Carole Epp is a ceramic artist whose work includes lines of functional as well as sculptural objects, and has been exhibited in Canada, Scotland, Australia and the United States. Her art and writing have been published in magazines, web sites and books. She is editor of Musing About Mud, a blog showcasing upcoming events, calls for submissions, job postings, technical information… “you name it; basically anything related to clay that I run across gets posted. I’ve made some wonderful friends through this blog and it has opened many doors for me creatively and for my career. It’s a huge volunteer job, but I love it.”
Carole, who lives in Saskatoon with her husband and two young children, was recently shortlisted for the Winifred Shantz Award in Ceramics – a prestigious award given by the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery to an artist in the first ten years of their career. Carole says “I’m beyond honored to have been shortlisted, as this level of national recognition for my work is a huge morale and creative boost. All of the artists who have won in the past have been great inspirational Canadian clay artists who were recognized as upholding a high level of professionalism and creative innovation. To be named alongside them is such a huge sign of support and encouragement for my work.”
What led you to ceramics, and what is it about this art form that you love?
I started working in clay as an undergrad art student who was forced to take a ceramics class as a requirement for my degree. Go figure, something clicked in my mind and heart and within weeks I knew I was in love. Working in three dimensions seems to make more sense to my way of thinking and visualizing. Clay as a material is so malleable that I feel limitless when working with it; well, except I guess limited by the size of my kiln! I find the process of getting dirty and physically engaged with my work inspiring. There is something meditative about the process and material that I love and that keeps bringing me back and centering me.
What is your studio like?
Right this minute my studio is in boxes, we’ve just moved. Once it’s set up it’ll take up half of a double garage that’s attached to my home. Only half, because I’ll be sharing the space with my husband who builds motorcycles. As parents to young children this is ideal; we can work in the evenings and here and there throughout the day when we can steal away. Plus, sharing the studio space means we have some time together as a couple. (I know, I too shake my head at the thought that this is what our dating life has become!) I really like working at home. It means I can run out to test out an idea for a minute or check on a kiln easily. Plus my kids get to be a part of the action and learn from being in this creative space with me.
What about your working process…. disciplined, or not so much?
I used to be more disciplined, but in the last year I’ve been learning to let go and stress less about how productive I’m being. Having young kids has changed my life significantly. This has, in a lot of ways, been positive… my studio time is much more limited, yet it is now ten times more productive than it was in the past. I find myself working out ideas throughout the day while I’m cleaning, cooking, or playing with the kids. This means that if I can steal away twenty minutes later in the day or when the kids are napping, I hit the ground running and don’t waste a minute. I never know how much time I’ll have to work so I try not to create expectations that are unrealistic. I try to focus on smaller projects and more experimenting during this stage of my family’s life, knowing that once my kids are in school I can get back to a more rigid schedule of daily work.
How do you deal with the business side of being an artist?
I feel the business side is equally as important as the creative side. Without one or the other things fall apart. I would much rather be just the creative brain, but I have also learnt quite a bit by having to be an accountant, a marketing agent, a blogger, researcher, a photographer, a fundraiser, and the list goes on and on. Looking at everything that is incorporated into my job I am sometimes overwhelmed, but at other times really excited and inspired by all the facets of this type of creative work and independent business. I really can’t picture myself in any other sort of work. I love that each day has different challenges and I’d be dreadfully bored with a predictable and repetitive job.
Have you always made both sculptural and functional pieces?
To some degree, yes. The two treads of my current work began when I was a graduate student. I set out to challenge myself to work out a problem with two different approaches. At the core of my artistic practice is a critique of consumer culture and the resulting environmental, political and social implications. I have tried to work through this critique and subsequent research through the creation of more sustainable designed functional objects; and through the more politically overt figurative sculpture. In the end both the sculptural and the functional bodies of work speak to the same questions and concerns for me; however I really don’t have an expectation that my audience would ever make the connections. Both types of work have been very rewarding to make and exhibit and I’m not sure that I could give either up at this point even though I know that it would make my life easier and more focused!
How would you describe your style?
Oh, good question, and daily it is perhaps evolving. I see my figurative work as aligned with the low brow or kitsch, pop surrealism movement that is primarily coming out the States right now. There is also a category of figurative ceramic art that this works fits in with. As for the functional work, I aim for a more modern, clean aesthetic, but that work is also becoming more organic and with the more recent inclusion of imagery it takes on a more whimsical childlike and fun feel.
What inspires you?
What doesn’t? I feel that my daily life and my work are one and the same so everything feeds into my art. Since having children I have seen the greatest impact of this. My work has become very inspired by the imagery and iconography of childhood. My son’s imagination and children’s books are my favorite inspiration. Seeing the world through his eyes has shattered so many perceptions I had about life. My family life weighs heavily on my mind in the studio. I want to be open and honest with my kids, and the same goes for my art. I try to be present and expose myself, my weaknesses, my strengths, my desires into what I do. Sometimes this means making myself feel very vulnerable, but the more truth and humanity there is in the work, then I believe the more there is for the viewer to relate to.
Of course in the process of working on my blog and sourcing content to post I come across a ton of inspiring artists, ceramic and otherwise. I would say that a large portion of my day is spent online doing research and of course digesting all of the visual information that’s there. I’m involved with numerous social media outlets (Crafthaus, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.) that I couldn’t live without as they feed into the visual language I reinterpret in my work.
The most fruitful ideas come to me in the studio when I’m elbow deep in clay. For me the process is inspiring and the material has its own push and pull on your ideas. It is the combination of my voice and the language of the material that brings forth the ideas.”
When do your best creative ideas come to you?
When I’m least expecting them, and often when there isn’t a pen in sight. I have a bad habit of coming up with ideas right before I fall asleep and can drive my husband nuts with turning on the light ten times a night in order to jot down some notes. I find, however, that the most fruitful ideas come to me in the studio when I’m elbow deep in clay. For me the process is inspiring and the material has its own push and pull on your ideas. It is the combination of my voice and the language of the material that brings forth the ideas.
This really depends. Some ideas can percolate in my mind for months or more. Others I get working on immediately. I used to work out a sculptural piece three or four times to get it right, but now with limited time pieces have one chance, maybe two to come to life. There is an immediacy to this newer way of working that I enjoy. The quicker pace acts as an editing tool and I find I spend far less time trying to resolved mediocre ideas and instead now just scrap them and move onto the next. I feel that the work is always evolving for me and often by the time I see the work in exhibition or even years later I realize that it is about something completely different than what I set out to accomplish in the beginning. This is a very exciting thing to me… that the work and its meaning can constantly shift due to context and my situation in relation to the work.
How much does your environment influence your creativity?
I would say that my environment has a huge impact on my creativity. Being home with my kids every day is the number one source of creativity for me. We are always stretching our imaginations with role play, crafts and games. It keeps my aging mind fresh and creative to keep up with the boundless minds of youth. Beyond that I like to situate myself within various local and online communities of makers in order to find peers and context for the work I produce. Living on the prairies has at times factored into my work, but it isn’t an overt theme.
I’ve worked hard over the last seven years to establish myself within an online community that can offer support and opportunity that the local scene lacks. But there is never a replacement for getting involved hands on in the community on projects. And that’s where I get really excited living in a smaller community such as Saskatoon. There are so many creative minds here but there is still room for new opportunities and there is a lot of support as we tend to all sort of know each other.
Where can people see and buy your work?
Currently people can buy my work in person at Jonathon Bancroft Snell Gallery (London ON), Mysteria Gallery (Regina SK), Handmade House and the Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon SK) or from me at the different yearly sales I do locally in Saskatchewan. I also sell work online through my website or Etsy. And you can catch my work here and there in group exhibitions nationally and internationally.
Thank you, Carole!
All images courtesy of Carole Epp.
You can also find Carole on Twitter and on Instagram as musingaboutmud