Workshops are such a vital part of my career development that we put money aside in our budget through out the year for workshops. So far this year I had committed to going to only one workshop. The last 3 years travel to/from had become so tedious I was considering only going to ones that were close this season, but I was still on the fence about which workshops I would do. Schedules just weren’t meshing. Then Santa Fe Clay sent out the email about the “All Access Pass” and I was intrigued.
Workshops allow you to take advantage of someone’s years of experience and skill. A workshop can advance your studio practice sometimes years in just a couple of days. When I was working on my studio art degree I was already married, and my son was in school, so I took all my upper division art classes in painting because that’s what was available where we lived. I had no formal training in ceramics except for one portrait bust class. Workshops provide that high level training I was missing.
Santa Fe Clay All Access Pass
Many of you may have noticed and wondered about Santa Fe Clay’s “All Access Pass.” Well, I am the first to give it a go. I was originally taken back somewhat with the initial outlay of $1500, but you cannot beat this deal since most workshops at Santa Fe Clay run $975 each. The way it works is you buy a pass for a month. The All Access Pass includes: unlimited use of studio facilities during regular hours, almost unlimited firings (there is a practical limit), and FREE enrollment in any of Santa Fe Clay’s summer classes and workshops that month. Pass holders may also purchase an add-on “Buddy Pass” for an additional $500, which extends the same privileges to a friend or family member. I looked for someone to take the classes with me but on such short notice I wasn’t able to find anyone. It would have been really fun to have a partner in crime in this endeavor. Out of respect for the artists who teach, participants must confirm that space is available in the workshops and must register in advance. You can’t just wander into a workshop. I got on the phone and made sure there was room in all four of the June workshops. Once I confirmed there was space in all of them, I then took a day to think about it.
The workshops started the following Monday and the two workshops I was considering at Santa Fe Clay both happened to be in June. I try not to take workshops closer together than a month apart to have time to recover and process what I learned. Which meant before the advent of the “All Access Pass” I was trying to choose between those two workshops. I didn’t really know if I was up for the challenge physically either. I don’t know about you, but workshops are so physically exhausting for me that four workshops in four weeks might just do me in. Then on top of all of that this was a huge time commitment it would basically tie me up for all of June. Still I decided to go ahead since it was such a good deal, and if I ended up only going to two of the workshops I would still be ahead.
Sculptural Flats workshop with Shannon Sullivan
The first Workshop in June, and Santa Fe Clay’s first of the 2018 workshop season was called “Sculptural Flats” with Shannon Sullivan. Shannon spent part of her childhood in her mother’s lab peering into a microscope. While her and her sister were in their mother’s lab they would be given some small chore to complete and then as a reward their mother would allow them to look at specimens under the microscope. Those experiences informed her aesthetics and imbued her with a love of organic constructs. Many of her pieces remind one of looking at a slide under a microscope. Another of the themes that reoccurs in her work are based on intricate patterns that occur in soap bubbles.
One other thing that fascinated me was her interactive work. She does pieces where viewers are encouraged to move the parts around, creating their own compositions in the gallery. I’m a figurative sculptor so the abstract compositions was really out of my wheelhouse. Any time I’m out of my comfort zone I find that is the greatest opportunity for growth.
An interesting aspect of Shannon’s work is that it is almost entirely done for the wall which adds another layer of complexity to her pieces. Like most sculptors she breaks rules, not only by making things for the walls but also mixing clay bodies in the same piece too. Her pieces are a combination of textures and smooth surfaces, shiny even metallic, and some flat. There are also a lot of repeated shapes just as there are in the natural world, for those shapes she makes molds and casts those parts.
Shannon Sullivan is a wonderful teacher. She teaches at small college in Eureka, California where she lives. Her teacher’s perspective really made this workshop valuable. She began by walking us through her process for creating one of her wall pieces. She demoed each aspect and invited us to create our own versions. She also shared her extensive knowledge and strategies for hanging ceramic works on the wall. She builds flat pieces that can’t be turned over until after they’re safely in the bisque state, so she has devised some remarkable systems for hanging her pieces. I was intrigued and impressed with each aspect of the construction of her work. The biggest boon for me though was that I had decided before all of this came up that I needed to add mold making to my personal tool kit, so many artists that I admire use some molds for oft-repeated shapes in their work. I wasn’t sure how I could use molds but I had come with the notion that this year mold-making was something I wanted to explore.
A bonus that came with this workshop was that Shannon had an assistant that added a wonderful dimension to the experience. The assistant was Patrick Kingshill. He knew Shannon from his time as an undergraduate. Having just finished graduate school he was a great teacher as well. He was one of the emerging artist’s in “Ceramic Monthly” this year and I’m sure we will all see more of his work splashing onto the ceramic stage in the future.
Shannon familiarized us with different types of molds. She talked about two-part molds, press molds and sprig molds. She spent some time warning us about undercuts and other pit falls of mold making. Of course the figure had to express it’s self so I made a head that was about four inches tall. Other students in the class made originals that they were interested in being able to reproduce. First, we learned how to prepare the original to be cast. Then we got to mix the plaster. All of this I had Googled and watched YouTube videos, but there is nothing quite as helpful as having your hands on the materials while being guided by someone with expertise.
I was making a two-part mold. After the first part was made we used Murphy’s oil soap to prevent the next from sticking to the first half. Then we poured the second part. After we let the mold cure for a day it was time to try out my new mold. It was unbelievably satisfying to press clay into the mold and in a few minutes pull out the replica. It needed some work of course, but it was so wonderful to make something that complex in such a shortened amount of time. The next night I couldn’t get any sleep dreaming all the possible ways I might use this one mold. Below is the piece I made from the mold.
This was one of those truly wonderful workshops, one that I will be thinking about things that were shared for months and years to come. It was one of those workshops that you know will work its way into more aspects of your work than you dreamed possible.
by Jacquita Beddo
Look for my next article on on Week II Animal Portrait Sculpting & Mold Making with Wesley Wright!