sculptural vaseMy inspiration, the earth, has had great demands placed on it. How as artists, I wonder, can we contribute to saving the planet. As it is creativity that will provide much needed solutions to this problem, artists can be part of that effort. Whether it is directly from creating new green technologies or continuing with much vigor to remind others through our art how beautiful our earth really is.

Fun with Form: Wendy Braun’s Architectural Vases

Ah, the dazzling myriad possibilities of clay! Some potters see the clay surface as a blank canvas on which to draw or paint. Others create relief with slip trailing or sprig molds. Some like to stamp, and some create texture with glazes, while others encourage the kiln to caress the pot with ash.

But for Wendy Braun, clay is all about form. She spent 18 years as an illustrator and painter, but when she puts her hands on clay, her mind is filled with the possibilities of form. “I always felt that drawing would take away from form,” she says. “Although now, many years later, I think it might be fun to put a little drawing on the clay. But it would have to be in a way that doesn’t interfere with the shape.”

Still, all those years spent drawing and painting have influenced her pottery. “The practice of drawing developed my ability to see and I think that influenced my pottery,” she explains”. Drawing has been an important part of my development. I’m constantly looking at proportions and angles and design. Unconsciously that is reflected in my forms. Being an illustrator enhanced my ability to see.”

one-of-a-kind ceramic vaseBraun never expected to be a potter. Her summer job, during her high school years, was making thousands of clay beads for her mother’s business. “I didn’t think I’d ever have a career in clay after that,” she confesses. But clay has a way of ensnaring people. At the University of Colorado at Boulder, Braun added a ceramics course to her liberal arts schedule, just for fun. “They had a really good ceramics department with Betty Woodman, Anne Currier, and Wayne Branum,” she says. “I got trapped.”

It was handbuilding that caught her imagination. She loved creating sculptural forms. Five years later, however, with a B.F.A. in ceramics she felt uncertain as to the economic realities of life as a potter. Instead, she attended illustrator school, which, it turned out, she also loved.” Illustration does pay,” she notes. But after years of creating book covers, magazine illustrations and corporate brochures she missed the feel of the clay in her fingers. Six years ago, she took the plunge and signed up for a clay class. “It was just like in college—I got trapped again,” she says.

This time, she decided to work in a different way.” I felt nervous going back to clay,” she confides. “So I decided to do wheelthrowing as my entry and to do something totally different.” It was a little difficult at first, and she notes that, “it was not entirely fun.” But the more she kept at it, the more interested she became. “I never set out to be a great functional thrower, but I kept seeing other things I could do with throwing. From bowls and cups, I quickly became interested in vessels and vases.”

Sculpture was still her basic interest, and this time she turned her attention to the cylinder. “If you put a handle on a short cylinder, it becomes a mug and the sculptural aspects are more limited,” she says”. I kept playing around with the vases and I got to be a better thrower. My work has all been about this process of refining the shapes.” Braun works intuitively. She doesn’t come to the wheel with a head full of preconceived ideas. “There’s no profound meaning in my vessels. My work is in the making of the work,” she says. “I see the clay do something and I respond to that. It has to do with balance and proportion. “In the beginning, she says it was pretty much take what you get. “Sometimes I really messed up the shapes.”

Wendy Braun Ceramic SculptureBut as she grew more technically proficient, she was able to refine the shapes more intricately. “What I do is push in and pull out,” she says. “I try to push the clay as much as I can without it collapsing, although it ‘s done that many times. I work very quickly—I don’t mess around too much.”

The form takes shape as she pulls the cylinder. Various areas of the piece are enhanced by poking in or bulging outward with her finger. “The lines on my pots are not something that I put on top of the pots—they become part of the form and make the form. All the lines are from my fingers prodding the clay.”

Some forms are made in sections and then joined. At first she sealed the joints by using a coil on the inside. But when a piece was too narrow to get her hand in, she simply abandoned the coil.” I thought that would be a problem, but it really wasn’t. I join the two pieces by scoring with water, then, I refine the outside edge with a metal or plastic rib. Sometimes I apply clay to the outside edge.”

Her pieces have evolved from strictly architectural and geometric to more fluid forms with curves and sometimes fluted edges. Inspiration is more a sensibility than a direct influence. “I’m very interested in painters, such as Matisse, Manet, Giotto, and Fra Angelico,” she says. “They all deal with space and design, which is what I’m dealing with in clay. Isamu Noguchi has been a huge inspiration because of his sense of design, his texture, and his forms. I’m not looking to decorate the form, but to enhance the form.”

Using both stoneware and porcelain, Braun fires her pieces to cone 10 reduction and cone 6 oxidation. Glazing is kept simple using four or five glazes, she dips or sprays. “I wish I didn’t have to glaze at all,” she says. “It’s not my thing.”

In looking at the work after she’s made it, Braun says sometimes she think there are unconscious references to Asian temples—forms that appeal to an underlying aesthetic, but she’s not consciously trying to create that.” Because I’m not working from a philosophical idea before I start working, that leaves it open for the viewer to interpret or have feelings about what they see,” she explains. “That’s okay with me. I’m not sending any message with my pots.”

What Braun says she’s really doing is having fun. “Moving the clay around is what I have to do to keep me sitting at the wheel,” she says. “I plan to go back to handbuilding someday — I think I was happier doing that.”

So why is she spinning pots? “I started playing with it. One thing I have learned in life is the need to focus, to really go deep with something. I’m having fun.”

After all, what we potters really want to do is have fun with our hands in that delicious clay.

From Clay Times, Volume 11, Number 4 by K. T. Anders