Sara Swink lives in a fantasy world – one that she’s able to translate into remarkable clay sculptures. She can tell stories about every piece – each one has some kind of narrative to it that means something to her. She freely admits that this is an unpopular idea in academic circles these days, but she sees it as “a feminine way of relating to the world, to be personal and connect with people; it’s not patriarchal -which is more intellectual -and so I think that’s where my work comes from, is that trying to connect. I live in a fantasy world, I really do. I live in my fantasy world most of the time, and my art is an expression of that. So I just do what feels interesting to me and what feels good and I experiment a lot.”
If you want to see her work in a gallery, she has a show coming up in August at the Hansen Howard Gallery in Ashland.
Sara’s journey to creating in clay started when she was about 8. Her family moved to California in 1964. Her next door neighbor was a potter “and she planted this seed in me and my sister – something about clay would be a great thing for you and I absorbed it, because I didn’t get that kind of thing at home.” She took ceramics in High school, and learned to throw on a wheel, which she cleaned house to buy. She sold the wheel at one point when she was in college and had no facilities to keep working. She forgot about it until her kids were school age. She was a graphic designer by occupation, but getting cravings for art. She started taking drawing classes and beginning painting at the Palo Alto Art Center “but I kept poking my head in the ceramics room.” She finally took a class there, then classes at Foothill College and various workshops, one by the person who would become her mentor, Coeleen Kiebert. She was teaching ‘art in spirit’, a creative process approach to working in clay. The experience was a pivotal one for Sara, and she has based her own artistic process on it and also teaches in her own version of the process.
“The first thing we do in a workshop is a collage, which gives you imagery that you care about, that you’re attracted to, and that feeds into your own vocabulary as an artist. It’s like any other vocabulary, but it’s a visual vocabulary that you can draw upon. So the collage is the first step, and then doodling is about making your mark, and the style of your line and your color and the kinds of shapes you choose, is just kind of getting in touch with what’s already there. Which is a very large process. As an artist, that’s what we are doing all the time. It’s very big for everyone, and endless because there is always more in the depth of one’s psyche to discover. We do collage exercises, then doodling exercises, and then we take aspects of those into clay. I won’t tell you exactly how that happens but then people do clay sketches from things that they glean from the exercises and then those sketches have the potential to become bigger pieces or be combined in some way. At the end of the workshop we make an image journal.
“There are many classes you can take in ceramics that go through the basic clay techniques, coil, pinch pots, etc. I teach them as needed as someone is making a piece. So if someone who is new to clay wants to know how to make a figure – maybe its two pinch pots put together to make a head, or this part can be coil, this part slab, and they learn the techniques that way. But they are learning based on ideas they have, sometimes from this process, or maybe something they’ve always wanted to make. It’s still a lengthy learning process, ceramics is, a lifetime process – many lifetimes worth of information in the ceramics field, because there are so many ways you can go with the types of firings, and the types of clay, and the glazing, but people can come to me with either no experience or lots of experience.”
If this is all very intriguing to you, or you don’t know what a ‘clay sketch’ is, or you want to know what her secret step is during her workshop, stop by Sara’s studio during Portland Open Studios this fall. Oh, and ask her about the donkey and the cat.