Inspired by nature, artist Joy Tanner creates beautiful yet functional pieces that reflect the natural world through intricately carved patterns and textures. As our February Artist of the Month, we’re excited to share the following interview, where Joy discusses her creative process, her inspiration, and taking the time to notice the beauty of nature.
I believe working passionately creating an object with my hands and getting lost in the act of making is so important for me.
What is your artistic background?
My childhood in eastern Tennessee was full of music lessons and exploring the natural world through hiking and camping with my family. I found my creative focus when I discovered working with clay in college in 2000, maintaining my interest in photography and exploring with my camera in hand. In 2004, I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Ceramics at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Then I pursued a Resident Artist position at the Odyssey Center for the Ceramic Arts in Asheville, North Carolina. In 2007 I established my own clay studio near Penland School of Crafts in Bakersville, North Carolina. Immersing myself in the beautiful mountains has greatly inspired my work and my life. Reflections of detail and pattern are a distinctive element within my pottery, and I enjoy getting deep into the creative process with a material as responsive as clay. In the summer of 2010, I was awarded a summer residency at the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, Maine. I was also a Resident Artist at the EnergyXChange in Burnsville, North Carolina. In 2013, my husband and I established our own studio, Wood Song Pottery, in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains in Bakersville, NC. I feel that the influences of my childhood filled with music and exploration of the outdoors fueled an intuitive sense of creativity, now seen through a precise attention to detail which started in my music playing and later moved into the clay studio. These experiences strengthened my inner tools of persistence and dedication, allowing me to practice and refine a skill, and ultimately allowed me to seamlessly combine my curiosity and awe for the beauty of nature to my ceramic work.
What are your favorite materials to work with/types of items to make?
I enjoy using stoneware and porcelain clays that I throw on the wheel or hand build from clay slabs. I love making a variety of functional pots and often am inspired by a form when I’m cooking in the kitchen and want a specific pot to serve a specific purpose, such as a pouring bowl, a berry strainer or an oil pot. I have always loved the leather-hard stage of clay, when the pots are thrown and waiting for the handles, teapot spouts, or textures and details to be added. At that point, it is exciting to see the pot beginning to come together. I have fired my pots in an atmospheric type of firing, primarily soda firing or wood firing, since I first began working in clay. From the beginning, I was drawn to the variation created on the bare clay surface in the soda kiln. Those varied earth tones along with the patterns and textures I incorporate on my pots are directly enhanced by the addition of the soda fired atmosphere.
From where do you draw your inspiration?
While I pay equal attention to form, surface, and detail, my pottery is most noticed for its carved patterns inspired by nature. I enjoy finding these details in nature while hiking or gardening in the mountains near where I live in western North Carolina. I am just as interested in the way a leaf connects to its stem as I am the folds of a mountain range or bursts of color at sunrise. These reflections I find in nature weave their way into the surfaces of my pots, and accrue a rhythm all their own as they swirl and drape across surfaces, suggesting spider webs, ripples in a stream, or water
patterns in sand.
I have a regular yoga and meditation practice and recently I have become quite interested with the connection between our body and mind. Through strengthening my practice and going deeper, I have felt a connection with my body and mind to the forms I create out of clay, or the inspirations I find in nature. Often it feels like the form of the pot swells with breath, like my body during yoga poses, or my jar knobs resemble hands reaching up in a sun salutation. The bones of the body, such as the rib cage resemble the patterned lines and edges that drape over the form of the pot. These ideas and reflections have been a new awareness for me and I hope to continue delving deeper into these ideas as my work and practice grows further.
What is your creative process like?
I use both wheel thrown and hand built techniques for making my pots. I enjoy incorporating elements of texture and pattern into my work that I carve, impress or stamp into the clay at specific stages of the making. After each form is complete, when the clay is at a drying stage called leather-hard, the pieces are each dipped into flashing slips. These thin clay slips will flash warm earth tones from the soda or wood firing. Once the pots are bone dry, they are bisque fired, then glazed and decorated, wadded, and loaded into the kiln.
Most of my work is fired in a soda gas kiln to cone 10. During the end of the firing, a soda ash mixture is sprayed into the kiln. The soda ash vaporizes and travels throughout the kiln, landing on the pots stacked within the shelves. The soda acts as a glaze on the pots, creating variation and directional tones within the clay surfaces. After the firing, the kiln cools for two days before the unloading begins! We also have a train kiln that is fired with wood for 48 hours. I love exploring forms in this type of firing to see how the atmosphere and ash react to my patterns and forms.
What is the most rewarding thing about your practice?
I love that I get to make things with my hands, recording my inspirations into clay. It feels amazing to be able to make handmade functional objects that get used and enjoyed on a daily basis through drinking, eating, and serving food. The hand carved patterns and textures in my work are direct reflections of the nature surrounding me. I strive to bring this awareness of the beauty of nature full circle, directly into the hands of the user of my functional pots. My husband is also a potter and we love that we can work from home immersed in a beautiful quiet rural area.
And what challenges do you face as an artist?
I feel like the biggest challenge I face is time. Before I had my children it felt like I had so much time to work in the studio. The last several years, the struggle has been how to balance my needs for consistent creative time working in my studio with the demands of raising a family. I enjoy both sides immensely and want to put all of the energy I have into both, but the struggle is the time and how to balance that in a way that leaves me feeling good and not worn down, and nourishes both the needs of my creative desires and the needs of my children. The life change of raising a family can be challenging while also maintaining a studio practice, however, it also feeds it by making my life feel fuller. It has helped me become more efficient in my use of my time in the studio as well.
Outside of your practice, do you do any other creative activities/what are your interests?
Lately I have enjoyed playing more piano. My daughter is taking piano lessons, and it has been fun to watch her learn, which has rekindled my desire for playing again. It’s fun to get lost in it, playing the songs I was familiar with from years ago, and also challenging myself to learn new ones. Cooking has grown to be a creative outlet for me at times when I can’t get into the studio. I enjoy cooking with recipes, however, my favorite thing to do is intuitively cook from the knowledge I’ve gained through experience, and I get excited to share my food with others. I also love walking around with my camera and recording textures and patterns and beautiful observations I find in nature or through gardening in my vegetable and flower gardens.
What role does the artist have in society?
Imagine no music, no writing, no beautiful objects to hold in your hand. The artist’s role of being creative and expressing themselves is imperative to our world every single minute of every single day. Our society needs these creative people to help them see and experience life more fully.
What is art/craft to you?
I believe working passionately creating an object with my hands and getting lost in the act of making is so important for me. It’s a way of talking through my hands about what is in my mind and heart. It is a way of expressing the beauty of what I see in the natural world and translating that into my pottery forms. When my functional pot then gets used and enjoyed, I hope it shares that awareness I have of the natural world with the person using the piece.
Tell us about your favorite artist or artists that inspire you.
Andy Goldsworthy has always inspired me. His way of taking natural objects, as simple as leaves or rocks and noticing them to make temporal sculptures shows us of the beauty and fragility of the natural world.
Anything else you would like to add?
My work reflects an awareness of the present moment, resulting in uniquely designed pottery that is just as inviting to ponder and touch as it is to use and share. Firing my stoneware forms in a soda kiln or a wood kiln yields an ever changing palette of natural variations of color. Cradling a cup or bowl in their hands, people feel inspired to bring a sense of awareness and ritual into their lives. Integrating the way I experience the world with the way I design my pottery is essential to my creativity. Whether rinsing garden tomatoes at the kitchen sink, or pausing to study wildflowers along the trail, I believe in taking time to notice the little details of life.
You can find a selection of Joy’s work in our Store, both in-person and online at https://contemporarycraftstore.com/collections/joy-tanner.
You can also find Joy at on Instagram and Facebook @joytannerpottery and online at joytannerpottery.com.