Studio time is precious, which leads me to evaluate work sessions based on how many pieces I’ve made, sanded, glazed, or assembled. I have to remind myself not to define my progress and success so narrowly. While sometimes necessary, focusing on the physical product can dampen creativity and make it harder to enjoy studio time.
Positive results, after all, are not always tangible. Take having a creative breakthrough, for example. In my experience, creative peaks happen when I’m immersed in an activity—like hiking, gardening, or working in the studio. My body and mind relax, and I’m able to make spontaneous, non-linear connections after thinking about stories, memories, and emotions, as well as concepts I’d like to convey.
Paying attention to the ways other artists cultivate creativity in the studio can also help spark new ideas. This includes gathering advice as well as observing and reading about others’ practices.
For artists working in group settings, this can mean noting studio mates’ routines and asking them where they find inspiration and how they explore new ideas. This month’s Spotlight artist, Ellen Day, who runs BrickHouse Ceramic Art Center in New York, shares that she has seen artists of all experience levels learning from one another as they work side by side in the studio. She feels that this cross pollination fosters curiosity, wonder, and surprise.
Being part of an arts community (physical or virtual) can also provide a creative boost. Marion Angelica describes the recent trend in Jingdezhen, where artists from around China are setting up independent studios, learning from the artists and artisans working in the city’s famed ceramics industry, and selling work in the weekly market organized by The Pottery Workshop.
Helping others and learning how they approach and handle clay can also be a great way to spark ideas. In their feature article, members of The Clay Siblings’ Project—a group of young artists who mentor younger aspiring artists by sharing their experiences pursuing ceramics as a career—talk about how connecting with students through hands-on clay work builds trust, which unlocks the students’ creativity. This engagement and two-way communication also informs the siblings’ own studio work.
Rita Vali, an artist in Colorado, experienced both the impact of collective creative efforts in energizing a community and the powerful inspiration that observing nature can bring. Last spring, Vali created the Hopeful Birds Project to alleviate the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by inviting her community to find and interact with small ceramic birds and then encouraging other artists to create flocks of their own to share across many communities.
Allan Kluber was similarly inspired by nature, specifically rock formations observed on a trip to Utah. He adapted the stratified layers to a series of functional pots with horizontally aligned colored clays.
Cultivating creativity goes beyond the studio to include encouraging artists in the community. In his Clay Culture article, Joe Molinaro shares how Mayer Shacter supports the careers of Mexican folk artists through the direct purchase and promotion of their work in his gallery outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Working in a new environment can foster innovation as well. Featured artist Janice Jakielski had the opportunity to do a residency at an industrial ceramics facility that introduced her to tape-casting techniques that she then adapted for studio use. While developing new work using these new tools and processes, she focused on the excitement and delight that inspired her to work with clay.
If a change of scenery and access to new tools and techniques sounds like the perfect way to get inspired and break out of a routine, this issue features a listing of a wide range of residency options to explore. Check them out.
Next time you’re in the studio, if you find yourself discouraged by your to-do list, start a new list instead, focused on the ways to invite more creativity and inspiration into your practice.