The audio file for this article was produced by the Ceramic Arts Network staff and not read by the author.

Ceramics Monthly: What is the most challenging aspect of working in clay (either technically or in terms of building a career)?

Austen Brantley: Working with clay can be a rewarding and challenging experience, but there are challenges that are unique to working specifically in clay. Often, I feel like there is a dialog between the clay and myself, speaking together to achieve the perfect outcome for the piece. One of the biggest challenges is getting the right equipment for the material. I use a low-fire stoneware with a fine grog; it allows me to sculpt and fire easily. Most of my sculptures are only bisque fired, then I use techniques alternative to glazing to give them a more matte and unrefined finish, highlighting the true raw state of the clay. This state has inspired my work in a deeper way and allowed the clay to speak further in my pieces.


1 Crown V, 28 in. (71 cm) in height, stoneware, bisque fired to cone 04 (1915°F (1046°C)), wood stain, painted limestone, 2023. 2 Mami Wata, 29 in. (74 cm) in height, terra cotta, bisque fired to cone 04 (1915°F (1046°C)), spray paint, polyethene, limestone base, bronze patina, 2023.

The second biggest challenge I’ve faced is timing. Clay has very specific drying times and there’s a perfect window when you need to move from phase to phase. From building up the form in the wet state of clay to hollowing when the piece is leather hard to knowing when the piece is bone dry and ready to be fired, timing is everything. When building, I can get caught up in the detail of the form and start to lose track of the overall goal, trying to create perfection at the beginning. The truth and the most important thing to remember in my opinion is that every form is a collection of smaller forms, molded together to create one cohesive work of art.

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

AB: In my work as a ceramic artist, I often find myself thinking about trends and movements in the field that have and will impact my own practice. In today’s competitive world, it can be hard to continue to push boundaries in new, creative ways. In my opinion, there are two major trends in the field of ceramics. First is the use of new digital technology. There are many times in this digital age we are in that artists can create work without being in a studio or doing a physical process. While this is exciting, sometimes it can become a challenge when creating my own work, in terms of finding innovative ways to advance my pieces. Recently I’ve been breaking into three-dimensional scans that allow me to see and perfect working with models even when they aren’t in the studio with me anymore, while still allowing me to be in my studio element. The second trend is in the art community overall, with ceramics and three-dimensional mediums coming to the forefront. Many recent ceramic trends have been making clay look more realistic rather than focusing on making it look as though a piece is ceramic. Clay is a unique medium, as it can be textured and shape itself into many forms. I believe that this will continue to be an important aspect in our field as ceramic artists continue to push the boundaries of what clay can look like and the many textures that clay can have.