Featured Artist: Crystal Bowers

After a long hiatus, the Featured Artist post returns!

Although Crystal and I haven't actually met (we connected through AmericaCreates and Facebook), her work resonates with me and I love her views on the creative process.  Her work can be found at Stone Soul Pottery.

1. What is your art form?
I make one-of-a-kind ceramic sculptural vessels, and just lately smaller pieces for my new Etsy.com store.

2. What inspires you?
Nature, both outdoor and human. Sometimes I come across an object that seems to cry out to be expressed more fully. It’s not unusual for me to create a piece around a particular strand of beads, a beautiful shell from the beach, or a nightmare. Sometimes the concept I want to express is more abstract, like the word “meditation” or an idea, like “paper ships” which was posed to me by a poet friend. It’s lovely to wrap your mind around an emotion, feeling, word or object and then take a malleable substance like clay and work it until you’ve captured whatever you’re trying to express. It's why most of my pieces have names—I was really trying to get something across while I made it.

Chinle Sunset

3. When did you decide to pursue art, or did art pursue you?
A little of both I think! Back in 1999 I became ill due to extreme stress. Corporate America was clearly not the place for me; I felt stifled and on the few occasions when I was encouraged to let my creative side loose, someone else always seemed poised to take credit for my ideas. It was very frustrating. I finally quit and started my own web consulting business, but after a year of working from home I was bored and lonely. That’s when my husband suggested I take an adult education class at the local art league school in Alexandria, VA. As I browsed through their catalog, I remembered that I had a little toy pottery wheel as a kid and how much I loved making and painting those pots. I enrolled in a beginning pottery class, and from the moment my hands touched the clay I knew I was home. I eventually starting spending so much money on open studio time that it became more economical to buy my own wheel. I stayed with the classes for 7 or 8 years, usually year round. Eventually my mentor, an incredible artist named Lori Katz, invited me to assist her in teaching a beginner’s class in the evenings and I loved it. Unfortunately, at the same time I was becoming more involved with the school, my work was becoming more delicate and complicated, which was resulting in the loss of several pieces though the loading and firing phases which were manned by other students. The final straw came when someone who broke one of my pieces left me a long and very nasty letter about their dislike of my work. I knew at that point it was time to seek out my own studio space if I was going to make any progress as an artist.


4. How do you sell your work?
I used to rely mainly on higher end craft fairs and art shows, and I still try to do at least two good sized shows a year because I love the interaction. Selling your work takes more than just setting up a table and sitting behind it; the skills you develop while learning to entice people to stop and really engage with you and your art are priceless. Those skills not only help me when I’m selling in person, they translate to my website and my ability to find unique opportunities to showcase my work in different venues. I’ve worked my way into one gallery show so far, which was a great experience, and recently I was awarded a consignment spot at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia in their Museum Store. I don’t think I would have pursued either of those opportunities if I hadn’t learned to engage wholeheartedly in the selling process.

5. Do you title your work? If so, how do you decide upon titles?
I’d say 95% of my pieces have titles because I usually know what I’m hoping to express through the clay before I sit down to throw. It’s not unusual for a title to change as I work; sometimes the thought changes, or the work clearly has a direction in which it wants to go, and I don’t mind being a follower rather than the leader. Throwing for me is an awful lot like writing, which was my first profession. They are similar in that sometimes you have to work at what you’re trying to express for a while until you find just the right words. That’s how my titles come into being. The beads and found objects with which I decorate many of my pots serve as punctuation meant to emphasize and compliment the central idea.

Breath and Bone

6. If you weren't an artist, what would you be?
I’d probably still be plugging away at some job that paid well but that I hated. I’d like to say that I would be hard at work on my second or third novel, but I haven’t found the time to write the first one yet! I have a well developed puritan work ethic that never quite lets me enjoy creating just for the sake of personal expression; I want my endeavors to be financially successful as well. I don’t really make enough to live off of my art earnings, but I’m really enjoying the process of trying, and the feeling of moving forward (albeit slowly) toward that goal.

7. What other jobs have you had which have aided you on your artistic path?
My first job out of college was a dream job. I love music, and I was hired my a music magazine publisher to spend my days interviewing some of my favorite musicians and then writing about them. It was an amazing experience for six years, and I still try to keep my writing chops up by occasionally submitting an article to various magazines--not necessarily about music, but about any topic I find interesting or relevant. I’ve run a radio information for the blind and print-disabled and been the director of marketing for a six million dollar United Way fundraising campaign. Both jobs called on my creative talents to entice people to participate and to donate money. They were wonderful challenges, and I’m proud to say that I was successful at both.

Outta Space

8. At the art supply store, which section do you go to first?
That’s easy, I head for the clay! Because I work with such small amounts of clay at a time—it might take me a few months to go through 100 pounds of clay—I generally work with whatever the supplier has in stock at the time. Sometimes its porcelain, sometimes it’s something like “Craggy Crunch,” a wicked sculptor’s clay that has so much sand in it will can take the skin off your hands if you’re not careful. Sometimes it’s an earthenware clay with a great color. I like the challenge of buying new clay bodies each time and getting to know them on the wheel. Next, I head for the glazes. I could stare at glaze color charts all day. The idea of making my own glazes has never appealed to me, but I love trying new commercial glazes. My current favorites are Coyote Clay’s Cone 5 glazes—they are really beautiful.

9. What new technique or art form would you like to learn? Do you have plans to do so?
I can’t think of another art form I would like to study at the moment. I would, however like to play around with Keraflex sheet porcelain. That stuff looks pretty amazing, and the shaping possibilities are endless.

10. Where do you want your work to be a year from now?
In an exhibit in the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia. I’m really hoping that my time in the museum shop goes very well like the recent holiday sale they held in December. I received a lot of terrific feedback from folks associated with the museum, and sold a good amount of work. Here’s hoping I can continue to build on those relationships over the coming year. I’d like my Etsy shop to see some sort of modest but steady success as well. My goal is to continue to be able to cover all my expenses associated with my art and eventually make a decent income from it.

11. What advice have you received which has helped you the most?
It would have to be the advice I receive from Mark, my husband, who continually encourages me to pursue this passion and occasionally steers me back to the path of creativity when I start to veer too much toward thinking about profit. I think he has really enjoyed watching me break away from the art league school to pursue my own path, and he’s been absolutely instrumental in keeping me focused on making sure my work has a strong element of pure creativity to it. He’s my best critic, and doesn’t hesitate to challenge me to correct course if I’m getting lazy or too wrapped up in finding commercial success. Every artist should have someone like him standing behind them, whispering in their ear. His mantra for me is “no casseroles!”

Clay Meditation

12. If you could do anything, and knew you could not fail, what would you choose to do?
Hmmm, I think I would love to try my hand at acting or maybe singing. I sang in choirs and choral competitions throughout junior and senior high school, and I like to think that I can carry a tune, just like anyone singing in the shower or in their car can! LOL. I think acting would be a riot! I love sci-fi movies, and I think I would love creating all of the imagination-based characters and story lines. I could be the world’s first crime fighting galactic potter!

That's an interesting image...I wonder what the costume would look like?!
Thanks for the interview, Crystal.  I wish you continued creativity, inspiration, prosperity and lots of fun for the new year!


Jeanne Rhea said…
A great interview! I spent time on Crystal's web site and enjoyed it as well. Too bad we can't hear her sing for this interview as well! Her work is different and I can see her in it.