We all have our studio routines and habits, a rhythm developed after years of making. This can be good and bad. It can help us be really productive and efficient, to conquer that intimidating to-do list, but it can also mean we miss out on the benefits and potential growth that come from facing uncertainty, taking risks, and solving unanticipated problems.

Feeling stuck or stagnant is something all artists experience. At these times, it can be difficult to branch out, letting go of what you think your work should be and expanding into the unknown. One solution is to include exploration and play in your studio routine. While there are numerous ways to do that on your own, one way to jump start and sustain creativity in a way that is both vulnerable and open to possibilities is to collaborate. This could either be working with another artist in the studio, or more broadly, forming a collective that is mutually beneficial and creatively challenging.

Collaboration and cooperatives augment or disrupt the regular routine and patterns artists might follow on their own, replacing their solo thought process with an active conversation with other artists. They can present interesting problems to solve that neither artist would have encountered on their own. They can supercharge creativity by combining your ideas with someone else’s ideas, on equal footing, making something new that is greater than the sum of its parts.

This issue features several artists who have made collaborative bodies of work or are part of a studio collective. For the artists working collaboratively, the processes vary from pair to pair. Rickie Barnett and Lynne Hobaica work together in the same studio, and sometimes simultaneously on the same piece, building the form and narrative surface decoration together. Curt Hammerly and Eric Heerspink’s collaboration involves sharing slip-casting molds to create new pieces that combine one artist’s form with the other’s surface design. Jen Allen’s collaborations with other artists have varied from creating pieces that artists like Kurt Anderson and Bryn Perrott respond to by adding surface decoration, to making small components for jewelry designed together with Maia Leppo. 

Collaborative plate by Jen Allen and Bryn Perrott, porcelain, black underglaze, fired to cone 10 in reduction.

In all of these collaborations, the artists learned new techniques, and while responding to the work of another artist, developed questions and solutions that could be applied to their individual studio practices.

Collectives help artists band together to reach common goals. Edith Garcia shares the story of two collectives, Studio Manifold in London, UK, and Kansas City Urban Potters (KCUP) in Kansas City, Missouri. In both cases, the groups’ artists maintain separate careers, but share a studio space. Studio Manifold has a primary goal of mutual creative support and shared studio expenses. KCUP adds on the goal of sharing business expenses, along with having an outward focus on expanding awareness of, interest in, and support for the ceramic arts in their community.

The Clay Culture articles in this month’s issue focus on collaborations as well. Coreen Abbott discusses Richard Shaw’s ambitious exhibition posters, themselves works of art involving numerous artists in their production. Designer Ashley Fuchs shares the results of a collaborative assignment for graphic-design and ceramics students that she co-taught with ceramic artist Jeremy Hatch, who is her colleague at Montana State University in Bozeman.

This issue’s Spotlight artist, Julie Nelson, shares her experience collaborating with asylum seekers and refugees in the UK to create ceramic birds that have been subsequently exhibited as a large flock. The project aims not only to help bring the experience of migrants to the forefront, but also to emphasize the positive effects of creativity on people’s physical and mental wellbeing. 

Interested in mixing things up in your own practice and inspired to team up with other artists, but don’t know how to get started? I’d suggest following in the footsteps of many of the folks in this issue who told themselves, “It never hurts to ask.”

-Jessica Knapp, editor
Topics: Ceramic Artists