Whitney happened to be behind me when I walked into my first Creative Morning event in Oakland. I was there to meet other creatives because I was starting to feel a bit isolated in Newark. When you're in that artist bubble for awhile, you can forget how to talk to people, but thankfully Whitney made it easy. She was so friendly and smart and warm. When I went home and visited her website, I was completely floored. Her pottery is drop dead gorgeous. This amazingly talented artist was also so generous in supporting my new ventures even though we had just met. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and meeting Whitney was a seed that eventually helped grow this interview project. She has a lot of great advice, especially about "inspiration," and I encourage you to visit her website to read her blog where she shares much more.

How would you describe your work?

I always find it very difficult to describe my work. If pressed, I'll say it's primarily functional ceramics with some sculptural elements, modeled after organic forms and shapes such as flowers, seedpods, and leaves. My work is changing a lot right now and I'm even more at a loss for words than usual! 

 

What mediums do you most frequently use?

I work primarily in porcelain, with a little stoneware thrown in for variety.

 

Describe your workspace.

I've put years of thought into my space, I've been working there for over 15 years!  I recently painted the walls a light grey and it has vastly improved the way the light looks from before, when the walls were green. My space is filled with natural light and I like to keep things open, airy, and as dust-free and possible. Clutter hurts my eyes and I try to keep my supplies behind closed doors so I don't have to be confronted by disarray when I walk into my studio. My studio is divided into three areas: the front area is a small gallery space where I 

About the Project

I created this series because I was constantly meeting amazing artists in the Bay Area, mostly woman. I wanted to know more about their work, process and who they are so, I  created a project that would give me a reason to contact them. The interviews help me grow as an artist and I hope that by sharing them others will benefit too.

store finished work. The middle area is where I primarily work--I have two potter's wheels, two big ware racks, a stainless steel table where I do finishing work and three colorful lockers where I store supplies. The back area is my glaze and firing area. I have two big electric kilns, a big table for glazing, and a bunch of 5 gallon buckets filled with glazes that are stored under the table on wheels for easy moving around.I think it flows pretty well and I love walking in in the morning.

 

Describe a typical day in the studio for you. Do you keep any routines? Are you a full time artist or do you have another job?

I work in my studio full time and have for the past 15 years. 

I keep a very strict routine from the time I get up to the time I set foot in my studio about 4 hours later, but once I am through the studio door I do not keep a routine. A home routine is important to me so I get the things I need to function well in the world: exercise, meditation, a good breakfast, coffee, writing. But once I am in the studio, I try to pay attention to what I feel like doing that day, and balance  that with what actually needs to get done.  I work for myself so I can avoid routines! I have larger studio routines, like firing the kiln every 2 weeks,  but the day to day is variable. 

 

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Anywhere I can. I generally don't go looking for it, because when you "need" inspiration is when you really need to stop, relax, and open your mind and heart. For me, inspiration is so random and comes from so many places. I was recently inspired to make a certain vase shape that I got from looking at another vase that was being obscured by a shadow, and from my vantage point looked like a great shape. In reality, it was a very plain vase and not a special shape at all, it was just the way the light was hitting it. I have to be careful to make note of these things because I forget way more inspirational ideas than I remember!

 

What’s some good advice you got that you would like to share with other artists?

No matter what, never compare yourself or your work to others. It's a huge drain on creativity, and really just an ego exercise. When you catch yourself doing it-- because we all do-- very gently remind yourself to stop immediately.

What are your thoughts about being a woman and an artist? How does it inform your work, if it does? 

I just don't know how to answer that question. In some ways it seems like it's everything, and in other ways it means nothing, and I don't even know how to explain that! 

 

Is there anything about the Bay Area that is especially beneficial or not so beneficial to artists? 

Obviously, the beauty,  creative energy, and opportunities here make the Bay Area a natural home for many artists. Just as obvious is the horrifying expense of living here. When I moved to Oakland in 1996, rent was incredibly cheap and I was able to work part-time while I pursued pottery. For most, that is no longer possible. The young artists I know must work full-time at usually marginally paying jobs to live here, and I don't know when or how they find the time to develop their work. I think in the long-term it will have a huge impact on the creative juice here as the Bay Area becomes more socially and culturally homogeneous. I would not tell a young person to move here, there is more opportunity to develop artistically in less expensive cities.

 

Who are you reading, looking at or listening to these days?

I read a lot of books, and I just finished Novella Carpenter's (Bay Area writer!) new memoir Gone Feral. I just love a good memoir, it really moved me. Also, the best book I have read in the last year is Elizabeth Gilbert's Signature of All Things. I would put that book in my Top Ten. I've been looking at a lot of crepe paper flowers lately. I just started making them and it's interesting to me the different styles of making paper flowers. My favorite paper flower artist is Tiffanie Turner. She combines an adherence to the realism of how a flower is put together while also blowing it up-- literally. She makes these beautiful flowers that can be several feet across. I'm a tiny bit obsessed with her work. And I'm addicted with podcasts, mostly storytelling ones. I have a new favorite called The Longest Shortest Timewhich is about being a parent-- which I am not-- but the podcast is so well done and the stories around parenthood are so interesting that I don't think you have to be a parent to get something out of the show.

 

Any final words or thoughts or upcoming projects that you would like to share? What are you working on these days?

I've been working on a new body of work for the past 6 months or so. I've gone through long periods of burnout over the course of my pottery career and one of the things I discovered is that my devotion to perfection is a huge creativity drain. My work has tended to be very "tight"-- the lines, the shapes, everything needs to be a certain way for me to feel satisfied. So my new work is exploring a different approach; looser, more dynamic, colorful, the opposite of "perfect". It's been a huge creative leap for me and very exciting.

 

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Website: http://www.whitneysmithpottery.com

© 2019 Nancy Benton