Take This Short Quiz To Find What Your Pottery Voice!
Feb. 27, 2023

#134 Using Terracotta Clay With Slip & Glaze Designs w/ Ben Carter

#134 Using Terracotta Clay With Slip & Glaze Designs w/ Ben Carter

What is up Shaping Nation on this episode of Shaping Your Pottery I got to interview Ben Carter. Ben runs the podcast The Tales Of The Red Clay Rambler and also produces the BrickYard Network to help potters start podcasts. You can learn more about...

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What is up Shaping Nation on this episode of Shaping Your Pottery I got to interview Ben Carter. Ben runs the podcast The Tales Of The Red Clay Rambler and also produces the BrickYard Network to help potters start podcasts. You can learn more about Ben by checking out his Instagram @carterpottery and also checking out his website www.carterpottery.com/shop

Top 3 Value Bombs

  1. How To Create Terracotta, slip, and Glaze Designed Pottery
  2. Learning to Schedule out time to make pottery to keep everything organzied
  3. The power of slow progress not aiming for homeruns but taking the singles so your pottery grows each and everytime you are making

and so much more

The Questions we ask will determine how our pottery will look like that's why I created a Free 15 questions to help you discover your voice template go grab it here www.shapingyourpottery.com/questions

Support the podcast by signing up for the Shaping Your Pottery Patreon here 👉 patreon.com/ShapingYourPottery

Follow me on Instagram @nictorres_pottery


Ben Carter

[00:00:00] Nic: Ben, welcome to shaping your pottery and share with me how did you get started

[00:00:06] Ben: in ceramics? I was fortunate to go to a high school in Salem, Virginia that had a pretty developed ceramics program, and I just wanna put a plug in for public education because it was just, A normal high school in rural southwest Virginia, but by the time I left there, I had made, I, I think I had had five classes in ceramics specifically.

[00:00:29] Ben: So I, I really felt like the training even in high school was pretty good to take me onto the college level.

[00:00:35] Nic: I definitely agree with that cause I also started when I was in high school and I think that experience helped me so much and I loved it so much. So let's talk about your podcast, the Tales of the Red Clay Ramp.

[00:00:46] Nic: Can you tell me the story, how this got started?

[00:00:49] Ben: Yeah, I was living overseas in 2012. I was living in Shanghai, China, and I had a lot of artists that were coming through Shanghai to our art center, the pottery workshop that were [00:01:00] then going on to Jing De, which was another location of the, the same ceramic residency.

[00:01:06] Ben: And I would have these artists come and just hang out for a couple days while they cleared their visa and while they just needed to kind of decompress from the long trip and. You know, really amazing conversations with folks like Janet Debus and other artists that were coming through the studio, and I realized that I should just record those conversations.

[00:01:25] Ben: I was not having a lot of conversations about art in English because most of my friends were artists that were speaking Mandarin, and my Mandarin is not good. So I really couldn't have an in-depth conversation about art unless we were speaking English. But thankfully the folks that came through they were English speaking and they were really engaged and, and wanted to talk about their art practice.

[00:01:47] Ben: So the podcast was, was just born out of that, that idea that I should be recording the conversations I was already having.

[00:01:55] Nic: When did you decide to take it further and continue pursuing the podcast? [00:02:00]

[00:02:00] Ben: Yeah, I did that for about a year, I think it was a year, maybe more before I moved back to the States. And I was doing it really because it was fun.

[00:02:08] Ben: I mean, you, you have that same experience like. . It's fun. It's really fun to talk to people about their work. But when I realized that it was a bigger project that I really wanted to try to document the field of studio ceramics, that was probably a year or so into the process, and at that point, that's when I started to realize like, oh, maybe I should try to raise money.

[00:02:28] Ben: For this so that I wasn't just doing it for free. And so about two years after that, it took me a long time to professionalize the podcast, but eventually I did do a Kickstarter and started raising money and then eventually started getting sponsors and that's when it became more of a business.

[00:02:46] Nic: I'm curious, you don't have to answer cuz this is just like a personal question, but how much did you raise for your kick.

[00:02:52] Ben: I think that first one was 13,000, and the idea was, is that I would get a big enough chunk of change that I could kind of [00:03:00] give my, spell myself room to focus on the podcast. And you, you probably experienced this as as well. It's like when you start off doing it, you're not making so much money off of ads that you can just stop another job.

[00:03:13] Ben: So having that trunk of change, My bank account really helped it, it made it kind of justified how I could spend so many hours on the show without , without having direct income from it. I definitely agree that is a

[00:03:25] Nic: super smart way to go about it. So can you tell me, since starting your podcast, how has it elevated your own pottery?

[00:03:34] Ben: Yeah, I really have seen so many good makers that it's humbled me, and I, I think I was like many young potters, I was thinking, oh, I can do this. I can, you know, go out and make a living at this. And I really was, when I was first started the podcast, I was, I was a professional potter for years at that point, but talking to my biggest ceramic heroes like Michael Simon.

[00:03:58] Ben: Patty Ena, [00:04:00] Linda Arbuckle, like all these different ceramic heroes of mine. It, it's humbled me on a really deep level because I realize there's so many different ways you can communicate through the material of ceramics, and in my case, studio pottery, cuz that's really what I make as studio pottery.

[00:04:15] Ben: So for me it's, it's been a case of being inspired by other people, but also seeing that I have to up my. You know, that I, that I have to communicate clearer through the medium because I see people and have talked to people that have, say for instance, taught or been an artist for 40 years. Like the level of refinement in their work is, is naturally higher than mine is.

[00:04:39] Ben: So it's really encouraging to just keep going, keep pushing keep trying the next new ideas in the studio.

[00:04:45] Nic: I absolutely agree. I love the part when you said to up your game shaping nation, if you're listening. . If you are struggling to kind of find your voice or maybe you're kind of stuck in a little bit of a rut, just try upping your game and making your pottery even better and your voice is going to [00:05:00] look that much better.

[00:05:01] Nic: I love that. That is some great advice. So we're gonna get back to your story a little bit later, but for now, let's talk about your PO your pottery. Can you describe to me in one sentence what your pottery.

[00:05:13] Ben: Yeah, so I make terracotta pots, so red earth and wear clay that's decorated with slips and glaze, and I'm really interested in how do I paint on the surface of the pot with this red clay.

[00:05:26] Nic: So why did you choose terracotta?

[00:05:29] Ben: There's something that's very pedestrian about terracotta, like it is literally can be used for flower pots and roof tiles. For instance, in China where I lived, a lot of the roof tiles were terracotta. And actually you see this out in the southwest of the US as well.

[00:05:44] Ben: And I really like that. It's, it's a humble clay, you know? It's a clay that's, Elevated as being special. In fact, if you break a flower pot, more than likely you're just gonna throw it away. You're not gonna fix it or mend it. Cuz you can just buy another one that's really cheap. But [00:06:00] I'm interested in how do you take this material and through decoration, increase the value of the object.

[00:06:05] Ben: So essentially like how does decoration make it special or make it culturally significant?

[00:06:11] Nic: I love that. I love that way of thinking about Potter. I feel like it makes it so. Better and it gets you thinking a lot on how to really make it beautiful. So can you tell me, so you are inspired by Appalachian crafts and many eras of historical ceramics.

[00:06:29] Nic: What is it about these that inspire you?

[00:06:32] Ben: Yeah, I, I think a big part of finding your voice is realizing that you already have a voice , and the voice that I have is come through my family's tradition of quilting for one, and gardening is the other thing. And I just grew up around quilts that my grandmother made and other crafts that were collected in the Appalachian Mountains.

[00:06:52] Ben: I'm from Virginia, so I'm from the Appalachian Mountains, and there's a really strong tradit. Both quilting, woodworking and, and [00:07:00] ceramics in that area. But also gardening. You know, from my earliest memories with my grandmother, Claudia we would just go, instead of watching tv, we would just go out and work in the yard and it was everything from picking up sticks when I was really little to planting the beds or pulling the weeds or, or all of that stuff.

[00:07:18] Ben: So I kind of feel like. That was already in me. You know, by the time I found ceramics, all that visual input was in, in my mind. But then when I saw historical ceramics, I saw those same visual things, the floral patterns, but I saw them in Chinese pots from 1100 AD or Turkish pots from 1700. You know what I mean?

[00:07:39] Ben: Like I, I saw the same things I was interested in, in historical forms, and it made me feel like, oh, This is what I'm attracted to is what human beings are attracted to. Like the sense that decoration can both mimic the world around us, but that it all could also can be put onto a pot to make that pot significant.

[00:07:59] Ben: So, [00:08:00]

[00:08:01] Nic: I'm blanking here. I'm sorry. I, I had something I was gonna say, but I, if it comes back to it, I'll come back to it. Sure. So, Can you give me a simplified version of how you just create your pottery?

[00:08:14] Ben: Yeah. All of the forms are made with the terra terracotta clay, and I'm, I'm mostly a thrower. I do do some hand building, but as of say the last probably two or three years, I, I really have just been throwing and once I make the form, I can either brush on or dip a white.

[00:08:32] Ben: That goes over the red clay. And for me, that's a really beautiful base layer. So sometimes I will do almost like a gestural line work that goes in that white slip. It gives some energy that's behind the under glaze that I then put on top of that. So once I have the base layer of white slip, I can paint under gls or add glaze elements to really enliven that surface.

[00:08:55] Ben: So it's a process of layering. I'm kind of building up layers as I go. [00:09:00] So

[00:09:00] Nic: I just remember what I was gonna say earlier, and it also brings me into this next like kind of segment I guess. So how does being inspired by Appalachian crafts and historical pottery, how does that come back into work and how do you think, like in terms of how do you incorporate that into

[00:09:16] Ben: your work?

[00:09:17] Ben: Yeah, for me it's been as simple as, as research, you know, like I look at a lot of historical pots. I have an Instagram account called History of Ceramics, and I have taken images from places like the Metropolitan Museum in New York or the Tru Institute of Art, all these different museums and, and posted it to Instagram.

[00:09:36] Ben: And that's really my research library. Like that's what I go to, to look for forum, to look for the rhythm of a pattern. And then once I'm in the studio, I'm taking some base idea that I get either from. My own aesthetic experience, like just living in the world today, or these historical pots. And then I'm gonna react to the material as best I can in the moment.

[00:09:58] Ben: So the parameters I make is that I'll [00:10:00] make like, let's say a set of 10 serving bowls. And if it's the first time I'm working through this forum, I will try almost 10 different designs on on each of those. And then as I fire those and take them through the process, I'm picking out which one seems to have the most.

[00:10:16] Ben: Like which line quality is the most stands out the most or has the most impact. And then the next time I make those, usually, you know, four to six months later, cuz my cycle's kind of slower now I have a young daughter, so I'm making pots slower these days. But the next time I get back to those bowls, I'll start with the best one.

[00:10:35] Ben: and then I'll make 10 more, but then kind of evolve or iterate off of what I thought was the best one that that first time. And I love that about studio ceramics. It's about slow progression. You know, it's, for me, it's not about like, let's try to hit a big home run. It's more like, let's just slowly get better and slowly get better.

[00:10:54] Ben: And that process of re revision is how I.

[00:10:58] Nic: I absolutely love it shaping [00:11:00] nation. It's not about the big home runs, it's about how you can get better a little bit at a time and a little bit and just keep on stacking those little successes. That is some excellent advice. So there's two things that you mentioned earlier.

[00:11:13] Nic: So one was the energy. You mentioned energy, like on a how it looks. And the other thing was that you had, you have a daughter and the, so the first question I wanna ask you is, What do you mean by the energy of how it looks? And the second question is, how do you balance your, your life with your, your, your family and then

[00:11:33] Ben: pottery?

[00:11:34] Ben: Sure. So the energy one is, is a good one. And I think if you take, you know, 10 potters and line up a row of pots, most of the potters will pick the same pot. That's the best pot. And I can't always figure out like, why is it we all like that one? But for me it's often that the forum is a little. There's a little more expression outward in the form, meaning like when I'm throwing, I'm thinking about almost like that.

[00:11:58] Ben: I want the pot to feel [00:12:00] like it's breathing in, you know, like it has this, this sense of volume or expansion and then the decoration when it's on top of that form. I'm trying to think about variety. So how do I have sort of thick lines that go into thin lines so that there's this, this contrast of movement?

[00:12:16] Ben: Cuz that's what happens when you. That thick to thin as your eye follows that. And I think that's the, the surface energy is like, what's the sum total of all the marks you've made on the pot? And are those marks as energetic or as gestural as possible? That

[00:12:33] Nic: is very interesting. I love hearing about that cuz it is true cause like if you do line up a light line of pause, you're gonna, your eye's gonna be drawn to one and most likely, most everybody else is gonna be drawn to that too.

[00:12:44] Nic: That is a really great way of thinking that. So can you tell me, cuz you have a daughter now as well, how do you manage family time and also pottery?

[00:12:54] Ben: Yeah, it now , my daughter is so cute right now that I really [00:13:00] don't wanna miss, like any part of her life. So most of my potting is at night after she's already gone to bed.

[00:13:06] Ben: I work full-time as a podcast producer for the Brickyard Network. So my, my daytime hours are filled with helping other people make. Podcast and making my own podcast. And then when my daughter gets home from school and then my wife gets home from work, I'm usually making dinner or helping clean up or with childcare.

[00:13:25] Ben: And I really found that to be fulfilling. I, before I had a child, I didn't realize that. , I would want to be with my daughter more than in the studio. I kinda always thought like, oh, I always wanna make pots, but those first probably six months, I, I only made work when she was asleep late at night. And now I'm starting to like my work time in the studio's creeping back into the daytime hours a little bit.

[00:13:49] Ben: But for the most time it's after dinner when my wife's taking care of my daughter and I can, I can get focused in the studio.

[00:13:56] Nic: I, I love that a lot. That's really amazing. So how, but how do you [00:14:00] like schedule out, like when you are gonna work? Like obviously cuz sometimes things can like get a little bit

[00:14:06] Ben: jumbled.

[00:14:07] Ben: Sure. Scheduling is the key word there. Like, every part of my life is scheduled now from the time I wake up at about six in the morning to when I go to bed at about nine 30 or 10 every single hour has some. And I used to think as a younger person, like, oh, that's so boring. I want to be able to improvise and just travel and do whatever I want.

[00:14:28] Ben: But now I see like the routine that my wife and I established in our life. That's the thing that gives both my daughter security, but also gives us security so that we know what's gonna happen. . So during the daytime, most of my time is sort of dedicated to larger tasks. And then when I get to the nighttime, when it's about my studio work, I try to give myself very small chunks, small goals in the studio.

[00:14:54] Ben: Cuz it can be, it can be too overwhelming to think. Oh, I've got a show in May. I need to [00:15:00] make a hundred pots before then, like that's too big of an idea. What I try to do is break it down into each day, so like if I'm going into the studio tonight, I have mugs that I need to decorate, so I'll take like six mugs.

[00:15:11] Ben: Generally I'll work at about an hour and a half to two hours, and I'll just focus on those six mugs and try to decorate those because that's, that's when I, that's where I'm at in the working. Cycle at the moment, but I, I try to just make those small chunks because also the small successes, you know, like, oh, I got six done.

[00:15:29] Ben: That's what motivates me tomorrow. If I, if I make the ideas too big, I feel like I'm never accomplishing anything. So you bite off little chunks and then you get the, the pleasure of sort of fi finishing those tasks, or at least.

[00:15:45] Nic: Absolutely agree without like routine, like throughout the week, this podcast probably would be like all over the place.

[00:15:51] Nic: I probably wouldn't be as consistent. I love that. And geez, that was some really great advice right there. So can you tell me how has your pottery [00:16:00] evolved into what it

[00:16:01] Ben: is today? Yeah, when I first started, I feel like I was more interested in form, you know, like I was doing a lot of soda firing, or I guess I shouldn't say when I, when I first started in high school, I was making sort of typical cone six pots, so using a lot of floating blue glazes, like a lot of things that, a lot.

[00:16:19] Ben: that most studios in the US have if they're cone six studios. But then when I got older and I went on to study ceramics in college, I became enamored in atmospheric firing. So like wood firing, soda firing, salt firing all of that. And because of that, I didn't do hardly any decoration cuz it was more just, let's make the form and then get it into the kiln.

[00:16:41] Ben: And then the kiln was gonna take care of a lot of that decoration. But now at, at the point I am, almost every pot I make is decorated in some way, shape, or form. And it's because they go into an electric kiln. They're not in a gas soda kiln anymore. So if I put a pot in that has no decoration, [00:17:00] and I just electric fire it, it's pretty plain

[00:17:03] Ben: You know, like there's not a lot going on. So I decorate the surface to try to give some of that energy that I, I talked about beforehand. So I think for me, the evolution has really been in, in the surface. , like, how does the surface design change over time? And it's slow. You know, like some years, I, I, I probably don't make anything that looks that different than the year before.

[00:17:24] Ben: But then if I switch bodies of work and I switch the glazes I'm using or the color palette, then all of a sudden it's like there's, there's a big change that happens. So right now I'm in the middle of those small changes, you know, like I'm, what I made last year, this. Looks pretty similar, but I'm just focusing on how do I be a better painter?

[00:17:44] Ben: How do I come up with more creative color patterns? Because I, I really think about like color schemes, like how do I make this have as much energy as as possible as I'm working in the studio, in the studio.

[00:17:57] Nic: Absolutely love it. That is some, that's, I love hearing the [00:18:00] evolution of people's like pottery.

[00:18:01] Nic: That is so cool. So what is something that you are currently experimenting with to make your pottery kind of grow

[00:18:08] Ben: a little bit? Yeah. I've been working a lot with the idea of dipping a pot and then drawing into the surface of it when it's wet. So I'll take the white slip and dunk the red, the red pot into that.

[00:18:21] Ben: And then I have about maybe a. To a minute and a half to draw before. Dries and solidifies on the surface of the pot. So that's a really short timeframe. And when I say draw, I'm really making kind of more gestural marks. So think about like an undulating line made with a wide brush, like something that's like a hae brush.

[00:18:42] Ben: I'm really drawing with that. So it's not, I'm not drawing fine detail. It's more about how do I get that base layer to have as much movement as possible so that I then can put. Sort of refined marks on top of that, but it's also fun, you know, like I'm, I'm dipping pots and you only [00:19:00] got like 90 seconds, so it's totally decisive, you know?

[00:19:04] Ben: And I like that. I like kind of putting pressure on myself with those time limits and the limits of the material.

[00:19:11] Nic: I think it's gonna keep things fresh a little bit for you too. Cause you're not gonna be doing the same thing over and over. That's really cool. So let's get back to your story a little bit.

[00:19:19] Nic: Can you tell me the story, how the opportunity to go to Shanghai, how did that come

[00:19:25] Ben: to be? Yeah, pure luck. . I mean, I, I think I was a, a hardworking potter before then. I, I was in graduate school and I was looking for opportunities to travel and live abroad. And one of my friends had worked in Jing Dein at the Pottery Workshop, which is a international.

[00:19:45] Ben: Ceramic center that's in the city and I, I had known about that city and I really wanted a job, so I just emailed the director and I said, Hey, can I work at your center in Jing? And I heard nothing back. [00:20:00] And like for six months, I just, I kind of forgot that it even happened. And then one day out of the blue, about two months before I graduated from graduate school, she emailed me back and said, we're all full in Jing de, but if you'd like, you can come to Shanghai and we'll see if you like it.

[00:20:16] Ben: and it was just, it was luck, man. I feel like I just like got offered this job and the job in the beginning was really more of a resident artist to just come and work in the studio. And I was teaching some classes, but I ended up staying two and a half years there and I, I became the, the director of the school part of that business which was an amazing experience.

[00:20:36] Ben: I was, Students from Europe and of course students from mainland China and Taiwan and Japan and all of that Pacific region. And I was teaching in English, but I was also head co-teachers that were teaching in Mandarin. So we had this really eclectic mix of both students and teachers that were there at the pottery workshop

[00:20:57] Nic: at the time.

[00:20:59] Nic: So [00:21:00] how did this experience help with developing your own voice with your potter?

[00:21:05] Ben: I, I got to spend a lot of time at the Shanghai Museum Art Museum, which if you're ever there, you should totally go. It's a, it's an amazing world class museum, and I got to see a lot of ceramic history of ceramics that I had never seen in person.

[00:21:21] Ben: There in person and I studied the pots, I studied scroll painting. I was looking at all these different forms of Chinese material culture. And I think where I evolved the most was my understanding of negative space, which ironically didn't come from the pots, it came from the scroll paintings. So if you ever see those really large ink paintings, you'll in their landscapes, you'll see that they're often in the foreground.

[00:21:46] Ben: They'll be a mountain and they'll sometimes be a human figure. That's really. . You know, like if the scroll painting is five feet tall, the person will be like an inch, and then there's this middle ground of mist, or sometimes it'll be [00:22:00] the ocean, sometimes it'll be clouds. And then in the background you'll see this other smaller mountain.

[00:22:06] Ben: So it looks like a cohesive landscape. But what you're getting is this sense of. And once I saw those scroll paintings and really started to incorporate that into my work, then I started to set up the layers on my pots differently. And a lot of this had to do with working with other artists who also said, Hey, have you thought about putting deep space in pots?

[00:22:28] Ben: Cuz that was really the thing that I was not doing. I, I was talking to Liz Quackenbush who. Professor at Penn State and we were working at a residency together and she said, there's no distance space in your work. Everything is right up in the middle ground of the foreground. So it was a good lesson to think about that distance space.

[00:22:45] Ben: And they, they do it in the scroll paintings and the historical scroll paintings. And I, I do that a lot more in my own pots

[00:22:52] Nic: as well. . So what do you mean by

[00:22:55] Ben: distance space? Yeah, so if you think about atmospheric views, so let's [00:23:00] say you're looking at a picture of let's say the Grand Canyon or somewhere where you're looking off into the distance.

[00:23:05] Ben: Generally things when they get farther away, get much smaller, and that's how we know that they're farther away. Cuz our brains have adapted to that idea of atmospheric space. But when you're on a. , you really only have the pictorial space of that surface. You can't really build in, I guess you could do this in sculpture, but you can't build into the form if it's a functional pot, cuz the, the coffee of the tea is what goes on the inside.

[00:23:31] Ben: But you can paint the motif you're doing at different scales. So if you wanna make a vine or a flower look smaller, Or, or make it look more distant. You make it smaller and your brain starts to think like, oh, it's going back into the surface of the form. And you can also do this with color. So let's think about if there's really vibrant color, your brain tends to think it's close to you as to where if it's dull color, it, your brain seems to perceive that it's farther away.

[00:23:59] Ben: So if you mix [00:24:00] that scale and then that, that change in intensity of color, you can really enliven the surface of a pot to make it look like there's something going on. Back in the background there.

[00:24:10] Nic: That is really interesting. I think that's gonna help a lot of people that come up with new ways to decorate their pottery.

[00:24:16] Nic: That is really amazing. So let's talk about discovering your voice. What would you say had the biggest impact with you discovering your voice?

[00:24:25] Ben: Well, this is, this is a a great question. I went to,

[00:24:29] Ben: At the University of Florida for graduate school. And I was having a meeting with Linda Arbuckle, and I had been making pots that were, that really looked like sort of historical pots from the Middle East. I was using a lot of glazes that looked like they were from that era, from about the 15 hundreds on.

[00:24:47] Ben: And I love these pots, so I was, I was replicating them in some ways that I was still interpreting, you know, like they didn't. . They didn't look like historical pots, but you could tell that was the pond I was trying to swim in. [00:25:00] And Linda Arbuckle set me down Monday and she said, I know you like these pots, but you're not Persian.

[00:25:07] Ben: You're not from the Middle East. Like what is your family lineage or what is your aesthetic heritage and how can you draw from that? And what she was doing was nicely talking to me about that. I was appropriating from another culture. , you know, like I was really taking another culture and again, I was interpreting it, but still that was not as powerful as if I could take from my own culture from the Appalachian Mountains, for instance.

[00:25:36] Ben: And once she told me that, I was deeply confused, , because I really didn't know I was doing that. I was just following what I liked. You know, I love those pots, so I was just taking elements of those and putting 'em on my pots. But what was different is that when I, when the taproot became the Appalachian Mountains and eventually became my own family heritage with, with quilting, [00:26:00] all of a sudden everything fit better.

[00:26:02] Ben: Like I was not mimicking anything. I was actually speaking with the voice that was already in me, and I don't think I would've gotten to that if Linda didn't, you know, politely tell me like, Hey, you're looking in the wrong spot. And I think this is like a good thing for young Potters to hear. You already have a unique voice.

[00:26:20] Ben: All you have to do is figure out how to say what you wanna say through the material. You don't have to look to another culture. You can, you can reference the lessons, aesthetic lessons of another culture. But more than likely the culture you grew up in, that is the power, or at least for me, that's the power in the art that I make cuz being able to reference that culture and, and use the things that, that I've learned from quilts, which are, you know, quilts are like so loaded with pattern and texture and surface that once I, I really found that that's, that's what helped me find my unique voice.

[00:26:54] Nic: Absolutely. That was really powerful shaping nation. You may be looking at [00:27:00] things and trying to do things that you really like to make, but sometimes you have to look in a little bit of a different direction to make your voice become more natural and actually stand out for you more. That was some really powerful advice.

[00:27:13] Nic: So you teach and are round potters all the time. What would you say is a struggle potters face when they're trying to discover their own voice?

[00:27:23] Ben: I think that the, the history of ceramics often, at least in the us often skews towards Japan and China and Korea because, and the 1950s when the Japanese potter.

[00:27:38] Ben: Hami came to the us. They did this big tour and he gave lectures and he did all of these things and it made it so that our studio pottery movement was really looking towards the east. And I think that that was good for that time. But I, I, I've realized with my, myself and with my students, like we're in a world [00:28:00] that is so fantastic visually.

[00:28:03] Ben: Like you can get on Instagram and see artists expressing themselves and all around the world, but doing it in a way that's specific to their time and place. So I think for. When I see people whose work I really enjoy, and that feels relevant to me. It's the people that are, that are sort of mining their own cultures.

[00:28:23] Ben: It kind of goes back to the last question, you know, it's like, like how do people interpret the life around them as opposed to borrowing from another culture's nostalgia, because that's really what was happening in the American Mingue movement. Well, I'm really painting with a broad brush here. So I think there are parts of American pottery movement that were looking to Japan because it was easier to copy that aesthetic.

[00:28:49] Ben: But I know a lot of potters now that do reference Japan, but it's really that they're referencing their own lives. So I think when I teach and when I talk to young potters and old potters a [00:29:00] alike, what I'm looking for is like who has found their own tap root and how are they working and creating from that tap?

[00:29:08] Nic: I love that. I, that is, I never thought about that. Cause I, I don't know too much about ceramic history, but hearing that I can definitely see like that's a big impact in like how the world has changed and that definitely affects it. So what advice would you give to someone trying to find their own unique voice with their pottery?

[00:29:27] Ben: Just to get in the studio. You know, I, I really think that you can't help but have your own unique voice. So as long as you make enough work, you will work your way and your hands will work their way into having a unique voice. Because I think every mind is unique. You know, like, like we can acknowledge your mind is different than my mind, my.

[00:29:49] Ben: And also your hands are different than my hands. So we're both gonna automat automatically have a unique voice because of the way we think and the way we touch clay. [00:30:00] So I just encourage younger potters like just make, just keep making. And if you can get a job where someone else will pay you. To increase your skills.

[00:30:09] Ben: So I, I was a production potter for years working for other potters, and that was really helpful because even though I wasn't making my own work, I was, my hand skills were getting better and I was getting paid, which practically you just, you gotta get paid. So I encourage people. On the way to finding their voice, get better skills and get paid to do it.

[00:30:32] Nic: Excellent advice that I love the part about building your skills, especially getting paid to do it. Awesome. So as we're coming to a close here, what is one thing you really want to hammer home with my audience today?

[00:30:45] Ben: Hmm. This is a good question. I think, well, for one, I, I hope that your audience is grateful to you because I really think what you're doing is important.

[00:30:53] Ben: You're. Sharing other people's work in a really broad way. And, and I think [00:31:00] that's what I want the, the listeners to realize too, is like we live in the age of Instagram. We live in the age of podcasts. We live in the age of the internet. Like when I first was in school, I had encyclopedias, like I had to go to the library.

[00:31:14] Ben: Not that that was a bad thing, that was, that was a good thing. But what I'm saying is that we have so much visual information today. . If you can take in that information and then share that with other people automatically, it makes your own work get better. And I think you might have experienced this through making a podcast.

[00:31:32] Ben: It's kind of the same as, as what I was saying earlier, like the service you're doing by giving other people this, this format to talk about their work. I, I, I think that that's a really important way that the whole fuel, the ceramic. That we all know each other more. We know each other's work, and hopefully that means we will all grow more.

[00:31:51] Ben: It's kind of the whole, that old saying that all ships rise with a tide, you know, like, as, as more information brings us all up, [00:32:00] the, our skills get better. And you can see this like, I think the pots that people are making today are better. This is controversial, but , I think they're better than. Some pots made, well, I'm talking myself into a corner here, but I think that, that we're in a golden age of studio ceramics where people are making leaps and bounds of growth forward.

[00:32:22] Ben: And I think that that is a really good thing. And I think it's because of the information we have access to. So if you're out there and you're listening to this dive into podcasts, diving to all the different ways that you can learn about ceramics because it's, it's not what it used to be. . If your dad was a potter and then he taught you your style, then you would be like your father or your grandfather or your grandmother.

[00:32:46] Ben: You know, however, the family lineage went. Now the world is, is really open to us aesthetically, and I think that's important. I think that global aesthetic that is rising out of this internet age is what's pushing the field. [00:33:00]

[00:33:01] Nic: Absolutely agree. Since starting this podcast, my, I feel like my voice has like literally changed so many times and has grown just from learning and hearing about other potters and I That is some really last words of advice.

[00:33:12] Nic: Ben, it was so great chatting with today. Where can my audience go and learn more about

[00:33:17] Ben: you? . Yeah, so people can follow me on Instagram under Carter pottery. You can also check out my pots or buy pots@carterpottery.com. And then all of my podcasting stuff is either under Tales of a Red Clay Rambler, or the brickyard network.org.

[00:33:33] Ben: So check those out. We have six different podcasts that are all about ceramics, so check us out. You can find us on any podcast app.

[00:33:42] Nic: It was really great chatting today. I learned so much and I was so glad to interview you. Thank you so much.

[00:33:48] Ben: Oh, you're welcome, Nick. It was a pleasure. Bye.


Ben CarterProfile Photo

Ben Carter

potter, educator, and podcast host/producer

Ben Carter is a studio potter, educator, and podcast host/producer based in New Jersey. He received his BFA in ceramics/painting from Appalachian State University and his MFA in ceramics from the University of Florida. His professional experience includes being an artist-in-residence at the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, MT and Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, CO, as well as the Education Director of the Pottery Workshop in Shanghai, China. He has lectured and exhibited widely in the United States, Canada, China, Australia, and New Zealand. He was named 2016 Ceramic Artist of the Year by Ceramics Monthly and Pottery Making Illustrated. He has authored a full-length book, Mastering the Potter’s Wheel, published by Voyageur Press in 2016.

In addition to his studio work he is the creator/host of the Tales of a Red Clay Rambler podcast, where he interviews artists about their craft, creativity, and lifestyle. In 2021 he developed The Brickyard Network—a podcast network devoted to the ceramic arts—for the Archie Bray Foundation. He is the editor and producer for Clay in Color, For Flux Sake, The Kiln Sitters, Trade Secret and other podcasts developed for the network.