Nurture your creativity - AJ Porcelain

Do you take a risk in your life? Do you push yourself towards new experiences? To be honest, every single one of us values comfort in life. It is in our nature to feel safe and to avoid stress.
That's why it is always a great pleasure and inspiration to encounter people who work differently. People that have strong grit to take things to the next level. To have an open heart and a different view on life. Annette Janelle atelier is a place where she explores her creativity. Always in her self-exploring world, she takes her art and gives it to the judgment of the world. Explores new designs, reinvents old ones, and creates an exciting experience. While always communicating with her loving audience. Taking the best from every critique, and learning while nurturing her creativity.

Where are you from? Where does the art journey start for you?

I've lived in Arizona since I was a little kid, so I consider myself an Arizona native even though I wasn't born here. I grew up in Phoenix and currently live in Payson. My art journey has been a long and winding one. I started out with the basics every child has, but I knew I had a talent for it early on and never stopped creating. I recall selling some drawings of horses to classmates in grade school for 25 cents, so it's clear my ambition has been with me my entire life. In high school I focused mainly on drawing and illustration. I had the opportunity to take a ceramics class and loved it, but had no further access to the medium until community college where I took Ceramics 101, fell deeply in love with clay, and settled into my chosen medium from that point onward. It's still the only college-level ceramics class I've taken, so my progress since then is all self-taught. Prior to that fateful ceramics class I had hoped to become a watercolor illustrator, and I still use my illustrative skill and style often when decorating my work. I've been exclusively an independent ceramist for over a year now, since leaving my part-time marketing job last September, and I honestly can't imagine anything else being an appropriate career for me.

What is the first emotion that drives you towards creating an art piece? Do you recognize the connection immediately and let yourself flow on the creative process? Or do you "bake" the inspiration for some time?

I don't think it's so much an emotion as a compulsion. I've always had this need to create, and that's what drives me. My hands hate being idle. I love to watch my creations come to life in my hands and exist in three dimensions. With ceramics, it's like the object has a life of its own, especially the characters I create, as if I'm a conduit guiding a spirit into stone. Emotion is evoked by the piece itself -- the most common comments I receive from my buyers are about how much joy they get from the presence of my art in their homes. In terms of creative process, I like to indulge my spontaneity. Of course it depends on the project I'm working on. Sometimes I do have a more established plan or vision of what the piece should look like in the end. I find that, more often than not, if I sit on an idea for too long, I won't actually start it because another idea will pop up and take over my attention. My best work is usually spontaneous in nature with a sort of shotgun approach (as much as that can be applied to ceramics) where I am inspired, and I start and complete at least the initial sculptural stage of the piece in a short span of time. 

What is the back story of your design? Because every one of us sees the world through separate lenses. How hard it must be to transfer it to other people?

Broadly, my most successful current work is focused on human identity and our relationship to nature and the universe. It references the ways in which we relate to the world around us and reach for meaning in the universe beyond. More specifically, my most popular current work was inspired by a pet peeve. I've reliably observed that in mainstream contemporary art it is so much more common to see female nudity than male nudity. People tend to be more shocked and offended by male nudity than female nudity, and that really, really bugs me a lot. Like, SO MUCH. I don't intend my work to be shocking or sexual, and I don't think it comes off like that, because it's just so darn pretty and humorous and pure, but it should raise questions about inequity among the sexes and disproportionate sexualization of females over males. It's the reason I started making nude figure pots and mugs, and giving equal time if not even a little extra time to the nude male figures to make up for the oversaturation of female nudity. My driving concepts and focuses have changed over time, but that's a decent description of my most current work. As artists, our work should evolve as we do, and I'm certain that my focus will shift sometime in the future as I continue to grow as an artist.

When it comes to making a living from your art, what are the main struggles? And what would be your advice for starting artists?

The biggest one is financial security of course. Here in the United States, not having access to a truly affordable and comprehensive healthcare plan option is probably my biggest source of anxiety these days ($15K+ deductible with a $350+ premium is not affordable - looking at you Affordable Care Act). I started a Patreon page back in April of this year and that has been surprisingly successful. I'm fortunate to have an employed spouse to share living expenses with, but I still get a flurry of anxiety every month before I do a shop update, so I suppose managing anxiety is probably my biggest struggle. My income largely depends on how much work I'm able to finish and sell in a month, and ceramics is very time consuming and process intensive. It's difficult to balance my work, other responsibilities, and vital recreation and relaxation time. 
My advice for starting artists is to begin by dipping your toes in, and just keep pushing deeper a little at a time. Try different things, and pay attention to what works and what doesn't, adapt to changes when they come. Raise your prices if you consistently sell out of a particular design. Do anything and everything you need to do to nurture your innate creativity and keep it strong and fruitful. Indulge in experimentation from time to time, and build on your skills. You learn more from failure than you do from success. When your income from your art is enough to support your cost of living without another job, that's a good time to take the leap! When you get there you have to stay strong and determined and make sure you are not undervaluing your work. It takes a surprising amount of discipline, time management, and mental and emotional fortitude to maintain an independent art career. It's not for everyone, but if you have the talent and you want it and are willing to work for it, you can do it. It took me a long time to find my footing in my own niche and develop a body of work that sells well enough to support my expenses, and I've ended up pretty far from where I thought I was going back in high school when I had dreams of illustrating children's books. Your timeline and career path is your own - try not to compare yourself to others and remember that success looks different for everyone. That's a lot of advice!

What do you prefer, single pieces or storytelling through a whole project? And what approach do you use in each case?

I mostly create one-offs. I'm not the sort of artist that likes to repeat themselves - I get very bored if I have to do that and when I'm bored the quality of my work suffers because my heart isn't in it, so I avoid rigid repetition as a rule. I will riff on a successful design to create similar works that I am confident about selling, but everything I make is one of a kind. I approach them as individual works, with individual personalities that come to life throughout the sculpting process. The details, features, and proportions are informed by the basic form of the piece. They come to life and develop their characteristics as I sculpt them. It almost feels like giving a body to a spirit in a way. This is my preferred method of working, where I feel the flow of creativity from within and from that unknown source that seems to be outside my conscious awareness. I've done a few series works in the past, and these are more planned. I have an overall idea for the series, and how the pieces relate to one another in progression, then the individual pieces of the series I create in much the same way as my other works, letting the details emerge through the creation process. I'm more of a character builder than a storyteller with my art. I have a deep love of story, but I've never had much of a talent for creating narratives myself. I think that's why I'm so good at evoking character in my work - because I have a great desire to consume narrative, anyone with a talent for storytelling could easily build one around any given piece of mine. I'd love to collaborate with writers in this way one day.

Why do you use certain materials? What connects you with them, and makes you feel they are perfect for your art piece?

My chosen medium is porcelain. It's timeless, ancient and modern at the same time. It's beautiful, tactile, a pristine canvas for painted detail and pliable sculpting medium with amazing potential for rendering ultrafine detail. It's just challenging enough to keep me on my toes with its finicky nature. It has the potential to outlive me by millennia, and can be used for functional and utilitarian works as well as purely decorative art. It's delicate but resilient and timeless. It's like the precious stone of clays. With porcelain as the base for all my works, I also use other materials to embellish and finish them including underglaze for colorful details, glaze to finish for functionality, and gold luster overglaze for that extra bit of luxury here and there on pieces that call for such an embellishment. There's also the delayed gratification aspect of ceramics. Each step in the process takes you a little bit closer to seeing the finished piece, with each step informing the next process - and even though I know my materials, the finished piece can still be a surprise.

What does ART, in general, mean to you?

Art is so many things. It's any form of expression that is beautiful to behold or meaningful to experience. I am not one to insist that every piece of art needs a fully fledged thesis regarding its meaning to be considered art - in fact I find that stance so restrictive and overly-intellectualized as to be anti-artistic. Certainly all those elaborately written theses lend additional depth of understanding to a piece, but it's not necessary with all artworks. It is often enough that a piece of art is simply beautiful, evokes an emotion, comes from a place of creative potential and is executed with evident talent. For me, the only true requisite function of art is to evoke.
The FOURLINEdesign team would like to thank Annette Janelle for sharing inspiring thoughts with our community.