Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Zen in the Art of Ceramics
By Michele Ogilvie

The process of making art is a way to investigate and expand our perceptions of the world. If approached intuitively and authentically the creative process is an inspiration. The word ‘inspire’ essentially means to give life with breath. An inspiration is like an intentional inhale — a breath taken in, as one may experience during mediation and yoga. When a work of art inspires, it can move us to discover evidence of a universal and personal journey that contains the essence of life’s unexplainable, existential mysteries. Through the process of slowing down to observe the world, being introspective, and dreaming of possibilities that spring from the heart and the imagination, can we reach the healing potential of creative experience. It is through slowing down; practicing focused mindfulness; doing one thing at a time; and thinking about what is necessary that can make the act of creating a Zen experience.  

Ceramics in particular offers a window into this type of discovery because clay is a basic tactile material that physically and metaphorically connects us to the Earth in a timeless way. It is essentially a right brain activity that offers a holistic approach to learning about intangible things such as intuition, insight and sensitivity. In a beginning Ceramics class students will often declare how difficult it is because it requires a willingness to move their hands in ways that may seem quite awkward at first. It requires slowing down, focus, and a commitment to accepting that the process can be more important than the outcome. Any initial intimidation is overcome with practice, determination and patience. Once a student sees the alchemy that transpires between mud and maker, they are understandably amazed by their own handmade accomplishments. Along the way, they may have also learned some valuable things about Zen.    
© M.Ogilvie, All rights reserved.

Monday, June 1, 2015


I have learned that the process of making art is a way to investigate and expand our perceptions of the world and our relationship to it. If approached honestly and intuitively the creative experience becomes an inspiration—a breath taken in—like we experience on our mats. When a work of art moves us, it reveals evidence of a personal and universal journey that contains the essence of life's unexplainable existential mysteries. Through the process of creating, slowing down to observe the world, learning to breathe intelligently, moving towards introspection, dreaming of the possibility of peace and universal healing—Yoga mind and intention weaves it all together. It is the string that connects Spirit to Absolute Intelligence, Nature, Creativity, Love, and Potential.

As a teacher and practitioner of Art and Yoga I have consistently witnessed and experienced first hand the potential of these disciplines as opportunities towards healing and realization. I am certain that Yoga and Art complement each other as personal and collective gateways towards a greater understanding of the self, the world and our responsibility to these things. It is my hope that as we learn to experience the transformative qualities of Yoga, we also open to the potential of creative expression so that our journeys can extend into the fascinating depth of our subconscious and beyond. —©Michele Ogilvie, all rights reserved.

Friday, May 30, 2014


WHEN A STUDENT comes to me and declares that they are “not good at art,” it is my job to help erase the conversations and experiences that brought them to this misconception. The competitive burden of personal, parental, cultural and academic performance expectations is often the reason a student can at first, feel self conscious in an art class. Young people and adults alike have often confided in me that they were told at some point in their lives that they have no artistic talent. As these things go, if they have heard this more than once, they may accept it as truth. This is the old school genius myth that perpetuates the idea that in order to create art, one must have a special artistic gene or lineage. This cannot be further from the truth, and breaking down the walls of a misconception like this can sometimes be a tricky thing.

Each semester I work with students with varying degrees of creative confidence. An art class such as Ceramics is particularly difficult for many students because they are not only confronting the conditioning of their creative belief system; they are also learning new and difficult skills such as throwing forms on the potter’s wheel. In the beginning this can be an extremely frustrating experience. Yet, I am always moved by the determination and practice my students are willing to invest in order to learn this skill. Along the way, some students fall in love with the experience, while a few may never pursue it further once they complete their projects. Either way, a higher purpose has been served, and I am certain that they are leaving this class not only with a greater sense of their creative potential, but also with a warranted degree of enthusiasm for their accomplishments.

At the close of this semester, I asked Ceramics I students to reflect on how they managed to overcome some of their frustrations while they were learning to throw on the potter’s wheel. I offer a few of their responses here:
“Throwing gave me the opportunity to become more patient. One day I had an epiphany. I realized that some days will not be the best but you must bring a positive mindset and a drive to succeed to have a productive day. Since this epiphany, I have been able to overcome my initial frustrations in ceramics and outside the classroom as well. To be honest, nothing is like throwing. I felt very relaxed and calm and very comfortable in this Art class unlike in my past. I feel I have found an artistic side of me I would like to pursue in the future. I feel that in addition to getting over my frustrations, ceramics has enabled me to view different sides of myself and to accept who I am and not care what others think of what I do and like.” —EG, freshman

“Throwing this semester was a very interesting process in which I observed various qualities in myself and the world of art. First, just like any sport I learned to accept that there would be good days and bad days and in order to improve you must embrace your bad days, work through them and learn from them. I also learned it was about taking risks. Ceramics has expanded my problem-solving skills, patience and overall way I view the art world and myself.” —TL, freshman

“Learning how to throw was an especially difficult process for me. I had to constantly be reminded to slow down. Generally, I attempted to approach everything with the goal of getting it done as quickly as possible. But learning to throw really helped me with my patience. It really taught me that all I needed was to slow down in order to fully accomplish my goal. Another thing that I learned from throwing was not to get flustered. When I got flustered, I would never actually finish throwing a complete piece; when I remained calm it was much easier to work and finish a piece. I believe that these two lessons I have learned from throwing will continue to help me for the rest of my life. Thanks for a great semester! —RT, sophomore

“Throughout the process of ups and downs, I learned how to problem solve and found that the only way to overcome frustration is to move on and to start something new. Sometimes I had “sculptor’s block”, but was able to stay calm and focused enough to create some of my best work on the wheel. At times I became very nervous when sculpting and would think about how I would be able to finish some of my projects. But I just conjured up memories of other hardships I had been able to overcome, and pushed these thoughts aside to create many things I am proud of. —AS, freshman

“I think the wheel taught me to take my time with what I was doing and to put in the effort to be the best that it could possibly be. The more I threw I found the better I got and the more I enjoyed it. I liked that no matter how tall my piece became I could always go higher or make my form more complicated, it made it so I was never bored during class time. The wheel also taught me to trust myself. At first I was hesitant to trim my piece on the wheel, but now I like it because I have learned to trust my hands and my choices. I really enjoyed this experience.” —AB, sophomore

“I really enjoyed throwing on the potter’s wheel because it was a nice break from all the stress of school. Even though it was hard at first to accomplish, I really enjoyed creating a bowl and a vase that I know I will use. The past few months throwing was a great experience because I got to try something new and set a goal for myself and I felt a great sense of accomplishment fulfilling my goal at the end and looking at my vase I created. During the process, I was a little weary as to if I could accomplish my goal. But after seeing my vase and realizing I made this, I felt a great same of accomplishment that really made my day. I now realize throwing is not just a class for me, it was a track that I could release my stress and put my energy and hard work into creating something I could be proud of.” —NR, sophomore

“Throwing on the potter’s wheel was very difficult at the beginning. Most days my pieces ended up as a floppy blob. Overcoming my frustration was very difficult. I would try for days and still have an uneven cylinder. Each day I would try to think of what I was doing wrong and fix it. I soon realized that I had to slow down the speed of the wheel, and then the clay became a lot easier to work with. I don't remember learning how to walk, but I think learning to throw would be just like learning how to walk. When you are learning how to walk you get up and then fall down countless times until you can stand up. When can stand then you would put one wobbly foot in front of the other until you can run. This really reminds me of throwing because you start slow with many failures until you become really good and then you move onto the next step. I had a great feeling of accomplishment when I was able to throw a good cylinder. Throwing taught me to be a lot more patient. Instead of trying to make the cylinder as fast as I could so I would have time to finish, I realized that rushing only gets you a floppy cylinder. I really like making stuff that is functional. For some reason food tastes a lot better when it is from something that you have made. I loved being able to come in here and throw. It was a break from the stressful day.” —JK, freshman

Click here to view BWS student potters in action!