Nicholas is based in Tacoma Washington, he teaches art full time at Charles Wright Academy, along with coaching the school golf team. He makes his work in his converted garage, usually with the stereo on a little loud. He received his B.F.A and B.A from the University of Washington and his M.F.A. from Ohio University. Following his passion for ceramics, he worked as an artist-in-residence first at Red Lodge Clay Center and then at the Archie Bray Foundation where he received the Matsutani Fellowship. He was selected as a Ceramics Monthly Emerging Artist, and as an NCECA Emerging Artist.
In his ceramic practice Nicholas makes highly functional, uniquely handmade objects for use. The refined and accurate aesthetic found in his work is abstracted from his appreciation for all things precisely done with style. His ceramic pieces are high-fire slip cast porcelain and glaze.
Every once in a while, someone teaching ceramics assigns students a research project based on artists featured on ArtAxis and I get a few questions. Here are the most popular ones:
What inspires your work?
Generally, I believe Chuck Close when he said;
“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”
I am motivated to make functional pots by the resulting feelings from using functional, handmade, pieces of art. The non-verbal communication visual and tactile art is capable of gets past a lot of confusion for me.
What influences your work?
I willingly let everything in my life influence my artwork. At times, I feel I express my feelings most accuratly through the objects I make. I know what I like when I see it, and I try to bring cool things into my work. Within art, I look hard at DeStijl, Minimalism, Art Deco, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Santiago Calatrava among others. Outside the art field I source Razzle Dazzle camouflage, snow/skate/bike/athletics cultures, and all (what used to be) counter-culture styles. When I’m making decisions with each piece, I try to use everything that I’ve seen in the field of ceramics as a rulebook for what I should not make, because it already exists. I want to try and find the new, and in a medium like Ceramics with its very long history, that is a tremendous challenge that I greatly enjoy.
What historical period of ceramics do you look at most and why?
Greek pots from 5 – 4 BC, red clay with black slip sgraffito. The ones in The Met. Those silouettes can portray amazing stories.
Ban Chiang. The forms are dynamic and the geometric surface motifs enhance eachother.
Minimalism, DeStijl, Suprematism, and a whole lot of Modernism.
I also enjoy studying the history of ceramics in industry.
Are your protoforms 3-D printed? Can I see your files?
All of my original shapes are made out of MDF in my woodshop by my hands, so I have no files to offer.
What kinds of methods do you use to create your work?
All of my forms start with good ol’fashoned pencil and paper 2-D orthographic projection drawings. I utilize mechanical drawing tools such as a drafting table and sliding square, and I cherry pick from those skills to get to a resolved plan on paper. I then build the form in the woodshop using an array of woodworking techniques. Once I have the form made, I make plaster molds, then slipcast the objects. I calculate all of my own clays and glazes, so some chemistry as well. When addressing the surface, I use a variety of techniques, including underglazes and decals, but the primary technique is glaze. The screen printed underglazes and the overglaze decals I use start as sketches on paper, then go digital into Illustrator, and are hired out to be printed in color. Finally, a lot of photography work to make the images that go out to a larger audience, and website design to share online.
Describe your favorite ceramic piece- either yours or by another artist.
Kazimir Malevich’s locomotive teapot. He designed it in what might be the first artist-in-residence-in-industry program ever at the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory. Looking at that pot gave me a lot of freedom in thinking about shapes that originate from outside the potters wheel.
How many pots do you think you’ve made in your life?
My high school students ask me this annually. My answer to them is more every month. Grand total, I’m guessing I’m in the low tens-of-thousands, most of which are in various shard piles around the US. I’ve always scrapped more than I’ve kept to preserve quality standards. The number of pots I’m really proud of is how many pieces I’ve helped others make throughout my teaching career.
What clay and glazes do you use? Can I have the recipes?
I make all of my clays and glazes from composite source materials. I research, calculate, test, respond, recalculate, and test again on a repeating cycle in an effort to be constantly evolving. I am active on Glazy.org, you are welcome to find and use my recipes for clay and glazes there. If you do so, I appreciate attribution and would love to hear about your results on Glazy so others may learn from our experiences as well.
How has your practice influenced your life, and how does your life influence your practice?
It’s impossible for to me to clearly delineate what is my life vs what are my influences as my work stems from acts of living life. My studio practice has influenced my life dramatically once I committed to it at the end of college. I moved from California to Washington to Alaska to Ohio to Montana and back to Washington all in the name of my practice. All of the places I lived, most of the people I’ve met (including my wife), are a result of me chasing my artistic dreams. I see the most important aspects of my life reflected in my work. I see a lot of hard work through repetition resulting in refined objects. The same way hardship over the years has matured and refined me, hard work and continued effort have refined my artwork.
When did you first begin working in clay?
I started with clay on the dining room table after dinner when I was young. My mom loved making things, and clay was one of many media we played with over the years. In high school I learned to throw on the wheel and that changed my life. Working on the wheel was magic for me. Then it took me a little while to find my way to the art department in college, but once I did I never looked back.
Are there any specific political/environmental/economic/social issues that influence the content of your work?
No, I’m not interested in making those types of statements with my studio practice. I do believe Black Lives Matter, I stand as an ally for all LBGTQ+ people, and I vote.
Why ceramics over other mediums?
I love clay, in all forms. I think clay might be the most versatile material I’ve ever worked with, and one of my favorite things about the material is how many different ways different people can expresses themselves with it. I see clay as a demanding material, one that we have to agree with to get along with under its own terms. Clay won’t do anything we wish it to, and over time I have come to greatly enjoy practicing empathy with an art material. Ceramics is also very complex in terms of the technical aspects, which I love delving into and trying to figure out. There’s always a problem to solve or an improvement to be made. I have a continuing interest in making functional objects, and ceramics is an ideal medium from a durability and creative perspective.
What is your favorite aspect of being a ceramicist, what is the worst aspect?
My favorite time is opening the glaze kiln and seeing if it worked. Worst aspect has changed over the years, initially it was opening the kiln and seeing all the mistakes I made. Over time I got better, and the ratio of failures to successes got better. Now, my least favorite aspect of ceramics is the low prices of ceramics compared to other media.