In this series, the artists working at Creative Gateways give us a behind-the-scenes insight into their current works in progress, inspiration and creative challenges. Today, we look the challenges behind a particular piece of Sumati Colpitts…
More Mammal, More Problems
Sumati Colpitts has been creating ceramic art for nearly three decades, continually honing her craft. But even a veteran artist cannot completely escape the inherent challenges of their medium. Sumati encountered this last year while working on a particular marine mammal.
“I was making a big seal,” she tells us. “I had made seals before, but never this big. It ended up being very challenging!” As with so many art forms, ceramic work involves a variety of stages. Each one has its own hurdles and successes. A smooth time with one stage does not necessarily guarantee the same ease in the next. “I was really happy with the shape of it. But, when it came to firing it, that was when things got difficult.”
Things Get Crazy
“The seal I had created before had ‘crazed’ a little bit when it was fired. Well, when this bigger one came out, it was even worse.”
Crazing is a technical phenomenon wherein the glaze comes away from the clay and creates a network of lines or tiny cracks in the finished surface. It is a technique that is sometimes used deliberately to create an interesting effect, but is quite often an unintended problem. As Sumati explains, “When you’re looking for a uniform finish and you see crazing, it means something’s gone wrong.”
Issues like this highlight an important aspect of being a ceramic artist, one that is often overlooked by the public. “Making ceramics isn’t just about knowing how to shape and form the clay into a shape that’s pleasing to the eye. We have to be chemists as well, knowing how the materials we’re using will react to each other and what the outcome will be when they’re fired.” This same general idea can be applied to many other mediums seen at the Creative Gateways gallery – especially the fused glass work of the AMusinGlass studio.
“Every piece is unique and the substances we use are always slightly different, so it’s not an exact science. Whenever we mix up a new glaze we have to test it and see how it responds to being fired. Our kiln is so big we only fire it up every six to eight weeks, so that’s a long time to wait if there’s an unexpected surprise to deal with!”
Rescuing the seal
If a veteran artist like Sumati cannot completely avoid complications, her experience can at least help overcome complications. “Luckily, I’m able to draw on what I know to overcome setbacks. We can make magic happen whilst fixing things. Which meant the seal wasn’t ruined. In fact, when it was finally finished, it looked beautiful. Part of being a working artist is learning how to move past challenges and solve problems as they come up: it’s part of taking risks and looking at things creatively.”
That particular seal eventually found a home – but it would not be the last that Sumati would create. She just finished a new one, which is currently on the road with her and her husband Michael Colpitts as they participate in various art shows. “I probably won’t be coming back with him, though,” says Sumati. “The seals are very popular and they go very fast.”
See the successes
You can see more of the beauty of Sumati’s finished work – as well as the work of all our resident artists – at the Creative Gateways gallery, open 7 days a week, 10am-5pm. And be sure to join us for the opening reception of Sumati and Michael’s upcoming exhibition, “Expressions of Joy: Spotlight on the Ceramics of Sumati and Michael Colpitts,” Friday, March 16th, from 5-8pm!