One of the wonderful things I know about my jewellery business is that it attracts other creatives, makers and small business owners. My clients are artists, writers, photographers, knitters and gardeners. They create softies, write calligraphy and throw pots. As creatives at heart, they appreciate the quality and value of handmade and prefer to purchase from a maker than a chain store. As a result, I have had the pleasure of meeting an amazing variety of makers and creatives, and now have the even greater pleasure of introducing several of them to you here on my blog in the 'Maker to Maker' series each Friday!
This week Stephanie Outridge Field shares her passion and her journey with us, as she reflects on the life of a maker obsessed with clay, and why you should raise your hand and say yes, even in difficult situations. I had the pleasure of meeting Stephanie through the wonderful Australian Ceramics Open Studio last year, when I toured her studio and took part in a plate making workshop. May her words of wisdom resonate for you as they do for me.
It is a very privileged position to look back over a maker’s existence.... I have been a maker my entire professional life. My mother was incredibly handy and self-sufficient and could, it seemed, do anything and everything, so it gave me a maker’s context to living. It became my real job!
I was very fortunate to have three hands on artists as art teachers when I was in secondary school. One was a clay worker, one a graphic designer and the third, the HOD, was a painter. They instilled in me, even more, the joy as well the importance, of makers and what they make, to our lives.
To me, art was the most important subject I studied at school. It combined all the other disciplines as well as adding the human element. I didn't want to do anything else than to go to art school to learn everything I could about materials, tools, making, and the role of heart and brain in the mix. It is an amazing alchemy when an individual becomes a maker. One can have the same materials and tools as other artists, but produce a unique product due to a particular perspective unique to the individual maker. I have learnt many things as a maker both through the act of making and all the other associated activities, as well as from the other makers I have encountered along the way.
My favored and favorite media is clay, and one far more experienced clay worker said to me " the best advice I can give you is just make sure you touch clay every day". I took this to mean don't lose the momentum of being in touch with your media, tools or let your hands forget.
Perhaps the most important thing I learnt was through experience. I had been accepted as a postgraduate student and felt the weight of trying the make the best or most perfect....thing, whatever that was. This mindset left me paralyzed. I spent time researching, planning out and sketching exactly what I should make, but these became drawings rather than part of the making process. I did not make anything for six months. During this time, a fellow student asked me to make a birthday present for her sister. I ended up doing this on a table at home. When the time came I had to get the pieces fired so I put them in a cardboard box , left home and travelled by bus to college and went to the kiln room. As I was walking across the courtyard late and in the dark I heard footsteps behind me. It was my teacher. He stopped me, looked into the box and asked me if I liked the work. I said yes and he responded, “I do too”. I realized very importantly that I had to be happy with what I made - if I wasn't then it wasn't reasonable to ask anyone else to like it, or ever want it or buy it.
My next big lesson was a few years later when I was invited into a big exhibition in Tasmania. I had some slides at the Crafts Council ....which shows you how long ago it was... which the curator had seen. At the time, I had no workshop and only had a few tools, so I set out to see if I could find a kiln to use. I was living in regional Queensland, there were not many kilns around and I was a stranger to the area. So I asked around and knocked on a few doors. I found one potter who said I could bisque with her - but - only under the bottom shelf which was about 5 cm high. I was also not able to take out the shelf - I had to slide the work underneath. I would not be able to do a glaze firing as no contaminants were to be introduced to the kiln, and lastly, I would have to be ready when she called as she would put the bisque on when it suited her. I did not have a choice, I had to make the work under these constraints. So, clay and tools in hand, I made three sets of work hoping one would be ok as I only had a day or two to make the work and let it dry before the firing. There was a series of square tiles and coils to make balanced frames; a set of 9 boxes which could be turned upside down with the bases inscribed with words around a small polished area, and I don't remember the other set now.
The set of 9 boxes came through the bisque, were subsequently black fired using sawdust I begged from the sawmill around the corner, and finally decorated with gold leaf. I packed them up very carefully and sent them from Gympie to Tasmania. It was my first invitational exhibition, I felt wonderful to even get them made and sent and I felt happy with myself as it would have been easy to say it was all too hard. A few weeks later I received a letter when I was expecting a box. My work had been bought for the Museum’s collection. I was thrilled ...it was beyond my expectations and dreams. I learned that it is always important to have images of your work and circulate them and also that if you want to, you can, no matter what the limitations. In fact, limitations can sometimes encourage or rather force you to be even more creative.
There are a few other things I have learnt as a maker. Respect yourself, your skills and your tools. Respect other makers, their skills, and their tools. If at all possible, say yes!
Help other makers if you can. We have all at one time or another needed support or advice or a helping hand. We are as makers a community that often work as individuals in isolation. Share what you do with others and be proud. If we don't instill value and pride, those who don't know can't appreciate what we do. Support other makers by seeing their work and visiting their events, following their social media and saying hello. Enjoy your making and theirs. Be impassioned by the exquisite, the delightful and the well made.
I am still making, still learning and still passionate.
Stephanie Outridge Field
Thank you so much Stephanie!