A Visit Simon van der Ven’s Lincolnville Maine Pottery Studio

This past summer, my husband and I bought a new house – well, a new, old house actually. One of the selling points of this house was that it had studio space for both me and my husband (a composer/sound artist). After a very busy fall, the new year is almost upon us and I still haven’t gotten my studio up and running. All my stuff is moved in, I just haven’t had the time to really settle in and figure out the best way to set it all up.

So in an attempt to get me inspired, today I am going to post an excerpt from Ceramics Monthly’s Studio Visit series. I love visiting the studios of other artists. In person is the most fun, of course, but CM’s studio visits are the next best thing. In this studio visit, Simon van der Ven gives us a peek into his dreamy Lincolnville, Maine, studio. Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

Just the Facts

Clay
Mostly porcelain (Miller #15, #550, and Matt and Dave’s), some stoneware, and porcelaneous stoneware

Primary forming method
Wheel-thrown with carving, drilling, brushing, abrading, and polishing

Favorite surface treatment
Carving

Primary firing method
Electric oxidation—plus the privilege to put pots in Jody Johnstone’s anagama firing twice a year

Favorite tool
I love all of my tools and refuse to play favorites.


This article appeared in Ceramics Monthly magazine’s October 2010 issue. To get great content like this delivered right to your door, subscribe today!



studio
My studio is a piece of heaven tucked into the middle of a small town in Maine. The studio takes up half of the first floor of a 22—32-foot building designed for efficiency and light. It has clerestory windows on three sides, 7½-foot barn doors, 10-foot ceilings, and radiant-floor heat. This space also serves as my wood shop. The rest of the floor houses a full bath as well as my wife’s studio and office. The basement is used for storage and a painting studio. The upstairs houses children (future additional studio space—just be patient). I love how well all the systems function; natural and artificial light, temperature control, air quality, plumbing, work and material storage, tools, work surfaces, and task flow. Most often, I feel I work with my studio, not just in it. It’s such a joy to be in that space—to sweat and grind away at a piece or to just sit still and contemplate the work. The studio stands twenty steps away from my bedroom. Most of the time, this is a marvelous blessing, but sometimes (2am, for instance) this particular blessing too easily allows for obsession.

paying dues (and bills)
I find it hard to think of something that isn’t part of my ceramic training, especially if I don’t separate ceramic training from art training. My undergraduate degree is in printmaking. After college I sailed professionally, worked as a goldsmith, and as a carpenter building houses. I taught high school art for 17 years. In 1994, I took a weekend workshop at Haystack Mountain School of Craft with Paulus Berensohn. That experience went in very deep. I went on to earn an MFA in ceramics, graduating in 2001, and have kept clay as the central focus of my art ever since. I’ve yet to find another medium that has so much to teach.

I spend between 30 and 60 hours per week in the studio. I average about five hours a week on business details and correspondence. This, and taking care of my house and family, is what I do.

body
I play hockey during the cold months and bike during the warm ones. I do acupuncture a couple of times a year and am currently working with a sports massage therapist to increase my flexibility and elasticity.
My family and I have major medical coverage with a $10,000 deductible. It’s very expensive and not at all adequate. There’s not enough room here to talk about health care in this country.

mind
The magazines I read regularly include CM, Ceramics: Art and Perception, The New Yorker, The Week, The Utne Reader, and Wooden Boat. My wife, Kate Braestrup, is a writer. I often read what she is working on as well as maintaining a steady diet of contemporary fiction and non-fiction. Lately, I’ve been enjoying the Stieg Larsson books and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

My family, my home, my community, and my work sustain me. When my relationships are in balance, when my attention flows from one to another, I can just roll. However, if I allow separation and discord between the elements of my life, through lack of either attention or gratitude, my energy drains away.

When I work all day in the studio; when I wedge, and throw, trim, and carve, and the work seems to just pass through me, then step into the kitchen and put together something beautiful and nutritious for my family; when it all feels like the same effort, that’s a good day. My work saps me when it’s separate from my life, when I fight or ignore the flow and rhythm of practice and attention.

For his signature perforated pots, Simon first drills all the holes in bone-dry greenware using both a standard and dental drill.

For his signature perforated pots, Simon first drills all the holes in bone-dry greenware using both a standard and dental drill.

As a teacher, I recall insisting that criticism was vital to an artist’s success. Imagine, it turns out to be true. The criticism that most helps my work occurs in three distinct ways. I count the comments, reactions, and suggestions of buyers and admirers at galleries and shows as useful and well worth considering. Of course, not all opinions are created equal. It’s a true joy, however, when a stranger is willing to ask not just how I did something but why. We can then delve into a discussion of motivation and experience that opens both of us to new perspectives and possibilities. This is a spontaneous and unexpected gift. The rest of the critical picture gets filled out in a more deliberate, disciplined way. I am very fortunate to live in a close and open community full of highly accomplished, practicing artists, many of whom I greatly respect and admire. I have asked some of these people into my studio, and our exchange is invaluable. A couple of them serve as mentors, providing standards to reach toward. The last level, and frankly, one that I hadn’t anticipated in its importance, is the exchange with a very small group of close friends. These are friends who are in my studio regularly, who know my work intimately, and whose work and studios I know as well. These are friends who bear their challenges, suggestions, and questions on a foundation of mutual respect, support, and love. For me, as a working artist, these few people are a rare, treasured, and phenomenally important blessing.

marketing

I make a broad selection of work and sell to a corresponding cross-section of people. I sell cups for $30 as well as vases and sculptures for thousands. Maine has a thriving, creative economy, and I feel well represented in my community. Each year I also do two retail shows, one with the Maine Crafts Guild and a holiday show with three other local artists. I have two open studios annually, one privately promoted and one as part of an arts tour (www.artisanstour.org).

Further shaping and polishing of the holes is done using the dental drill with a brush attachment.

Further shaping and polishing of the holes is done using the dental drill with a brush attachment.

I doubt there is anything unique about my marketing strategy. I suspect there are plenty of other artists who share my level of incompetence and distinct preference for making the work over marketing it. I admit I enjoy having my work find its way into local homes and collections. However, any local market has limitations. I make work that functions on several levels, and is understood and appreciated correspondingly. As my work grows and evolves, so must my audience. I am seeking representation outside of Maine. Applying to some national shows could be worth the effort.

Spontaneous encouragement from artists in far away places can be counted among my online successes. I’m also very proud to be linked on the website of the beloved French artists from Atelier Buffile (www.buffile-ceramiste.com). My website serves as a terrific communication tool, but so far, has not proved to be a particularly effective sales platform.

most valuable lesson
There are so many lessons I have to learn over and over again. The one that crops up most often I believe to be a Buddhist adage: “We suffer because of the conflict between our expectations and what is.” This seems to cover a multitude of sins. How many times have I lost focus as I fantasize about how a piece is going to come out, instead of giving my full attention to what is actually occurring as I work? How many times have I opened up a kiln, anticipating specific results, and been forced to waste energy getting past those expectations before I can even see what I’ve got? How many times has the piece I liked least in a show of my work received the most attention? It’s not that I shouldn’t have high expectations; the trouble comes when I’m so attached to these that they blind me to what is. If I allow the clay to form me as I form it, we get along fine. I don’t expect or even desire to do anything new. I’d rather work to join and continue the great traditions of art and clay than try to separate myself from them.


WebFaceSpaceBloGallerTwEtsyList
www.vandervenstudios.com | www.aarhusgallery.com | www.craftonelm.com | www.joellendesigns.com
www.zootcoffee.com


Comments
  • Nice work! Love the textures in the drilled pots. I was wondering why he’s not wearing a mask while he drills the holes. Isn’t it dangerous to breath in clay dust?

  • Nice work! Love the textures in the drilled pots. I was wondering why he’s not wearing a mask while he drills the holes. Isn’t it dangerous to breath in clay dust?

  • Wow – love the woven patterns…how were they carved? …the drilled holes evoke coral reefs and a sense of light and air …inspiring work

  • Wow – love the woven patterns…how were they carved? …the drilled holes evoke coral reefs and a sense of light and air …inspiring work

  • to all of you worrying, in image 6 you may well see the mask + protective screen. i was more fascinated by the special handle where you lean your elbow to achieve stability while drilling. this is applicable to any art work that calls for precision.

  • to all of you worrying, in image 6 you may well see the mask + protective screen. i was more fascinated by the special handle where you lean your elbow to achieve stability while drilling. this is applicable to any art work that calls for precision.

  • Lovely stuff. He does seem to be wearing a respirator and using a shield in the second photo.

  • Lovely stuff. He does seem to be wearing a respirator and using a shield in the second photo.

  • Is there a reason why you drill bone dry instead of leather hard? Love the pots!

  • Is there a reason why you drill bone dry instead of leather hard? Love the pots!

  • I just started, but my teacher insisted we wear respirators when sanding or grinding- basically anything that produces dust- because it is silica based.

  • I just started, but my teacher insisted we wear respirators when sanding or grinding- basically anything that produces dust- because it is silica based.

  • What beautiful texture your drilling produces. How fragile the object must be, before it’s fired. You don’t worry about breakage ? WOW !!!

  • What beautiful texture your drilling produces. How fragile the object must be, before it’s fired. You don’t worry about breakage ? WOW !!!

  • An area with a high-flow hood is also a safety de==detail that will ehp with the dust issues.

  • An area with a high-flow hood is also a safety de==detail that will ehp with the dust issues.

  • Lovely studio ,I do envy you that light. Sandra Black in Australia also carves porcelain in this style.Wonderful ethereal work.

  • Lovely studio ,I do envy you that light. Sandra Black in Australia also carves porcelain in this style.Wonderful ethereal work.

  • Hello Everyone. Thanks for all the comments. I don’t wear a mask when drilling because the piece is leather hard and produces no air-born dust. I use a wire brush to shape the wholes after the piece is drilled and its interior is cleaned. At that point, the piece is dry. I wear a mask, use a dust extraction system at source and run an area air filtration unit. The woven patterns are done with an X-acto type knife and Wolf wax carving tools. I also break a lot of pots in the process.

  • Hello Everyone. Thanks for all the comments. I don’t wear a mask when drilling because the piece is leather hard and produces no air-born dust. I use a wire brush to shape the wholes after the piece is drilled and its interior is cleaned. At that point, the piece is dry. I wear a mask, use a dust extraction system at source and run an area air filtration unit. The woven patterns are done with an X-acto type knife and Wolf wax carving tools. I also break a lot of pots in the process.

  • Having recently moved from Maine to Utah I can appreciate the “Maine” art scene. I am familiar with the Lincolnville area but never did visit it. I lived in SW Maine where there are many artists stuck in the woods all doing their own thing. If I had not moved to Utah I was considering moving to a more affluent artsy area to continue my pottery making. I love Simon’s pots and envy his studio although I have finally found studio space in the mountains near Salt Lake City. I definately support dust systems if possible. I love reading about artist’s “art” lives.

  • Having recently moved from Maine to Utah I can appreciate the “Maine” art scene. I am familiar with the Lincolnville area but never did visit it. I lived in SW Maine where there are many artists stuck in the woods all doing their own thing. If I had not moved to Utah I was considering moving to a more affluent artsy area to continue my pottery making. I love Simon’s pots and envy his studio although I have finally found studio space in the mountains near Salt Lake City. I definately support dust systems if possible. I love reading about artist’s “art” lives.

  • Your philosophy behind making pots and your life is what fascinates me here. I so buy into your mindset. What a lovely surprise – so glad I read this today. So glad for internet and how we can communicate so many miles apart (South Arica) Thank you!

  • Your philosophy behind making pots and your life is what fascinates me here. I so buy into your mindset. What a lovely surprise – so glad I read this today. So glad for internet and how we can communicate so many miles apart (South Arica) Thank you!

  • Lovely work! Delicate and beautiful. It is always nice to gain a bit of insight into someone who is successful at doing what they love. I had the good fortune of a studio visit with another successful artist, a painter, in NYC who also mentioned reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Thank you for sharing.

  • Lovely work! Delicate and beautiful. It is always nice to gain a bit of insight into someone who is successful at doing what they love. I had the good fortune of a studio visit with another successful artist, a painter, in NYC who also mentioned reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Thank you for sharing.

  • Very timely indeed. Awesome studio too. I am in the process to relocate and at this point I am working from under a tent. This article helps me focus on what I want in my future studio. Thanks, and I do agree with Catherine about your philosophy, you couldn’t have said it better. Becoming part of the process and using our talents to work towards a certain outcome without attachment and rejoice with awe any result.

  • Very timely indeed. Awesome studio too. I am in the process to relocate and at this point I am working from under a tent. This article helps me focus on what I want in my future studio. Thanks, and I do agree with Catherine about your philosophy, you couldn’t have said it better. Becoming part of the process and using our talents to work towards a certain outcome without attachment and rejoice with awe any result.

  • Adi,
    The arm support I use is made by ErgoRest. It’s one of those terrific little details that allow me to do what I do. Definitely a shoulder-saver.

  • Adi,
    The arm support I use is made by ErgoRest. It’s one of those terrific little details that allow me to do what I do. Definitely a shoulder-saver.

  • Thank you so much. Such inspiration. Your studio is wonderful. Thanks for sharing, not only the studio, but about your life too. Awsome!

  • Thank you so much. Such inspiration. Your studio is wonderful. Thanks for sharing, not only the studio, but about your life too. Awsome!

  • I was introduced to your work this summer at the MDI craft show. Thanks for this great article about your work and life. I can now tie it all into the beautiful pots your make. I love the two small cups I purchased from you and they look beautiful when filled with our homemade cherry liqueur!

  • I was introduced to your work this summer at the MDI craft show. Thanks for this great article about your work and life. I can now tie it all into the beautiful pots your make. I love the two small cups I purchased from you and they look beautiful when filled with our homemade cherry liqueur!

  • I am compelled to comment especially on his studio. Idyllic setting! Light everywhere! Everything spotlessly clean! No mud spatters anywhere! Spotless shelves and equipment! Everything in its place! I must say, I find this very disturbing…….

  • I am compelled to comment especially on his studio. Idyllic setting! Light everywhere! Everything spotlessly clean! No mud spatters anywhere! Spotless shelves and equipment! Everything in its place! I must say, I find this very disturbing…….

  • I compliment you on your writing, the way you describe your work and your feelings towards the balance you need in your life to achieve the pots you want. One can see the influence of your years of teachng and the “steady diet of literature” you maintain .Thank you for sharing your valuble lesson about expectations and what is.
    Regards from Bogota, Colombia.

  • I compliment you on your writing, the way you describe your work and your feelings towards the balance you need in your life to achieve the pots you want. One can see the influence of your years of teachng and the “steady diet of literature” you maintain .Thank you for sharing your valuble lesson about expectations and what is.
    Regards from Bogota, Colombia.

  • Hi,
    I just started pottery and throwing on the wheel, and I have noticed that when I am upset or not “centered,” I have a hard time centering the clay. When I just relax into the clay, I seem to “become one” with the clay, and then things just flow. Love your philosophy, and your studio. What a wonderful life you have!!
    Peace,
    Nancy

  • Hi,
    I just started pottery and throwing on the wheel, and I have noticed that when I am upset or not “centered,” I have a hard time centering the clay. When I just relax into the clay, I seem to “become one” with the clay, and then things just flow. Love your philosophy, and your studio. What a wonderful life you have!!
    Peace,
    Nancy

  • Marianela,
    I wish you all the best with your relocation. What you see in the pictures followed several years after living at this site for several months with two original walls, half the original roof and an enormous blue tarp. I applaud your continued effort under your tent.
    Anyway, I’ve done an enormous amount of research (through teaching and setting up various studios) on tools, equipment and design. I would be happy to share my insight, if you like.

    Lynne,
    Those photos are either cropped or taken from a distance. I clean everyday, but this is indeed a messy business. I can’t stop you from being disturbed, but I can assure you there is plenty of mess and mud slung about my studio.

  • Marianela,
    I wish you all the best with your relocation. What you see in the pictures followed several years after living at this site for several months with two original walls, half the original roof and an enormous blue tarp. I applaud your continued effort under your tent.
    Anyway, I’ve done an enormous amount of research (through teaching and setting up various studios) on tools, equipment and design. I would be happy to share my insight, if you like.

    Lynne,
    Those photos are either cropped or taken from a distance. I clean everyday, but this is indeed a messy business. I can’t stop you from being disturbed, but I can assure you there is plenty of mess and mud slung about my studio.

  • I read the article in CM and immediately recognized your work as the ones I had seen and admired on a visit to CMCA in Rockland this summer. I had wondered about your technique and was VERY glad to see that you take your health seriously and use plenty of safety precautions to prevent dust inhalation. I’m sure being an art educator for so many years helped ingrain both the health and safety issues in your work habits. My complements on a fine article and fine work. I am a painter and ceramic artist in Missouri but spend my summers in Maine each year and love the art community there.

  • I read the article in CM and immediately recognized your work as the ones I had seen and admired on a visit to CMCA in Rockland this summer. I had wondered about your technique and was VERY glad to see that you take your health seriously and use plenty of safety precautions to prevent dust inhalation. I’m sure being an art educator for so many years helped ingrain both the health and safety issues in your work habits. My complements on a fine article and fine work. I am a painter and ceramic artist in Missouri but spend my summers in Maine each year and love the art community there.

  • Your philosophy really is admirable. I have a few questions for you–

    -Your work appears to have two extremes: almost all negative space and almost all positive space. Is this intentional to show contrast between works?

    -Do you go through stages between being inspired and having artist’s block? How do you deal with this?

    -How do you deal with determining price on pieces?

    -In terms of comments and reactions to your work from viewers, how do you make these feedback opportunities available?

    Thank you so much for your time. As a high school sculpture artist, I find your philosophy and process very inspiring.

  • Your philosophy really is admirable. I have a few questions for you–

    -Your work appears to have two extremes: almost all negative space and almost all positive space. Is this intentional to show contrast between works?

    -Do you go through stages between being inspired and having artist’s block? How do you deal with this?

    -How do you deal with determining price on pieces?

    -In terms of comments and reactions to your work from viewers, how do you make these feedback opportunities available?

    Thank you so much for your time. As a high school sculpture artist, I find your philosophy and process very inspiring.

  • I really love the work you have done with negative space it is simply amazing.
    One question:
    – How do you get the holes so close together without the piece breaking?

  • I really love the work you have done with negative space it is simply amazing.
    One question:
    – How do you get the holes so close together without the piece breaking?

  • Wow! I love your work so much! We did a project in our sculpture class using your techniques but I definitely wasn’t able to get quite the finite detail you achieve. Do you have any particular inspiration in creating your works or do they have any deeper meaning?

  • Wow! I love your work so much! We did a project in our sculpture class using your techniques but I definitely wasn’t able to get quite the finite detail you achieve. Do you have any particular inspiration in creating your works or do they have any deeper meaning?

  • Your work is indeed intriguing and interesting. Although you have many pieces in a variety of shapes, are you ever worried that you are replicating the same vase over and over?

  • Your work is indeed intriguing and interesting. Although you have many pieces in a variety of shapes, are you ever worried that you are replicating the same vase over and over?

  • Your work is incredible! I envy the patience and concentration you must have to create your pieces. How long does it usually take you to complete an entire piece? How often do you have to start over on projects because they’ve broken or been messed up?

  • Your work is incredible! I envy the patience and concentration you must have to create your pieces. How long does it usually take you to complete an entire piece? How often do you have to start over on projects because they’ve broken or been messed up?

  • After working on a piece inspired by your work I really gained a great deal of respect for you and the amount of patience it takes to complete such incredible pieces. Is the there any specific throwing techniques you use outside of the basics that enhance your efficiency?

  • After working on a piece inspired by your work I really gained a great deal of respect for you and the amount of patience it takes to complete such incredible pieces. Is the there any specific throwing techniques you use outside of the basics that enhance your efficiency?

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