Monday, August 20, 2012

Slow Living: A Home Pottery Studio Tour

Slow living isn't only about living locally, sustainably, with handmade things you love, in a way that supports and celebrates your community's traditions and skills. In an ideal world, slow living includes setting aside space and time for creative pursuits. Learning and practicing an art or craft can enrich your life and be incredibly fulfilling.

While there are lots of professional studio tours on ceramics blogs like (Mud)Bucket, I thought you might be interested in seeing the home pottery studio of a passionate hobbyist, my talented mother Sharon Merriam.

Sharon Merriam at work in her home studio. Photo credit: Peter Merriam.
Mom has moved between media for most of my life. When I was a child, she did sewing, macrame, crochet, and embroidery; when I was in my teens she began life drawing and watercolour, and went on to printmaking. She immersed herself in workshops and extension courses from the local fine arts college. About a decade ago, she began taking pottery classes and workshops, and she was instantly hooked. Ceramics is now her primary medium, and we rarely have a phone conversation where she doesn't report on her latest pieces or the glaze combinations she is trying. The walls of her work have become thinner, her designs more adventurous, her range of techniques more comprehensive, and she has joined a potters' guild and shown her work alongside that of professional potters. At this time, she is enjoying expanding her skills, and has artistic freedom to spend time and effort that she could never afford to give a single piece as a production potter.

Here are some photos I snapped around the house of her work:

A collection of yunomi and glaze test chips on a table in the living room bay window.
A series of sculptural works based on the female figure line the stairs.
This is the first in a sculptural series using thrown rings. To the right is a raku vase.
The wave-shaped tray is her most recent experimental piece. The large vase was wood fired.
The creation of this version of Mom's home ceramics studio has taken years. Before she took up pottery, she had a portable easel, and a corner of a spare bedroom that was used to store supplies and reference books and her works on paper, and most of the artwork on the walls was gradually supplanted with her best work. When she began her love affair with ceramics, she did all her work at Atlantic Pottery Supplies, during classes and studio time. She found that arrangement limiting as she became more skilled and more serious about her craft. After renovating to install a new laundry room in an upstairs storage room a few years ago, the laundry room was converted into a home studio so she could practice throwing (that is, using a pottery wheel) at home. When she purchased an electric kiln last fall, that room became the kiln room (with some electrical work and the addition of a kiln vent fan), and a storage room in the basement was cleaned out and converted into the new throwing-drying-and-glazing studio with the addition of a ventilation fan and a sink. A table for hand-building lives in the basement rec room, and the storage for the pieces she has made has happily spilled over into many rooms of the house.

The electric kiln in its own room, a former laundry room. That thick black cord is the electrical cord for the kiln, which was professionally wired to a lockable box with the sort of on/off switch you see in factories in the movies. The white cord in the background is for a vent fan in the window.
Bisqued wares await glaze on a shelf in the hallway near the kiln room. Photo credit: Sharon Merriam
My kids making pinch pots with my mom at the hand-building table in the basement rec room.
The long, narrow storage room was converted into a ceramics studio with two sections. This shot was taken from mid-room, of the glazing area and the sink (there is a washroom on the other side of that wall that made plumbing in a new sink possible).
Shelves of tools and projects at various stages of completion line the walls.
These are trimming and carving tools.
Handmade brushes for glazing.
Glaze ingredients and premixed underglazes. 
Ready to start throwing. The day I took these photos, Mom threw a cylinder for a project we are collaborating on.
Using ribs to throw and compress the cylinder's walls. 
Checking the height - not tall enough. That's a sketch of my sister on the wall.
Compressing the lip of the cylinder before she cut and stretched it.
Notice the sculptures on the shelf above her head.
Compressing the edge of the cut-and-stretched cylinder. The reason we did this instead of using a traditional slab approach was that the throwing process gives the clay a more organic feeling.
Ready for the next phase!
This is after the next phase: once the clay was leather-hard, we cut the thrown-and-stretched slab into tiles, and I transferred my design onto them and carved out the outlines. It's a Craftsman-inspired ceramic address plaque, showing a heavy Glasgow school influence. 
Here it is with the underglazes painted on. It's hard to tell from the photo, but variation in how many coats of underglaze were used will affect how dark it will be after firing - and the colours after firing will dark purple and dark green. After it has been bisque-fired, the remaining glazes will be added, then it will be fired again.
Viewing photos of the studios of professional artists and writers can be inspiring, but seeing how a passionate amateur integrates their craft study and practice into their home and life can have different lessons. Sometimes, our creative pursuits and passions are not easily contained in a single display case or dedicated room, and that's okay. As the witticism goes, creative minds are rarely tidy.

If (unlike my mom) you're striving for a minimalist version of slow living, there are ways you can manage the chaos that creativity brings. You can have a live/work arrangement like hers, with extra systems in place that help you contain the mess while you are working - professionals with live/work studios would be good models to follow for this. You can choose to work in a separate studio to manage the chaos that creating large works can bring. Alternately, you can be very deliberate in choosing a medium where completed works and works in progress can be stored compactly, or even digitally.

If your personal style is more maximalist, having a live/work space and surrounding yourself with your influences and your own creations is an inspirational way to have a slow home!

{21 Aug 12 Update: edited slightly to reflect feedback from my mother.}

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