Starting today, CFile Pop-Up Shop features New Mexico native Rachel A. Donner. Donner’s geometric surfaces and cozy forms caught our editor Garth Clark’s eye at ClayScope, an exhibition at Virgil Ortiz & King Galleries in Santa Fe, NM which brought together a community of artists fostered by digital social networks. CFile is lucky enough to have Donner on board as our Social Media Director.
“Creating something out of clay is like healing a wound,” she explains. Donner’s work is dictated by process and the sentimental experience of interacting with precious materials like clay on a daily basis.
The artist graduated from University of Northern Colorado in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Ceramics. She has since worked as an assistant to potter Meredith Host, completed a residency at Taos Clay as well as Core Clay in Cincinnati, Ohio. She has assisted in teaching workshops at Santa Fe Clay. Based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Donner spends most of her time in the studio. Check out my conversation with Donner below.
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CFile: Where do you typically sell your work? Any marketing tips for potters?
Rachel A. Donner: I sell my work online and through galleries. My first tip is to use social media and you will be surprised at some of the opportunities that come your way because of it. Just by regularly posting on Instagram, I was invited to write a process article for Pottery Making Illustrated and was offered a pop-up shop in Miami DADE College Museum of Art + Design. Many sales come from Instagram and Facebook. People see a mug you posted and they have to have it! Second, always approach people/galleries. The worst thing that can happen is they say No. Be bold and be polite!
C: Do you consider how something will appear on social media when you are formulating a new design? In other words, is marketing online a part of your creative process?
RAD: I show my entire process, and I don’t mind if people see my mistakes.
I just make sure to post pretty good photos all the time. I mean even if it’s a process shot of some clay, I just make sure it’s pretty. But as far as “marketing” goes, I don’t think about it much at this point. Recently I have been focusing on branding myself, giving a certain aesthetic to everything I post.
C: What led you to clay? Did you make work in other mediums before you settled on pottery?
RAD: I originally went to school for graphic design, but when I took a wheel throwing class, I quickly abandoned the computer. In school I double majored in ceramics and painting. Painting on clay became my primary interest and everything else pales in comparison for me.
C: What did you initially love about painting on clay?
RAD: I didn’t immediately know that painting on clay was even an option. I didn’t understand surface decoration or glazing as painting. Right after graduating, I spent time doing an assistantship with Meredith Host and learned a wealth of information that completely changed my making. There is something much more alive about working with clay, you have to constantly watch over it and care for it. The long repetitive process with many different stages makes for a much more interesting experience than painting on canvas, paper, etc.
C: Walk us through a typical day in your life.
RAD: I start working from bed, checking emails, Instagram, etc. This includes not only my personal business, but also the other social media accounts I manage. I do exercises each morning to care for my chronic back and neck problems. I make breakfast, throw it in a bowl, and bring it to the studio. My favorite coffee shop, Iconik Coffee Roasters, is just a block from my studio. I always bring my own mug to fill with their coffee. I spend anywhere from 6-12 hours a day in my studio making. Eventually, I force myself to go home… often because I realize its 11pm and I forgot to eat dinner!
During my evenings/nights at home, I work more on social media, applications, packing pots for shows/sales, and trying to unwind before I repeat it all the next day.
C: Whats the most important part of your process of formulating a new pottery design?
RAD: Trial and error. Making things over and over again. I often try something, take it all the way through the process, then realize it’s a horrible form or surface or both. Through trial and error I learn the most from myself: sketching, throwing multiple forms to get closer to articulating a certain design, and constant experimentation with surface decoration and composition.
C: Do you favor form or function when making?
RAD: It’s such a struggle to choose one because they are both so important to one another. If you don’t focus on function, why bother with functional pottery, but if you neglect form, it will probably result in something hideous.
Practicing non-attachment is really important to my process, so I squish up all forms that aren’t working. The older I get, the harder I am on myself about whether a form works or not, whether I should cast it into permanence, vitrification. When I have a form nailed down, that’s when the fun really begins, decorating! This has to be approached in a similarly strict way as honing a form, but does allow for more freedom.
C: Something tells me you like to doodle. Where do you find a muse for your playful geometric surface designs?
RAD: I like simplicity and layering. I think in terms of simple shapes cut from paper combined and layered with a different quality of line making up grids, circles, triangles etc. It is interesting to me to layer something two dimensional over something round.
Look at a cat’s whisker patch by their little mouth, it is strangely geometric, like stacked dots or a grid system. Shower drains, cinder blocks, fabric, board games, and other semi-mundane, everyday man-made objects catch my eye. I have found a few simple design elements that I enjoy and it seems there is an endless void of exploration available in these.
Video By Morgan Capps and Amy West
C: I hear you have a pretty extensive glaze drip collection. Tell us about that.
RAD: The little beads pop off the kiln shelf after the firing. They look like tiny Mancala beads. I am really into collecting things in general, sometimes it’s basically a little pile of garbage that I choose to keep, as is the situation with the glaze drips.
C: List some contemporary potters in and out of New Mexico that inspire/influence you. Also briefly tell what is inspirational about them.
RAD: I am inspired by different potters’ combinations of form, surface, and function. People like Didem Mert, HP Bloomer, Julia Galloway, Meredith Host, Molly Bishop, Tom Jaszczak, and Jen Allen who play with patterns, layering, glazes/underglazes, surface design, unique forms, and interesting finishes. I look for people that excite me and leave me guessing about their process. I find myself thinking over these artists’ design choices and regularly finding new surprises in their work when I use it in my home.
C: New Mexico has a reputation for ceramics. What is it like to be a ceramic person in Santa Fe or in Taos where you grew up? Clay dry too fast?
RAD: There is great community to be found in Santa Fe! And this goes beyond the clay world. Creative types that live here can often be interested clay and really appreciate the handmade even if they don’t make it. Santa Fe Clay and Taos Clay are really wonderful resources. Ha, the clay does dry very fast, this can be a blessing and a curse! But the New Mexico skies bring endless inspiration.