I’m A Ceramicist Who Fell In Love With Clay
My name is Fawn Penn
I’ve always done craft in some sense of the word. Being profoundly drawn to clay and rocks, it felt like a natural progression. Many days were spent painting, doing digital art, drawing, and anything else I could get my hands on. I didn’t find clay until college. After taking a class my first year, nothing else interest me. Someday I want to learn wood-firing ceramics, learning to work with the living creature of a wood kiln. I’ve done the manual gas firings before, but the woodfire is something that speaks to me.
After 2020 Graduation
I graduated from The School of Art Institute and received the Windgate-Lamar Fellowship. Wanting to put it towards something within the ceramics community, together with co-founder Zoe Minzenberger, The Digs Chicago launched in the winter of that year. The Digs hosts ceramic classes, workshops, and events. It is home to nine resident artists and ten members. We’re still learning a lot about the nonprofit world. I’ll say that the organizational structure is collaborative and requires ample time and communication. We’ve been fortunate to receive support from the community since The Digs opened its doors.
Lessons In Ceramics
I’ve learned so much from clay through the years, and have a lifetime more to learn from it. Ceramics taught me how to accept failure. There have been times when I put my heart into unsalvageable pieces. Every imperfect piece, and it has such value in the process and life have been teachable moments. Clay grounds me to step forth with confidence. I find intimacy, touch, and connection; clay is much like working with a loved one.
“I feel I’ve learned so much from clay through the years, and I have a lifetime more to learn from it.”F. Penn
Chicago’s Thriving Ceramics Community
There are plenty of opportunities to work in studios around the city. My organization identifies as a queer-focused community studio based in West Town. I would like to see more queer, non-binary, and BIPOC-led studios. Also, I’d love to see ceramics entering the art world as a whole and moving beyond utilitarianism. The current ceramics culture is stagnant with old ideas, which brings discomfort to the younger artists in the community. Organizations like Queeramics and The Color Network are doing vital work to redefine our culture to be accessible for all.
Misconceptions of Ceramics
The internet super romanticizes it. Beginners expect it to be satisfying and relaxing the first day, only to find it takes a lot of strength and skill. Newbies should be patient and expect the unexpected. Once a piece enters the kiln, it’s a collaboration between you and the equipment. Ceramics goes beyond building an object. The chemistry and mechanics involved are what keep me engaged with the material. There’s always a lesson in working with clay.
Ceramics is an expensive craft. Cost includes clay, glaze, raw materials, tools, equipment (wheel, kiln, and slab roller), and electricity. Pricing depends on public demand and supply chain. For example, due to supply shortages, there’s been an increase in canceled orders. Kilns have been back-ordered due to an influx of potters moving to a home studio during the pandemic. Community studios are a staple of ceramics, as artists need to work together to split costs.
I would love to collaborate with Katie Stout, who’s known for making clay furniture. Sometimes I make functional ceramics and large sculptural wares, but I look to architecture and furniture for inspiration. Katie’s ability to create something fresh and hold the energy of the making process through its life is what I adore.
Quotes I Go By
When I’m working, I often have phrases flash into my mind. Some are memorable critiques from professors and mentors. I always mind my handles and rims and hold that feedback close to my heart when creating. It’s a good reminder to always be mindful of all parts of the form.
My favorite quote is, “The potter’s best tool is a hammer.”
Fawn teaches monthly beginner wheel throwing classes, pet bowls, and jewelry workshops. The Dig plans to host classes on lamp making, fermentation jars, advanced wheel throwing, and a bong workshop in the future. More classes, workshops, and events can be found on www.thedigschicago.com or follow them on Instagram @thedigschicago