Visiting artist talks clay and balance

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Lichman explains her process of altering the wheel-thrown forms, using custom tools and her hands. Lichman described her pots as unapologetically feminine, both in form and decoration. Ellamarie Quimby/Sun Star

The Student Ceramics Art Guild hosted Brenda Lichman this past week, a ceramicist and teacher from Wichita, Kansas. Lichman makes functional ceramics, like mugs, teapots and bowls. During workshops and demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday, Lichman modeled her methods to 30-40 students and community members in the campus ceramics studio.

“The pots begin on the wheel. Simple forms are thrown with a soft, feminine profile focusing on accentuating the belly or the hip of the pot. This is where I want to create the most sense of volume and strength in the form,” Lichman said.

Lichman begins her pieces by throwing basic mug or bowl shapes on the pottery wheel. She balloons those shapes out around the bottom or middle third, adding volume and visual weight to the original form. After the clay has been allowed to settle and harden slightly, she spends time applying decoration using slip, a viscous mixture of clay powder and water. Her thick slip surface decorations mimic icing layered on a cake.

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The material Lichman uses for decoration, slip, is a mixture of dried, powdered clay, water, and sometimes other minerals and materials. Lichman applies slip to her work using a flexible plastic rib tool. Ellamarie Quimby/Sun Star

After the slip has had time to set, she manipulates the forms further, pressing out from the inside of the shapes, adding small bellies in between the lines of slip. She fires her pieces in a soda kiln, a method of atmospheric firing that produces a specific effect on slips and glazes and renders every pieces fired one-of-a-kind.

Lichman has made a name for herself in American pottery with her particular method of surface design. Jenny Chamberlain, a Master’s student majoring in ceramics, attended both days of demonstrations, as well as Lichman’s Monday night artist talks in the Murie Auditorium.

“I could really relate to her interest in movement, and the figure. There was repetition and balance and flow, and it’s all captured and explored through the different textures that she’s using on her pots,” Chamberlain said.

Lichman spoke at length during her demonstrations and artist talk about the importance of balance in both her life and work. As well as working as a functional potter, Lichman teaches ceramics and drawing at Wichita State University. She discussed how her initial focus in college, graphic design, brought her to her love of pottery.

“I was sitting at a computer for hours a day, barely moving. I’m an active person, I love sports— I need to stand up and do things,” Lichman said.

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Ceramics student Samantha Bartlett examines a plate produced by Lichman during her campus workshops. Lichman shaped the plate first on a mold, before transferring the mold to a wheel in order to even out it’s form. After removing the plate from it’s mold several hours later, she used similar slip application techniques to decorate the finished piece. Ellamarie Quimby/Sun Star

A fluke in her course scheduling meant that as a college senior, she had one introductory 3D studio class left to fulfill. After those first couple of weeks in the ceramics class that she chose, she called home to tell her family that she was changing her major, Lichen said. She attributes her initial fascination with clay to how physical the act of making becomes and how difficult it was for her to master at the beginning.

Many of the questions posed to Lichman during her demonstrations in the ceramics studio inquired into her inspirations and influences. Lichman spent time discussing her own ceramic education, and her many male instructors who emphasized solid, traditional pot designs with little delicacy to them. Lichman questioned this, asking why her self-described femininity, and feminine designs, made her work worth less than theirs.

She spent time after college really developing her style and interests. The key to feeling successful in art making, according to Lichman, is to find the element that you love most about making that kind of art, and then make that element the thing that you do best.

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Lichman explains her process of altering the wheel-thrown forms, using custom tools and her hands. Lichman described her pots as unapologetically feminine, both in form and decoration. Ellamarie Quimby/Sun Star

Lichman finished a Bachelor of Fine Art in Ceramics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1998. In 2002, she went on to complete a Master of Fine Arts in Ceramics at the University of North Texas. In 2008 she curated an exhibition for the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts Conference and the May 2009 issue of Ceramics Monthly named her an Emerging Artist. She has been published in both “Surface Design for Ceramics” and “500 Teapots, Volume 2.”

The Student Ceramics Art Guild typically invites 2 – 3 visiting artists a year to host workshops, demonstrations and lectures on campus. The Guild meets every Thursday in the Fine Arts Complex, Art 415, from 5 – 6 p.m.

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1 Response

  1. Elma says:

    I love hand made clay pots. Each of them are so unique and beautiful. Thanks for great article

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