Friday, June 17, 2011

Working towards...

...a sustainable practice.

Sustainability is the capacity to endure. In ecology, the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. For humans, sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions.


to keep up or keep going, as an action or process.

This is a word that is thrown around quite a bit these days. We apply it to a lot of things like agriculture, energy and communities, but what does it mean when applied to your own studio practices? Now, I do not mean the "green" implications to this word as it relates to your studio, but more so an approach to being able to create and to continue to create your own body of work by making a small investment and having modest space.

I have been mulling this question over while I have been teaching beginning ceramics this summer here at IUP. The question in my head is, "how is what I am teaching applicable to my students' needs?". Can I develop a course that will sustain them throughout their collegiate career and even possibly beyond? Because in my mind, that's what a beginning level course should do...lay a solid foundation on which to build. And while I focus on the physical aspects of ceramics, I also plant the seed for critical thought to happen and hopefully continue to happen by presenting current discussions and trends from contemporary ceramics and pit form against surface and function against sculpture.

Before teaching this class I brushed up on all my old clay tricks...reviewing hand building techniques and a wide variety of surface decoration techniques. I know that I learned these things at one time but these days, I rarely employ some of this highly effective,tried and true techniques when working on my own pieces. I think people get used to the way they do things and simply stick with methods that work well for them. I admit it, I'm guilty of this. But, what I'm teaching is forcing me to revisit my own beginnings and maybe even getting me to add a new trick or two to my own repertoire.

I went on to consider that not only should the techniques being taught be applicable to the students continuing on to an intermediate or advanced level but also to those that might go on to want to work in clay later as a hobbyist or art educator. This is also why we are only firing at the low fire level, completing all the work in electric kilns. Most people after their college experience will only have access to electric kilns unless they work at art/community centers or residencies that support different types of facilities and kilns. Besides, these days with the digital setter, you can tailor your firings pretty nicely and achieve effects at a mid range that before was only seen in a high fire gas kiln. For a broader definition of creating a sustainable studio practice check out a brief but loaded article by then graduate student Brian Kluge in the March 2010 issue of Ceramics Monthly.

Hand building; including coil and slab, a basic introduction to wheel throwing, intro to slips and glaze, basic understanding of electric kilns and cones, all topped off with a continued emphasis on surface design or decoration...this is my idea of teaching a sustainable practice in clay. Make your plaster molds in another class with another teacher...strictly nuts and bolts here.

I'm also applying this idea of sustainable practice to my own work...finishing more pieces like the ones in this post, above and below, in the electric kiln. Keeping the level of equipment usage down doesn't diminish the work by any means. I will post images of these mugs, at least, before the end of the week(hopefully)...cone 5, wax resist lines revealing what will be the rich brown clay body, laser printed decals and maybe some lovely kitsch and bling to round it all out. The sculptural piece however might take me a little longer to finish... what I am jokingly calling my "loving balls" piece(pictured below). Work like this often makes me obsess for a while over the permanency of the possible imagery. I think I have my glazes set, but now for the images...hmmmm...critical thought is my mental stir stick. Tune in later for the results.

Keep it real.


barbaradonovan said...

A lot of good thought given to setting up this entry level clay class. Cool. A friend of mine who taught at a small university out in the sticks in Louisiana felt it important also to reach those student just passing through who might never make another pot to appreciate the arts perhaps even as future collectors of handmade things.

k.houser said...

Honestly Barbara...I just should be making more work...less everything else!
But good Teaching is like Preaching...Im out making art converts!

All praise Volkous!