On Seeing FIRED UP STUDIOS

You could say I was pretty “fired up” to visit Saint John’s Pottery Studio last summer. Perhaps just as exciting was my discovery of Fired Up Studios in Golden Valley, Minn., which is just a stone’s throw away from my house.

Hundreds of original works of pottery grace the expansive gallery space of Fired Up Studios in Golden Valley, Minnesota.

Through the magic of the Facebook algorithms that peg me as an art buff, I received an event notice to Fired Up Studios’ Annual Holiday Open House. I expected to come upon a small storefront with a few clay artists peddling their wares around a tepid carafe of coffee. Instead, Fired Up Studios is a grand and expansive pottery gallery/shop, along with a potter’s dream studio (plus they had a huge spread of goodies—that earned even more “brownie” points from me, pardon the pun).

For a fairly modest monthly membership fee, artists enjoy twenty-four-hour, seven-days-a-week access to all of the equipment and supplies they could ever need to throw, spin, and form piece after piece. And for us pottery fans, the gallery/shop is open every day and features affordable art to purchase and enjoy at home.

What’s more, Fired Up Studios has a heart for the community. As part of its holiday event, potters donated works to a silent auction benefitting Haven Housing, a Minneapolis non-profit helping women in crisis.

Membership wouldn’t make sense for me at this time—especially since I have never thrown a pot in my life—but my husband and I hope to attend the studios’ beginners class someday. For now, I continue to ponder my observations from my first visit:

Horse hair becomes a medium for producing ethereal shadows and fine lines once a piece reaches the kiln.

More than clay
Sure, there are a lot of possibilities when it comes to working with clay alone, but my family was especially mesmerized by the pieces incorporating other elements, particularly fiber. One artist showcased work using horse hair. Yep, straight from a horse’s mane or tail. The hair is seared onto the clay in the kiln, producing fascinating fine lines and shadows.

Personal styles
I recently finished reading Lisa Congdon‘s latest book, Find Your Artistic Voice: The Essential Guide to Working Your Creative Magic. It offers tips on making a mark as a creative person. More than that, it celebrates the unique and distinctive styles that all of us offer to life’s landscape. In my roaming Fired Up Studios’ gallery, it became apparent to me they do the same.

Creative mash-up
It was also through Congdon that I grew an interest in and tried my hand at some simple pen-and-ink patterns. As a result, my eye really tuned into pieces bearing geometric and whimsical designs reminiscent of her techniques. Such collisions make me giddy, when a medium or technique or source of inspiration I already appreciate appears in a whole new context. This is what makes my artistic adventures so fulfilling, exciting, motivating—all of the words that compel me to read, see, learn, and try more in the world of art!

On Trying POLYMER CLAY

Thanks to a sweet deal on Groupon, I attended the “Intro to Polymer Clay” class at Clay Squared to Infinity with my friend Sara. Located in “Nordeast”—the artistic center of the Twin Cities—Clay Squared to Infinity is equal parts tile showroom and creative studio.

The raw, gray warehouse walls provide the perfect neutral backdrop for the ecclectic samples of clay-covered teapots, vases, buttons, and beads. I spent an evening here with about twenty other students in exploring the basic techniques of color blending, pattern making, and project completing. My discoveries about the world of polymer clay were numerous…

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Rolling out “blankets”

Fun & simple vernacular
Forget big, unfamiliar, technical terminology when it comes to working with polymer clay. To create a Kandinsky-esque design (see above), we rolled “worms” out of our “canes” of clay, then wrapped the worms in little worm “blankets,” then cut squares from our multi-colored worm “loaves.” To achieve the effect of “fluffiness,” we formed “bacon” strips from our clay. No joke.

So many surprises
An element of mystery characterizes all of the methods we tried in class. There was really no way of knowing exactly what we’d end up with. The magic happened when we took a razor blade to our layered loaves to reveal the miniature designs inside. Some were dazzling, some were disappointing, but most were useable in way or another.

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I chose a frame as my final project—and notice the multi-colored “worm” beside it here.

Projects galore
We learned that you can cover just about anything with clay to achieve a finished project—anything as long as it’s bakeable at low heat (275 degrees Fahrenheit). Wood works. Glass works. Metal works. Some sturdy plastics work, such as the kind used for switch plates and ballpoint pens (to avoid an epic mess, be sure to remove the ink barrel before baking).

My project for the night? Applying the results of my mixing and rolling and cutting to the surface of a wooden picture frame.

Practice makes presentable
I laid out the little sliced rectangles upon my frame. When it looked fairly decent, I picked up the rolling tool. That’s when things went horribly wrong. My cute little round worm shapes morphed into mush, a lumpy and ugly mish-mash of mush.

Imagine barf topped by green olives with pimentos (I applied green and orange clay circles in hopes of redeeming the most unsavory background). Barf—yep, that’s what it looked like. My final project was not at all presentable and exactly why you’re not seeing a photo of it here. Believe me, you should thank me. I have no regrets about destroying the thing as soon as I got home.

Despite having nothing to show for it, I loved the experience and am willing to give it another try. Sometimes a person just needs to enjoy the process as the prize. There are no losers among courageous creatives!