Heidi McKay Casto, Iowa City, Iowa

Ceramics Monthly: How do you come up with the forms and surfaces that are prevalent in your work? 

Heidi McKay Casto: I use the personification of animals to soften the awkwardness and vulnerability of human interactions. I think about how instincts drive animal behavior, while our instincts as humans are clouded by insecurity, guilt, shame, and embarrassment; emotions that don’t guide an animal’s behavior or that they don’t even have the capability to feel. As a mother, woman, partner, human, I am often digging deep through the grittiness of those emotions to hear and feel those natural instincts. As I continue to explore the concepts of human emotion and instinct, juxtaposed with everyday life and personal experiences, I am experimenting with this idea of sculpture meeting my thrown forms as an expanded canvas for these stories. 

1 Bamboo Buddies, 4¾ in. (12 cm) in width, porcelain, underglaze, glaze, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, 2021.

I throw my main form—keeping it rather simple. Once my form has dried a bit, I reshape the walls to give it more gestural movements. Using slabs, I build handles to expand my canvas beyond the boundaries of the vessel. I try to keep the process very loose and unplanned at this stage. I then play around with which shapes look best with which vessel. It’s kind of like designing your outfit for the day and putting together a puzzle at the same time. Once these components are assembled into one blank canvas and bisque fired, I sit with each piece as I imagine the story forming on the surface, having effectively created a puzzle I now have to solve. It’s a lot like playing the cloud game, asking questions like “What do you see there? What is that shape?” I use ideas from my own life, thoughts, readings, sketches, and observations of both human and animal species. This is when the surface comes to life. Once the images and ideas are laid out, I begin to think about how lines, shapes, and colors interact to create a canvas in the round. 

2 Blue Footed Booby Boogie, 7¼ in. (18 cm) in height, porcelain, underglaze, glaze, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, 2022.

CM: What do you see as the current trends in ceramics and where do you see yourself in that field?

HMC: I see a widening lens for functional exploration happening across the field in terms of what a vessel can be, how much time and detail is put into an individual piece, and how the surface is used as space for exploration in the narrative. This has led me to consider a balance of function and content; holding on to the foundation and allure of functional pottery, because work we can touch, use, bring to our lips, be intimate with, is important to me. As an artist, I am energized through the challenge of new imagery, color, and storytelling with each new piece, rather than finding solace in repetition and predictability. Spending time as both a functional potter and a sculptor, this is the moment where I currently find myself balanced; walking on the fence where the grass is green on both sides. 

Learn more at www.heidimckaydesigns.com.