A day in the life of ceramics artist and MFA candidate Jen Dwyer.
Jen Dwyer grew up in California and received dual degrees in Ceramics and Environmental Science from Washington University in Seattle. She has been awarded numerous grants, scholarships and fellowships, including the Pottery Center in Jingdezhen, China; Salem Art Works, in upstate New York; Trestle Gallery Residency program in Brooklyn; and Kala Arts Center in Berkeley, CA. Prior to starting graduate school, Dwyer was based in Brooklyn. Currently Jen is navigating life in graduate school at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Here is a look inside an average day.
Wake up, immediately turn on ‘Calm’ (used headspace all last year but this year I’m trying out a new app) meditate for 10-15 mins. Make and drink a smoothie and coffee out of my favorite Ehren Tool mug, pack my lunch (and dinner) go to the gym or a long run around our lakes on campus if it’s a weekend, I’m currently in my third year in a three year MFA program at University of Notre Dame.
9-10 Recently I’ve started exercising in the morning and it’s made a huge difference in not only my overall mental health but also productivity. I find it’s easier for me to concentrate and be present in and out of the studio.
Like I said, I’m currently in my third year of a three year Master of Fine Arts Program at University of Notre Dame, so my days are structured by my program. Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays I teach an undergraduate studio art class. I get to my studio which is next door to the undergraduate ceramics studio, and have my second cup of coffee. Our third year is also our thesis year, so I’m currently working towards my thesis exhibition and paper that I will present and defend in the Spring. Although our teaching is an exchange for our stipend, I’ve actually realized that I really enjoy teaching college level. I taught elementary and middle school part time for years, before grad school (on top of bartending and trying to cultivate a studio practice in Brooklyn for a few years) before graduate school and learned that I don’t really enjoy teaching younger kids. But undergrads are great, not only are the class sizes smaller but I’ve found there is more of a naturally mentorship that happens with them. Plus I can give them outside of class assignments and they don’t complain, they just do it 🙂
I go outside for lunch. Although I always bring my own food, both because I find it’s easier to eat healthier if I cook my own food but I can also save money. That’s something that I would recommend to younger artists- eat really well- take care of your body and save money! Know your budget- so you can protect your time and make more art that way, knowing how many days you need to work to maintain a studio practice (I wish I had done that earlier- rather than work three different jobs living in New York). Also giving you a cushion can give you more freedom and flexibility to take advantage of good opportunities that arise, for example a show, residencies, or move- even if you receive funding for opportunities there will inevitably be hidden costs so really knowing your budget can be super helpful (something I’m still working on.) My favorite place to eat on campus is by the foundation- especially while the weather is still nice. I’ll also say as stressful as grad school is, the people in my program are really wonderful- that’s something I think about for life after graduate school- how I can continue to make around a supportive art community. I’m really introverted but I also get lonely really easily, so the balance of needing other people, particularly artists who can deeply empathize with this kinda indescribable need to make art, is really nice. We have our own studios in school, which can be great, it’s more space than I’ve ever had for my practice, but I also miss living in Brooklyn and sharing a studio with friends and working around a group of people. I will say as much as I love other art forms, especially painting which I’ve recently fallen for, ceramics has a unique built in community that I love and definitely initially took to because of that communal aspect. In school though I’ve found if you leave your door open someone will eventually keep you company, and then you can close it if you need to read, write, etc.
12pm to 3 or 4pm
I usually respond to emails, read and or write my thesis, or work on other applications and wishing I was in my studio 😉 Being in my last year of grad school, I’m thinking ahead to next year and think about what those options are. However I think a big part of being an artist is the admin. element, which I feel like gets overlooked a lot. But I feel like it would be easy to be on your computer day just trying to get organized- so I’ve tried to give myself a cut off time to really protect my studio time.
I usually sculpt from 4pm ish to midnight.
I always like to start with a sketch, an amalgamation of photos – online or printed out, that I collect inspired by whatever I’ve read recently, complimented by lived experiences. I draw inspiration from a multitude of sources, to create fanciful porcelain mirror frames, candelabras and miscellaneous vessels or other 18th century porcelain objects as a starting points. I then merge iconography from antiquity, rococo, pop, surrealism and the uncanny, infused with contemporary feminist themes- all teeming with references to notable women throughout art history, mainstream entertainment, Greek mythology, and contemporary girlhood culture. Here is a photo of my current studio and the resources I’ve been looking at.
I also have my first upcoming solo show at Lucas Lucas Gallery (opening Oct 18 6-9pm on View through Nov 18- Co curated by Stacie Lucas and Nathalie Levey.) I’ve been been hustling to make a few last sculptures for the show.
I’m never a proponent of rushing, but deadlines can be nice to really finish a piece. That is another thing about ceramics, I’ve found that because I have to fire pieces twice,I will often put off glazing until I have a handful of sculptures. To be fair, it saves energy if you pack the kiln so it is important to have enough work to fill. But I think that’s another reason I’ve started painting, both to be able to create this environment, or Alice and Wonderland like Utopian Dream world for all of my sculptures, but also the immediacy of the painting is really cool! The color you apply to the canvas will hardly change, unlike glaze that can dramatically change from application to a fired surface.
After I have my ideas and sources then I’ll create a sketch of what I’m thinking. Here are a few recent sketches of pieces.
Then I’ll start making, my current practice involves a handful of techniques- including hand building, throwing, slip casting, burnouts (dipping lace in slip and firing out the fabric in the kiln) as well as decals, underglazes, glazes and lusters. There are many reasons I love ceramics- but the endless possibilities in the making of a piece if definitely one of them. After I’ve collected my resources, visual and literary, and done a sketch, I start building. I like to leave my studio door open at that point, our program is really small but inevitably someone will come in and chat with me. That’s something I’ve thought a lot about- where my studio will exist after graduate school, I really love being surrounded by other artists, not also the dialogue that arises when your in the middle of a piece and to hear others thoughts about it but also the social environment. Studio life can be really lonely, I hope I can find a studio with other active artists, similar to my graduate school experience to continue to have a community around me while I create.
Beginning stages of a new piece:
During the day- I listen to podcasts and music- dance my way through the day, and late in the evening I’ll turn on Netflix.
Midnight – 1am
I’ve been trying to force myself to leave the studio at midnight, though it can be hard, I often want to keep sculpting into the night but then I think about the next day, and especially when I’m teaching, if I haven’t gotten six hours of sleep I can be grumpy.
Midnight leave the studio- get home wash up and then I’ve always been an avid writer- and it’s usually just about my feelings reflecting on the day (I’m a pisces so I have all of the feelings) but since I started graduate school my sketch book, notebook and journal have all become one- so I’ve been trying to write more about my practice/ life in general and blend the two- though in school I find it does feel like there can be a fine line in the boundaries between the two (art and school) I’m excited (and nervous) to see how my artmaking/ life will evolve after school 🙂