John is a ceramic artist living and working in Denver. His education in the visual arts, and in art history, influence his practice which is focused on fine art ceramics. John is also my brother.
H: PLEASE DISCUSS YOUR CHILDHOOD/FORMATIVE YEARS AS THEY RELATE TO YOUR DEVELOPMENT AS A CREATIVE ADULT.
Three things stand out from my late childhood when I reflect on formative influences.
First, as a boy I camped a lot in the Arizona desert. There were pottery sherds scattered all over the land. I was impressed with those remnants of artwork created hundreds of years ago. They were all that remained of these people. Clay had permanence. And people didn’t just make functional clay objects. They decorated clay objects. Decoration – adding some expression of beauty – has been important throughout time.
Second, I read a lot about van Gogh when I was in high school. I was impressed by his dedication and hard work. Van Gogh transformed himself from an awful artist into a visionary artist through sustained effort.
Third, right before college I rode a bicycle around Europe. I stopped in Florence, Italy for 6 weeks and saw amazing artistic creations, architecture, sculpture and painting. I thought making beauty at such a high level was the most valuable form of human activity possible. That experience inspired me to study art at the University of Arizona.
I still believe creating beauty is extremely valuable and an inspirational way to spend one’s life. I believe you develop the skills to make art through hard work. You make mistakes. You struggle to improve. Slowly, gradually you do improve. Finally, I believe pieces of decorated clay may one day be some of the few remnants we, too, leave behind as a culture. Metal skyscrapers will rust. Concrete will break into dust. But 800 years from now some boy may pick up a few pieces of fired clay and look at the decorations closely.
H: WHAT WAS YOUR BACKGROUND, TRAINING AND/OR EDUCATION WITH REGARD TO YOUR ART MEDIA AND CREATIVITY IN GENERAL?
I focused on drawing, painting and printmaking for my BFA program. My formal degree is in Art History as I’ve always had a strong interest in history and incorporating lessons from the past and other cultures into my creative activities.
I picked up ceramics in 2017 – about 6 years ago. My wife and I wanted to try something that neither of us had ever done. I anticipated working almost exclusively on surface decoration. But the more I learned about ceramics and worked with the medium, the more I appreciated the lushness and pliability of the material, the way an artist can form clay into shapes, work with volume, and add textures as well as marks to the surface. There’s such a richness to ceramics as a material. I love it. I also love learning about ceramics and the way people in different regions, and at different points in time, have expressed themselves in clay. Virtually every civilization has utilized clay, and because fired clay is so permanent, a lot of those expressions still exist to this day. That’s another layer of richness that I value.
H: CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR CREATIVE INSPIRATION AND PROCESS. DO YOU HAVE ROUTINES, EXERCISES OR OTHER PRACTICES THAT ENHANCE OR INFLUENCE YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
I have multiple sources that I tap for inspiration including travel, museum visits, and a couple of magazines. I typically travel to areas of artistic and/or historic interest, and make a point to seek out museums and artists in the area on any trip. I carry a sketchpad with me to jot down ideas. Nothing seems as helpful in switching on my focus as when I have a sketchbook in hand. I’ve begun sketching more extensively even when I’m not traveling.
I write a blog on ceramics around the world (https://jtwceramics.com/blog/). I interact with many artists and scholars through that process and find inspiration in those conversations.
In terms of exercises and routines, every three months I schedule a certain amount of work that I want to complete. I find a 3-month increment keeps me moving forward but also allows for the evolution of my interests. I’ve tried planning things out for an entire year and it just doesn’t give me enough flexibility – 6 months into my plan things have changed enough that the plan is obsolete. I break down my quarterly plan into monthly and weekly bits and then check off what I complete. It’s a habit I picked up during my professional career that served me well there. I find it helpful now that I spend much of my day focused on creative activities. I also find that I’m most productive in the morning, so I lump my highest priority creative goals into morning periods, leaving necessary but not necessarily fun activities for the afternoon and early evening.
H: HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED “CREATIVE BLOCK”? IF SO, WHAT FORM DOES IT TAKE? HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH IT?
All the time. My approach is to keep moving forward. I often think of a quote from the painter Chuck Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightening to strike you in the brain, you’re not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”
H: DO YOU HAVE GUIDING “MOTTOS” OR LIFE PHILOSOPHIES THAT HAVE IMPACTED YOUR APPROACH TO YOUR WORK?
I like the Chuck Close quote above. It inspires me to keep pounding away, trying to improve my craftsmanship.
Something the ceramicist Ron Korczynski once said also inspires me to keep creating, but in a different sense. “The best things can’t be told because they transcend thought. Those things we most enjoy cannot be explained: a flower blooming, the touch of a loved one’s hand, a baby’s smile.” I would add: a work of art.
H: WHAT PERSONAL QUALITIES DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE THAT HAVE HELPED YOU ACHIEVE YOUR CREATIVE GOALS? ARE YOU AN INTROVERT OR AN EXTROVERT?
I’m a hard worker. That may not sound particularly important, but that quality has helped me improve. I have to work at creating beauty. I make a lot of mistakes and toss out many failures. I was inspired by the artwork in Florence, Italy, and I hope that if I work hard I can also add something to the cultural conversation.
I’m an introvert. I crave time to work creatively which tends to be quiet, solitary time.
H: WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CREATIVE CHALLENGES AND HOW DID YOU DEAL WITH THEM?
I set aside artistic pursuits for many years while raising a family. It wasn’t an uncreative time at all, but the nature of creativity was directed more toward family experiences and my professional career. My kids are now grown and I’ve retired from my professional career, so I can return to my interest in art and creating beautiful, interesting things. It feels good. I lost many years of practice and the discipline of working with my hands. I’m still making up for lost ground. But as they say, “The best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago; the next best time is today.”
H: WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST REWARDS?
I think there’s tremendous value in creating beauty and adding that to the world. Adding something, even something modest, feels good. Honestly, if I wasn’t creating something artistic I don’t know what I would do. My life would be so empty.
H: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE NEW ARTISTS/CREATIVES?
I think people inclined to create art are driven by impulse. That impulse is beyond science and reason cannot explain it. We struggle to adequately capture it with language itself. The impulse is what drove cavemen to decorate cave walls. It’s what drove Mimbres tribeswomen to paint designs on their clay pots. That creative impulse is why people around the world through all time scratch on things and carve designs and apply color to objects and make music. Creating beauty is fundamental to those who feel it. Don’t let that die – find SOMETHING to work with in your life that sustains your fundamental creative impulse. There will be something, and you must make time for it. It improves you and those around you. If you let that creative impulse die, or atrophy, you will have less enjoyment and purpose in your life. It’s work, but it’s good work.
For more information about John and his work see his website at: https://jtwceramics.com
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