Read below for a Q&A with WBCA clay instructor Katie Bosley! You can learn more about and join her class Clay Conversation Club: click here.
How did you first become involved in clay? What is it that drew you to the medium?
I began working with clay during my first year as an art student in college. I had experience with primarily 2D mediums at the time and took a beginning handbuilding clay class and fell in love with the material. I was drawn to the challenges the materials presented. I’m admittedly a control freak and after initial failures working with clay I was determined to master the material. After years in the studio, I’m still no master, but it’s specifically the endless possibilities and challenges clay offers that keeps me engaged.
Can you talk more about the tactility of clay?
One of the things I love about ceramics vessels is that they are made to be both looked at and touched. Because I make objects that can be handled, I know that every inch of my work, even the bottom, can be taken in and appreciated. Making functional objects offers the exciting challenge of considering how the audience will respond to both visual elements as well as the many other components related to interaction, such as the weight or size of the object when it’s held or the tactile qualities of the surface
Beyond tactility, there is an intimacy unique to ceramic objects. Think of a ceramic cup, it’s nested in the hands and lifted to the lip. It’s kind of magical to make objects that go out into the world to be used and interacted with in such an intimate way.
Can you describe how you draw inspiration from Islamic tilework?
I find intricate geometric designs in Islamic tilework intensely mesmerizing and satisfying to look at. Some of the more complex designs sort of vibrate as my eyes move quickly through the composition to find different shapes and lines of symmetry. I enjoy the way the designs pull my attention in and absorb me fully in the beauty and accuracy of the artisan’s work.
Can you talk about the value of clay classes? Have you seen any transformations in your students, or have you yourself felt transformed by a class?
There are two common areas I’ve seen students learn and grow in a ceramics class. First, there is the reward of learning new skills. Working with clay requires an investment of time and energy to learn new materials and tools. The potter’s wheel especially can seem daunting at first. While learning to work with clay, students learn acceptance, resilience, and patience. There’s really no shortcut, just practice. The practice is loads of fun in a community studio environment and the joy of seeing and celebrating progress among supportive peers is incredibly special. Time and time again I’ve seen clay classes offer a major sense of pride and accomplishment for students as they learn to transform a lump of clay into something special.
The second value I’ve both witnessed and personally experienced from taking a clay class is a broadened awareness and appreciation for one’s surroundings. We all interact with functional (maybe even ceramic) vessels every day and may not take much notice in the experience. Once you’ve made pottery yourself, you understand the work and intention put into each step of the making progress and you begin to have a heightened awareness of the objects you interact with. The way the curve of a handle rests perfectly in your hand, the weight of a well-trimmed bowl as you pick it up, or the feel of the carefully beveled rim of a cup against your lip. These observations admittedly happen more when using handmade objects regularly, but interactions with all objects can shift once you’ve experienced making of some kind.
What has it been like teaching Clay Conversation Club?
It’s unlike any other class I’ve taught before. I’m used to sharing mostly what I know directly from personal experience with my students. In Clay Conversations we instead cover topics from across all of ceramics and I’m excited to be learning lots of new things along with my students.
With the online format we have a plethora of information and visuals at our fingertips. We get to look at a range of different processes other makers are using. We look at a wide range of ceramic work, including historical wares, and discuss what we like or dislike and why. We’ve even been able to dive deeper into technical aspects such as kiln firings and glaze materials.
The class is also a great opportunity to share resources with each other such as favorite websites to follow, successful glaze combinations, or favorite tools. Students have shared tours of their home studios, tricks they’ve learned working in a home-studio environment, and we start each class with a show-and-tell of any work fresh from the kiln. The Clay Conversations class has become a special community that comes together each week to share enthusiasm for all things ceramics and support each other’s at-home making.
What advice do you have for readers who might want to start working with clay?
Clay is an exciting material with endless possibilities for making. Because clay work is most often done in community environments the bonus of working with clay is making new friends too!
If you can, I strongly advise taking a handbuilding class before taking a wheel throwing class so you can become familiar with the material before introducing the potter’s wheel into the mix.
Clay has a significant learning curve. The materials can be fickle and the tools new and unfamiliar. It’s normal for progress to feel a bit slow at the beginning and for failures to happen along the way. Remember to be generous and forgiving with yourself and the learning process. I promise the reward when something comes out just right is AMAZING.
You can learn more about Katie on her website: www.katiebosley.com