Tell us about your artwork, medium, style, subject matter, etc.
As a trained and educated chemist, my work explores the intersection between visual art and material science. I am literally doing chemistry when I mix and test my ceramic glazes and clay bodies. My content is the process itself, capturing the technical aspects of my medium by pushing the boundaries of the results of ceramic materials and glazes. As a professional chemistry educator, my passion for sharing and exploring chemistry is part of the drive behind my art. I want my viewers and collectors of my art to take away a deeper sense of wonder about the science, the natural world and chemistry in general. Many of the designs I use for my ceramic wall art come from or are inspired by the principles and concepts I teach daily in my chemistry classroom. Examples include molecular geometry and the etching of surfaces using different types of concentrated acids. I am always looking for creative ways to express my passion for the beauty of science and chemistry.
What are your biggest challenges in creating art?
As a ceramic artist, the biggest challenge is my process. Compared to other mediums, ceramics require more technical understanding and processing with potentially dangerous outcomes in not managed properly. First and foremost, I need a kiln for bisque and glaze firings. My medium requires chemical changes around 1800 degrees Fahrenheit to be completed. Beyond the traditional processing of ceramic materials, I also explore the raku process with my own personal, chemistry inspired modifications. For my recent interest in iridescent lustre glazes, not only do I remove my work from the kiln at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, I use a non-traditional raku process of fuming my work with a reducing medium. In other words, I spray my glowing hot work with a cocktail of isopropyl alcohol and metal chloride salts causing the surface to be reduced, creating a reflective nano-layer of metal ions in the glass phase of the glaze surface. As you might imagine, the chemicals and reaction products are toxic and require substantial chemical safety gear. Chemical safety and hygiene are important components of my artistic process.
Another challenge with my artistic medium and process are the infinite variables in the glaze recipe, clay body – glaze interactions, kiln temperature, kiln atmosphere, off-gassing by glazes, raku process timing and even unexpected variables like how much wind there is on the day I’m doing a firing. Each variable adds a little variation to the final result and it’s sometimes difficult to replicate results without considering all the different pieces of the puzzle.
What is a day of working like in your studio/creative space? Do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
Before I mix a glaze or do a firing, I always review my notebook and write up conclusions from my previous attempts. Art and science are disciplines that require a deeper understanding of the past journeys of those who came before as well as your own experiments and results. Even so, I always like to pick one variable to intentionally modify with my current experiments to see if I can discover something new with this element of entropy. I find that my reflections on my previous experiment get me excited to continue my artistic/scientific journey forward.
When you are in need of inspiration are there particular things you read, listen to, look at or do to help find that idea or fuel your work?
I will often look at the diagrams and figures in recent scientific publications or textbooks for inspiration. The microscopic shapes of molecules, polymer and cellular biology give me inspiration for my abstract expression of scientific structures in my art. Ceramics Monthly is another great read specifically for ceramics.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I’m jealous of painters. Everyone knows what to do with a painting; hang it up on your wall and appreciate it’s visual aesthetic. Early in my ceramic artist career I used to make large abstract vessels with bright, colorful glazes. I was always frustrated when a collector or viewer asked, “What type of plant can I put in this” or generally what could they do with my vessels. This was inspiration to move to sculptural wall art. I make objects for visual appreciation, not function. I am frustrated with the traditional association of ceramics with functional work, but I continue working with clay despite this.
What advice would you give others just beginning their creative careers?
Keep putting yourself out there. For every 10 applications I submit, I get 9 rejections. Don’t take it personally or let it set you back. Becoming a professional artist is a long, long journey that requires grit and perseverance. Making art is only the beginning. I’ve found that effort, marketing, advertising and generally putting yourself out there is what has made the difference for my artistic efforts. Being an artist is a business and requires one to move and think beyond the studio.