I love crazy coil pots. Really and truly – to me they are the easiest way to be completely free in my creative process. I love using them as both a coil construction project, but also a creativity project with my students. That’s where this little bird came from – a class demo with my beginning students this past session. I had no idea I would end up with such a definitive subject matter for this pot when I started, but that’s what I love most about them!

Check the usual type of planters I create for my online shop here while I contemplate figuring out how to spend more time playing with coil designs!

Sewing with Clay

It all started out several class sessions ago when a student suggested that we should try to make clay figures using doll sewing patterns as our templates. I thought it sounded like a great idea and did all sorts of research on doll sewing patterns until I found some great ones that could be translated into clay. Before long I had expanded my search beyond dolls to include dresses, corsets, blouses, pants, skirts – you name it, I have found some kind of sewing pattern for it.

I’ve even turned some of them into clay creations from simple one to two part patterns to complicated ten or twelve piece ones. I even ultimately had my class try them out as well using both clothes patterns as well as doll patterns. My research has even led me to other artists like Melisa Cadell who, for some of her work, uses a beginning for the torso that is seems inspired by sewing pattern thought processes.

My favorite pattern to date and the one I use over and over again is a super simple blouse  template. The pattern is perfect because the sleeves for this blouse are more of a suggestion then actual sleeves. The form is feminine and when put together suggestive of the female form.


Above you can see an example of one half of the final piece (or either the front/back of the blouse). It is shown upside down since the wider part is actually what would turn into the sleeves on a fabric piece. I have used this pattern both with the wider part at the top of the vase as well as at the bottom.

Currently I’ve been taken with the notion of corsets since with the wider part at the bottom, this template lends itself so well to that feel. All of my texture patterns on the vases I’m making using this pattern recently have been done with an eye to that garment – some kind of seam down the middle, maybe a texture to suggestion darting – you get the idea. I actually think the example above looks a lot like a bathing suit, but was very gratified when a friend suggested that it looked like a corset when I posted it recently on social media.

Just like the blouse, each vase needs two pieces of “fabric” to work, so I’ve been creating set after set of matching clay “fabric” these past couple of weeks. Below are some of my initial vases I’ve formed. I can’t wait to see them glazed!


Scissor Hands


I have this pair of old fashioned metal scissors. I’m not quite sure where I got them from, but they have been in my clay tools for some time now. I was using them to cut paper templates and guides for my work until one day I decided to press the handles into some clay. The rest, as they say, is history. I practically never use these scissors for cutting any more – they have been moved permanently out of my tools jar and into my texture making jar.

I particularly love how their texture looks on this planter. It always fascinates me to see my textures distorted by the form making process and this one is no exception. I like the extra emphasis the belly-ing out gives to the fullness of the handle imprints.

Check it out in my online shop here.

Conversations in Clay at the OC Fair

Today was de-installation day at the Orange County Fair for AMOCA Ceramics Studio’s show “Conversations in Clay.” Today was also the first day I got to see the show hung! Sometimes it just works out that way. I thought I’d share a few of the images I captured before we started taking down the exhibit.

“Conversations in Clay” featured the works of a variety of artists associated with AMOCA Ceramics Studio from Staff to Instructors to Resident Artists to Volunteers and therefore a wide range of styles. We were lucky enough to gain some exposure and recognition The Orange County Register! Check out the article and their slideshow of images here.

First, I’d like to share the work of AMOCA’s Studio staff – Heidi Kreichet, Cj Jilek and Bobby Free (also pictured with Bobby’s tiles work is Wendy Thoreson & Michael Garcia):

OC Fair 1 Collage

The work of the studio’s Resident and Visiting Artists and Selected Studio Members: Mary Bierle, Stan Klausner, Randy Au, Jiin Ahn, Kim Lingo and Sue Malloy

OC 2 Collage OC 3 Collage

Last, here are images of various studio instructors’ work: Jillian O’Dwyer (that’s me!), Gary Lett and Kristen Erickson

OC 4 Collage

The exhibit was installed and planned by Heidi and Mary and I think they did a wonderful job! A big thank you to everyone who attended the fair and stopped by the Visual Arts Gallery during their visit.

My mounted plates can be purchased on my Etsy Shop by clicking here!

Deja Vu

“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.” – Chuck Close

I recently ran across the above quote from Chuck Close a few weeks back and it absolutely describes my work process. Yes, there are times when I get inspired by things outside of my work process, but when it comes to the actual translation? The actual piece I create to convey my idea? It is absolutely always found through the act of making.

As I sit back and look at all of the plates I created this past month for a show, I realize that so much of what was created was born out of all of the months of making that came before them.

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Take these plates shown above, all of them have shoe prints. In fact, a good five or six plates from this most recent group have shoe prints … most of them my shoe. Using the textures found on the bottom of shoes started for me years ago when I first came across the work of Jim and Nan McKinnell. They used shoe prints for texture and I had all of my students making “tramp” pots of we called them.

I’ve made shoe print based work off and on over the years and in January installed a show of plates with all of them based on collected shoe prints. Its actually one of my favorite ways to work when I can start from a place completely out of my control. I have no idea what people’s shoes look like before they step on the clay. I have no idea how they’ll step.

Here I am creating plates and patterns, because I do now have a specific pattern for my own shoe, very intentionally from shoes in the studio.

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Then there are the plates like these three above that feature tire tracks, bottle cap stripes and pinstripe lines just like so many of my planters. I felt during the making process for so many of these plates that I was often drawn back to many of the textures I used on my planters. I might have used them in slightly different ways. They might be combined and mixed with my past favorite patterns.

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Or these plates that are definitely a throw back to my series inspired by watch gears from last year. All of my plates for that series were round to echo the circular nature of gears, but I find I like the off-center slices of these texture patterns. We never quite see the whole thing and are left to wonder what we might be missing.

Its so interesting to be able to look back and see how your past work has influenced your current work. I can tell you that its not even intentional. When I’m creating, its only in rare cases that I specifically work a texture design into a new piece. More often, its a melding, a remixing of old and new. Each time I work with clay whether its as a demo for one of my classes or creating my own work a mental sketch book page gets added for future use.

There Is No Cheating in Art

Merriam-Webster defines cheating as breaking a rule or law usually to gain an advantage at something. I love this definition – free, as it is, from the negative connotation often associated with cheating. Is all rule breakage really wrong? Is gaining an advantage unfair, as the connotation implies?

Now, I’m not talking here about the rest of Merriam-Webster’s definition of cheating that involves taking something from someone by lying or preventing someone from having something they expected to get. Those definitions of cheating are where the negative connotation originates.

How often have you discovered a rule or step in a process that was unnecessary to complete it?

I remember a time when I was working in the studio, making mugs, and a field trip visiting the museum walked through. They were all students in a ceramics class and as they watched me attach a bottom to the mug I was working on, one of them spoke up.

“Don’t you have to cut the bottom bigger than the opening to ensure it stays attached?”

“Nope,” I replied.

I think I blew his mind. It can be unfathomable sometimes to even imagine questioning or changing a process once we’ve been taught it a certain way. Yet this mindset can be an enemy of art, or any creative endeavor.

So much of my work is this kind of “cheat.” Its not unusual for me to break the rules on the tried and true. No where is this more evident than in my approach to glazing.

It all started a couple of years ago when I was trying to re-create the look of stained glass on the surface of my work. It seemed only natural to use a process called cuerda seca that uses a colored wax (typically black) to separate the glaze colors. Since the drawn line is a wax, it is possible to use small squeeze bottles to apply the glaze as the wax resists the glaze from going where you don’t want it.

The wax, however, is a pain in the you-know-what to use and I hated having all of those little squeeze bottles to clean. So, I taught myself how to successfully brush on glaze that isn’t meant to be brushed and re-create the cuerda seca look without all of wax and multitudes of tiny bottles.

That learning process serves me well today. All of my trial and error allows me to apply glaze easily in the manner that best suits the work. My current highly textured work is only enhanced by the ability to brush on different glaze colors where I want them to be.

Many studio folks are amazed when they see my glazed work for the first time. They never quite believe me when I tell them I don’t mix up my own glazes and that all of the ones I use are available for general studio use.

It just goes to show that sometimes it pays to cheat.


Form vs Surface

A few years back, when I was first starting out creating work full time, a really insightful individual at the studio asked me why I felt the need to create functional work. We had been discussing a series of mugs, these great wonky and tipsy mugs, I was creating at the time. Why did they need to be functional? Why couldn’t they be sculptural? Why was I limiting my art by boxing myself into the “functional” category?

That talk ranks up there as one of the more interesting conversations I’ve ever had about my work. That gentleman was more on point about the direction my work was going than I could have ever understood back then.

I’ve always considered myself a functional potter. I make things that people can use whether its for food, keys or plants, each piece can be utilized in some way. My work has not been, and probably will never be, traditional functional work. I’m not trying to compete with the perfection of a well thrown cereal bowl, but instead strive to create something as decorative as it is utilitarian.

There, right there was the crux of that conversation all those years ago. Form versus surface – which is more important to the piece of work being created? Some ceramic artists are masters at form, some at surface decoration and some, a rare few in my opinion, capture the holy grail of both in their work.

Its taken me all this time – four years to be exact – to come to the realization that I AM boxing myself in with my insistence on functionality.

Now before those of you who enjoy my work panic, I’m not planning to completely abandon functional work. I’m just starting to view my work from a different perspective. Its actually the right perspective – one that I’ve heard over and over these past years. Given the number of customer conversations I’ve had about how to hang my plates on walls you’d think I would have realized all of this sooner. Doh!

The most important aspect of my work in the texture design, the form that creates mystery in that design and the glazing that highlights it. Form, for me, is pretty much secondary. There is a lot of freedom in this realization as well as a focus on what really matters in the forms I do create to showcase my surfaces. I can’t wait to see where I go next with this in mind.

Inspiration for GEARED

One of the more interesting aspects of being an artist is trying to distill your inspiration source, thoughts, ideas, etc for a show into a short and sweet artist statement. Enjoy a little preview here!SAM_0558In GEARED, I explore the interplay between the natural world’s shapes and the structured workings of pocket watches. It might seem like a strange juxtaposition, but the more I researched the gears of pocket watches the less unusual it became.

I am intrigued by the kinetic energy built up through the manual watch winding process. Taking the back off of a pocket watch and observing the movements of the gears, the pulsing of the mainspring, is mesmerizing. There is almost a sense of aliveness in the sensory experience from engaging in the interactions between all the gears.

When I am recreating a single gear, my goal is to capture a circular pattern while introducing the beauty of imperfection from the natural world. The viewer may find the imagery less mechanical than expected. In my quest to evoke the stored power of the gears I have relied upon softer, organic patterns. The lines that are created from these unique designs radiate a directional and pulsating abstraction. From imprinting the texture to the orientation of the gear, I have encouraged the viewer to investigate all sides of the form.

It is that sense of aliveness of the gears that I hope to capture in my work.

Opening reception is August 8th from 6-9 pm at The Studio Artists’ Gallery. Check out all of the details here.



The Good &%^*

Hello, my name is Jillian and I am a pack rat. This is especially true when it comes to clay tools and materials.

Do I need 30 wooden paddles?

Do I need the box full of found objects for texture?

Probably not, but I’m incapable of getting rid of them. It’s all too easy for me to think that someday I’ll need any one of the tools and materials that I’m saving for that special project.

Among my stash are two containers of dried up glaze I’ve had since about 2011, 2012. The first is a lovely yellow matte glaze manufactured by Laguna Clay Company that has since been discontinued. Since it was sold already mixed, I don’t know the glaze recipe to recreate it. The second is a truly amazing Amber Celadon glaze that flashes blue. Unfortunately it contains a material that is no longer mined.

072Once these two containers are used up – that’s it, they’re gone. No more lovely yellow matte, no more flashes of blue in amber depths. So, I’ve been sitting on them for years waiting for a special project. A body of work worthy of using up the last of these two glazes.

The Studio Director at AMOCA and I were reminiscing earlier this week about when the studio first opened. There were significantly fewer people using the studio and we had time to do all sorts of crazy projects … among them was trying to recreate that discontinued yellow matte glaze.

It was during this conversation that all of sudden it hit me … NOW was the time I had been waiting for to use these two glazes.

For those who haven’t heard, I’m currently working on a body of work for my first solo show that will open on August 8th. If my first solo show wasn’t a “special occasion,” then I don’t know what else could qualify.

I wrapped up the glazing of my work for my show this past weekend and loaded the first batch of pieces into the kiln with the hoarded glazes on them yesterday. I can’t wait for them to come out of the kiln!

Come see my hoarded glazes yourself on August 8th from 6-9 pm when my show, “GEARED,” opens at The Studio Artists’ Gallery at AMOCA.