Inspiring : Sas and Fez {ceramics}

Moving between her tiny spare room that doubles as a studio and store room and the electric wheel set up in a corner of her lounge room {and thankful for a “long-suffering and extremely supportive husband who tends to turn a blind eye to my creative endeavours as they devour the house”}, Catherine Keany of Sas and Fez creates wonderfully organic ceramics that have the  exuberant colour of Antoni Gaudi and the gentle stillness of a Giorgio Morandi painting.

 

sas and fez - stripe and spot ceramic collection

sas and fez – stripe and spot ceramic collection

 

“I have been lucky enough to do a lot of travelling so I am constantly influenced by the things I see. I recently saw Gaudi’s work in Barcelona and was absolutely blown away. The colour and creativity gave me the confidence to keep going with my current mindset. Ceramicists I am influenced by are Gwyn Hanssen Pigott and Pippin Drysdale. Their modern simple forms and clean colour palettes are stunningly elegant.”

 

sas and fez - sunny multi-coloured ceramic bottle

sas and fez – sunny multi-coloured ceramic bottle

 

Always busy making and drawing since she was small, Catherine first pursued studies in fashion design when she left school, but soon changed over to graphic design. She still works in this field, and enjoys the contrast of working in 2D on-screen, and coming home to work in the tactile 3D of clay. Whatever outlet she chooses, she thrives on being in ‘the zone’; “When I’m in the throes of a creative flow I get butterflies and an adrenalin rush and hours can pass by unnoticed – I love that feeling.”

 

sas and fez - multicolour 3 bottle collection

sas and fez – multicolour 3 bottle collection

 

Her foray into ceramics started a little while back when she was looking for a hands-on creative outlet and thought she’d give it a go at her local TAFE. “Once I was there I was hooked, I met great people and it is such an inexact science that it’s always interesting. I was making so much stuff that I was running out of people to give it to or places to store it so I had a market stall at work and sold most of my table which gave me the confidence to ask for money for my creations, so I started my Etsy store, SasAndFez {named for her two dalmations}. I wish I had more time to dedicate to it!”

sas and fez - cream oatmeal and black trim bottle

sas and fez – cream oatmeal and black trim bottle

 

It’s not just the making that has drawn her into ceramics. It’s the camaraderie that’s been built over time with other makers as well – “of celebrating the pieces that work or sympathising when a piece fails. Or standing around a hot fire waiting to see the treasures come out of the kiln after 12 hours of chatting and stoking the fire.”

 

sas and fez - black smoke fired saga ornamental bottles

sas and fez – black smoke fired saga ornamental bottles

 

She has two favourite pieces of advice that she interweaves ~

‘Don’t give up’

and

‘Life is for living’.

“I can’t give up being creative, I don’t know how!”

 

You can find more of Catherine’s ceramics, as well as some gorgeously chunky and colourful resin jewellery in her shop, SasAndFez.

 

The crafted object : Quality ~ it’s in the details

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe famously said “God is in the details.”

Quality is being purposeful and attentive to all those little things that many of us rush over, and is the reward for those of us who choose to heed we see.

 

Rebecca Hannon - 'cobblestone' brooch - front and back {via RebeccaHannon.com}

Rebecca Hannon – ‘cobblestone’ brooch – front and back

{via RebeccaHannon.com}

 It’s in the interiors and undersides of objects.

 

 

yumiko higuchi {via yumikohiguchi.com}

yumiko higuchi

{via yumikohiguchi.com}

 It’s present in immense skill and precision.

 

 

thyme tealight - {kanimblapottery.etsy.com}

thyme tealight – {kanimblapottery.etsy.com}

{kanimblapottery.etsy.com}

 It’s in the understanding of materials, and how they look when the light catches them.

 

 

Molly Hatch  cups {via MollyHatch.com}

Molly Hatch cups

 {via MollyHatch.com}

 

yumi okita -

yumi okita – cross’s wave moth

{from irohandbags.etsy.com}

 

And NONE of it is made by casual fiddlers or doodlers.

 

Build your vision, build your skills by years of long, hard work; 

and one day quality will appear, as if by magic. 

 

 

The crafted object : Sandra Bowkett {ceramic}

Sandra Bowkett is one of those artists that the more you find out about them, the more in awe you are of them.

 

sandra bowkett - bharni and copper spot dishes

sandra bowkett – bharni and copper spot dishes

 

Sandra is a ceramicist living in pristine woodland near Tallarook in central Victoria with her partner, producing cups and bowls in porcelain and decorated with oxides. Her work is simple and elegant, comfortable in its handmade origins.

She counts as one of her biggest achievements to date the successful building and firing of her own wood firing kiln, and “arriving at the point after many ‘phases’ where I feel I am working in a way that is an authentic expression of myself through my craft.”

 

sandra bowkett - copper spot cups

sandra bowkett – copper spot cups

 

sandra bowkett - pourer bowl and spoons

sandra bowkett – pourer bowl and spoons

 

Sandra grew up in country NSW, and was introduced to ceramics by her art teacher at school, which she continued to study at Caulfield Tech. Working briefly for a large production pottery firm in Healesville, she decided that was not for her and left to pursue her own ideas on making.

After travelling overseas, a Diploma of Education, and more travelling, she returned to Australia and set up her own studio in Melbourne, with visions of  the Turkish kilims that she’d seen driving her imagination.

Then, a trip to India in 1988 became a turning point in her life – while wandering around Rajasthan, she came across a potter’s yard, and in the corner of the yard was a massive pile of spherical water jars. For someone whose Western training valued the pursuit of individuality even more than skill, the sight was astonishing and the effect was profound. From that point on, her whole outlook on repetition changed, as did her own ceramic practice.

 

sandra bowkett - stitched - cup plate spoon

sandra bowkett – stitched – cup plate spoon

 

sandra bowkett - cobalt stripe vessels

sandra bowkett – cobalt stripe vessels

 

She felt the need to create stronger connections with the potters of India. Her first attempts didn’t go smoothly. When trying to facilitate a women’s ceramic workshop outside Delhi, the women were unenthusiastic and the product development didn’t happen how she intended. The experience made Sandra realise then that they didn’t need her – they had all the skills they needed from traditional practice producing functional items and were happy in that pursuit.

It is that tradition and its concentration on one thing to the point of great artistry in that thing that gives it immense appeal to Sandra. She also believes that part of the inherent beauty of functional items is their honesty, and these ideas have been a big driver of Sandra’s own work.

It was for these reasons that she knew there would be other potters in Australia who would benefit from what these traditional artisans had to offer.

So she persisted.

Slowly, over a period of ten years and a huge amount of travelling, Sandra has built a strong cross-cultural community. With the help of young Indian craft advocate and entrepreneur Minhazz Majumbar, they have forged Crosshatched, an overall concept and flexible structure for continuing craft exchanges between the two countries.

 

sandra bowkett - potter

sandra bowkett – potter

 

Sandra’s images of India are wonderful, evoking all the rich colour and often thought-provoking sights of the place (you can check more of them here). I asked her how serious she was about photography, and how it fitted in with her ceramics practice. She told me, “In the past I had briefly considered photography as a career but I do not think I am predatory enough, and the desire to make objects is strong.”

 

sandra bowkett - Kumartuli Kol figures

sandra bowkett – Kumartuli Kol figures

 

“However I live in a visual world; in India at every turn there is the picturesque, the unusual or exotic, and after many trips there I need to be in a certain mindset to take a picture. Sometimes I do not take my camera out with me so as not to be distracted by the possibility of a great shot, but just enjoy the moment.”

 

sandra bowkett - india

sandra bowkett – india

 

sandra bowkett - sketchbook - india Feb2014

sandra bowkett – sketchbook – india Feb 2014

 

Sandra has achieved a massive amount over the last decade; I for one am looking forward to hearing more of her stories soon and seeing how these cross-cultural traditions impact on contemporary craft.

 

sandra bowkett - studio view

sandra bowkett – studio view

 

sandra bowkett - view from my bed

 

You can check out more of the many artists and projects involved in Crosshatched at www.crosshatched123.com.au, and see more of Sandra’s own work at www.sandrabowkett.com.

The crafted object : Chris Taylor {ceramics}

Looking at Chris Taylor’s multi-coloured vessels I am reminded of layers of wallpaper in an ancient house. Pattern on pattern over paint, in colours that are both rich and muted. And just like wallpaper, layers on layers bring with them ideas of process, and each pattern and surface needs time to contemplate.

 

Chris Taylor - vessel (photo: Ester Segarra)

Chris Taylor – vessel (photo: Ester Segarra)

 

It’s pattern in particular that interests Chris, for its abilities to either aid or confuse the eye when looking at three-dimensional objects, and it’s why he tries to cram so much of it onto one thing. But he also enjoys the process and technique, exploring unconventional ways of applying and arranging the decoration on ceramic vessels.

It’s quite a process. “Most of my current work is thrown on the potter’s wheel, distorted before being decorated in various combinations and layers of coloured clays and print. Once this initial stage is completed the pieces are fired before being partially glazed, after which the decorative process continues with additional layers of pattern and colour being applied. Sometimes pieces are sanded to reveal some of the earlier layers of patterning, and sometimes a lustre is applied to create additional interest.”

 

Chris Taylor - vessel (photo: Ester Segarra)

Chris Taylor – vessel

 

Although he has been working with clay for more than 15 years, including a stint as a teacher at the North Devon School of Art as well as producing his own range of handmade tableware, it was not until undertaking his MA through the Royal College of Art in 2010 that he started working in this way. At the beginning of his MA he won a travelling scholarship to visit Jingdezhen, China, describing the experience as “pivotal”. It was there that he discovered the printing technique that allowed him to build up the layers before firing took place. “This technique has had a massive influence on my work and I continue to use it now.”

The experience has been pivotal in more ways than one. Not only was it an opportunity to learn a new technique, but it also meant that he had to do something even harder – to unlearn.

“Something I had to learn to overcome was accepting that certain things I had for years considered to be faults were no longer faults.”

“I have been making for many years and my early training was concerned with making tableware for various companies. With the tableware I produced there was a standard that needed to be met. Warping and cracking were considered incorrect, as were glaze chips, colour variations etc… This way of thinking became quite ingrained in me to the point where I did not question it.”

 

Chris Taylor - vessel (photo: Ester Segarra)

Chris Taylor – vessel (photo: Ester Segarra)

 

Chris Taylor - surface detail

Chris Taylor – surface detail

 

“When I came to make this series of work for my Masters it was my intention to question and actively resist expected practices. However at the beginning I found it hard to accept some of things I was producing as successful pieces of work; rather I viewed them as seconds. It took me a while to realize the rules by which I had worked when making tableware were no longer relevant and I began to accept all outcomes as interesting experiments. At this point my work appeared more successful to me. Ultimately the way I see technical failure now has completely changed.”

 

Chris Taylor - vessel (photo: Ester Segarra)

Chris Taylor – vessel (photo: Ester Segarra)

 

Chris Taylor - surface detail

Chris Taylor – surface detail

 

“I am conscious of the desire for the series to continuously evolve, so with this in mind my favourite piece at any point in time is usually the one which is the most different from the one before. Often this is a piece that has ‘gone wrong’, or at least not according to plan, forcing me to try new techniques or make different decisions which results in something new.”

Chris Taylor - group pf vessels (photo Ester Segarra)

Chris Taylor – group of vessels (photo Ester Segarra)

 

“When reading your blog in preparation for answering your questions I was quite taken by Angela Stevens‘ quote, “If things aren’t right in the end, then you are not at the end.  I think that this sums up my way of thinking with regards to the development of the series. If I am not happy with a piece I will keep on working on it until I am.”

You can find more of Chris Taylor’s work on his website, www.christaylorceramics.co.uk.

The crafted object : Susan Hanft ~ ceramics

The simple shapes and hand drawn patterns of Susan Hanft’s ceramics tread an elegant line between amusing and serious. Like cartoon versions of themselves, their chunky contours are outlined and patterned with simple things – checks, dots, stripes and crosses, in a mostly black and white kind of way, often finished with a small detail of gold lustre. She describes her pots as a “celebration of the imperfect, irregular and not quite right.”

 

susan hanft - striped bottle

susan hanft – striped bottle

 

‘Irregular’ could also be used to describe her creative  journey. Although her parents were great supporters of the arts and creative in their own right, it has taken a long time for Susan to find her way back to ceramics.

“I was always the kid the teachers would ask to letter a sign or do a small illustration. I remember winning a first place ribbon in a local arts contest for a little clay figure I made, a young girl in a turquoise dress and her poorly-proportioned black cat. (I found the piece in my mother’s belongings after her death and still have it to this day.)

“I’ve always had a strong desire to express myself. I’ve picked up numerous musical instruments over the years, but was hopelessly inept at all of them. I initially trained to be a dancer, but an injury put me off that career path. I returned to school to pursue a fine arts degree, ultimately majoring in ceramic sculpture. Once away from the university, I lacked the needed equipment and capital to set up a clay studio, and began investigating other media: performance art, mixed media assemblage, and digital collage, to name a few. (I still make the digital pieces.)”

“Since I’ve never figured out how to live on art sales alone, I’ve always had some sort of ‘straight’ job to pay the bills. I’ve worked in a number of positions in the restaurant industry and have been a market analyst/technical writer for the last decade or so. But, I’ve also worked in art galleries (Houston, Texas), and, more recently, been part-owner of an arts and crafts co-op in the small Texas town (Bastrop) where I live now.”

 

susan hanft - black and white check wabi sabi vase

susan hanft – black and white check wabi sabi vase

 

“I only returned to ceramics about ten years ago when a friend made me the gift of a kiln she was no longer using.”

 

susan hanft - tiny black and white porcelain box

susan hanft – tiny black and white porcelain box

 

An eclectic range of influences include (unsurprisingly) comics and cartoons, as well as artists Paul Klee, Kurt Schwitters and Joan Miro. Susan also includes in her list the surface designs of mid-century modern design, and prehistoric and tribal patterns from all over the world, as well as the work of  photographers Cindy Sherman and Sally Mann.

 

susan hanft - wabi sabi vase w white gold lustre

susan hanft – wabi sabi vase w white gold lustre

 

I asked her what she would make if I gave her a cardboard box, a marker pen and a sharp knife.

“I wouldn’t make the same thing today as I would make tomorrow. I might cut out templates for my ceramic vases, or do a drawing, make a book, or build a piece of sculpture or furniture if the box is big enough. The possibilities are limitless. Then again, I might need the box to ship ceramics to a buyer.”

 

Let’s hope so 🙂

 

susan hanft - wabi sabi vase with quote

susan hanft – wabi sabi vase with quote

 

You can find more of Susan’s work in her Etsy shop, GoneToPotTexas.