Studio Visit: Liz Howe, Saratoga Springs, New York

<p>Ceramic Artist Liz Howe in her Saratoga Springs Studio</p>


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Just the Facts


Mid-range stoneware

Primary forming method


Favorite surface treatment

Highly textured wet surfaces, then slips are applied bone
dry, glaze is applied and fired, then paint, paper, and various other materials
are added post-firing. It is a bit of the kitchen sink philosophy but there is
a method to my madness.

Favorite tool

I have two wooden paddles that were cast-offs from a
classmate’s woodworking project in grad school. I use one for white clay and
the other for red. They are exactly the right size, fit, and form

Most-used piece of equipment

As far as tools and equipment are concerned, I guess you
could say I’m at “fighting trim.” The studio equipment consists of basic carpenter’s
tools, a few different saws, cordless drill, heat gun, and of equal importance,
a really good sound system hooked up to the laptop and iPod.


My studio is located behind my house in Saratoga Springs. Both structures were built in 1892, and the studio originally served as separate living quarters. It is a very bright south-facing building, but is a
pretty small space, measuring about 500 square feet, so all of my firing is done off-site. During the summer I work both inside and outside, and in winter I finish some of my fired work in the basement of the main house. A friend keeps encouraging me to move to California and I have to say it would suit my
working process pretty well to have outside workspace all year round. Perhaps it places the work in a larger context as it is being made rather than after it is complete—or maybe I just really like being outside! I maximize space bykeeping only in-process work in the studio; as soon as it is finished it is moved out, photographed and stored elsewhere. In time, the size of the building will probably become prohibitive but it works for me now in many ways. Having other locations for storage and firing helps keep the space clear for just making work.

paying dues (and bills)

Day job: For the last four years, while teaching ceramics full time at Rochester Institute of Technology, I developed a very disciplined work schedule including weekends and evenings, averaging 30+ hours in the studio. In deciding to leave Rochester and return home to Saratoga, I’ve been able to cut costs associated with living in two places as well as travel time back and forth. This offers me time to focus more in the studio and currently I spend anywhere from 40 to 50 hours a week making work.

This article appeared in the December 2009 issue of Ceramics Monthly.
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Ceramic training: My early artistic training was in drawing and sculpture. When I was an undergraduate at SUNY New Paltz, the ceramics studio was primarily a “pot shop,” and I was more interested at the time in sculpture. I always used clay, but in more of a classical sculptural context (modeling and casting). My interest in ceramics was really piqued much later, after I had been teaching secondary studio art for quite a while. At an evening course at Skidmore College, I started throwing on the wheel and fell in love with the whole process. That experience led me to graduate school at Rochester Institute of Technology. A fascination for wheel throwing led me to ceramics, but once I got to the heart of my own process I returned to hand-built work.


Keeping up on exercise to guard against the physical
demands associated with ceramics (primarily heavy lifting) tends to be a
challenge for me. It is no problem getting myself into the studio every day,
but getting to the gym is a different story! Since I’m not the most disciplined
when it comes to physical fitness. Having a dog really helps, because I have a
daily responsibility to walk with her around town. I also have a really strong
network of friends, several of whom work out religiously, and they are great
motivators when I need some prodding.


I’m currently devouring Let’s See: Writings on Art from
The New Yorker, by Peter Schjeldahl. His essays are fantastic! The chapters on
Alberto Giacometti and Vija Celmins are two of the most beautifully thoughtful
pieces I’ve ever read on a specific artist’s work. I also listen to lots of
books on the ipod while I work in the studio—mostly nonfiction. Recently,
I’ve listened to Terry Gross’ Writers Speak and Fresh Air: Best of Stage and
Screen, as well as the very amusing I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This, by Bob

Visual inspiration is also very important to me—staying
physically connected to looking at art. Having the Tang Museum around the
corner, Williams College Museum, The Clark, Mass MOCA, DIA, and Stormking all a
short drive away, and New York City near enough to head down and back for the
day, makes for some great day trips. When I run into frustration, I find these
trips to be invaluable. Stepping away from the studio for a brief time helps me
to think problems through a bit.


As far as marketing is concerned, I am basically a
novice. My work has been primarily purchased in gallery and museum exhibitions;
my biggest sale to date was at an exhibition in Spain. Thus far, I have sold at
most of the venues I’ve shown in, which is always rewarding. Making the most
sale-able work, however, is not my goal or real desire. I know it sounds
na?Øve, but money is not the motivating factor—if it were, I definitely
would’ve gone into something more lucrative! Teaching has been a great way to
balance my love of working with people and the practical demands of living.

Ideally, I’d like a healthy balance of signature work and
successful sales. I have more work to do to reach this end and I am willing to
stay in the game, making smart financial decisions that allow me freedom to
keep producing my work.

My geek-factor is pretty high, and I use the computer for
many aspects of maintaining my business: postcard design, exhibition records,
inventory, etc. The “virtual” world is also one that I navigate pretty
comfortably. I enjoy making connections with people online whom I otherwise
would not meet. Many people who visit my personal website do so from places
where I have not yet shown—like Egypt, Iraq, Russia, and Brazil. I have had
comments and messages from many of these visitors that I really value. Of
course, there is no substitute for seeing artwork in person, but I find that
having work online helps direct people to one another. Online networks,
artists’ communities and social utility sites such as Facebook and MySpace are
also pretty interesting to me. Using these sites has led to increased
visibility for my work and the much-desired ability to stay connected to
friends and relatives who live far away.

most valuable lesson

I think the best advice I’ve come across about making art
came from a letter written by Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse in which he stated,
“Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own world.” I love
this quote. It speaks to so much of what I believe about the whole process of
art and the whole reason to commit a life to it. If the commitment is there to
build a life devoted to your art, then my only advice is to dig, dig, and dig
some more to make your art. It matters not what history has dictated, or what is
“in,” what your teachers like, or into how many shows you gain entry. Lift your
head up, look intently, and listen, then shut out the world and get to work.
Whatever setbacks you encounter or specific life circumstances you face, the
only way to maintain a connection to your work is by working.



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