all had an idea of what they wanted to do, they all had projects they were already working on. They're quite sociable and it seems they take the class simply for fun, to enjoy the company of their classmates, and to have someone to answer this classic question when they see something interesting in a picture: "How did they do that?" I can usually answer those questions, but for the remainder of the class, I'm not entirely sure what I should be teaching with everyone going in different directions. So I started out demonstrating how to make pots footed, similar to these works by Willi Eggerman & Tara Wilson, then socialized & answered sporadic questions the remainder of class, wondering how else to make myself useful as most of the students seemed to be fine with their current projects. Next week I plan to teach more on throwing, but of the two classes, it's the true beginners that I'm more concerned about...

Kids are a whole nother animal. I have a difficult time as it is enunciating precisely what I'm doing as I throw a pot, but to get an 11-year-old to simply center clay is a challenge. Any advice in this area is more than welcome. Do I need to watch every video I can of beginning pottery and teach all my friends & family to throw in order to become a good teacher? I'm sure that wouldn't hurt... so what videos would you recommend I check out from the local library?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Interview: Paul Nielsen

Vital statistics (name, age, location, link to website/blog)?
My name is Paul Nielsen. I'm 32, I think, and currently live in Grand Island, Nebraska. My wife and I just moved back to Nebraska from Northwest Arkansas. I blog at, and my in-progress artist website is

Where do you work in clay?
We're currently living in a loft over my father's antique store. My studio, which I've only been in a month since moving (and most of that time was spent unpacking and organizing), is in the basement of the building. I have a lot more space than my previous garage studio, but not having any windows might get to me after a while. I actually hope to do some sculpting en plein air, especially when storm season rolls around next year. Prairie thunderstorms are a significant theme in my work.

Do you have another job?
I do indeed. Despite graduating with a studio art degree in 2001, it's only been in the past three years or so that I've begun pursuing sculpture as a career. Since graduating I've worked in a coffee shop, remodeled houses and worked as a marketer/designer for a religious nonprofit. I still do the last two things on that list. It's difficult for me to imagine anyone being able to dive right into a career in the plastic arts without a day-job subsidized period of transition, so to speak.

Are your studio and occupation decisions made by choice or necessity? Please explain.
I'm not all that sure how to answer this question. In all likelihood there is a combination of both choice and necessity in my decisions that relate to all aspects of life. Do I wish I had more disposable income? Sure. Would I like a large studio with windows and a soda kiln? Of course. Am I thankful for what I have at the moment? Absolutely.

How do you budget your time (in the studio and out - family, errands, etc)?
While I'm probably more administratively gifted than the stereotypical artist, I am not very good at keeping a schedule. It's best for me to have a regular time in the studio, preferably on a daily basis. I use a calendar to plan both long-term and short-term. This helps me finish projects; I'm the kind of person who normally has ten different things going on at the same time, and bringing a work to completion can get put off at times.

The other things in life just sort of float around — in a semi-organized fashion — the minimum two or three hours a day I hope to spend on artwork. And it might be worth noting that my schedule varies depending on the time of year. I'm less motivated in darker winter months (it didn't help that my garage studio of the past three years wasn't heated either).

Why do you make pots (or sculptures)?
First off, creating objects — working with my hands — is something I'm just plain wired to do. If I'm not able to be doing it for some reason or another, I go stir crazy. I focus on clay because I love its character as a medium. I love the process from dirt to fire. I love the way clay responds to my hands when I manipulate it. I love the finishes.

Most of my work is sculptural. I'm more drawn to handbuilding than throwing, however I did build myself a kickwheel last year and hope to use it regularly in the future. I always have hopes of spending time on functional objects, however being an artist with a day job — and thus a limited amount of studio time — I usually end up just working on my sculpture.

How concerned are you about environmental issues?
I try and live a sustainable lifestyle: Recycle whenever possible, dream of someday living off of the grid (probably with solar power, maybe wind), salvage and reuse and don't be wasteful in the first place etc etc. This is largely informed by my faith in an attempt to be a good steward of God's creation. I prefer the word sustainable which implies, in my mind, a broader and more complete view of humanity, culture and environment than politically charged (and thus less productive) terminology like "green" or "environmentally friendly." I'm very cynical when it comes to politics in general.

Does this affect your work?
This comes through in my artwork mainly via my use of found objects or salvaged materials. More and more I've become alarmed at how wasteful American culture is, in a myriad of ways. Reusing objects and materials is a subtle way for my sculpture to communicate my dislike for our consumerist culture.

What do you do when you're having a bad day in the studio?
Most likely hit the trails on my bicycle. Or blog, or call friends to play Settlers of Catan (or some other German board game).

Do you create art in other mediums?
I focus on clay but refer to myself as a mixed media sculptor. I use a lot of wood and incorporate a variety of other natural materials and found objects; fabric and gemstones make somewhat regular appearances. I'm not, however, fond of synthetic stuff. You probably won't find plastic in any of my works.

Where do you sell your work?
At the moment you can purchase my sculpture in the Local Flair gallery in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, or by sending me a message via I tried for a while, but with no success.

How did you approach those venues about selling your work?
I was approached by the person who started Local Flair. We knew each other before she founded the gallery. Sad, but true, who you know often factors into your success as an artist.

Do you have any questions you want to ask other ceramic artists, or artists in general?
Do you have a soda kiln I can borrow?
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