I’d like to introduce you to Connie Christensen, our Resident Artist at the Arvada Ceramic Arts Guild. She’s been an artist her whole life but took her first throwing class, discovering her love for clay, at the age of 40. She’s talented and earnest, and finds great joy in making art: “My passion is for functional pots that you can hold and caress and that have meaning in your everyday life – coffee in the morning with a favorite mug, your hands familiar with every curve and ridge.”
1. Describe, in detail, a specific piece of art from inception to final product.
I wanted to make a cup and saucer that would best show the glazes I would use on it. For the cup, I intended to scribe lines on the surface that would give the impression of bamboo. I planned on using a green glaze that is slightly translucent and has gold specks and breaks over edges creating lighter and darker areas. I wanted to combine this with a semi-mat black glaze on the bottom third of the pot. The green would cover the pot down to a transition line where the form narrowed. From the transition line to the bottom there would be the black glaze. To create a saucer that matched the cup, I included the scribed lines and I glazed in a similar manner. In the center, where the cup would sit, there would be the black glaze to mirror the black on the bottom of the cup. On the wide rim would be the scribed lines with the green glaze, and on the foot of the saucer would be black- the same as the cup.
This was all carefully thought out before throwing the cup and saucer so I would know how tall I wanted the cup to be for the lines, as well as where to put the transition from the side to the bottom where the black would be. Then I threw the cup and saucer, trimmed them and scribed the lines. After they had dried, they were bisque fired in an electric kiln to a little over 1800 degrees- this makes the work easy to handle but still porous enough to absorb the glaze.
To glaze, I put a line of tape just above where the black glaze would be so that when I dipped it into the glaze it would not cover the area to be glazed in green. After they had dried enough to handle, the tape was taken off and the inside of the cup was glazed and turned upside down. The saucer was glazed in a similar way, and then all glaze was cleaned from the foot of the cup and the saucer and it was ready to be fired again.
Firing the gas kiln for me is a time-consuming yet necessary 4 day process.
Day 1 is loading the kiln (3-4 hours).
Day 2 is firing (about 10 hours).
Day 3 is cooling (a time to clean up the glaze mess in the studio).
Day 4 is unloading the kiln, which takes much less time than loading the kiln.
For the cup and saucer, this particular green is best placed in the parts of the gas kiln that cools slower so that the gold crystals have time to grow. If the kiln gods are kind, it turns out just the way I had envisioned it.
2. What inspires your thinking and makes your work unique?
It takes awhile for a potter to develop a style that is unique to them. I am inspired by Asian esthetics, nature, the color green, clean lines and also a shino glaze that goes from orange, gold, white to black - colors of the sunsets on the Oregon coast.
3. What is your world like as an artist?
My studio is my world. I go there every day, 7 days a week for 3-4 hours a day. Some days I’m throwing or trimming pots, preparing clay, loading a kiln, firing, cleaning pots and pricing, delivering to galleries, staring at the walls thinking, glaze testing and again, staring at the walls thinking.
4. What is most satisfying about this industry and your work?
I like that I’m my own boss and I set my own hours. It’s not just sitting at a wheel throwing pots, so it’s never boring. When I was growing up I wanted to be either an artist or a scientist, and this covers both. I enjoy testing and altering glazes and this involves chemistry. I fire my work in a gas kiln in a reduction atmosphere to around 2300 degrees, and that atmosphere affects the oxides in the glazes. Different chemicals in a glaze also affect the oxides and there are chemicals that will make a glaze more mat, or runny, or translucent, or opaque, or textured, or soft, etc. I like putting all of this together and creating glazes that appeal to me.
I also used to be in graphic design until I discovered clay when I was close to 40. I put those skills to use in creating my pottery website: http://www.conniechristensen.com/.
5. How does your work life bleed into your personal life?
Especially this year, my work life is my personal life. Even in a normal year, it’s very intertwined: being on social media, I am connected to potters/artists around the U.S. and other countries. I have an online class through Teachinart.com where I have students from around the world and it’s nice to have that connection. I am quite an introvert and being a potter is my life and is the major source of interaction with other people, mostly potters.
6. To you, what does it mean to be an artist?
Being an artist, to me, can be calming, soothing, frustrating and rewarding. To know that someone is drinking coffee from one of my mugs every morning because it is their favorite mug and no one else can use it, is rewarding.
Being an artist means growing, changing, and seeing new ways to do things. I think everyone has this creativity, and it need not apply to art for someone to be creative.
7. What do you want Arvada Lifestyle readers to know about making art?
A well made piece of art goes through many processes: preparing the clay, throwing, trimming, loading the electric kiln for a bisque firing, firing, unloading, mixing glazes, glazing, loading the gas kiln, firing, unloading, inventorying, and delivering. Even if the accumulated time handling of a piece was 1 hour, it is really 30 years of experience and 1 hour. My sister once wanted to make a spaghetti bowl, and she thought if I could do it, so could she. She ended up with a lumpy dog dish and much more appreciation for hand-made pottery. There is the cost of learning and the cost of having a studio - studio rent, a $10,000 gas kiln, a $3,000 electric kiln, a $2,500 pugmill, tools, chemicals, a wheel, and many more items I have accumulated in my studio. It’s a large investment, and this is why handmade pots cost so much. I want people to recognize a well made piece and appreciate the many processes it has undergone to reach the final state.