Maker Stories

Terra-bly Delightful Design

September 22, 2011

Ed. note: Next month we’re hosting a ceramics design challenge here at UncommonGoods, and we can’t wait to see all your beautiful, clever and unique creations. But ceramics can be a somewhat broad category. If you’re wondering what sorts of product entries we’re looking for– well, would it be fair to say everything? We love pottery and ceramics– plates, cups, vases, decorative objects, all of it. Especially pieces that make you start talking. And there’s no doubt that Michael Terra’s designs are conversation starters.

If you’re a frequent reader of our blog, check out our product stories, or subscribe to our emails, you’ve probably noticed that we don’t shy away from wordplay. So, when we heard that ceramicist Michael Terra’s new products were taking puns to the another level–the third dimension–we couldn’t resist.

“I like looking at what everyone else is doing and then look in another direction and look at what no one else is looking at,” Michael explains. “I love puns at any time, and as I was thinking about word conversions I realized that there was a multiple way of seeing/hearing the sounds of language that we use everyday.”

His Writer’s Block and Ceramic “Reading” Glasses play on the multiple ways we see and hear language.

The Writer’s Block offers a way for writers to procrastinate, while playing with the physical stoneware block, then offers ways to break the mental block, as writers can use words from the piece to generate ideas. According to Michael, procrastination (in moderation) isn’t always a bad thing. “Creative road blocks are part and parcel of the working life of a full time artist of any stripe,” he says. “Usually the cause is mysterious, but the cure is usually to totally switch gears… stop forcing [the process] and read a book, go see a movie, have lunch with a friend in a new place or part of town. Basically step outside of all of the parts of the recognizable routine and do something fresh! That does the trick for me!”

Michael’s Reading Glasses are proof that inspiration can come when you least expect it. He and his wife, Victoria, began thinking of the fun puns on a long car ride. “Thera P,” “Carpe DM,” and “N Spire” came from this roadway banter.

Of course, the idea is only the beginning of a great design. Once the idea is formed, the artist still has to meticulously craft the finished product. For Michael’s pieces, this starts with calculating fairly precise measurements, attending to the relative moisture content of the clay, and creating the proper incisions before folding the material into the final shapes.

“The Math [used to create each design] is completely different and the construction is completely different,” Michael tells us. “Reading Glasses have only two seams, Writer’s Blocks actually have 12 seams! Reading Glasses are formed around a mandrel where the Writers Blocks are formed without any support structure other than air!”

Although the process from start to finish can seem daunting, Michael encourages designers to give it their all. “Ask yourself this question: How does fear serve ME? If it is getting in your way then forget it,” he says. “I become better at what I do by the process of exposure, testing, scrutiny, and development. That does not happen in a vacuum. Have fun with the process, don’t avoid it!”

Whether your pottery design is a sculptural exercise in wordplay, a beautiful hand-thrown vessel, a manufactured masterpiece , or another uncommon pottery piece, we’re excited to see it! Take Michael’s advice and get ready to put your design out there by entering our Uncommon Pottery Design Challenge.

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