By day, Thom O'Hearn is a book editor for Lark Crafts. His books cover everything from printmaking and paper crafts to ceramics and letterpress. They have been featured in such places as The New York Times, the Tate Modern Museum, Dwell, Design Sponge, Apartment Therapy, Urban Outfitters, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art's bookstore. When he's done making books for the day, he's often found on the potter's wheel, brewing beer, or reading. He lives with his partner Heather in Asheville, NC.
When did you start your craft? Who taught you?
I first started making ceramic objects in high school, believe it or not. I built things by hand for all four years. I also learned how to mix glazes, load kilns, and raku fire.
What inspired you to start pottery?
While I signed up for my first course my first year of high school, I would say that I wasn’t “inspired” to continue until about halfway through that class. I found that there was something unique about working with clay, and I enjoyed the transformation that pieces went through in the firing process. For lack of a better word, it just felt like it “fit.” You’ll probably hear similar stories or sentiments from a lot of artists who work in clay.
How do you get inspired to make something? Do you follow patterns or mimic what you see out in the world, or are the ideas for your pieces all your own?
One of my favorite things about pottery is that inspiration often comes from the process itself. If you sit down at a potter’s wheel with a pound or two of clay, you’ll often surprise yourself by letting your hands work while your mind wanders. Because I mainly produce functional objects, repetition is also a source of inspiration--making minor improvements to a design can occupy me for years.
Pottery requires some pretty big equipment. Are you able to work at home or do you belong to a studio or guild?
It’s true, the equipment is big and expensive! That’s one reason I have worked in two communal studios over the past few years, and I still occasionally take a class at Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts
. However, I learned how to cast objects and make molds last year (see the whiskey bottle in the photo below). That means even if I don’t have a home studio I can produce some pieces on my balcony this summer.
Do you use the bowls, cups, and other household items you create?
Of course! My significant other and I both love to eat and drink, so it’s fun to try and make items that really work for each of us and can become part of our daily routine. Coffee cups are a big one, but my most recent success was a small ice cream bowl. I’m pretty sure that’s been used more this spring than any regular-sized bowl in the house. I need to make some more of those!
Can you tell us about the first project you completed?
Oh I’m pretty sure it was a dumpy pinch pot. I can sort of recall burnishing it though, and I think I think the sgraffito design I carved ended up much better than the piece itself.
What is your favorite project you’ve completed?
Usually whatever is most recently out of the kiln. Part of the potter’s curse (or at least this potter’s curse) is the desire to constantly refine forms and surfaces. In general, the longer you work at it the better you get. That said, the bowl shown below is one I made last year that has stood the test of time better than most. When you give up some of your control to the firing process, and it works out like this, it makes the piece extra special.
What other crafts besides pottery do you enjoy?
I’m not sure if it counts as a craft, but I have been home brewing since I moved to Asheville about two years ago. It actually has a lot in common with ceramics: It takes weeks to get results, I constantly find myself lifting 25-50 pound bags of raw materials, and my most recent project was probably my favorite! And what better way is there to break in a new handmade pint glass than to fill it with my own beer?
What advice would you give someone who is trying pottery for the first time?
Be patient? A lot of people try working with clay, especially on the wheel, and they think that it’s not for them just because they’re not good at it. Well, I have a secret: The majority of potters weren’t good at it when they started, either! I was so bad at wheelthrowing that it took me three years to try it again after just a week of making bad pieces. But a decade later it’s my favorite tool.
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