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Featured Artist Kip O'Krongly

Demonstrating Artist at RnR Ceramics' Hands-On Workshop August 22-23.

Left: Pig Plate; Right: Mugs

On August 22-23 at Yourist Studio Gallery in Ann Arbor, RnR Ceramics will be hosting a hands-on workshop taught by the very talented artist Kip O’Krongly. There will also be a free artist reception open to the public at TrustArt Studios in Ann Arbor on August 21. Kip kindly took the time to answer some questions for us while getting ready for the up-coming workshop. Rovin Ceramics is proud to support this event by providing clay and tools for the workshop. So you don't miss this exciting workshop, reserve your space here.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you first became interested in pursuing a career in ceramics?

I lived in Anchorage, Alaska until I was almost 17 years old.   My childhood was filled with art classes and creative activities, but actually being an artist never occurred to me as a possible career path until I was approaching my college graduation. I first stepped into a clay studio during my sophomore year at Carleton College, and as the story so often goes, I was instantly smitten.  I spent a large part of my junior and senior year at the wheel, but it was visiting artist Linda Christianson (my final term at Carleton), that cemented my resolve to work in clay professionally.  Along with two other clay students (who both still work in clay, which hints at Linda’s influence!) I went to visit her home and studio.  She spent an entire afternoon talking about the struggles she faced as a young clay artist, the joy she experiences nurturing a creative life, and her plans for the future.  It was such an eye-opening day for a group of young, eager clay students.  While that day with Linda confirmed my desire to pursue clay professionally, it’s taken (and continues to take!) a lot more learning to truly understand what it would require to run a clay business and find my own ceramic voice.  

What is your current studio situation? Do you work from home or in a shared studio space?

From 2008 until the fall of 2012, I worked at Northern Clay Center (NCC) in a number of their artist studio spaces and grant spaces, which was a hugely influential time in the development of my work.  In the summer of 2012, my husband and I bought a house in Northfield, MN, where I set up a home studio.

I have come to learn that house projects tend to take at least twice as long as I expect, but after a lot of elbow grease I transformed a space above our garage from a blue carpeted, rainbow-wallpapered playroom, into a lovely little studio space!  While the transition from the bustling energy of the NCC community studio to a quiet home studio was a challenge, at this point, I feel pretty settled into a new routine.  My hope at some point is to expand my home space further into the garage so that I could potentially teach classes and have an assistant, but that is likely down the road a bit!

 O'Krongly's Studio Before and After

How would a typical week go in the studio for you?

One of the most challenging aspects of being self-employed is balancing work, social and family life – especially when you work from home.  While keeping to a regular schedule is helpful for anyone who is self-employed, one of the things I value most about my job is the flexibility I have.  Some days I’ll spend 12 hours just working in the studio (although, that’s not my favorite way to work!) and other times only 3 - 4 hours in the studio and the remainder of the workday doing some assortment of answering emails, photographing work, packing and shipping pots, mixing slip and glaze or loading a kiln (and a walk with the dog!).  There are days I’ll focus solely on applications, class proposals or be off teaching or at meetings - it all depends on what deadlines are coming up.  I’m an avid list maker (there’s nothing more satisfying than a big fat sheet of crossed off to-do items), love to organize and plan, and am an absolute slave to my digital calendar alerts!

What are your favorite tools and why?

I adore clay tools!  Like most clay enthusiasts, I can’t survive without my Mud Tools ribs.  I tend to gravitate toward the red and yellow ones, which I use a lot for smoothing when handbuilding.  Along those same lines, I am a huge fan of the Mud Tools finishing sponge for achieving a lovely surface.  And who can deny the satisfaction of using a sureform to shave away clay?  So oddly addictive…  Another favorite tool is my Kemper hand extruder.  I use it to make the feet on my pieces, as well as the rims, which is a big time saver.  It makes me think back to being a kid and using play dough extruders – so much fun!

Left: Decorating technique with latex; Center: Kip's favorite tools; Right: Plate in process

You have exhibited and sold your work across the country, where have you found the most success in marketing yourself and your work? (Online, through galleries or craft shows?)

Aaaaah, marketing.  Despite the fact that my father’s business is in marketing, I don’t know that the gene was passed on to me!  I have found this to be a difficult part of my studio practice because it’s something I just don’t particularly enjoy.  While it may not be a favorite aspect of my business, I do know it is required if I want to get my work out into the world.

While I do have a website, I’ve largely outsourced a good deal of the day-to-day marketing by electing to work with galleries rather than pushing the work myself.   Either way you’re paying for the marketing - you take the 50% gallery rate, or you pay with your own time and money.   A hybrid of these two options for me has been working online with Objective Clay.  We’re a group of 12 ceramic artists, from all over the country, who came together to create a unique online space for content and selling work.  Pooling our resources has been a wonderful way to broaden the audience for, and awareness of, all of our work and I’m excited to see how this virtual space continues to develop and evolve in the future.

In terms of craft shows, I’ve found the initial financial investment to set up a stellar booth and lighting situation, along with the often-expensive booth fees, keeps me from diving into that particular market.  There are some local fairs that I could envision as a starting point, but my next venture is starting a clay studio tour in the Northfield area.  Ten regional artists are inviting ten out-of-towners to exhibit work at their studios for Father’s Day weekend of 2016.  I think these artist-invite-artists home sales are a wonderful compliment to gallery and online sales.

You will be the demonstrating artist at RnR Ceramics’ upcoming hands-on workshop at Yourist Studio Gallery. What do the participants have to look forward to at this event? What kinds of techniques will you be demonstrating?

I am so delighted to be giving a hands-on workshop with RnR Ceramics - we are set to have a jam packed few days together! I’ll devote a large part of Saturday to building techniques (which everyone will get to try out for themselves), along with some snazzy handles (including a two-handed handle pulling trick!), the magic of paper clay repairs, tips for single firing your work, and making terra sigillata.  I’ll round out Saturday with an introduction to stenciling and sgraffito processes, and get folks thinking about imagery for Sunday.  With our foundation of surface and form started on Saturday, Sunday is where it will all come together - we’ll merge layers of stencils and colored slips with sgraffito decoration and latex resist to reveal unique narratives on our ceramic surfaces.  I’m especially excited to share ways to use the Silhouette die cutter to create original stencil imagery – such an exciting tool and process!  Ultimately, the goal of this workshop is to provide participants with a new set of ceramic tools - tools to explore decorative functional ceramics as a vehicle for broadcasting ideas, and to see pots as a potential catalyst for enlivened discussion and debate.

What do you like most about teaching workshops?

A lot of my time consists of long days working alone in the studio.  I find that teaching workshops is a wonderful way to connect with a community of people passionate about clay, and to give back to that community through the process of sharing ideas and techniques.  One of the most rewarding parts of being a ceramic artist is helping people realize the ideas in their heads as physical objects – I’m consistently amazed by how someone will take a technique I’ve used for years and use it in a completely different way.  There are always so many things to learn and I love being part of that energized learning space while teaching.

Who were some of your mentors and what advice did they give you that you found helpful?

I previously mentioned the impact of Linda Chrisianson, but Nick Joerling is another artist who I have always admired as both an incredible person and an excellent maker.  I had the pleasure of taking a workshop with Nick in 2006 as I was in the weeds of figuring out where I wanted to go with clay.   He pulled me aside one afternoon and pointed out how each time I sat down to the wheel I threw something entirely different.  He discussed how coming to truly know a form, to see its nuance and character, requires some repetition and careful study.  It was such great, eye-opening advice!

Who are some of your favorite artists or potters?

Nick Joerling and Linda Christianson are high on that list!  There are so many people who make such amazing work, I could fill pages, but lately I’ve felt a kinship with Sue Tirell’s work and her playful animals, I marvel over Shoko Teruyama’s pieces and their delicate surfaces, and Chandra DeBuse’s wonderful blend of both surface and form. 

I’ve also found that fabric designers often use a similar sort of high contrast imagery that I’m drawn to – Heather Moore of SkinnyLaMinx has a particularly lovely sense of pattern and style.  Cal Lane is another a huge inspiration.  She takes everyday objects and elevates them into beautiful works of art that deal with complicated, often ugly, ideas.  As a functional potter, this idea of bolstering the everyday and finding striking ways to deal with hard concepts is something I’m constantly striving for in my own work.

Bat Bowl, Kip O'Krongly

For more info about Kip O’Krongly and her work, visit her website, Objective Clay (link Objective Clay”), or attend the workshop and free artist reception hosted by RnR Ceramics.

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