Caroline Cockrill: When Clay is Your Canvas
As a child, I was lucky be free to roam alone for hours in beautiful outdoor spaces. I explored the nature around me and became part of it. These experiences shaped my love of trees, the sky, and landscapes. As I grew up, I was inspired by Monet and other Impressionists at the MFA. I took art classes at Wellesley High School, and then at Mass College of Art, I discovered a new medium, clay, not yet included in the high school’s curriculum. I had planned to major in drawing and painting, but I had fallen in love with clay. I try to do both by mingling the two by bringing painting into the glazes and texture of a clay platter or wall piece.
Painting, to me, is a desire to bring the essence of nature onto the surface of a canvas. Some platters can easily be a canvas for landscapes, especially on white porcelain with underglazes that I paint onto the dried, raw surface. Without bisquing, the underglazes soak into the clay like watercolor. (These pieces then require a clear spray of glaze to provide food safe durability.)
Alternately, pouring and layering glazes gives the appearance of an Impressionistic landscape. The excitement of the alchemy of the firing and the unexpected results is why opening a kiln is like Christmas morning. Happy accidents and surprises are part of the fun! I love being messy! I have a spray booth for the clear glaze that goes over the underglazes that I paint with. I use a different approach for wall hangings. I fling on poured swaths of glaze and overlap them in an attempt to suggest landscapes. This creates a big mess, and I often do it outside. No clear sprayed coat is required.
What still thrills me is that glazes and slips totally change color when fired, so I can plan as much as I want, but there is always the drip and flow factor, and the unanticipated results give the work its free and wild effect! The free spirit I feel in the process gives the piece action and life. A good result is not always the case, so my efforts are always a bit of a risk.
On the other hand, the more precise clay pieces I make that are painted with whimsical animals, colorful flowers, dragonflies, and fish are much more predictable. While I often repeat the shapes of the pieces, I can vary the colors and patterns in infinite ways so that each piece is unique. The yin and yang of doing both styles is a good balance for me.
Painting in oils is yet another different experience and style, as there are endless ways to manipulate the paint on the canvas, until it “works”, and if not, you can just scrape off the paint and try again another day. Watercolor is more similar to my porcelain work since the color soaks into the paper and can’t be changed.
I do not think of myself as a potter or as a painter, but as an artist, exploring the possibilities of playing in a certain medium with endless possibilities. It is daunting to have so many options open to me, but the hope is that my style and pieces of work communicate joy, fun, and cheer, with the added benefit of being useful.