A Morning with Stephanie Sterling

by Robin Gary

Strength and clarity. This summed up my initial reaction to Stephanie Sterling’s work as I started research on the October-November Texas Clay Arts Association Featured Artist.  I was reviewing her series “The All Female Mafia Underground” under the Portfolio link on her artist site: www.smsofthisearth.com. The stark black and white images of women fixing their eyes on me, the viewer, caused a defensive reaction. “Why are you looking at me that way?” After I read the titles of these pieces, I easily transformed myself into each of the characters. I felt the strength and clarity.

Lucky for me, Stephanie lives in Leander, TX just northwest of Austin, close enough for me to drive. She graciously accepted my request to see her work and interview her in person.  (As a result, this interview is written in third person unlike the previous interviews.)

Similar to many of our Featured Artists in this series, Stephanie’s life is divided between making art for a living and making money for a living and living.  One of my first questions to the artists is usually, “How did you get started in clay?” Stephanie had the answer before I could even ask the question. With a sly smile she initiated our conversational interview with, “It started with a boy.”  While working on her Linguistics degree in Montreal, she started taking ceramics classes at a community art center. Post break-up activities can lead to great things! She focused on functional ware for years and mastered throwing and glazing techniques along the way.

Stephanie’s current sculptural and graphic novel style pieces developed after she realized that she was looking for the buyer to have a personal reaction to her art. She seeks to grab the viewer’s attention for more than a quick, good-feeling moment.  The figurative-in-relation-to-functional pieces such as “Stoic” in the Internalize series and “Bottled Revenge” in the Interplay series prove her resolve to this end. She often glazes the functional parts of these sculptures and leaves the figures minimally glazed and stained. This simplicity strengthens the attention on the relationship of the figure and the vessel.

For Stephanie, ideas are not influenced so much by other artists as they are by music. The Blues are one of her primary inspirations. Her pieces in the The Blues series, again, take the quirky relationship of a figure with a functional piece to an emotion-evoking stage. I looked at the piece “You've Got Your Mojo Working, But It Just Won't Work On Me” and laughed at the attitude and expression of the woman sitting in the vase. Spot on! Then, my heart dropped looking at both “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child” and “The Thrill is gone.” Despondence.

Stephanie works independently on her projects developing an idea completely using sketches, idea notes and such, even storyboarding the concept before starting the clay work on a series.  She often photographs models, including herself ("Models are not cheap!"), to work perspective perspecitve and initial compositions.  Keeping her glazework simple and her figures and graphics bold, she maintains the clarity and strength of the idea.

The figures inside or attached to the vessels are actually made inside or on the vessel. She does not pre-fabricate the figure and place it in or on the piece. The goal is to resolve the figure’s attitude and expression in situ. Sometimes this alters what one would consider proper proportion but it succeeds in giving the figure a permanence of position. Stephanie indicates that this isn’t the easiest way as tools don’t always fit and rotating the piece on foam while working is risky but the final composition succeeds.

Marketing for Stephanie is all about the art community, Internet and shows. Outside of working at home as an administrative professional as well as artist, she works at Fireseed Clay Studios as the glaze technician. She is an avid social network user and promoter. She maintains a website, Facebook page, Tumblr posts and blogs. She enters shows locally and nationally including Serve It Up, Clay Arts Vegas at the Victor F. Keen Gallery in Las Vegas, NV where “You Better Come On In My Kitchen, Cause It’s Gonna Be Raining Outdoors” won best of show; The Right Atmosphere: Clay in Central Texas at 1600 Smith Street during NCECA this year and Made for Each Other at Studio 550 in Manchester, NH in 2012.

Setting up a studio in her new home in Leander is one of Stephanie’s current projects. Much is already there, including her wheel, her sink (with clay catchment designed by her father), and worktable. She is expecting her new Skutt kiln to arrive soon. I was able to see her bold, creative new works in progress with figures and vessels and graphic story concepts on her walls. Aside from Facebook and her website, she uses Tumblr to show some works and experiments at http://smsofthisearth.tumblr.com.

Locally, you can find Stephanie’s works at the Fireseed Clay Studio Gallery open to the public on Saturdays and in November at the Austin Working Artists group exhibition as part of the East Austin Studio Tour.

View Stephanie's Work | Stephanie's Profile Page


Texas Clay Arts Association 2014

Images in header (from left): Annie Foster, Karmien Bowman, Mimi Bardagjy

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