Collaboration: Curt Hammerly and Eric Heerspink

Curt Hammerly and Eric Heerspink’s collaborative mug, 4 1/2 in. (12 cm) in height, red stoneware, terra sigillata, glaze, fired to cone 5 in an electric kiln, 2019.

Ceramics Monthly: Why did you decide to start collaborating with other artists and how does your collaborative process work?
Eric Heerspink: I had the pleasure of meeting Curt Hammerly when I was in Denver, Colorado, this past summer. We had a wonderful discussion about ceramics and forms, technology and process, as well as the business side of clay and Instagram. Near the end of my time at Curt’s studio, he asked me if I would be interested in collaborating with him on some pieces. I had done collaborations in the past with Companion Gallery and the “Collaborative Companions” show at the 2019 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference and really enjoyed the experience, so I agreed immediately.

Curt and I are both primarily slip casters, so our collaborative process is actually quite simple. When I left Denver, I took one of Curt’s mug and handle molds with me. Back in my studio, I was able to use my various casting clay bodies in his molds, thus producing his mug form for me to experiment with. The nice thing about working this way is that I was able to reproduce as many of his forms as needed to explore ideas without the fear of losing the piece in the process. Once I had cast the forms, I decorated and fired the pieces using the techniques I use in the production of my own work.

Curt Hammerly: There so many incredible artists that I admire. Many of my favorites have worked together on their own collaborations and it always gets people in the ceramics community so excited. The moment I knew I had to try collaborating was at the 2018 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when I saw the collaborative works between Tim Kowalczyk, Brett Kern, and Mitchell Spain. The excitement felt by everyone viewing these pieces was just incredible to see.

1 Curt Hammerly and Eric Heerspink’s collaborative mug, 4 1/2 in. (12 cm) in height, red stoneware, terra sigillata, glaze, fired to cone 5 in an electric kiln, 2019.

2 Curt Hammerly and Eric Heerspink’s collaborative mug (alternate view), 4 1/2 in. (12 cm) in height, red stoneware, terra sigillata, glaze, fired to cone 5 in an electric kiln, 2019.

Like with most things in my life, I figured it never hurts to ask! So, I began reaching out to fellow artists who also made slip-cast work and offered to send them a mold to play with. No expectations, no guidelines, just see what you come up with if you have the time and interest. I would love to push this process further with bigger projects in the future but I also envision having an ever-growing collection of my own mug forms in my favorite artists’ signature styles.

Eric and I had corresponded on Instagram a handful of times before we met in the summer of 2019. I am a huge fan of his style and already owned one of his pieces. When he was in Denver, we had a great time hanging out and ended up talking about a collaboration of our personal styles.

3 Curt Hammerly and Eric Heerspink’s collaborative mug, 4 1/2 in. (12 cm) in height, red stoneware, terra sigillata, glaze, fired to cone 5 in an electric kiln, 2019.

4 Curt Hammerly and Eric Heerspink’s collaborative mug, 4 1/2 in. (12 cm) in height, black porcelain, terra sigillata, glaze, fired to cone 5 in an electric kiln, 2019.

CM: Has the collaborative work influenced or informed the separate bodies of work each of you make?
EH: There are times when working on my own pieces that I fall into a rhythm, where the work is made with minimal thought. I can easily become comfortable with my process. Working on collaborative pieces forces me to slow down, solve problems, and come up with creative solutions in ways that I would not have otherwise. The experience of working on a form so completely different from my own has generated questions about my own pieces.

When working on someone else’s piece, you become intimately familiar with the work, more so than if you had simply used one of their finished mugs, for example. Curt uses a 3-D printer to create the positive model for his molds. This leaves print lines in the mold that are then transferred to the cast pieces. When Curt glazes his mugs, the glaze hides these lines. Through the use of different materials in the collaborations, such as terra sigillata and underglaze wash, the lines created by the 3D-printing process were enhanced, creating a beautiful texture on the finished pieces. Curt’s forms are much more angular than my own. This resulted in some interesting moments when the glaze lines were intersected by a line created by the form. Working on his forms presented me with new possibilities to utilize within my own work.

5 Curt Hammerly’s coffee mugs, 4 1/2 in. (12 cm) in height, porcelain, 2019.

CH: I can’t say that it has explicitly led me to any decisions, but seeing how someone else’s creativity comes to life on one of my forms always makes me rethink what I am doing currently and sends me off experimenting again. It is a great way to break out of a period of stagnation. I always learn a great deal from these collaborations and I hope that my collaborative partners feel the same and are inspired as well.

In particular with Eric, the way his terra sigillata behaves on the leftover texture from the 3-D printer on my molds has me rethinking how I always try my best to hide these in my finished product.

CM: What is the most exciting result of the collaborative process for you? The most unexpected result?
EH: For me the most exciting result of the process is the final product. In particular, I find it extremely exciting when a collaboration does not look like one. You might be aware that it’s a collaboration, but the contributions by the artists involved work so well together that the piece feels whole rather than disjointed.

Working on these mugs with Curt was rewarding not only because I was pleased with the final pieces, but also because they presented a challenge. The angularity of Curt’s forms and the texture within his molds have me thinking about how to incorporate these two elements in my own work. This collaboration has led me to ask new questions about form and texture. New questions often lead to new answers and it is these questions that make the collaborative process invaluable.

6 Eric Heerspink’s americano mugs, 4 1/4 in. (11 cm) in height, black porcelain, terra sigillata, glaze, fired to cone 5 in an electric kiln, 2019.

CH: The most exciting result for me is seeing the amazing clay community on Instagram get so enthusiastic when they see different artists they follow working together. I absolutely love the joy that ceramic art brings and I think showing everyone what working together can lead to is an incredible way to build up that community.

The most unexpected and inspiring part of this collaboration with Eric was holding the final product in my hand. Eric’s process creates textures that are incredible to feel. The matte finish just begs to be held and the raised glossy lines running over the corners and curves of my mug form are stunning. Also, when I saw the way he added his maker’s mark to the bottom next to my own I had a huge smile on my face.

As for collaborations in general, it is always so exciting to see what amazing creativity other artists bring to my forms. It is so easy to fall into the trap of having an idea about what your work is and can be. To then have someone else come in and shatter that preconceived notion with their own creativity is just incredible and inspiring. This alone will keep me pursuing more and more collaborative work with talented artists.

To learn more about the artists, visit www.hammerlyceramics.com and www.ericheerspinkceramics.com or follow Curt and Eric on Instagram @hammerlyceramics and @heerspinkceramics.

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