Published Sep 26, 2017
Ceramic Arts Network: Have you changed careers before working with clay? How does your previous career inform your work with clay? Do you have any advice for those wishing to switch careers?
Sue Isherwood: I came to ceramics from Landscape Architecture. After years of having to conform to all sorts of standards, I was finally liberated when a friend asked me to join her at a pottery class in 2016. My first day was spent at the wheel and I was absolutely miserable. I did not enjoy that spinning wheel at all. It made me dizzy and then there was the mess! So much sloppy mess to clean up! It was not my idea of a relaxing pastime at all, so after the first lesson I asked for my money back. Fortunately for me my teacher asked me why and when I told her my issues she encouraged me to come back and try handbuilding. The next week after being shown how to make a box, with minimal mess and without any spinning, I was hooked. To say I love it is an understatement. Like so many other ceramic artists I am obsessed!
Coming from Landscape Architecture informs my work in so many ways. I have always worked in three dimensions trying to understand how things are constructed, so this has helped me enormously with spatial relationships in my ceramics making. When you look at a piece of pottery you can usually break it down into several smaller shapes that combine to make the whole. Over the years I have drawn thousands of plans by hand. This has given me a steady hand for brushwork, as well as the ability to see ahead where my work is going and be able to adjust accordingly–kind of on-the-go.
In stark contrast to my life as a Landscape Architect, when I decorate my work, I always just start and see what happens. No weeks of planning up front. It’s kind of a leap of faith to have no plan, but it always works out in the end–although sometimes it can become quite a challenge when I’ve spent hours decorating something and only have an inch left until I’ve finished and it looks terrible and unsalvageable.
The first year of a landscape architecture degree is all about design basics, so you learn all about color, pattern, rhythm, perspective, scale and proportion, balance, texture, unity, etc. It’s a wonderful basis for any kind of creative pursuit and I feel really fortunate to have had this training. There are a lot of good books out there that explain it all. My advice for anyone wanting to switch careers and who hasn’t learned design basics would benefit from learning about it. It actually gives you better eyes for seeing the world and enriches your life because of it.