What Inspires You? Questions From a High School Senior
Happy Election Day!
I wanted to share with you all today an email interview I had with a high school senior, Justin. Copy and pasted are our email correspondence. I shared this with my father and he told me he teared up. That gentle giant. I wanted to share this with you because this young man asked me questions no one ever has before and I thought it might be of interest to others.
October 29, 2014
Hello Mrs. Fahrenbacher,
I am a student at H.H Dow High School and am enrolled in International Baccalaureate visual arts class. As an assignment we are assigned to interview an artist of interest. I have looked over your work and have seen your story. I have become very intrigued with how your studio seems to function and would like to learn more about it.
October 30, 2014
Thanks for reaching out. I’m not married so it’s just Ms. Fahrenbacher, but you can call me Heidi. 🙂
What would you like to know? I will try my best to answer your questions.
I look forward to hearing from you,
October 30, 2014
Here my responses:
1.) You shared a story on your website about a childhood friend who passed away after a turn of unfortunate events. I have also read about your theme following of the juxtaposition between rural and urban life. Are there any other inspirations or subjects that you pull from for your art?
My friend Maggie was murdered, it’s ok to say that. That’s what it was. There’s no sugar coating that. 🙂 I’m inspired by the thought of ‘home” and the different dwellings we all reside in. One person’s home could be a trailer, another a van, and another a mansion. I’m a firm believer that we are all in the together, even those we disagree with. We are more alike than we think. I like to acknowledge real or perceived differences, and then focus on how those differences actually create bonds. For example, typically feminist are against pornography, but so are the religious right. These two groups seems like they are different ends of the political spectrum, but they do have ideologies in common. If people would stop to acknowledge these similarities. their differences wouldn’t be as divisive.
This is how my chickens came to be. I found it fascinating how urban and rural dwellers were embracing raising chickens. What else do they have in common?
2.) Would you consider your majolica like coloring on your pieces childish? Secondly is there a reason behind your coloring?
Yes! They are childish and simple. I love that. It’s makes me laugh, because I can draw in the more classically realistic way-I just choose not too. The reason behind my colors is simple, colors extends the feelings I’m trying to create with my work. For example, for my country mouse/city mouse line I will typically glaze with more primary colors: red, blue, green. I do this because It’s a simple statement on childhood. Typically individuals grow up in the city (or a neighborhood) or in the country. Primary colors often are used in children’s toys. I here people comment I grew up in a house like that or so-so did, but now they live in the city. I love that conversation. It’s difficult to image that at one time more people lived on farmers that in urban settings, but it’s true.
When I create pieces that have inlaid slip the primary color is white, because white creates a sense of seriousness. These pieces take more time, more thought, and are more expensive.
3.) What sort of preparation do you do with your art?
I no longer individually throw each piece. I had reconstructive hip surgery in March of 2013 and can no longer use my body as my primary tool. What I do now is create clay prototypes on my potters wheels. When I create a shape I like, I throw 4-20 of them. Then I construct plaster molds of each piece to later slip cast. I make my own casting slip, glaze, and decals. This is the easy part. 🙂
For my forms, before I sit down I sketch and sketch and sketch and a lot of those sketches never come to fruition. I just changed my small plate, large plate, small bowl, medium bowl, and large bowl designs so that they stack easily. It’s not a life shattering idea, but I want people to use my work daily and for that, it needs to fit into people’s cabinets.
For my drawings, sometimes I just sit down and draw something and love it. Other times it takes years. I always date my sketches, so I know when the inspiration first hit me. The cats and squirrel riding a bike was first drawn in 2012. I didn’t do anything with it at the time. This past June I saw those drawings and thought that’s cool. The same day, I drew a dog riding a bike and kept it. The buck came to be because someone requested a fourth animal. The deer was an easy answer because I see deer on a daily basis. I imagine the back story after the drawing. I just start sketching and think hmm…what would be silly?
4.) Are there any challenges that you face often regarding what you do?
I have faced numerous challenges from bad clay, health problems, auto problems, kiln problems, art fair disasters, you name it. My dad always tells me if I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck. It’s kind of true, but because of my personality I laugh it off. I went through a really difficult time when Maggie was murdered and I know if I can survive that, the rest is cake.
The most reoccurring challenge is time. As you know, clay doesn’t wait, it’s all about timing, but I also can’t work everyday. I tried that in my 20’s and burnt myself out. I now have an assistant. She makes my life so much easier. It was thoughtful transition because I always wanted to make everything myself. When you make a living selling your work there are several things to consider when figuring out how much money you need to live. I either need to sell 1000 mugs a year at $30 dollars each or I sell 500 mugs at $60 dollars each. Whatever you decide is up to you and the market you are selling to (if people will pay $60 for your mug or only $30). But if you have someone help you, you can create more work together, not work 12 hour days, and make more money because you have more product to sell. Does that make sense?
The most difficult part of this was allowing someone to help me and giving up control, but it has paid off.
5.) What advice would you give to young artists
My gut reaction to this is don’t listen to anyone, which is counteractive to the question. What I mean is follow your heart. When I was in college, all my professors and clay peeps advised me to go get my MFA and teach. I didn’t want to teach. I wanted to make pottery everyday, not when school was on break or when I could schedule it in. I wanted to make pottery. As a 19 year-old I’m sure I came off as arrogant, but that’s want I wanted. You can’t be something you’re not. Everyone’s path is different. I have taught at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and it drains me.
Plus, you will hear the whole starving artist nonsense. You will starve if you don’t embrace the business aspect of selling your work. This was a struggle for me initially, because I felt like a I was selling out. You’re not, don’t let people tell you that. You can do it in way that isn’t sleazy and is an accurate portrayal of yourself and your work. Will you be broke at times? Probably, but it gets better and easier. You can do it, if it’s what you really want.
I have a greeting card that hangs in my studio that says:
Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do.
6.) What things can I do to get involved in the pottery field?
My first thought was get involved with the Midland Center for the Arts, but they don’t have a clay program. Is there another art center near you? You can join Michigan Ceramic Art Association and they have scholarships for students. Get involved in your local clay community. Most clay people love to help up-and-coming clay people. I do. Join Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter to connect with potters throughout the world. Take classes outside of your school. I don’t know your economic status, but there are lots of scholarships available. See if you can become an apprentice to a potter. I learned SO much that way. Also, don’t be ashamed to start at a community college and transfer. Go to ceramics workshops, potter’s open studios, email potters you are intrigued by (see it works!). Find a mentor. You will need someone on your side that says “Justin, what is your plan? What steps do you need to do to accomplish that.”
I hope this helps and if you have anymore questions please feel free to ask.
Have a good weekend,
PS You are more than welcome to come visit my studio.