When I first discovered ceramics, I quickly became captivated with the process. I loved everything from forming and decorating to the material science and firing. I was even seduced by the parameters that ceramics requires makers to adhere to: wet vs. dry; plastic vs. short; strength vs. fragility, and so on. I could imagine no other substance I might manipulate with my hands that, once fired, would render an object with such strength, impermeability, and longevity.
So naturally, as my forming abilities became more skilled, I found myself obsessed with trying to fashion everything around me (beyond functional ware) out of clay—door knobs, cutlery, chopsticks, coasters, table tops, lamps, frames, cutting boards, valets, you name it—and I thought these ideas were both possible and ingenious. Everything could be both beautiful and strong! Some of these projects I tried (a lamp that I occasionally used and a cutting board that spent more time hanging on the wall than it did in service), others were not practical (porcelain coasters are not very absorbent). To this day, I still find myself saying, “Why would I buy that when I can make it out of clay?”
Sometimes, the only barrier to making something in clay is finding the right approach or technique. I think all artists reach a point when what they want to create exceeds their skillset, and they must search out alternative forming methods. Crafters seek out and thrive on the thrill of learning to work with other materials or gaining new skills within their chosen discipline. When it comes to finding inventive ways to create objects that are both beautiful and meaningful in everyday life, the sky is the limit.
In this issue, we celebrate alternative forming methods and crossover training. Heidi Tarver shows us how manipulating patterns with a computer can lead to layered surfaces; Alan Johnson flirts with the fine line between vessel and sculpture; Bill Schran shares how plastic templates normally used in handbuilding can make wheel-thrown production pottery easier; Fiona Byrne-Sutton develops intriguing new clay bodies with a bit of botany and geology knowledge; and Maia Leppo and Jen Allen combine forces to teach each other, and us, how to make well-designed ceramic jewelry with only a few extra tools. Add to that articles on extruded butter dishes, underglaze-decorated mandala designs, and pie dogs (you know you’re curious about that last one). So keep flipping pages and discover your next new skill!