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DAMON J. THOMAS


What clay body do you use?

"Grande is my go-to clay body for most work, especially large pieces. It’s very groggy and sandy, but still has a nice plasticity. I’ve never had a structural problem building or firing with Grande, so I like to recommend it, especially since it’s one of our native Texas clays from Armadillo. Grande is a Cone 10 clay but I fire it to Cone 6 and sometimes lower. I break quite a few “rules” that might scandalize some purists, but I’ve learned these techniques from artists I greatly admire, like Debra Fritts, and they work for me.

Buffalo Wallow was the first clay I ever used, and it’s still like a first love. I use it occasionally for small to medium pieces. I love its butter-like feel and warm color."


Primary forming method?

"Most of the time I work with slabs, anywhere from ¼ to ½ inch thick, depending on the piece.

I love to work with thick handmade coils, because I enjoy the tactile feeling of rolling the coils out and flattening them by hand. I only do this with small to midsize pieces, though, since the weight adds up very quickly and can become very cumbersome for larger works.  

I also use press molds to make multiples. This comes into play when I need a series of identical faces or other components for an assembled piece. Press molding is a good way to keep wall-mounted pieces as light as possible, since you can get a much thinner wall. I’ve never had the patience for slip casting.

    In my entire art career, I think I’ve had less than an hour total on the wheel. I’m definitely a hand builder."


    Primary firing temperature?

    "I’d say about 65-70% of my work is low fire. I fire to Cone 06 when I’m going to pit-fire a piece, and to 04 for low fire glaze. The rest of my work is Cone 6, and that’s my happy place, especially for outdoor pieces. Very rarely, I’ll fire a piece to Cone 10."


    Favorite surface treatment?

    "I like to keep evolving, but if I had to pick a favorite glaze, it’s a Cone 6 gunmetal black glaze I got from the book, “Smashing Glazes.” It’s 25% wood ash and in an electric kiln, you get a soft matte black with very subtle specks of color. I also love to pit-fire some pieces, including glazed pieces to give them a crackled, smoky appearance.

    More and more, I’ve been using paint, ink and other cold media on my surfaces, and I’ve been very satisfied with the results. I think some ceramic artists, even non-functional sculptors, grapple with the idea that they need to be “purists” and always use glazes. I’ve struggled with that too, and I’ve been expanding my palette of finishes a lot lately. It’s very liberating, as long as the surface is appropriate for the intended use. For instance, if it’s an outdoor piece, it needs to hold up to the weather."



    Damon w/ Kissing Clowns




    Totem

    with Cone 6 wood ash glaze






    Flywheel





    Homesick



    Favorite Tools?

    "My favorite tools are my hands. I’m happiest when the piece I’m making is large enough that I can use my hands and fingers to form the features of the faces. (Most everything I make has a face.) But I also love my tools. There’s a wood paddle I got from North Carolina years ago. It’s very weathered and coming apart, but I still use it a lot. I also love MudTools ribs and Xiem sculpting tools, especially the little multi-pronged scoring tool. "

    Describe your studio environment.

    "I feel very fortunate that I’m able to work at home for my “day job” (I’m a self-employed writer and marketing consultant) and that my studio is also at home. I converted my detached garage into a studio. On most days, I go back and forth between my desk inside and the studio outside. It’s a wonderful rhythm because often, I just need a few minutes in the studio to add a new coil to a piece, then I go away to let it firm up before adding on again.

    The BEST PART of my studio practice is my studio mate, Lassie, my super smart Sheltie. She keeps me grounded by always being ready to play catch, and she motivates me to keep the floor super clean.

    I love being in my studio, especially since I’ve replaced the old fluorescents with LED lighting, and I’ve added more windows for natural light. It doesn’t have AC, but the heat really doesn’t bother me. I hate working in cold weather, but fortunately we don’t have too many cold days in the year. My favorite times are when I can open up the big doors on two sides of my studio, and let in the air and sunshine.

      I have three big worktables, and I often make large pieces directly on the floor. My slab roller and midsize electric kiln are my other essential pieces of equipment.

      My favorite times are when I get to a very Zen state of “flow” in my studio. It takes work to get there, but it’s worth it.

      Above one doorway in my studio, I have this little piece of gold cardboard that says, “Work Smoothly, Lifetime Peace.” It got that on a trip to Japan several years ago with a group of fellow students at Glassell. A monk handed it to me outside of a temple in Kyoto. When I find myself getting frustrated with something – most likely it’s struggling with proportion or expression – I look up to that paper to remind myself to work smoothly.

      My studio is also a boneyard for found objects waiting their turn to be drafted into my work. Many of these rusty treasures have been given to me by my friend Kiki Neumann, a wonderful local artist."


      Lassie - Damon's Studio Mate 




      Dreamscape




      Found objects from the boneyard

      How/Where do you market and sell your artwork?

      "In the past two years, I’ve been focusing on getting exhibits at galleries and other spaces. Last fall, I had a show at the Jung Center, along with my friend and 2D artist, Ellen Ray. Sales were good, but most of all it was such an honor to be in what to me is an almost sacred space, because the Jungian community is very important to me.

      Also last year, I was honored to be part of the True North sculpture exhibit on Heights Boulevard. That year, Jeff Forster and I had the very first ceramic pieces that had ever been included in the six years of True North. There had been nearly 50 pieces displayed over the years up to that point, and ours were the only ones made of clay, so I thought that was a wonderful moment for our clay community.

      I’ve tried different approaches to selling over the years. From 2016 to 2018, I shared a studio at the Silos on Sawyer with my friend and fellow artist, Mary Aldrich. It was a good experience, but after two years, we decided that being open basically one day a month, for Second Saturday, wasn’t worth renting the studio all month. We used the studio essentially as a gallery space, because we both had our own work studios, and it would have been difficult or impossible to work in ceramic at the Silos anyway.

      I’ve been in several commercial galleries over the years. My first and favorite gallery, in Galveston, closed a few years ago. It’s getting hard for many galleries to stay open. Like so many other businesses, the art business is changing. I like the new model that’s evolving, where artists are able to use social media and other avenues to show and sell their work directly."

      Ocotillo

      Hill Country





      Certificate Show

      Glassell School of Art,  2015





      What sparks your creativity? What drives you to work with clay?

      "Anyone who knows my work knows I love to combine clay with found objects. I took quite a few sculpture classes at Glassell, and I would recommend to any ceramic artist that they study other media. It really does help spark creativity. For me, a found object brings a history that jumpstarts a story. I always grab a found object when it speaks to me. Sometimes, the idea for the piece comes immediately. Other times, it takes years. Most of the pieces in my show at the Jung Center included found objects.

      As for clay, I love the feel of working with moist clay. At that stage, everything is possible and creating is an adventure. I love building much more than glazing. I’ve sometimes joked that I’d be happy to just build my pieces and then hand them off to someone else to glaze. But I’ve made my peace with glazing as well; it’s an important part of the overall process."

      Ancestors II


      Did you come to ceramics from a different career? Tell us about your journey to a ceramics career.

        "I have always been a writer, and my master’s degree is in journalism. I never thought I had any visual art potential, although my father was a very good painter in the self-taught tradition.

        In 2007, I saw an exhibit of large outdoor ceramic sculptures in New Harmony, Indiana, a magical, former Utopian colony near my parents’ hometown of Henderson, Kentucky. The artist was Carol Fleming. Seeing her art ignited something inside me. The scale of the individual pieces, and the overall scale of the installation, moved me and stayed with me.

        Within a few months after returning home, I took a few classes through Leisure Learning at Foelber Pottery. That was where I had my one hour on the wheel.

        Soon after that, I took a few months of lessons from Craig Clark, a great teacher and artist whose specialty is raku. Then, I started classes at Glassell. I “graduated” from Glassell in 2015 with a certificate of achievement, which takes 96 credit hours. A bachelor’s degree is about 120 hours, so it’s a major undertaking. Since then, I’ve enjoyed coming back to Glassell occasionally for more classes, including art history."

        Seven Generations

        Jung Center

        Rise

        How have you have taken your experience as a well-established maker in the field and passed that knowledge along to other artists?
          "I haven’t done as much of that as I would like. I love my home studio, but a downside is that I don’t interact with as many fellow artists as I would in a public studio. I did quite a lot of that at the Silos and it’s one of the few things I miss about being there. I love talking to all kinds of people when I have an exhibition, both artists and non-artists. The Bayou City Clay Crawl has also been a great venue for meeting many fellow artists and people interested in getting into art."


          Asea with the Unconscious


          Boat Dream

          What’s the best advice you’ve been given by a fellow maker, mentor, or teacher?

            “Let that #*%@ go!” That’s what sculptor John Runnels said to me last year when we were discussing outsourcing the fabrication of your art. John made the amazing giant hubcap sphere that was on Heights Boulevard last year, near I-10, as part of True North 2019. I was telling John that I always felt conflicted by jobbing out parts of my sculptures, especially anything that had to do with metal and welding. He told me that he had jobbed out the entire fabrication of the sphere and its massive base to a local fence company. “Let that #*%@ go!” was his response to any guilt I felt about not doing it all myself.

            “It’s about the idea,” he said.

            The more years of experience I get, I realize the importance of sticking to what I do best, jobbing out the rest, and feeling good about it. I worked with a welder to create the metal base and flames for my “Home Fire” campfire sculpture that was also part of True North 2019. I made a scale model of the base and flames with cardboard, detailed down to every hole and extension, and it was fabricated precisely to my design. It felt really good to let that part go and focus my time and energy on making the ceramic pieces of the sculpture.

            Another good piece of advice came when I was just starting out. Craig Clark, my first teacher, was very supportive of my ideas and hand building ability. He also said it was going to take many years for my glazing skills to reach the same level as my hand building. It was a very prescient observation, and turned out to be so true. I’ve often returned to it, to give myself patience, as I struggled with glaze decisions. My struggle was never so much technical, as about color and texture. Now I realize that I had gotten into my own head. I was totally overthinking it and getting ‘paralysis by analysis.’ Only recently have I become really happy with my surfaces, and a large part of that has been just letting go and being free and open."

            Kissing Clowns

            Channel

            What’s coming up next for you?

            "Several opportunities have come up for this year and next. I’m grateful and hopeful that everything will stay on track despite what we’re going through with COVID-19. I’m also open to being flexible.

            For October, I’m very honored to be creating an outdoor installation with my friend and wonderful fellow ceramic artist, Yvonne Gerych, at Heights Ironworks on Yale Street. We are creating a piece for the courtyard that will be very visible from the street. Also this fall, I’ve been invited to create a site-specific installation for Sculpture Month Houston at Site Gallery at The Silos on Sawyer.

            For 2021, my plan is to create two installations that will have little or no clay components. One will be at Lone Star College – CyFair, and the other will be at Tank Project Space at Spring Street Studios. Clay will always be my first love and the primary part of my practice, but I find it very energizing to work with different media and materials. The inspiration all comes from the same place.

            After more than 10 years working in clay, it feels like I’m finally reaching the point where opportunities and invitations are starting to come to me, instead of constantly pursuing things and getting my share of rejections along the way.

            I think rejection will always be part of being an artist, because there are so many more artists than exhibition spaces and opportunities. But to begin getting recognized is a very nice feeling. I hope this doesn’t sound boastful – that’s definitely not my intention. I just want to inspire other artists to keep the faith and to keep on working. If you make art that is true to your vision and that comes from your heart, it will find its place in the world."


            Home Fire

            True North


            Bayou Bats

            Momentum Indoor Climbing


            Website URL and other social media platforms:

              Website:  www.damonthomasart.com

              Instagram: damonthomasart

              Bio: 

              Damon J. Thomas works in clay and mixed media to create figurative art that explores the emotional range of the human condition. Damon's work has been exhibited at The Jung Center Houston, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, Art League Houston, Art Car Museum, Artspace111, and in the True North 2019 exhibition on Heights Boulevard. It is included in the Houston Airport System's Portable Works Collection, Momentum Indoor Climbing – Silver Street, and in the Armadillo Clay sculpture garden in Austin. Damon completed a certificate of achievement in ceramics at the Glassell School of Art in 2015.  A native Houstonian, he lives and works in the Houston Heights.

                clayhouston

                Address:
                PO Box 667401
                Houston, TX 77266

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