Finding Your Art Style / Sweet Tarnation
Everything has already been done. If you haven’t seen it done, it was probably just done before your time (or done in secret). It may be true that there aren’t any truly original ideas, but there are actions and styles that fit us and feel right for each individual. There are as many styles as there are people (and some may say infinitely more!). So how do we find our distinctive aesthetic to express ourselves? It’s something artists can spend a lifetime searching for and refining. I suppose there are as many ways to get there as there are destinations, but something they all share is wonder, experimentation, and a good old-fashioned attitude of f*cking around to find out. Wonder is essential if you strive for creativity. No one is promising you’ll get there, but that’s half the fun.
It takes trying a bunch of different things to find materials and formats that you want to continue exploring. You’ll constantly be tweaking it and trying this new glaze combination or that new clay body, fine-tuning your paint colors. Striving for something is an exhilarating part of creating, always pushing to make it better and more true to your intentions. I’ve probably gone through as many iterations of glaze treatments as I have batches of pottery that I’ve made. I tweak how many coats of glaze I apply to suit the color-melt I’m going for. I’ve found 8 coats of glaze total is best for the speckle clay I use (3 or 4 for the bottom color, always at least 4 for the top color to get the right melt) and 7 coats for the colorful porcelains. The glazes run a little more on the porcelain, so I am careful not to overglaze those. Once I have my own kiln I’ll be able to do more experimentation to get the drippiness I’ve been lucky enough to see on previous pots. It’s tough to do glaze trials in a community kiln without risking others’ work. Taking chances with the work of your fellow potters is always bad etiquette.
Click here to see what I’ve been working on!
Besides the practical side of material experimentation, don’t be afraid to look at the work of others and taking note of what you like (and what you don’t). Getting your eyes on a lot of different work will help you put words to what inspires you and the type of lines and imagery that you vibe with. I grew up seeing a lot of earth-tone pottery, and for a long time I assumed that’s all that was possible. There are so many amazing materials available to us today, and I never would have known that colorful porcelain was even a thing until I explored and realized bright colors are coming out of kilns all over the world. It’s okay to be inspired by other artists, just keep in mind you’re looking for your own voice, not someone else’s. Always give credit where credit is due; you’ll be giving visibility to work that you admire and believe me, you’ll feel better. Taking credit for others’ work does a disservice to everyone involved. You can take materials, colors, and forms that you’ve seen and tweak it, push it, pull it, until it looks like yours. You’ll get so inspired and have so many tangential ideas that you won’t recognize it as anyone else’s. The more exploration and falling-down-the-rabbit-hole you can do with your ideas, the closer you’ll get to defining what you respond to. This is what we’re looking for; a way to pin-point and express what we love or what speaks for us.
Defining what you’re going for is a part of finding a distinct style, just don’t be too rigid about getting side-tracked along the way. Don’t give yourself a hard time when you take a detour. Put in a pin in what you’re working on long-term and give that side idea some time and energy. This is what the experimentation is all about. You never know what will come of it. Maybe nothing tangible, but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you gave it a shot. Every train of thought has its merit, if only just to give your brain a creative break. I found this out when I knew I wanted to throw pots on the wheel, but before I got my hands on a wheel I made pinch pots and hand-built a batch of vessels. I knew it wasn’t what I ultimately wanted to do, but people really respond to those pinch pots when I bring them to pop-ups. They have a freeness to them that the thrown vessels don’t quite capture. I’ll probably do more of them some day, just to break out of the polished look the wheel-thrown forms tend to bring out in me.
Sometimes, the closer you think you’re getting to what you want to say and make, the farther it can feel. And that’s okay. It means you’re open to all the options and it’s driving you to try things you may never have considered. Take a lot of notes so you can go back, because believe me, you will NOT remember everything. Make sketches, even if they’re shit, because past-you will not always explain in a way that present-you can understand. I can’t tell you how many scribbled notes I’ve sworn at, just wishing I’d drawn a little stick-figure diagram to show what I actually meant. The goal here is to look at a lot of angles and see what sticks. You will have countless spurts of inspiration and maybe 5% of them will turn into something you want to pursue. And maybe 5% of the ones you pursue turn into projects you love. This means when something doesn’t work out or you spend the time and then scrap it, you use what you’ve learned to fuel the next thing. It’s a lot of trial and error to understand what you want to keep exploring, so enjoy it. This is the fun part; the possiblities!