I can’t remember where I first saw Sarah Anderson’s Sgrafitto work, but having some personal experience doing Sgrafitto, I was immediately smitten. Sarah has an impressive assurance of hand. Carving confidence is difficult to achieve when working on curved surfaces; Sarah has mastered it. Sarah also incorporates a smart graphic sense and popping color into her work. I think you’ll enjoy this conversation.
JTW: You studied sculpture in college. What drew you to ceramics?
SA: I spent a lot of time with metal and wood when I first started out in sculpture. I had grown up wood-working with my dad, so I had a base knowledge of that to begin with. I loved the technical exploration of welding and forging, and the complexity of casting. I discovered lost wax castings, and quickly fell in love with the process. It was so much easier for me to manipulate and control this medium through heat and my own hands for tools. I began exploring glass work because of its relation to wax as a malleable material and manipulation by heat.
I waited until after I had explored these other materials before I began working with clay. I think that was something really important to me, so I could develop a wider set of skills before getting sucked into the best material of all. For my thesis, I made two full figure ceramic women hanging from welded frames on the wall with different creatures of ceramic and glass consuming them.
Ceramic is my favorite for a few reasons: it is easily manipulated by your hands, you need very minimal tools other than your mind, hands, clay, and water, and I can still play with fire in the final stages. I very much enjoy fire. Clay shows so much experience from just a single piece, because of the layers it takes to get to the final result.
Finishing a masterpiece, then having to jump through multiple firings, then what other finishing touches you have shows the level of dedication ceramic artists have.
JTW: Given your background in sculpture, are you exploring different forms with your pottery? How important is form in your work?
SA: When I first started in one of my intro to ceramics classes, I was told that you are either a surface artist or a form artist. I am still taking on that challenge to someday be a mix of both. I began fully diving into the surface decoration through the technique sgraffito. After a few months of playing, I started to drift toward my mug forms, and how I could relate those to the surfaces I was creating.
I think I will forever be playing with the back and forth of these two ideas, always pushing the other to improve. The pipes are new, and I’m now bouncing back to allowing the surface to influence my forms. The pipes are a very literal take of the pipes I carve with my sewer rats. We’ll have to see where that takes me soon!
JTW: Your surface decoration is very striking. Do you have strong graphics background in your art training?
SA: Actually, both of my parents are graphic designers and my brother is an animator. I definitely get my graphics honestly. I think the way I illustrate came very naturally, almost unintentionally. I have always grown up telling stories and finding humor in most situations, and sgraffito was a very clear way for me to depict these things.
I’ve had this specific line of work for almost two years now, and morphing from botanical illustrations to weird sewer rats and frogs that can’t swim has been a huge jump, but an important one for me. I’m learning that I like focusing on the interaction between two characters, and the moment right before the climax of the story. Right when you get the most of a reaction out of something or someone. I think that’s a moment that has a lot of those feelings, and I enjoy freezing those moments in time.
JTW: How carefully do you plan out your surface designs? Do you sketch things first, or is your process more intuitive and you just “go with the flow”?
SA: It depends on the piece. If I’ve drawn it a million times, I usually have a good idea of where I want to place things for my composition so I just wing it. But if it’s brand new, I like to spend time drawing new characters and then physically cutting those out of paper and collaging them with things found in the background or how the whole composition will fit together. Most of the time it’s pretty intuitive, but it definitely took some time and practice to get to that point.
JTW: Can you tell me more about your Mobile Makers experience? What prompted the trip? What did you learn from it?
SA: Our first Mobile Makers trip was AMAZING. For those that don’t know what I’m talking about – Mobile Makers was created by myself and friend and fellow ceramic artist, Marret Metzger. Ceramics is typically a very stationary medium, and networking outside of your city, let alone state, can be difficult. For those reasons and more, Mobile Makers was born. We packed our trailer, ceramic tools, my dog Pip, and hit the road on March 1st, 2022. Our destination was NCECA in Sacramento, CA but were incredibly blessed to have met and networked with so many others along the way. Community is a large part of why I do what I do and it was an amazing experience to say the least. We have an instagram and website for those who want to learn more about our trip! www.mobilemakersclay.com
JTW: Do you have future plans combining travel and creative work?
SA: I’ve always been very obsessed with both of these ideas, traveling and creating. As for the work, I’m still excited about the body of work I’m creating currently. It would be really interesting to see how my work would transform in a different environment. Residencies have been on my radar, and that’s one big reason why we started our Mobile Makers journey. Once covid hit it was really difficult to navigate the residency road, so we decided to make our own. All I can say for now is that I’m very excited for what this experience has sparked, and I can’t wait for the next couple of years to unfold.
JTW: You’ve been a working artist since graduation 3-4 years ago. What have you observed in these years? Is the experience what you expected?
I’ve always been a teacher, ever since I was in high school I’ve been teaching kids in some form. I began teaching at local art centers and programs during college, so I had a foot in the door of Indianapolis’s main art center once I graduated. I became their new studio manager for the next two years, and I am so grateful for all of the equipment and tools I was able to learn how to use, fix, and manage during my time there. I was able to break down and rebuild kilns and fire something about every other day for the two years I was there. Once I started to see a spike in the demand for my work, and connecting more with the community around me, I felt it was as good a time as any to make the switch as a full time artist.
Marret moved to Indy, and we both found a studio space with our friend Becca Otis in a shared artist warehouse (with a sweet brewery downstairs). This studio and being self employed has completely changed the way I work, obviously. But I would not be anywhere near where I am today if I would have passively waited to take the leap of faith. It’s all just as hard as everyone says it will be, but so worth it. And I like a challenge.
JTW: Where to from here?
SA: I’m VERY excited for a couple of upcoming things. I have been teaching in-person classes for forever, but the world post-covid has completely changed the way we are all learning. I am in the beginning stages of making a Masterclass for intro to the wheel, all done virtually. I’ve had a lot of fun teaching through other virtual workshops, so I’m excited to branch out with a longer and more intense version of those classes. I’m also ready to get back into sculpting in more of the traditional sense. I think the virtual teaching will give me some freedom to spend time with that. The last teaser I will throw out is the possibility of opening a store front, or something to that extent in the near future. Not sure what these things will all look like once they unfold, but it’s going to be an adventure along the way!
See more of Sarah’s work on her website.