Ken Gangbar saves his fingertips by wrapping them in electrical tape while working on one of the hundreds of forms for his installation at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong. To see a finished image of the installation, visit the Subscriber Extras section of the Ceramics Monthly website (https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/ceramics-monthly/subscriber-extras) or check out our Pinterest boards.
The kinds of creative expansion and risk-taking associated with summer workshop courses can happen almost anywhere; however, the combination of escaping distractions, experiencing a new environment, and interacting with so many other like-minded people has a dramatic effect on workshop attendees. I think this manifests in the ways people process new information and are receptive to new influences, and in the often dramatic advances or changes to their artwork or studio practice that happen once they return home. This phenomenon is aptly called “a stew of resources” by Bruce Dehnert, director of Peters Valley School of Craft, in Layton, New Jersey, in his Spotlight article in this issue.
In my experience, attending a workshop activates and stretches my brain by making me think differently. I am out of my routine, and can’t rely on habit to help me make decisions, which makes me really analyze each choice I make. Plus, I am sorting out all sorts of new information about my surroundings, and the people I’m meeting, while trying to get the hang of the techniques I’m being shown or concepts discussed. Fear of failure recedes. My brain is in creative overdrive, and interesting connections and ideas usually emerge.
In the past, I have also found that these types of shifts in perspective can also be achieved by changing the scale of the pieces I am making, even if I’m in my basement studio instead of a fantastic workshop facility. There is still a very real comparison and contrast process going on in my brain as I’m required to consider how my body relates to this newly resized form or assembled mass of forms (I like to create multiples for installations), as well as the different material and logistical challenges they present.
If you haven’t tried shifting the scale of the objects you make, it is a useful exercise. Actually building and then interacting with the form on this new scale, even if it is only slightly different than what you are used to, helps to put the relationships you have with the things around you into sharper focus. The articles in this issue on new sculptures by John Balistreri (while also working in a new and inspiring space) and the large-scale architectural installations Ken Gangbar creates around the world show the dramatic ways scale shifts can change an artist’s work and thought processes.
These two articles, along with Jeremy Wallace’s how-to article, the Techno File on studio dust, and the Tips and Tools article on protecting plaster molds also bring up the many ways we can learn from others about working both hard and smart at the same time. The image below shows one example of this that you won’t see in the articles, but intrigued me as we were putting the issue together. Ken Gangbar puts electrical tape on his fingers when handling and refining his forms (of which there are often hundreds, if not thousands) for an installation planned for the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong. It is a small thing, but I saw it as a solution that could help save my hands when doing abrasive, repetitive tasks like this in the studio.
Being around other artists in a workshop setting, shared studio, or by reading about their careers can lead to small epiphanies like this one, and large ones alike.