Graphic Play: Pottery by Terri Gray


 

by Robin Gary

 

For May/June, we welcome Austin clay artist Terri Gray to the growing list of talented TCAA Featured Artists. Although Terri started her early art career in Florida, when she moved to Texas in 1997, she made the Austin area her home. Form and function play together in her pottery while her surface graphics might call to mind botanical imagery from days gone by, Art Nouveau themes or modern graphics. All lead to delicious surfaces and pieces you want to use, hold and showcase!


You worked all through college as a graphic artist while earning your degree in Art Education.  How did you come to find clay as your medium of choice?

I always loved my clay classes that were part of my degree, but I really found clay when I was teaching elementary art and my PTA came to me and said they had some extra money for me to spend for the art room.  My immediate response was to buy a pottery wheel.  After getting the wheel, I realized that I really needed to brush up on my skills.   I started taking wheel classes at Clayways Pottery Studio And Gallery.  I took every class that I could.  Shortly after, I bought my own pottery wheel and started collecting kilns and equipment.  I was hooked.


You then taught art in the public school system for 10 years. Where did you teach  and at what grade level(s)? How do you feel your clay experience influenced your students at that time? And vice versa, did your teaching and your students influence your clay work at the time?


I taught for 5 years in West Palm Beach Florida.  Then, I relocated with my family to Austin, Texas and taught for 5 years in Leander, Texas.  I taught Pre-Kindergarten through 6th grade.  My clay experience opened up new worlds for my students.  I taught art at a school with many at risk children and many had never touched clay.  My students never ceased to amaze me.  Kids displayed levels of creativity that were beyond belief and those that would not normally be engaged in school would come to life with clay in their hands.   I saw clay through my students’ eyes; my work was exploratory and playful.  I did quite a bit of textural work using carving and handmade stamps.


After a decade of teaching, you decided to focus on ceramics as a career. You set up a studio in 1997 in Austin and in 2001 you set one up in England. Tell us about these studios and your primary goals during these adventurous times.


In England I focused primarily on sculptural work and Raku firing.  I set up a studio in our house in Chilbolton, England and purchased a small kiln.  When I set the kiln up and tried to fire, it would only get to bisque temperature and no hotter.  I called the technical people to help with the kiln, but together we figured out after having an electrician in that the electrical current coming into our 1920’s house wasn’t sufficient, and that I would have to have the house completely re-wired. Since this was unrealistic, I decided to take my work out of the kiln at bisque temperature (unplug the kiln completely), and put my work into sawdust to smolder.  Problem solved.  I loved doing Raku work and continued to do so after we returned to the US.

 

When you returned to Austin in 2004, you set up shop at Clayways Pottery Studio and Gallery where you taught a spectrum of throwing and handbuilding classes.  Providing a vital education component to the Austin community, what were your take away experiences?


I loved teaching both adults and children.  My take away experience was that in keeping students engaged and constantly learning, I was also constantly learning.  My job was to give my students new ideas and in doing so I ran across new techniques as well.


Tell us about building your kiln at home in 2011. Are you finding yourself as productive in your home studio as you were at Clayways?


Since I couldn’t fire in my regular kiln, I needed a kiln that I could use only for soda (soda will erode kiln bricks).  I built a 12 cubic foot catenary arch kiln that could be used solely for soda.  It took about 6 months to build by myself.   I am more productive in my home studio.  However, I do have to make sure to schedule time in my studio or home obligations will easily get in the way. I have some extra help these days. We adopted a puppy and I am grooming her to be my studio dog, but it may be a while before she is ready.


Had you fired with soda before? How long did it take to get the process down after building your kiln? Any lessons learned to share on the kiln building and firing?


I had never fired with soda before I built my own kiln, but I thought soda work was so beautiful that I set out to find out all that I could about it.  After building the kiln, I spent another six months experimenting until I was happy with the results. Getting the correct amount of soda sprayed into the kiln along with balanced heat work proved to be the challenge.  I don’t think someone is ever completely schooled in firing a kiln though; we are always learning something new or trying different techniques.


Your lively surface technique includes physical texture, terra sigillata, silk-screened images, glaze and soda firing. I don’t know if this now falls into rumor-land or clay studio trivia but… Dallas potter friend, James Olney, once told me that he had heard that to make a piece interesting you should not exceed eight points of interest.   Adding your delightful shapes to the above surface techniques, I count six, features, even seven, if you include color.  Well done! Can you describe your path to putting this all together?


I am currently using some physical texture, silk-screened images, and base and color glaze in my work.  I do like to keep things interesting, but I don’t think I could use more that three or four surface techniques at one time.  I don’t want my audience to be confused.  I do teach my students to have at least three layers of interest.


You mention in your bio on the TCAA site that your graphics art background influences your surface work. What process led to your thrown forms?  Do you have a favorite form or historical/contemporary reference?


I was drawn to the pottery wheel because I saw thrown forms as a perfect canvas for my graphic work.  I enjoy soft rounded forms mostly and I would say my historical reference if I had to choose one, would be Art Nouveau.  The movement was inspired by natural forms, not only in flowers and plants, but in curved lines.  I use quite a lot of images of the natural world in my work as well as curved lines.


You have participated in local shows and sold at local craft fairs. You also have an Etsy shop, Earth Elements Pottery, and you maintain work at the ClayWays Gallery. Where are you finding your most consistent sales?  Which selling venues would you advise other clay artists to participate and make the most of?


My most consistent sales are craft fairs around the holidays; Etsy provides a fill-in during the off times.

I would advise the same for other artists and maybe add in a home show.  Home shows can make money and you don’t have to give away a percentage of your earnings!

 

How do you spend your time as a business: studio work, marketing, finances, etc.?


I spend as much time as possible in the studio, about 90 percent probably, and ten percent on marketing and finances.  I find that most potters, like myself, enjoy making work much more than the business aspect.

 



 Earth Elements Pottery


Texas Clay Arts Association 2014

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

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