Even Artists Need A Hobby

I didn’t think it strange that an artist might have a hobby until my students (adults who take my class as a hobby) giggled with wonder and surprise when I voiced needing one. Everyone needs time away from their work, even if their work is someone else’s hobby.

There are definitely days in my studio when I get lost in the enjoyment of giving breath to the clay while I throw, “quilting” the wall of a pot as I stamp, spinning that perfect curl of slip-trail, or creating a lovely negative space for a handle. But, there is also weight—self-imposed pressures—carried into the studio about sales, deadlines, goals, growth and more that is hard to “lose” sometimes. Again, I love what I do, but I don’t want it to be all that I do. I like finding other activities that are mentally or physically rejuvenating (or quieting), so that when I am in my studio, that time is as enjoyable and productive as possible. Pitcher (handle) in progress.

Since we bought our home here in the boonies of MA, when the weather allows, I am outside in my perennial gardens. A hobby for me is doing something I enjoy that allows escape and thoughts of nothing else, and gardening is the first thing I’ve found since my pottery beginnings that does that. I had been planning to do this post when Roger Ebert (yep, the movie critic) posted an article* last week in which he mentions that the most valuable asset of his hobby (drawing) is to allow him to both “experience a place or moment more deeply” and to lose track of time. Exactly! (Even a guy who watches movies for a living needs a hobby!) Painting by Andrew Woodward.

Since I work at home, I find it hard to shut the imaginary door (or even find the door) separating my work time (which isn’t without play) from my not-work time.  Basically, I think too much, and since there is no “off” switch, I need a hobby.  Gardening isn’t something I can do year-round, so I decided just recently to start painting. I loved, I mean loved, to draw as a kid. Remember when “color” was a verb and we wanted to do it as much as go outside and play? Maybe that’s just me, but it’s a feeling I want to resurrect. I remember coloring with the big box of Crayola crayons and then fat Crayola markers as a kid, and then in my teens, painting with acrylics. For my degrees, I’ve taken classes in painting, drawing, printmaking and design, but the last time I drew or painted for fun had to have been in high school. Painting by Mathias Heiderich.

Coincidentally (or not?), my Grandpa painted for a hobby. My grandparents home was a revolving gallery of his paintings. He showed in some local juried exhibitions, won numerous awards, but never sold any (perhaps to maintain hobby status), which is happily why I own a wonderful selection of them. One of the best conversations we had in his later years was about art (his paintings and my pottery)—comparing goals, aesthetics, and foibles of material and maker. As an oil painter who strove for realism, I don’t know what he’d think about my interest in impressionism, abstract expressionism or exaggerated color, but it would be neat to talk to him now about what he felt as he painted. Painting by Ward Kieffer.

I’m curious to see how my pottery informs my painting and vice versa. I’m already painting fields of stripes, and my envy over the ease of mixing paint colors has revved my desire to revamp my glaze palette. I’m also finding it hard and humorous to be new at something. Mostly though, I’m enjoying getting lost in color, line and process, like when I garden (except painting is easier on the knees). Stay tuned for the impact of hobby (my painting) on art (my pots)! I think it will be pretty interesting myself. If nothing else, it should remind me to play more during my “work time”. When I look back on my life, I want to make sure that Iplayed. Painting by Ian Davenport.

Above and below are some painters and paintings in particular I love, and consider influence on my painting-as-hobby pursuits, with more favorites here.


From top left: Giorgio Morandi, Jennifer Sanchez and Charles Demuth.  Second row: Michael Cutlip, Clare Rojas and Beatriz Milhazes.  Third row: Gene Davis, Kate O’Connor and Chuck Close.  Fourth row: Glennray Tutor, René Magritte and Richard Diebenkorn.  Last row:  Peter Freitag and Matte Stephens.

*I highly recommend reading Roger Ebert’s journal post “You can draw, and probably better than I can” if you are a maker, teacher or art-appreciator, which is really all of us.

13 thoughts on “Even Artists Need A Hobby

  1. I agree! The pottery/buisness seems to take over sometimes. As much as I love what I do, I also “need an escape”! I have recently been the “student” and I’m learning weaving and spinning. It’s so polar opposite of what I do in clay…everthing needs to be clean…no dirt. hahaha. Everything needs to have a precise system of organization. (which maybe I should apply in my studio as well. haha) Just the colors, the texture of the fiber. Me, not knowing the first thing about it, and feeling slighty “dumb” and in “awe”.
    Yes, I agree with you..artist need a “hobby”. I find that now with my newly aquired “hobby” that I’m trying new things in the studio. So I believe one is influencing the other!
    I can’t wait to see how your painting’s feed your pottery!
    Have fun! Also, I bought and love your DVD. Thank you!

  2. Good post Kristen. I put it out there on FB that I needed a hobby some time ago and many people responded, ‘pottery’. Right, I said, that’s my Job, not my hobby. It will be fun to see what you do with the painting.

    I find it hard to make time for myself to have fun, or have a hobby. I often feel guilty that I’m not in the studio working. That needs to change. I was drawing regularly for a while but that has slacked off. Maybe it’s time to jump start that again.

    I liked Ebert’s article. Annette Goodheart’s advice is much in line with that of Danny Gregory whose book The Creative License was what propelled me into drawing everyday objects using pen and ink. (See also, Everyday Matters by D. Gregory).

    I think it’s also easier for me to numb out or do nothing sometimes (esp. on the computer) than to draw or garden or go for a long enjoyable walk.

    I hope some other readers will share what they do for fun or have as a hobby.

  3. Hi Kristen,
    I laughed out loud about your not having an “off” switch. I haven’t been able to find mine either! The best way for me to at least slow it down is to go outside with my pastels and do some really bad plein air landscapes. It gives me a sense of place, of being part of nature, like nothing else. The ultimate is to load up my pastel backpack and easel and hike somewhere. I live on the central coast of California. It’s beautiful and I just don’t get out there and enjoy it enough. My pastels are awful, but the drawing and playing with color does help my studio practice. This is reminding me that I need (want) to do more of it.

  4. This is a great Post Kristen!

    I have been having some conversations recently about getting out of the habits and expectations we sometimes build for ourselves when we are ‘on the job’ of pottery making. I think the idea of ‘hobby’ is perfect for this, and I wonder if it may also be possible for potters to pick up clay and call it “hobby-time”. As long as they can get that ‘job’ switch turned off, I suppose. And all of this fresh creative work, this experimentation, has to be good for us when it comes time for us to step back into our ‘work clothes’. Don’t you think?

    You have been very successful in keeping your main work playful and fun, but I’m sure (as Ron Suggested) that there are folks out there who are losing track of that attitude of making things in clay just for fun. So it really seems to be as much an issue of attitude as it does an issue of particular activities. Having fun is having fun no matter the medium, and if we can’t remember what it was to have fun with clay we may be in deep trouble.

    What you said about the difficulty and humor of being new at something is exactly the what we need to cultivate sometimes. As professional potters we are so good at what we do, so proficient. Our habits are so ingrained, and our expectations are so infused with things like market pressures, branding, and needing to get pots out that we can sometimes forget to have fun with what we do. Can we still pick up a piece of clay and not feel those pressures? The farther we are from our habits the easier it may be to simply play. Sometimes that means doing things outside of clay. Shouldn’t we give ourselves time to also just play with the clay at times?

    I’d love to hear what other folks think.

  5. I’m glad this post resonated for you guys. I thought it an interesting point to address with non-makers. (I indeed write my posts as if I’m writing to a collector.) But knew most full time makers would *get it*. :-)

    Re: Carter’s observations. I very much play in the studio. I think like you’re suggesting, my [anyone’s] work wouldn’t evolve without it. I have to schedule it in, whether for an hour or a two weeks, but I couldn’t survive without it. I do though –thus the reason for the post– believe time away from one’s work (even the playful parts) can only feed that time even more. I imagine some can sustain work and play year-round in the same medium, but I’ve learned, I want more. The mental travel of a hobby invites new perceptions and ideas for me. As I alluded to in the post, the joy of uninhibited hobby play juices my studio time, resulting in pottery play.

  6. I’m a one-man hobbyteria. I have hobbies to spare. Hobbies R Me. When I’m at the wheel, I’m dreaming of verses to write. When I’m running with the dog, I’m whistling fiddle tunes. When I’m playing guitar and singing to the cats I get dirty looks — except from the one cat who likes the song “Roly-Poly”.

    I suffer EHD. Excessive Hobby Disorder.

    I always admired my potter friends for whom clay was their life. I always figured they held the edge on me. After all, if all they ever WANTED to do was make more pots, that was an obsession that was going to pay. At least it would have paid me. I could never keep up with the pottery.

    My wife wishes that just ONE of my passions had been toward something that would have made a bit more money. I tell her I’m still working on the guitar thing. I think this rock’n’roll thing is going to catch on.

    So, yeah, get a hobby. Learn to juggle. I juggle hobbies.

    • you remind me of me!
      I pot – mainly
      and then,
      I paint portraits in oil on large canvases
      I sew potters aprons (and even sell them!)
      I sew my own clothes when I have time
      and attend the garden
      and cook
      and clean
      and iron
      and wash the floor
      and yes, I am waiting for that dog
      to walk!
      I do a lot of different things
      they aren’t hobbies though
      they are all the corners and sides
      of my life
      and it is beautiful!

  7. Great post Kristen! Since my studio is at home as well — even when I’m not making something in clay – I’m starting a load of clothes or dinner or related household chores — so there’s really no ‘off’ switch until my head hits the pillow. Definitely nothing considered ‘play.’

    I just recently started painting with acrylics, pastels, gouache, crayons, markers – whatever I can find! It is so refreshing to get ideas out without waiting on the kiln – lol. Seriously though painting is opening me up creatively in ways I didn’t think possible. My paintings are certainly not masterpieces in any respect and I wouldn’t even consider selling any — but painting has made me fall in love with process again. As a functional potter, I am always very aware of the rules of craftmanship — the painting is just freedom – playful freedom.

    I recommend buying that box of crayons!

  8. John, your comments made me laugh as do all the theories out there: “How to find a job that you enjoy as much as your hobby,” “How to turn your hobby into your job,” “Why you shouldn’t turn your hobby into your job thereby losing enjoyment of your hobby,” and back again. I guess we are all just looking to get paid to have fun!

  9. That’s a great post, Kristin, one that I agree with myself. I find my hobbies in photography, gardening, and hiking and lately, during the winter, in cooking. I tend to bring those same pressures into the studio with me, too, even though I’m also having fun working out new ideas. So to lose myself in cooking an exciting meal or photographing a flower bud or leaf pattern, that’s such a treat for me. Those hobbies or breaks really refresh me for working in clay because then my mind is focused and clearer. Then there is the wonderful hobby of doing nothing, or maybe I should call it the ‘art of doing nothing’, although I need to practice harder on this hobby!

  10. As I read through the posts of others commenting on your blog, I could help but add my own thoughts.

    I remember when I fell in love with pottery. I remember saying to my sister, “when hobbies become a job, the enjoyment can slip away”. I opened a community based studio 9 months ago so that I could share my passion with others. Then I patented a mug for resale. I try to limit my time on the wheel so that I never loose that same passion that I felt in the beginning. But like you, the off button is nonexistent. Thank you for the reminder to stop sometimes and just enjoy the simple things like a hobby.

  11. Last fall I took up beading. Well, really, I took up collecting beads because I haven’t found much time to actually make! I’m not a ‘bling’ kinda gal, but I fell in love with Swarovski crystal beads and my suspicion is that it was because I love color so much. If I had access to a metals studio, I would spend time there, no doubt, because I am dyyyying to work with enamels. Again, all those yummy colors! Even this ‘hobby’, however, was begun with thoughts of finding another way to bring in money, since I can’t make it on the pots alone.

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