Artist Stephanie May (McGowan) breathes playfulness into her hand-built, vibrant ceramics. Gathering inspiration from her daily rituals, Stephanie explores themes such as water, movement and connection as she enters a meditative state to create emotional objects that spark joy and curiosity. In our chat she talks about how working directly with the clay connects her to the rawness of nature and grounds her; sharing her favourite parts of the creative process and how she overcomes challenges in her practice.
When I’m making I am in a state of meditative play, I feel so present in the moment and it’s like I am connected to the clay.
Talk to us about your playful ceramics, what is the inspiration and meaning behind them?
The intention of the playfulness in my work hopes to inspire the joy in living, play is really important to me, in my work and in life. I believe in practicing moments of play in everyday life. I believe these moments bring us joy and have the power to affect our overall well being.
My current ceramics Collection ‘In Waves’ was inspired by the slow paced, yet restless atmosphere that lockdown and the pandemic created. Lockdown forced us all to stay at home, creating a peaceful monotony in day-to-day life as we witnessed the same four walls day in, day out. Water is the source of many of my daily rituals; which plays into the work; swimming, bubbles and waves. Visiting the local pool and being by the water were my beloved daily rituals before the pandemic, which obviously wasn’t possible during lockdown so creating work with the essence of water and waves helped bring that home.
I like how your art challenges objects and rituals in our everyday lives. How important are both of these for you in your life?
I believe in the saving power of daily rituals; they help to inform us about who we are and the values we keep. A daily run or home workout informed me of my endurance and strength which softened my feelings of helplessness towards the global pandemic.
Being forced to focus on the same scenes every day led me to examine how we interact with the objects around us. I became increasingly fascinated by the animated daily rituals which rely upon the inanimate. The harmony of our everyday rituals and the objects associated with them became a powerful catalyst for creating emotional objects that spark joy & curiosity. My first ceramic piece created during lockdown (March 2020) was for myself: a bright blue and pink hand-built mug with a love heart shaped handle with hand written text ‘Love Handle’. Drinking from this mug every morning was a daily reminder to practice self-love.
Walk us through your creative process … what are the different stages of your work?
My practice combines a process of drawing, printmaking, and ceramics. My favourite place to draw is outside, around the city and I love to use a view-finder to find the abstract shapes in the familiarity that surrounds us. Working with collage is a big part of my process, drawing with scissors allows me to explore and create naive shapes with incongruous characteristics that later come to life in the form of sculptural homewares.
I use traditional hand-building techniques to create the ceramics – I love slab constructing as the possibilities are nearly endless. Working directly with my hands also highlights the nature of the raw materials and these marks contribute to the uniqueness of each piece.
The process of ceramics is incredibly satisfying seeing the raw clay transform into ceramic after its first firing before being glazed and fired a final time giving the pieces their glossy finish is incredibly rewarding.
The intention of the playfulness in my work hopes to inspire the joy in living, play is really important to me, in my work and in life.
How and where do you like to work? Do you have any art rituals?
I work from my studio in Glasgow which I share with other artists. There’s an amazing sense of community and we all champion each other. They have become my second family.
How I start the day impacts on the rest of my day. I cycle to the studio which ignites creative energy for the day and keeps me alert and mindful. I also believe that communication is important and I make time for a socially distant morning cup of tea and a catch up with my studio peers before getting to work.
Movement also inspires a lot of how I work – I love to listen to music and sometimes dance along as I am working. It brings a new energy to the process of making which I find refreshing. Running a few times a week also prolongs my creativity energy for the rest of the day. My ritual for the end of the day is to clean my space, it really helps to clear my mind for the day and I find it super relaxing.
What are some of the challenges you typically face in your practice and how do you overcome this?
There’s so much to learn with ceramics so I am constantly facing new challenges, but learning to overcome them is gratifying. Sometimes it can be frustrating to grasp a new technique or when a glaze doesn’t work; There’s actually a lot of science involved in ceramics so there’s a lot to wrap your head around! On occasions something will come out of the kiln not as I expected but that can sometimes be the joy of it too! I try to be mindful of overexerting myself so if frustration arises I’ve learnt to create space from the task at hand and go for a walk or come back to it another day.
I believe in the saving power of daily rituals; they help to inform us about who we are and the values we keep.
How does art and creativity affect your overall well-being?
When I’m making I am in a state of meditative play, I feel so present in the moment and it’s like I am connected to the clay. The processes involved with making ceramics are deeply satisfying. I feel so lucky to be working with my hands using age-old techniques in a crazy and technologically advanced world. It keeps me sane!
And lastly, what does art & creativity mean for you?
Creating art allows me to access a meditative state of mind and I believe practising it has the transformative power to change our overall well-being.
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