13 Jun Inspiration Diaries with Gwen Ottinger
“I feel like artists contribute to our culture and community in a big way. I think that’s why I like to make functional art. My art can be a part of someone’s day to day life.” Gwen Ottinger grew up in Frederick , Maryland but moved south to pursue a BFA in ceramics at East Carolina University. She eventually ended up in Black Mountain, NC where she had a studio and taught pottery at Black Mountain Center for the Arts. She taught at an arts based charter school for 11 years while maintaining a home studio. In 2014, she moved back to Frederick and has worked as a full time potter since then. She lives with her partner, Rick, her two girls and his two boys and one girl. Their home is set in the country with an inspiring view of Sugarloaf Mountain. Her studio is just steps away from their home with windows and doors opened to nature and a sweet garden out front. Just dreamy!
1.What inspires you? Making functionalware inspires me because I feel like making something that someone’s going to use; hold in their hand everyday will hopefully bring them joy. That inspires me. I think every artist would say nature inspires them and I would say that is true to me as well. The stamping and surface design I do are inspired by the botanicals, textures and the surface design I find in nature.
2. How do you turn those ideas into action? For me, it’s a process of editing. I have enough ideas for the rest of my life. I always work on trying to have a consistent look. So I edit, edit, edit! I see forms that I make over and over. Some forms are inspired by what people ask me to make and what they’re planning to do with the pottery.
3. Do you start with a plan or are you spontaneous? Both. I do a series of sketches and as I’m working it evolves. I will work on a series of forms and think about editing it down as far as surface design. Sometimes I look back over my sketches and work over the last several years and see what kinds if things were speaking to me and I will try to kind of bring those things forward.
4. What is the greatest enemy to creativity? I think fear. I have to really push to put myself out there. I love making the work and have no fear in the making process. It’s more in the marketing process.
5. How do you get yourself out of a creative rut? When I have spent a lot of time out of my studio, I will usually come into the studio and throw a bunch of mugs or vases because they can all be different. It warms me up and I get to play with the forms and surface design.
6. What does an average day in the life look like? I have been working on that because I need a routine. I usually wake up, write in a journal or sketch. I spend about an hour getting myself and the kids ready for school. I get into the studio around 9:30 and plan what I’m going to make that day. I love when I get to unload the kiln first thing. I have lunch then work until I pick up the kids in the afternoon. Usually they have activities then I come back into the studio for an hour or two at night.
7. Who are your mentors? My best friend- she’s my biggest inspiration. She always can look at my work and pick the best pieces and tell me why. That helps to focus my energy. I love Lucie Rie- she’s my favorite potter. I’m always inspired by her. One of my favorites is Ruth Asawa. She was at Black Mountain College and studied under Josef & Annie Albers. She worked in metal wire sculptures. What inspires me about her is her work ethic and the forms she created. It’s about not having sharp edges.
8. What other hobbies do you enjoy? I like paddleboarding, gardening, mainly spending time with my kids but they love paddleboarding and gardening too! And I love hanging out in Downtown Frederick.
9. How do you maintain balance? Juggling my time as a mom and an artist is hard. Journalling helps me deal with day to day life. Anytime I can get out into nature also helps me reboot.
10. What words of wisdom do you have for others embarking on their own creative journey? One of the things that definitely has helped is going back and looking at all the work I have made; sketches and inspirations and then trying to find common threads to help me stay true to my voice. Look at other artists’ work but try not to get bogged down in trends and social media- it could lead you in the wrong direction. Finding a balance between your own voice and trying to make something people will buy can be tricky but if you are between the two the best path is to stay true to your own voice.
Below is a quick answer sheet that I had Gwen fill out listing her top faves in each category…
Find Gwen at The Muse of course! She also has her work at Taylor’s Collective in Ellicott City, Common Market, Canal View Candles in Williamsport and Chifferobe & the Dripolator in Black Mountain, North Carolina. On instagram @gwenottinger and on facebook @gwenottingerceramics.