Making the Designer

Michael Rice Ceramics Art + Perception 108 2018 Yarrobil Home

As a child I was always engrossed in, and obsessed with, imagery. When I would look at books or magazines the pictures were far more important to me than the text; only after the desire for the visual was sated would I even consider reading. In fact, I would often stare at the words looking for images and patterns to appear from the jumble of letters and paragraphs, which they often did. Reading was third on my list of priorities when digesting any form of printed media. Drawing was the same; it was my language, and writing always seemed like such a waste of good drawing time. Of course, the irony of now writing this is not lost on me, but I would find so much pleasure in drawing throughout my childhood that it was obvious to both me and my parents that this would be the direction my life would go in, there was never any doubt.

Clay really is a wondrous substance. Antonio Gaudi realized this and the window and door handles in his famous Casa Batlo in Barcelona took their design from clay gently squeezed in the hand to create perfectly ergonomic, intuitive and beautifully distinct design elements. When I first used clay I immediately realized that this material was something I had to master. I was still drawing, but now in 3D. I realized that I needed to understand the processes, skills and techniques that would transform this soft malleable and forgiving material into the hard and fixed ceramic that it could become; all the time I was learning but it felt like I was simply playing. Not that there weren’t frustrations: making successful ceramics is mastering a series of sequential processes each one of which can spell catastrophe if not correctly executed. Life lessons are truly experienced in getting to know clay: patience, acceptance, failure, accuracy and repetition, making small gains as you go.

The key is not to see mistakes as mistakes, and not to have too fixed an idea, the design can always be continued faithfully but too ignore what happens in this process is to miss many new inspirations and miss the muse in the making.

Materials have always been important to me, and I’m always drawn to works that display a mastery over material. Knowing the difficulty in process, the commitment required and the failures that success necessitates, I have a great respect when I see skill and obsession evidenced. An expert really is someone who has made all the mistakes it is possible to make. I always tell students you can read a book about riding a horse but it won’t help you that much when you’re on the back of one. Practical knowledge is a different understanding to theoretical understanding; this takes dedication to your practice and there are no short cuts.

As a designer-maker I have always wanted to created objects that looked organically perfect, objects that could easily mimic natural phenomena: nature is always the inspiration and getting close to it nourishes me not only as a designer or maker but as a person. When you occasionally manage to create something that works particularly well, there is a moment where all the struggles and problems in the process of creating the final artworks collapse into an epiphanous joy that is quite simply sublime, calming and exciting at the same

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