Monday, December 13, 2010


Change is something that I've been thinking about a lot lately.  I've always thought that it was a positive thing as long as it was done as growth or evolution.  As a studio artist and teacher, change has always been a essential part of the art equation.  Nothing innovative has ever been produced by recreating old ideas. 

One of the assignments that I give to my ceramic students is a "cup transformation".  It's about visual changes or progressions that occur to a functional cup rendering it completely useless.  I have them start by making a number of small clay sketches of the transformation ideas.  I'm always more impressed by the maquettes because they are like humble ideas loosely expressed in clay.  I'm also trying to impart to students that most of the time the first idea that pops into your head isn't the best one and you can always improve on an idea through a series of gradual "tweaks". 

All of this "Change" that I'm referring to in this post is the the kind that comes from oneself.  The other kind is when you are not in control of the change but instead the individual who bears witness to the change.  That is another story and post.  Anyway, I hope this gives you something to think about. Change is a notion that I'm sure I'll be thinking about for many years to come. Unless of course something changes.

Friday, December 3, 2010


I was recently invited to participate in a large group show at a local gallery.
It wasn't much notice considering my primary medium is ceramics and you just can't knock that out over night, so I was forced to think outside the box and come up with a way to produce my work in differently.  In my position as director and curator of a design house called "hutch studio", I focus on the idea of resourceful art.  I'm repurposing anything I can get my hands on and cardboard has been the material of choice lately.  If you have read any of my previous posts you know.  In my ceramic work I never buy premixed boxed clay.  I'm a bit of a purist at times.  I mix my own clay body, the same one that I've been using since my risd days, but at the college where I teach ceramics we empty many a clay box and I've always had to flatten them and carry them out to the recycling bin.  Not any more. I'm using them to create my sculptures!  Below are two images of my sculpture. The one on the left is ceramic and the one on the right is the piece that I just completed repurposing cardboard clay boxes.

Now I'm not saying that I'm giving up the mud or anything, but I do recognize that there are advantages and drawbacks to working with the cardboard.  I will definitely continue using it in some capacity.  It was fun! The thing I really want to talk about in the post is the fact that putting yourself into a high pressure situation can often produce great results.  In the first year of art school it became evident that the cream would rise to the top and the weeds would be pulled.  This experience really did remind me of old school days and nights, and nights, and nights. The difference for me is that back then I didn't have a full time job, a part time job, a wife, and toddler.  Back then you could push yourself to the brink of total exhaustion in order to complete an idea and nobody else could get hurt. Finding a way to get into the studio to create the work that truly comes from a personal place can be a huge challenge.  But if it wasn't for challenge life would be quite blah.  
And how do we find time for reality TV. I'm talking about the good shows. I really do watch "Project Runway" and "Top Chef" because of the creative challenges.  Under the gun, when the clock is ticking down, you discover if you have what it takes. You know..... the artistic "stuff".  Tim Gunn knows what I'm saying.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Interview with Richard Sayer.

One of the greatest advantages of being an artist is meeting and getting to know other creative people. I have been extremely fortunate to have been surrounded by some extraordinary artists and designers over the years.  I also think that there are many mysteries and questions regarding "art" as a profession.  I find that I'm constantly being engaged in discussions on the topic of art as a career choice.  On a regular basis I will post an interview with a selected individual who in some way, designs, makes, creates, or arts it up.  The interview will be always the same set of ten questions. Visual examples of what they produce is a must.  I hope that you enjoy these as much as I will.

1.  What is your name? Richard 'Dick' Sayer, I go by many names!

2.  What do you do? I make pictures with camera, with pencil, sticks and brushes, my mind. Mostly my camera and my computer now.

3.  Do you support yourself financially with what you make? Actually yes. Photography has been very very good to me.

4.  Do you ever think about doing anything else as a profession? Only variations on the same. teaching more yes--I think about this a lot. But I really need to be able to make and explore the making process.

5. What is your earliest memory of making something? Probably a tie between snapping pictures with some kodak instamatic camera and drawing pencil out line pictures of cardinals and chickadees. Even back then my photographs were much better than my drawings. 

6.  How do you come up with your ideas? Well, I think I'm still working on the first idea really. Each idea evolves into the next. I revert back to old work all the time and see where it leads this time with more knowledge and ability. Seems most things end up being self portraits in the end. I do separate my documentary photography work from this however--that is I react and discover based solely on what I see, and hear--much less about what I think--in fact I try very hard to keep my thoughts out of that work. The process is similar in both in that I do react to what is happening in front of me and make decisions on how to proceed next. In that way my personal creative work and my documentary work are very much the same. I also think and rethink things--this often leads to new ideas or approaches. I don't really think to much about the how--but I do hope they don't ever stop coming--though sometimes the ideas could slow down a bit and let me catch up.

 7.  Do you consider what you make to be art? Not everything--though I do consider that I can make work in many ways because of my knowledge of art and its processes that I am continuing to use and learn new. I believe my eye for pictures can take what I do to high levels within the framework of what purpose the work is to have--but some of the work I don't really consider my art---because it isn't as personal I guess. so I think work that I do that I don't think of as art I think of a documentary, fashion, portraiture etc.... but those have the same value to me as does my art.

8.  What are some of your creative influences (other artists, nature, music, etc.)? The list is quite long. I get influenced by many sources. I love people who succeed despite their limitations, Neil Young and Bob Dylan make a living as singers--yet most people think they can't sing. I have been inspired by events such as a local frog jumping contest--its almost pathetic, yet its a big deal in this one community. I am inspired to work harder by more talented people than me. I've always managed to be around very talented people and I find a way to hold my own and be as one of them despite having lesser abilities. In photography I've known many people who have better eyes, and many others who technically blow me away--I strive to make work with them. In drawing and painting I'm not very gifted--my hand is harsh and seldom does what I want it to do--certainly not as well as I'd like it to--but I strive to make work that is the best I can make it. I get excited by seeing people make better things--it pushes me to be better. It sounds like I'm competitive-but its not really that--at least I don't get bummed by others being better--I just get myself working harder--its hard to explain and I'm probably getting off topic. A guy who faithfully played Santa Claus inspired me a great deal. My teacher Ernico Pinardi and Chuck McCleary especially influenced my way of understanding how art is a personal exploration and seeking the poetry from within us will determine its overall worth to us personally. Van Gogh's letter and work ethic certainly taught me a lot. As did studying Degas and Sargent's mark making. All painter--even the ones I don't like really have helped me learn how to paint more effectively. Cartier-Bresson and Kertescz really got me going in photographer and guys like Rob Finch and Brian Plonka more recently--guys I went to school with like Craig Walker and Dan DeLong and even guys like Tracy Scott who became a cop and Duane Thomas who puts in AC units in high rises. I think If I designed my own totem it would have more than one Rat on it. I don't care for rats, but I understand them and they find ways of doing what they need to survive. I could probably go on.

9.  Do you ever get emotionally attached to things that you make?
Not emotionally can give anything I make away without any care at all really. I do feel a little sad when I hear of something I made somehow destroyed--but then again I end up destroying most things if they're around long enough. I will paint over anything--the only grad school pieces I have left that haven't been painted over or modified are the few that sold or I traded or gave away.

10.  Do you think art has a purpose? Oh god yes! Art is simply the best way for people to understand how to think or develop thought processes. Problem solving is a creative endeavor--we need problem solvers--why not get people solving problems in creative ways. Its hard to conceive and make something from scratch--from nothing. Why aren't we making this understood from the get go--hard doesn't mean a damn thing--hard doesn't mean don't do it. Hard only means its a challenge to be overcome. Just like sport is important and team sport is important for developing leadership and cooperation skills--art teaches how individual thought can look at things uniquely and without the constraints of teamwork and cooperation.
Thats another thing I wish we would teach more--we cannot be held accountable for our thoughts--so think them through despite the fact they might not have political correctness, or they might be vulgar or distasteful or even violent--the place for all of this is contained within the mind and in the mind they are fine. Acting on them is another issue. If we're feeling as if we're free to think what we want--we will and then hopefully allow ourselves the freedom to think beyond. If we constrain peoples ability to think--which society does at will--I really think we do a disservice to mankind.

That concludes the blog interview with artist and photographer Richard Sayer.  Thanks Dick!

Richard Sayer is an award winning photographer for the Meadville Tribune and a professor of photography at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA.  If that wasn't enough, he operates a commercial photography business "Sayer-Motter Photography" with creative partner Harmony Motter.

I have known Richard since high school art class (pictured above top), and in all the years since, I can honestly say I have never known any artist that works quite as hard and with the passion as he does.  He is the persistent "rat" that he so admires in others that have to struggle with less natural ability.  It's being around artists like Richard that makes me raise my game to a higher level.  Unfortunately  life and distance  has separated us for many years and I certainly miss being around him. It's no wonder that I named my only child "Sayer".  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"Technology Happens"

"Technology Happens"

Do you ever feel that technology just happens to you whether or not you are ready or prepared to deal with it?  I'm certain that this will date me but when I was a young budding art school student, computers existed but were not the standard educational tool that they are today.  You could scarcely find a computer anywhere on campus. Even the graphic design students were working with a pencil and pen.  During my graduate studies at a large university I began to see the beginnings of computer use but the "laptop" still hadn't made its' appearance and students weren't walking around with massive grey boxes under their arms. I was in my studio happily streaming music via the cassette deck on my boom box and watching television on my 4 inch black and white magnavox am/fm clock radio unit.  I thought I was living pretty large. I'll save the mini english muffin pizzas made in my toaster oven for another post. My version of instant photography was my vintage Polaroid land camera which I still think takes interesting pictures and any word processing was typed out on my Brother electric typewriter (ink ribbon). 

 So many major changes have occurred over the past 2 decades and for the "studio artist", I think that being overwhelmed is a commonly felt. Resistance is also something that I sense from artists my age and older.  "Why do I have to learn all that technology now?"  Frankly, the field of art just like any other field is getting more and more competitive all the time, and if your not taking advantage of the positive aspects of online marketing and social media it will be very hard to participate as a professional.  If you had told me just 5 years ago that I would have 2 facebook pages, 2 twitter account, and 2 blogs I would have thought you were nuts.  My wife often says to me, "I don't know how you exist?"  She is referring of course to the fact that I know very little about computers yet I have all these online sites and I'm trying to do all of it on my iphone.  I think I might be a little nuts.  When she first met me she also thought I was a surfer dude from California who had a vintage clothing store and only listened to NPR.  Now that's really funny.  In short I just want to say, that I feel for anyone that technology happens to.  It's not easy to learn all that there is to learn and always have to keep up with the latest tech changes.  I for one am counting on my 3 year old son to be my personal computer tech asap.   

Wednesday, November 3, 2010



Inspiration is one of those things that I've always pondered.  Whenever I hear someone else say that some act of creating was "inspired" it just puts it in some very special place, above other things that were created but due to some misfortune didn't have this magic breathed into them.  Rather than thinking about it in such revered way I have chosen to view it as "profound influence".  It is what drives me to work as hard as I can and never settle for anything less when it comes to making my ideas real.

 For me the two most significant sources of inspiration are my uber talented wife and my son. I continually feel the huge fortune that smiles on me by having a great artist as a partner. She doesn't let me slack for a second and always provides honest and critical thought to whatever idea I'm cooking. My son.... is joy.  He will always be someone that make me want to be great.   I do realize that at this point he would think I was great even if I wasn't making him fire stations and forts, but still every day when I wake up to his voice I want to be the greatest dad I can be and that happens to also mean the greatest artist I can be.  

What inspires you to create?  


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cardboard Man

I admittedly love Halloween. What's not to like about an opportunity to consume tons of sugar and walk the streets of your neighborhood in disguise. Another thing that this holiday has always done, is force me to create a character and costume. Maybe it was due to the fact that my mother really enjoyed making my sister and I elaborate costumes when we were little kids, and I'm reliving it all again. I definitely want to carry on the tradition with my three year old son.

This year it wasn't a difficult decision as to what I was going to be. Sometimes work imitates life and I've been working with a lot of corrugated cardboard over the past few months at the design house where I work (hutch studio). I've been creating all sorts of things with old boxes and scraps so why not an outfit to wear. Some may call it frugal fashion but I call it "fun".