Today we’re joined by Sally Jenks. Sally works with clay and makes functional work and sculpture. They have their own studio called White Feather Studio and their work is absolutely gorgeous. The octopus was a particular favorite. My thanks to them for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
I’m a ceramic artist and I work primarily with stoneware clay. The majority of my work is functional (cups, mugs, bowls, vases, etc.) but I also produce pieces that are decorative or sculptural, so I kind of have two related but different bodies of work to talk about.
I have a B.A. in studio art and art history, and earned a M.A. in museum studies and a Certificate of Advanced Study in cultural heritage preservation. I now have a home studio in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and work as a ceramic artist full time.
What inspires you?
My most obvious inspiration is nature. I use a lot of natural textures and organic forms in my sculptural and decorative work. I’m currently working on a project with the Land Conservancy of West Michigan in which selected local artists are visiting natural sites and creating art in response to the preserves. (more information here: http://www.naturenearby.org/preserved/)
I have really varied interests that work themselves into my art. For example, I collect vintage books and I’ve started incorporating vintage images in my work. I think in general my sources of inspiration tend to be some combination of odd vintage, morbid, and humorous.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I’ve always been into art and making things. I did a lot of crafts and art projects with my mom when I was a kid, and I was always encouraged to pursue whatever interested me. I took a ceramics class at a local community arts center when I was probably 15 (I’m 29 now), and that was kind of it for me. At some point I realized that I’d always have to work in clay, even if it was just a hobby. I did have a period of denial where I felt like I had to have a “real” career, but then I couldn’t find a real job so I went back to making art and now that is my real job.
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in our work that you’d be willing to reveal?
I think the most notable feature of my work is my use of texture. With hand built pieces I often use strong natural textures like tree bark or weathered wood. Then with my wheel thrown functional pieces I include texture in details, for example the handles of my mugs are textured, usually with simple diamond or spiral patterns, or to look like wood or a tree branch.
I also keep my forms simple, and for me that has a few uses. With my functional work, I want the use to be the focus – to me a functional piece is utilitarian, but it’s also a handmade piece of art, and the art should enhance the experience of using it. Then my decorative or sculptural work focuses on texture and I don’t like to have a complex form with a strong surface texture. Ultimately I feel like either the form or the surface should be the dominant feature.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
Be willing to experiment. If you have an idea for a project, then go for it and if it doesn’t work maybe it will inspire something else. Or maybe it’ll be a mess and you’ll have a funny story. Either way, be open to experimenting with materials.
I also recommend joining an art group. It can be intimidating to put yourself out there as an artist, but joining an art club or a community art organization can be really rewarding and provide many opportunities and resources like calls for entries, workshops, and group activities.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
I haven’t really come out as asexual, mostly because it hasn’t come up and I haven’t felt ready to initiate that conversation. Though if it came up organically, or if someone asked, I would be open about it.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
I haven’t personally encountered anything too offensive; mostly people either aren’t aware of asexuality or have a very generalized idea of it. The most common misconception I’ve seen is that asexuality is just a point on the spectrum of sexual orientation and every asexual person has the same experience, when it really varies from person to person.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
Having moments where you’re insecure or unsure of your orientation does not make it less valid. I’ve identified as asexual for about 2 years, but before that I spent about 15 years trying to figure out what was wrong with me because I didn’t feel or want the same things as everyone else. I’m comfortable in my asexuality most of the time, but I was in that “why am I different from everyone, what’s wrong with me” state of mind for so long, that it’s still easy to fall back into. It’s perfectly valid to question, but try to keep it from turning negative.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
My work can be found on my art Tumblr (whitefeatherstudio.tumblr.com), my Facebook page (facebook.com/studiowhitefeather), and I have a website with an online store (whitefeatherceramics.com). I’m also on Instagram (@whitefeatherstudio), but I mostly post work in progress there.
If you want to see me/my work in person, I show at art fairs and other events throughout the year – mostly in the West Michigan area – and my current schedule can be found on my website, Facebook, and Tumblr pages.
Thank you so much, Sally, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.