Ceramics Monthly: How did you discover one another’s work?
Rickie Barnett: I had been a huge fan of Lynne’s work for quite some time before we met. I think I first saw Lynne’s work on Carole Epp’s blog Musing About Mud and then started following her on social media. Later, after moving to Seattle, Washington, I had the pleasure of drinking out of one of her mugs at a housewarming dinner. Lynne’s pieces have an incredible way of standing out. I was blown away by her ability to create work that seemed both resolved and extremely fresh and playful. It was an incredible experience to be in a room full of brilliant people and find myself constantly being distracted by a mug. These kinds of moments tend to stick with you.
Lynne Hobaica: I first discovered Rickie’s work on Instagram while he was a resident at Taos Clay. I thought his work was awesome in a dark, humorous, and beautiful way.
CM: When did you first meet?
LH: When I moved to Seattle to start my residency at Pottery Northwest, Rickie had just left after living in the Seattle area for a couple of years. We met in 2018 through our mutual group of friends from Seattle while hanging out at the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
CM: Why did you decide to start making collaborative work? How does your collaborative process work?
RB: Shortly after we met, I happened to be back in Seattle, and ended up hanging out in Lynne’s studio for a week, making stuff for her to decorate. It was insanely easy to work in the same space as her and it seemed to come naturally.
A short time later, Lynne came to North Carolina to visit and we ended up making a ton of collaborative drawings and paintings. I’d draw a part and pass it to her, then she’d draw a part and pass it to me. This back and forth was extremely free flowing and it was the most fun I had making things in years. Then, decisions started being made together and it just took off from there.
Lynne and I share a studio together now. After Lynne’s residency at Pottery Northwest ended at the end of December 2018, we spent one month driving across the country, visiting our families in California and Arizona, and arrived at our home in North Carolina in early February 2019. We have a beautiful 350-square-foot studio space behind the house.
Working collaboratively just makes sense. There is almost always a collaborative project going on between us. Whether it’s a mask-making photo project, a commissioned family portrait, cards, t-shirt designs, paintings, or ceramics, there is always something in the works. We even garden together. Our process is really simple. One of us starts something and then hands it over to the other and we pass it back and forth. It’s the easiest and best collaboration I’ve ever been a part of.
LH: I love collaborating with people and have done quite a bit of it throughout my career, but the experience has never been as natural, easy, and fun as it has been with Rickie.
Our early drawing collaborations became so intertwined that it became hard to determine who did what. Our collaborations in clay develop in a similar way—we discuss and pass the pieces back and forth throughout the process, sometimes working on pieces simultaneously. We make decisions together, and although in clay it’s a little more clear who created different elements, we’re still both present through every step.
CM: Can you describe your collaborative process?
LH: The piece titled I almost had you but realized my eyes weren’t seeing right is a good example of how we move together step by step in the making of a collaborative piece. I use two different surface applications, depending on what outcome I am hoping for. We built this piece with the intention of china painting on it—the colors are still bright, but slightly more subdued than other collaborations with sgraffito and underglazes. Rickie made the heads and the flat space that holds the painting, and I added the little loop shapes on the top.
We discussed the form before Rickie built it, thinking about how we wanted the painted surface to interact with the sculpted heads. After it was built, I added glaze and then, after the glaze firing, added china paint to the piece. I always begin china painting with a loose sketch on the surface, and then I slowly clean and refine the image. Rickie and I talked a bit about the sketch, and I made adjustments per his suggestions. Whether on our own work or for collaborations, one question we ask each other often is, “What should this person be holding?” We talked through a few ideas before landing on an egg. The head of the figure was inspired by a stray dog that was found near our house. I’ve been wanting a dog for a while, but we aren’t quite in a position that we can bring a dog home to live with us. I visited her at the shelter and named her Scrambled Eggs—loving her, but knowing that I wouldn’t be able to have her. I became a little obsessed and drew Scrambled Eggs over and over, dreaming of sharing a life with her.
Before meeting, Rickie and I both had a tendency to make long, poetic titles for our work. Now, we often discuss our individual and collaborative titles together and help each other write them. The title of this piece, I almost had you . . ., is a reflection of my obsession with and desire for this dog.
RB: The butter dishes that we make together are a great example of how we work on a piece simultaneously. With these pieces, I started by making the lid shape before handing it over to Lynne. She traced the shape to measure the base and then handed it back to me. As I worked on the head, she worked on the base and we discussed the choices we were making to be sure that both parts fit together visually and functionally. I might add a coil to the base, she might add weird little ears to my head. After the pieces are built, we pass them back and forth to decorate them, discussing imagery, pattern, and color. Once the piece is bisque fired we make decisions about glazing and usually split these tasks up. I might do all the mundane tasks of adding clear glaze or painting in solid shapes, while Lynne works on adding all the fun flair.
CM: Does the collaborative work influence or inform development in the separate bodies of work made by each of you?
RB: Most certainly. The collaborations are a good process for both of us to see our ways of making in a different light, a new perspective. Lynne has had a huge influence in my loosening up and being more playful in putting my ideas together. We have such a similar aesthetic and our work is about similar themes, which we talk about a lot. We both do a ton of layering, but in different ways.
We also have similar studio practices in regards to our schedules, so we work next to each other often. This leads us to discussing the majority of our work while it’s being made. I’d say that 90% of the work I make has Lynne’s voice in it throughout the making process.
LH: Our lives are so intertwined that I have a hard time determining which influences come from the collaborations and which are from working and living side by side. A change I’ve noticed since we teamed up is that my work has become more refined, which I attribute to Rickie’s impeccable attention to detail. I tend to have a loose approach, leaving marks made in the building process, but I’ve learned that if I slow down and clean up some (definitely not all) marks, the surface becomes a little more cohesive while still relating to the form. He is a great storyteller, and I also think that the narrative in my own objects has deepened due to his influence.
RB: In my studio practice, I work by making tons of body parts and objects to give myself choices along the way. For the piece titled Portrait of a Young Man Surrendering Unto Mourning, I made multiple hands and then proposed a series of different hand gestures and placements to Lynne. We discussed scale, balance, and narrative before deciding that the piece really only needed one hand. This process continued for the placement of feet, and the addition (and type and size) of footwear and hats. This analysis of various options and their meanings was repeated for the pull toy.
Talking through these decisions with Lynne offers me a secondary voice in the solving of these issues. Issues that, for years, were mostly solved by only my own unaccompanied voice.
LH: As mentioned above, we often reach a point in our work where we will ask one another what the character in the piece should hold in their hands. The object the character carries is a key element to how we both push narrative in our work. Having these discussions, and having to justify why I think someone should hold a banana, for example, helps me to think more deeply about the narrative and what feeling I want the piece to evoke. Decision making for symbolism has been something I’ve thought about throughout my career, but making those decisions out loud with the benefit of another person’s perspective has added more insight to the narrative process.
CM: Could the two of you describe how your individual work is different from your collaborative work?
RB and LH: Lynne tends to work loosely, building layers of color and either carving or painting an image over those layers, so that the color bleeds past the line. She is often breaking or moving over borders with her work. Rickie is slow and methodical in his process, outlining shapes within the form and looking for symmetry. He slowly blends underglazes directly on the surface, building a distressed, weathered aesthetic.
LH: When I’m making a functional piece, I typically use red earthenware, leaving seams, some score marks, and fingerprints, which become subtle reminders of the piece’s origins after it is covered up with layers of slip and carving. I start with a thin layer of white slip, which reveals some of the brown clay beneath it. I then paint colored shapes all over the piece without any plan for what the final result will be. My third and final layer of slip is a thicker layer of white, painted loosely in the shape of the creature/figure. The colored shapes beneath the creature show through the top layer of white as ghosts of the brighter, uncovered shapes surrounding them. I then carve into the surface, often using three different tools to provide a varied line quality, adding to the layered effect. The layering of slips sets me up for carving, without a definite plan.
The plate titled Travel Companions is an example of one of my individual pieces, how layering of form and surface are revealed in the attached rim, painted slip, and carve lines. I respond to the shapes, and the image evolves as I work.
When we collaborate, Rickie often does most of the building. I’ll add loose, sculptural elements and apply the surface decorations, responding to the form he has given me in a similar way that I respond to the painted shapes on my own work. Most of my forms are very simple, saving fine details for the imagery of the drawing or painting on the surface. His sculptural forms are far more detailed and create a nice dialog between the narrative in form and surface.
RB: I would say the biggest difference is in the surface. The collaborative pieces let me see how my shapes and forms look with different color and glaze applications. Lynne works much more loosely than I do and her surface applications are far more varied than mine. I tend to color in the lines more; that’s the biggest difference. Along with that, the forms of the collaborative pieces usually tend to be simpler and have open spaces for illustrations. With functional pieces, like the butter dishes, I would have never in my life added a bunch of spikes to a piece. But once I saw it, I was super into it.
CM: Can you list a few examples of the new directions/new ideas that the collaborative work has led to?
RB and LH: Rickie has opened up to some new aesthetics. For example, Lynne will sometimes add spiky shapes (like the feet of butter dishes) and shiny glazes to their collaborations—something not seen in Rickie’s own work.
Before we started doing collaborations, Lynne’s forms were more complex, revealing each coil that was added as the piece was built. Now she uses fewer and more consistent coils, making for a cleaner surface on which to decorate.
Rickie’s forms were equally complex, as he would build in details for clothing and bodies. We have both simplified our forms, creating surfaces that allow for decoration. Portrait of a Young Man Surrendering Unto Mourning is an example of a piece with a broader surface. This allows Rickie to play with new applications of underglaze, specifically, using what he calls water glazing: he builds up the surface with multiple colors of underglaze and then sprays water over them to let them blend together in a looser way.
CM: What are the most exciting and unexpected results of the collaborative process?
RB: Literally, every single part of the process is my favorite. Following a process like we do takes away some of the decision-making pressure. You have to force yourself to stop at unusual points during a series of steps and give up control. When you get it back, the piece is at a much different stage and you have to react to it accordingly.
Obviously, pulling an awesome finished piece out of the kiln makes me feel like I am on the top of a mountain, and I am always more excited to pull a collaborative piece out of the kiln than I am about my own work. Each piece feels so new and so amazing.
I think the most unexpected result of us collaborating would be the relationship that we have. I never thought making weird pictures and objects would land me such a cool best friend.
LH: The result is just a happy reminder of the shared moment. More than any result, I am excited by the process, sharing space and time with a person I adore. Collaborating with Rickie has been playful, weird, and joyful and has taken us in directions I never would have expected we’d go. We’re constantly dreaming up new ideas. I never expected to find a partner who would work with me and beside me through every step of both my life and my art.