All photos in this post are courtesy Michelle Katz.
Today we pay a visit to Michelle (Mishy) Katz, owner of Desert Dragon Pottery studio in Phoenix. Mishy produces one-of-a-kind clay artwork, handmade tile and functional pottery for everyday use, as well as collaborating with customers and teaching students to design artwork and pottery for their needs.
Mishy was recently featured on the America Creates site, and her studio recently joined forces with All the Hands Studio to create the largest private pottery teaching studio in Arizona. She has an upbeat, passionate approach to her artwork and life, and you’ll enjoy hearing a few of the secrets to a creatively productive life she shared with us in the following interview!
Tell us about your creative pursuits, paid and unpaid.
Creativity has become a mode of operation, a way in which I see the world and the things that make up the world. Creativity is present in all of life. For example, one of the most fulfilling creative pursuits in my life has been the raising of my children.
I am compelled to pursue learning to create certain forms in clay, or to build kilns, and to continue learning many varied processes associated with my craft, such as glaze experimentation, working with new types of clay bodies or firing techniques. Commissions and custom orders can sometimes involve challenges that stretch your creative energies and feed your artistic spirit in unexpected ways.
Do you have any formal training in your creative discipline(s)? Do you feel training is important in creative development?
I have a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Ceramics from Arizona State University. I feel training is helpful to creative development when the student is open to it.
I have known many incredible self-taught artists, but they did receive training in unusual ways – with a mentor, by reading and observing, or by obsessing and persisting long enough to get past the initial learning period and advancing.
Formal training can be a strong boost if received at a time when the artist is able to benefit from it. In my work, I find I rely a lot on my training and as much on my 30 years of experience working in the field. Motivation and persistence can be successful, but formal training gives you more tools and techniques to pull from.
What habits do you cultivate to facilitate your creative “flow”?
I try consciously not to stress about ongoing challenges in life (bills, cleaning, kids or whatever) to allow my head to be clear and open to ideas or inspirations that might otherwise go unnoticed. I try to live a reasonably healthy lifestyle so I feel physically good balanced with treating myself occasionally for a mental/emotional boost. Walking or hiking seems to be a really helpful way of opening up creative flow for me personally.
What advice would you give to a “blocked” artist in your discipline to free up their creative energies?
When you feel blocked, go into the studio and make something that comes easily, something you enjoy making that does not take a lot of intensity and allow your thoughts to flow. Follow any inspiration that comes along, even if it may seem absurd. Don’t ignore signals that seem outside the realm of what you do.
Which artistic projects are you working on excite you the most right now?
We are in the midst of a studio transformation and a combination of two studios that has demanded a lot of creative and spiritual energy but has resulted in an extremely exciting new space for artists to share and use to create work. My studio partner and I did most of the construction work ourselves, with lots of volunteer time and effort given by customers and friends and using mostly recycled materials.
The new working space has allowed for us to work more closely as artistic partners and offer a better opportunity for our customers and students to learn and work. More specifically, we take on some interesting commissions and special orders that have their own challenges and are intriguing in different ways. We work closely in collaboration for most of the creative work we do, with some individual work, usually involving at least consultation if not shared hands-on work.
For example, recently we created a custom grapefruit juicer. We had the freedom to use our own design, within the parameters of (the end result) being a functional juicer, and are now developing a mold so we can manufacture them in quantities for the customer. We are also working with a massage therapist creating hollow porcelain stones he can keep hot longer by using a chemical reaction to improve on the standard hot-stone therapy method. Each project seems to have its own challenge and intrigue.
How do you select your creative projects?
We accept commissions and custom orders that are offered that seem to be within our capabilities. Personal projects are chosen by pursuing inspiration from ideas or processes or subject matter we are passionate about, and following the paths we seem to be led on from there.
What elements of a potential project tend to intrigue you the most?
The challenge of learning new processes and the satisfaction of using previously learned processes. Pushing our abilities.
Any other advice to artists to help them create more effortlessly?
Value yourself and your time. Think things through and try to see the big picture, but don’t over-think things – pay attention to your instincts and intuition. Don’t be afraid to seek advice, support and help from fellow artists and mentors to help you pursue your work.
To learn more about Mishy Katz and her work, visit her Desert Dragon Pottery website.