Savannah Clay: 2015

This past summer was filled with lots of travel and ended on prepping for a group show, Savannah Clay: 2015. Since my internship essentially ended at the beginning of the summer (more on that later), I took the free time from school work as an opportunity to make new work for the show. Jessica Broad, a Savannah ceramic artist and my colleague at SCAD, brought a group of eight local clay artists together for this awesome show. The Savannah Clay exhibition was born in 2011 at the City of Savannah’s Cultural Arts Gallery, then traveled to Roswell, GA in 2012, and 2015 brought us another chance to show at the Cultural Arts Gallery once again. The show is a great display of the caliber of ceramic artists that are in Savannah and is up until Sept 25 at the gallery (9 West Henry St., M-F, 9am-5pm). Go check it out!

Savannah Clay ecard

I had decided to take my caged pieces from terracotta to porcelain over a year ago, because I wanted a white canvas of color instead of the intense red. I didn’t know what to expect with this undertaking (porcelain is a moody clay), but I jumped right in. I also wanted to morph from painting on the inside of the cages to doing sculpture work. These are my first real efforts to sculpture just because I’ve never had a reason to sculpt. I am quite happy with the results and will definitely continue to explore it.

I have been wanting to make the “Caged Cheese Platter” for over a year now, and I’m pretty sure some of the parts were sitting in a damp box for that long waiting to be finished. I was inspired to make the platter and the “Caged Teapot, Yunomi, Saucer and Tea Strainer” from my Pin board of Rozenburg ceramics and English creamware. With the help of some spiffy folks at SCAD, I was able to find/make custom shelves for the show made out of acrylic. The caged pieces are displayed by suspending the “lid” of the cage on a plexi shelf above it, in order to view what’s happening on the inside.

I’ve also been sitting on the goal of wanting to make a wall of cups. So taking my recent animal interest (On the Farm cups), I decided push that idea more by playing around with layers of surface. These cups are all wheel thrown, handles pulled, underglazed, carved, stamped, slip trailed, inlaid, watercolored, glazed and lustered. I’ve stopped short of surface treatment in the past, so this time I wanted to push the detail and decoration until I thought it was too much. In actuality, it was just enough. With the help of those same folks at SCAD, I had a great display of frosted acrylic shelves for the show. Here are some studio shots and pre-lighting views of the gallery. If I haven’t said it before, go see the show. You won’t be disappointed…also shameless promotion here, but almost all the pieces are for sale. 😀

Baltimore and Bill

Last quarter finished up nicely, and I had a chance to meet with my advisor to discuss the rest of my classes. I have an internship, one class and then a final project left to finish. Several months ago, I had the crazy idea to try to do an internship with a nationally known clay organization. An internship is an opportunity to do something big and make some great connections, so why not take it, right? Right, so I whittled my options to two choices, Northern Clay Center and Baltimore Clayworks. I approached Clayworks because it’s a little closer, and I had a few connections there already. Long story short, I’ve been working with Clayworks this quarter, and since I am doing a remote/on-site internship, it will extend into the summer as well.

I am working with the Development Director at Clayworks, Emily Sollenberger Dobbins, who just happens to be a past SCAD Arts Administration graduate. What does a development director do? Well, she is a fundraiser, which can include writing grants, requesting donations or hosting events that bring in funds. She also works closely with the other staff and the executive director in order to understand the needs and capabilities of the nonprofit in a big picture way. The development director has to ultimately believe in the mission of the organization while understanding the city and residents and possessing a strong relationship with the donors.

Did I mention that I have one class to take? Guess what class that is? Raising Funds for Nonprofits, aka “how to be a development director.” I admitted to Emily that I didn’t know much about fundraising, but she still agreed to take me on as an intern, and it’s been a fantastic experience. Now, my original feelings towards fundraising were not positive ones. Those normally include discomfort, nervousness and resistance to name a few, but I think that might be because of the limited exposure I have to well-planned fundraising efforts. My thoughts gravitate to childhood Krispy Kreme donut sales, soliciting, or telethons/telemarketing. Meh. These are not examples of what Emily does, and I am now aware of what professional fundraising looks like.

I visited Baltimore last month for the first time, I was energized by the excitement, compassion and dedication of the entire organization. I went to help with their Clayworks BASH! (annual gala) and to be introduced to everyone I have been communicating with so far. My main time will be spent with SCAD is on break, June 1-12. Emily has given me the role as her assistant for one of Clayworks’ annual fundraisers, the Seconds Sale. It will be happening June 5-7, when I’m there, and I’ve been working all quarter to prepare as much as possible before visiting. Have I mentioned how excited I am about this overall experience? 🙂

The weekend after Baltimore, I traveled to Lake City, SC, to be a part of the Artfields event/exhibition. I was accepted into the show last year, and wanted to make a trip before the festivities ended. Now, let’s get some background information about Lake City. It is about 15 mins from my childhood home and where my mom has worked for over 30 years. It was nothing glamorous…seriously; think small town that is mostly rural and becoming slightly urban with a big emphasis on agriculture. Sonic and Wal-Mart (back before they were all super centers) were the big attractions when I was in high school. Now imagine my surprise when I hear about a huge art competition that is happening there two years ago. For various reasons, I only just applied to be a part of the competition this year. So, when I travel to Lake City this March to drop off my work at the selected location, I was amazed by how the downtown area had been transformed since I last visited (maybe 5-8 years ago). There was a wine bar. Enough said.

To give you a better idea of how overwhelmed I was by Artfields, let me tell you about the judges. For the review panel 2015, there was the Director of the GA Museum of Art, Director of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the President and founder of Leslie Rankow Fine Arts, a New York based art advisory firm for collectors of contemporary, modern and American art. There is another panel of five other judges with similar credentials. These are serious professionals from their respective fields, and they are coming to Lake City to judge an art show? I was still in some disbelief, but I continued to be impressed throughout my trip there that weekend. Let me give you a quick tour of some of the 400 pieces of artwork that caught my attention.

The artwork was outstanding—engaging content that was beautifully crafted and well-presented. Like the judges, the artists are all professionals from different backgrounds and using different mediums. I tended to be attracted to the 3-D and ceramic-based mediums, but I’m biased what can I say? Oh, and did I mention that all of these artists were competing for $100,000 worth of prizes? The top winner was given $50,000. Check out the Artfields website to see the winners. It would have been really nice to win, but I got the chance to hang out with my mom and see the incredible way that art can transform a community.

My piece was on display in Main Street Mercantile (whose manager is my high school best friend’s mom), and I got to see a lot of familiar and new faces. One new face was an artist, Tiffany Thomas, who was selling her ceramics in a Farmers and Artisan Market that was coinciding with Artfields. I scored a delightful new cup and was encouraged meeting a new potter near my hometown. So what could make this day better (besides the obvious 50k)? How about meeting Bill Murray?! Rumor is that he was there because he has a home in Charleston, SC, and is friends with the sponsor of Artfields, who also has a house in Charleston. Yeah, I was wet-my-pants excited. Literally, I went in the store where my piece was on display to use the restroom, heard Bill was across the street at the aforementioned wine bar, forgot all about the restroom and dragged my mom with me to be that obnoxious fan girl who asks to take an awkward picture with him. It was THE.BEST.DAY.EVER.

A Whirl of Activity

It has been some time since I’ve collected my thoughts enough to write about the clay happenings for MFWH, but I am finally ready to spill about my latest adventures.  Here’s a broad overview of what’s been happening since I last wrote:

  • I participated in the Isle of Hope Art and Music Festival back in October 2014, and bought a tent!
  • You could find me at the Merry Art Market after Thanksgiving for Shop Small Saturday.
  • Opened a pop-up shop for one night with Jessica Broad and Elmer Ramos for the December Art March Savannah on Desoto Row.
  • I turned another year older and celebrated by heading to the Grand Caymans and Mexico on a boat.
  • Traveled some more in December from SC, NC, TN, KY then back to GA to visit some awesome friends and family.
  • As the new year rolled in, I also started another quarter at SCAD, but this time I took a fun studio elective – Drawing for Illustrators.
  • Enrolled in a 6 week Metalsmithing class in January at S.P.A.C.E. in Savannah (our Cultural Affairs Department), and learned from the very talented Christi Reiterman.
  • Got accepted into the Artfields Exhibition/Event near my hometown in Lake City, SC, which will be happening April 24-May 2.
  • Attended a fun BIG wheel throwing workshop with Jeff Blandford at S.P.A.C.E. in Savannah.  He taught us the basics of how to throw a 100 lb bowl on the wheel.

It’s been a pretty great start to 2015 so far. I’ve really enjoyed going back to the ideas and conception of my art.  Having an entire quarter to reflect and develop my drawing skills, revisit color theory and learn some metal working skills has been incredible. I am hoping that I can plug some of these musings into my clay work relatively soon (Spring Break is approaching!). I have many more exciting things to mention, but they will be reserved for future posts.


Changes is my favorite Harry Dresden book by Jim Butcher.  If you don’t know about Harry Dresden, you should.  Dresden is a PI wizard working in modern day Chicago who encounters enemies that are usually stronger and way out of his magical league.  He is a smart ass who loves referencing “Hells Bells,” and in one of my favorite scenes goes into battle blaring the “Ride of the Valkyries” as his overture.  After reading all 15 books in the series a few years back, #16 was released this May.  A friend and I decided that we should go back and review them, so I started listening to each of the books; I’m currently on Changes which is #12.  I’m still figuring out why it’s my favorite, but it might have something to do with Dresden facing some fairly huge changes in his life and still coming out on top.


None of the things in my life currently compare to his, although I am making my first trip to Mexico soon and believe me Chichén Itzá was the first place I wanted to go (Harry defeats some bad mojo there), but more on that later.  Anyways, my mind has been considering different types of changes that happen around this time of year.  It’s so refreshing to me when the weather shifts from unbearably hot to a comfortable cool.  It marks one of my favorite times of change, back to school.  New class schedules, new students, new clothes and hair, and even new supplies (pencils, pens, notebooks, textbooks) are all invigorating in their own way.  Normally people talk about change with negative connotations attached to it, but change can be positive too.

After completing a year of my Masters degree, I started thinking about the decision I made to change my life last Fall.  I’ve had several people ask me what I plan to do with my degree, so after completing a year of courses and becoming more informed myself, I wanted to write a blog about my life with arts administration.

My first class, man, it was difficult.  I almost quit around midterm, but my professor was pretty awesome and encouraged me to stick through it.  After that, every other class has had its own levels of difficulty, but has been notably easier.  It was a struggle getting used to a school schedule after being away from academics after five years. Particularly balancing school, work, life and studio was a bit of a shock to me.  I still struggle sometimes, but overall I feel accomplished.  I know that last year I was desperately needing a change in my life in order to break up the monotony of things and pursuing this degree has given me that.

This degree is geared towards understanding the business side of the art world, not just creating.  It took me awhile to realize that most of my classmates aren’t personally interested in creating their own artwork.  (One friend told me, “We [arts administrators] like to dabble, but we’re not making a career from our artwork.”)  I originally started this degree to serve me in the business side of my ceramic career.  I wanted to learn about accounting or copyright laws that pertain to me as a small arts business owner, but it has become much more now.  The Arts Administration (AADM) masters program at SCAD is focused more towards nonprofit organizations (which are what schools, museums and other arts organizations normally are) than for profit (what I would be being a full time artist).  So far I have learned bits and pieces of the following:

  • how to dissect and analyze an organization’s performance based on their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
  • how to market and promote an organization by strategically targeting specific groups within a community
  • basic accounting methods and the standards and ethics that guide the laws behind those methods
  • how to write and conduct myself in a professional manner
  • what my resume and personal statement should look like to stand out
  • copyright and trademark laws and first amendment rights pertaining to arts organizations

There’s much more that I could add to that list, but those are just covering the first memories from all the classes I’ve had so far.  At first, I thought that I might have to force myself to get through these courses, but I have sincerely enjoyed most of what I have learned so far.  One of the best things is listening to the news or reading articles dealing with politics or business jargon and ACTUALLY understanding what the heck they are saying.  I’m not always on top of my class reading for each week, and I have procrastinated to the point of panic a few times, but this quarter, I am thoroughly enjoying learning about Legal Issues in the Arts.  The course content is really interesting, and I found myself researching high profile Supreme Court cases just for fun one day.  I felt I was reaching some ultimate nerdom, which made me happy.

Left to take is a class about fundraising/grant writing, then all I have left is an elective, internship, and my thesis work.  I was hoping that I could potentially do a long distance internship with a clay organization, but I’m still working through those details.  I am planning to dedicate my thesis to working with Savannah’s Clay Spot.  After that, the world is my oyster.  I eventually see myself being a development or community arts director of some ceramics nonprofit organization.  I really want to help further the education of ceramic arts and not just to enrolled students, but to the under served communities as well.  I like the idea of giving back to people and not just trying to market my work as a ceramist.  I don’t ever intend to push my pottery making to the side lines in order to become an arts administrator, but I think I would enjoy balancing the two.

So those are the changes that I see happening in my future, but for now I am content working with the ceramics department at SCAD and learning about what it means to be an arts administrator.  I have had some good progress in my studio too.  I have a few events approaching that will cause me to be spending more time there, so expect pictures and another blog post soon about the studio happenings.

Art to Table

Things change.  What’s amazing is when things change, and you don’t realize it.  I am participating in an upcoming show, Art to Table, and for it, I needed to provide images of my work.  I began looking back over my work from the past few years, and it’s incredible what a little time and focus can achieve.

I’ve been creating for this show for the past month (sketching, making molds, and such).  I’ve gathered inspiration from many things, but mainly from my best friend’s daughter, Roxie (who is also dubbed “my niece,” although there is no blood relation).  When these folks come to hang with me in Savannah, I am intrigued by Roxie’s energy and enthusiasm for new things.  Oh, and there are the heart melting moments, like when I was cuddling with her one night while putting her to bed, and she tells me, “I love you, Aunt Mitzi.” Oy!  Such a cutie; so I knew that I should find a way to inject my work with more innocence and child-like energy.

Flying a kite.

Flying a kite.


Roxie is almost 3, and she likes to draw.  So I asked her mom to email me some jpegs of her doodles with line variation (crayon, pen, pencil, and marker).  I bought a silk screening kit, and bam, doodles on pots magic happened.  When I was testing the drawings, I knew that color would play a big part in the effect of the piece, so I printed with a few different colors.  I also tested to see whether printing directly on the pot or printing on newspaper then transferring onto the pot would be more successful (they’re both useful depending on what you want to do). What I learned is that I really like using a white underglaze (which needs to be thick in order to print with fyi), but I will know for sure if I like the results tomorrow.  I just fired a glaze kiln last night with all my recent work.  Here’s some images of that, and some of the latest things I’ve been doing in my studio.

My molds work wonderfully!  I completed a spoon mold and attempted a lid.  I’m still working out the kinks with the lid, so not a lot of lidded things this time, but I did make lots of cups and spoons.  All of this would not have been possible without using a mold.  I am overwhelmed by how well mold making works with my current life schedule, and I’m excited to make more.

Another exciting thing is that this time I’m using hi-temp wire in my pots as decoration.  Mainly this was a leap of faith, because I haven’t tested it with my clay body, but it seems to be holding up nicely.  The vase (pictured above) is probably one of my most favorite pieces I have made so far.  (If you’re interested in seeing this in action, check out my Instagram. I’m mndavis1584)

So, about the show, Art to Table. It’s is organized by one of my best friends, Melissa Meyers.  She is completing her thesis at SCAD in Arts Administration. (She’s actually the one who got me interested in starting my master’s degree in the same thing!)  Melissa is such a huge supporter of clay (and a pretty talented maker as well).  Together she and the incredible group of professional ceramic women artists (who’ve shown in Savannah together previously) make up Art to Table.  The group consists of Lisa Bradley, Jessica Broad, Rebecca Sipper, and myself.  I’m really excited about this show, and if I don’t get to see you this Friday night from 6-9:00pm, then the show is available online.  Either way, go check it out!


A Yogi’s Perspective on Clay

I’ve been spending this weekend in my studio, and it’s been nice because three months have passed since I’ve invested time in my own work.  I’ve been doing many other things, much of which was a Promoting the Arts class where I learned lots of marketing and advertising information (post on that later).

I’ve been pondering what my next step in my studio would be, and if I am to be honest, I’ve felt slightly stagnant and unmotivated.  I really like where my latest functional pieces are heading.  The initial discovery of the form is exciting and growing my skills on the wheel is also pretty great,but I get bored by the repetition of throwing the same form, pulling handles and making lids.  My favorite part of the process is drawing doodles and decorating.

In yoga, my teachers emphasize, “This is your practice.  If you’re not having fun or if you’re uncomfortable, try a different position. Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Have no judgement.” I’ve been practicing yoga for almost a year now, and these ideas have a way of infiltrating daily life, not just when I’m on my mat.  I work full time, have a personal life and now I’m striving towards a Master of Arts degree.  Long story short, I need a quicker process.

My lidded mugs take so much work.  Days to consider making, drying, decorating and more controlled drying, so I decided to make a few molds.  It’s pretty exciting.  I’m now waiting on the molds to dry so I can test to see if the shape is what I want.  I’ve been hesitant to use molds for my work because I love the potter’s wheel, and I like how each piece is unique.  Yet, my current daily life doesn’t accommodate these desires.  I feel like my mug form is something I’m going to stick to for awhile, so making a mold makes sense.  I plan on making the lid as soon as I cast my mug and handle.

I’ve decided that “potter” is a title I need to make my own, just like yogi.  There are ways I can bend and stretch, but my body also has limitations.  Same thing for my art.  I’ve had an idea of what my studio practice should look like for awhile (production potter has always had that glamorous appeal).  I read articles and heard ways of how other artists conduct their creative endeavors.  They have served as examples of how to keep excitement and dedication to my craft, but I need to remember that my studio practice needs to fit my life.

2014-03-17 15.39.10

Remaking a Remake

This post is technical and may bore some people to tears.
Clay nerds…rejoice!

On my cleaned work table in the most recent post, you may recognize this cloud bowl.

I made more space on my work table.

I made more space on my work table.

If you don’t remember this guy, here are some images to trigger your memory.

Still nothing? Well, I designed this bowl with the help of Justin Hopkins who is SCAD’s Rapid Prototyping Operations Manager.  Originally I made the mold for a class demonstration, and I didn’t really think things through, and it was bad for various reasons.  I remade it, and probably made it again.  The main problems with my old mold:

  1. I had a big gaping hole on the bottom of my cast bowl that I needed to fill every time I poured.
  2. My seams/undercut lines were not well defined so the clay would leak through in some spots.

This final time, I’m happy with the mold.  Here are some images from making the new mold.

Sometimes mold making can be as difficult, if not more so than wheel throwing or hand-building with clay.  In undergrad I had the impression that slip casting was a way of taking a short-cut and the industry’s way of taking the hand-made/heartfelt love out of a product.  I now know this is not 100% true.  An artist will have many reasons for using a mold, but for many ceramicists, making molds and casting are just other tools in the toolbox.  Sometimes our ideas are so complex, that in order to create pieces with integrity and attention to detail we have to use alternative building methods. This is the case with this piece.

Back to the mold making process…I already had made this mold.  So in order to remake it better, I used the old  bottom part and inserted my new yellow prototype, and built up the seam/undercut line with plasticine (oil based clay which you can easily make with 50%  ball clay+ 50% epk+vaseline to combine). For my fence, I used cottle boards (which you can easily make with laminated boards-which are FREE from counter top manufacturers-and 1x2s…see this video for more info) and triangular wedges of clay to subtract unnecessary plaster weight. After making sure the mold was soaped and sealed, I was ready to pour the plaster.

**Really make sure your seams are tight and you really sealed the surface of the plaster.  Plaster loves plaster, so in order to get this thing apart later, you need to make sure it will release.  I like to apply 4 baths of Murphy’s Oil to the surface of the plaster.  How to bathe: apply soap with a brush and swirl around on the surface of the plaster with a small amount of water to create a lather.  Using a damp sponge, wipe away the bubbles.  Repeat 4x. I would not leave straightforward soap on the surface of anything because it creates what I call “old man wrinkles.” The soap basically resists the plaster and mars the surface of your mold.  You’ll know it when you see it.**

After weighing my plaster according to this formula,

volume of space to fill/80=quarts of water     AND     quarts of water*2.85=lbs of plaster

I mixed the plaster in a bucket, which can be done in one of two ways. I use my buckets for multiple uses in my studio, so I don’t want the plaster to adhere to the surface.  For quick and easy clean up, you can line the bucket with a plastic bag, but I would use my hand to mix the plaster.  The other way is to use a multiple speed drill to mix which will ensure consistent and incorporated plaster, but you have to be quick and confident in clean up.  I don’t suggest using both because…well the bag will tangle into the drill and tear a hole in the bag, and you will just be left in a messy situation (I will not admit to speaking from experience here).

Remember to take care of your tools.  Plaster and water will destroy tools, so after washing give them some lube love with some WD 40 or grease.  After I remade the top of my mold, I remade the bottom too. The bottom was where I added some love.  I made a plaster plug (after being inspired by this article) so that after I drained the slip from my mold I could plug the sprue and flip the mold over to avoid having a cavity in my finished casting.

To make the plug: I used a little cone shaped nugget of clay that I threw on the wheel and placed it on the base of my prototype before pouring the plaster.  Once the plaster had set, I cleaned away the rough edges by rasping and sanding the plaster.  I then gave the cavity a bath in Murphy’s and poured a small quantity of plaster inside.  I quickly inserted wire “hook” so I could remove the plug easily.  It is delightful now!