There are a handful of questions that I am asked at every workshop: “How do you know when to dart?”, “How do you make your feet?”, and “How do you get the stamping to line up?!”, for example. The answers to those are fairly straightforward: practice, carving, and practice.
I’m teasing with the one-word answers, but alongside those simpler, technical how-to questions are toughies like, “How did you find/get/develop your style?” I love deep questions in workshops, the ones that are about being an artist. Those conversations are a big part of why I enjoy teaching. Workshops are a great forum for learning techniques and discussing quandaries like personal style, not for picking up “style tricks.” There is no sincere short answer to the style question during a workshop or in this blog (though “practice” is part of the answer).
A few years ago, while attending NCECA, I attended a lecture* that essentially encouraged the current generation of makers to look not to the former generations’ work for ideas, but rather to their influences. He stated that the prior generation, the WWII-era makers, looked at things (nature, gesture, history, architecture) not other people’s pots. He expressed wonderment at a potential future in ceramics with artists referencing only the preceding generation. This observation was profound to me.
To oversimplify with an example, if I like Linda Sikora’s work, rather than imitating her forms and surfaces, I could begin to develop my own voice by researching what has influenced her work. By delving into the handfuls of objects, cultures, and periods that have defined her style, my own work could become unique rather than simply referential. Who I am as a person and maker will affect how I respond to the exact same historic European porcelain pitcher that inspired her. That’s not to say I can’t appreciate, admire, and buy her work, but I am more likely to find my own voice by looking at what is behind her pots rather than just looking at her pots.
So that is one of the anecdotes I tell in a workshop to begin to explain how one might develop a style. I honestly think if an artist sets out with style as the goal rather than as a byproduct of making what he enjoys based on what inspires him, he will fail. (Though I’m sure there are artists who receive recognition this way, I don’t think they are happy, respected artists.)
Style is the amazing culmination of everything an artist has experienced, loves and is, manifested in an object. I touch on the wide range of things that have shaped my own work (and style) throughout this blog, and also discuss them in my Bio and Statement.
The images in this post represent some of the details—based directly on my influences and interests—I feel make my work unique, my style signatures: slip-trailed shapes that look like rolled fondant; ornate stamping; two-part cup handles; and Kanthal wire as form. Vessels like my Corset series, surfaces like my satin color palette, and even an actual signature, like my name stamp (below) are also part of that design “signature”. The best compliment I receive about my work is, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” What I bring to the pots is something no one else has: my touch, my eye, my mish-mash of interests and my passion. That’s style.
* I’m sorry to say I don’t remember the speaker for that 1998 Dallas/Ft. Worth NCECA slide lecture. If someone knows, please drop me a note.