Article

Dickinson House

Flowers and gardens at Dickinson House

There is a story I want to tell. The story is about togetherness: that’s its short version. The longer version could go back to the pine table in my family’s kitchen where my brothers and I did homework while my parents cooked or washed dishes. It definitely encompasses the year I lived as a stranger in France and the multilingual education I’ve been fortunate to have. And it is directly related to my five years in England and the way that, in that place, I was part of an intense and sustaining community. It’s certainly a story that comes out of a magical—there’s no other word for it—five days in 2010 when some poets whose work I love came to Nottingham, spending four of those days teaching and talking and reading and walking and eating with forty writers from all over Europe and the UK. (Those days! Where together we built something! I got up to read and couldn’t read because I was in tears over the belief of all these people who’d come to be together and write.) And the story I want to tell comes out of MIEL, too—this press, which itself developed out of the desire to make spaces for writers like the one we’d made together in Nottingham that July. Being at the Vermont Studio Center this summer only made me more sure of the desire I have for spaces where writers and artists can be together, not only on the page but in the flesh.

Dickinson House: Writers' Residency | Literary B&B

For a very long time, nearly ten years, I carried the idea of making such a space in my pocket. But for most of that time I never believed it was realistic or possible. It was bigger than what I could do alone: it required things like money and land, neither of which I have. The story I want to tell is the story of that idea, which is now real, against what I believed were the odds. The story is Dickinson House.

I wanted to make a space where writers and artists could come to make work, to build community, to be taken care of without guilt, with openness and generosity. And about two years ago Jonathan’s mother offered us her house to rent and renovate and use for just that. And as of about two weeks ago we are officially licensed by the Flemish Tourist Board as a guesthouse, so I can say that Dickinson House truly is real. We’re doing a soft launch this fall, and will open for 2015 applications (and applications for fellowships!) in December.

Dickinson House: Writers' Residency | Literary B&B

None of this would be possible without a ton of hard work and help from Jonathan, without the kindness (and below-market-rate rent) his mother extended, without the support of our families, or without the belief, good cheer, and help of friends all over. I want to emphasize this. None of this came from thin air. It is the result of generosity and privilege. It is also the result of penny-pinching and elbow grease and borrowing against hope and filling spare time with more work, even (especially) when we just wanted to rest. The house is full of beautiful old things that were given to us by friends and family, or found in second-hand shops here. The beds have quilts made by hand by three talented friends. I want the house to be for you, writer, reader, maker. I want there to be—there is—space here for you. If you need it, ask for it. If there are obstacles, tell me about them. We will find a way to get you here. You are welcome.

Article

in case of Paris

paris guide

Someone on Twitter was looking for recommendations for Paris, and I remembered that about four years ago I made a guidebook full of the things I loved (places I went often when I lived in France) for J. We went to Paris together and had a huge argument about Foucault while walking through the 14th arrondissement, which is the main thing I remember about that trip. However, he does still have the little book, so I can tell you precisely what I recommended. Most of these recommendations reflect the fact that I rarely have any money.

Food:

Pâtes Vivantes (46 r.d. Faubourg Montmartre/9th/métro Le Peletier; 22 Bld. St Germaine/5th/near Pont de Sully). Chinese food, very good, mostly noodles. Long wait times; definitely make a reservation.

La Boutique Jaune (in the Marais). Jewish deli. Good sandwiches.

Rue Ste. Anne (near the Louvre). Lots and lots of Japanese restaurants, ranging in price, mostly high quality.

L’As du Fallafel (34 r. des Rosiers, Marais). Excellent falafel/etc. Often busy. Closed Saturdays.

La Pizzetta (22 ave. Trudaine/9th/métro Anvers). Slightly upscale Italian. Good.

Pho Dong-Huang (14 r. Louis Bonnet/11th). Vietnamese food. Good prices!

Le petit prince de Paris (5th). Gay-friendly restaurant, prices are reasonable.

Rose Bakery (9th/3rd). British-style, slightly rustic-crunchy breakfast/brunch/lunch.

Sweets:

Macarons at Pierre Hermé (72 rue Bonaparte in the 6th; 185 rue du Vaugirard in the 15th; 4 rue Cambon in the 1st) or at La Durée (21 rue Bonaparte in the 6th; 16 rue Royale in the 8th). Aki Boulanger (on rue Ste. Anne) is a Japanese-French bakery; there’s a write-up here. Sadaharu Aoki has four boutiques in Paris and although I have never eaten his pastries I have it on good authority that one ought to. Berthillon for ice-cream to eat by the Seine is a favorite of mine.

To do and see:

The Parc Buttes Chaumont is the prettiest in Paris, or so they say, although I really love the Jardin des Plantes (which has the benefit of being relatively near Austerlitz, my favorite of the Paris stations). The area around the Canal St Martin has nice shops and an art bookshop. Galleries Lafayette has a roof garden that’s free to visit; so does the Institute du Monde Arabe (and there’s a great view). The best view of Paris I’ve ever had was in the restaurant on the 55th floor of the Tour de Montparnasse. A cup of tea will set you back about €8, but it’s cheaper than the observation deck (one floor up), and the view cannot be beat.

The Louvre is free to EU residents under 25, as well as on the first Sunday of every month (and July 14). Hôtel Carnavalet, the museum of the history of Paris, is free to visit; the Bibliothèque Nationale de France also has free exhibits (and a bookshop, cafeteria, and garden). The Palais de Tokio had, the last time I was there, an old but working photobooth.

For small objects and presents and general beauty I love the shop at the Paris Japan Center (métro Javel/a couple of blocks away from the Eiffel Tower), and if you’re in the market for stationery or just unusual postcards, I’d recommend both Mélodies Graphiques (on the edge of the Marais, rue St de Pont Louis-Philippe) and Éditions Cartes d’Art (9 rue du Dragon, in the 6th). Merci, at 111 blvd. Beaumarchais in the 3rd, is a charming shop that will probably make any lover of pretty things die of desire. Rue François Mirron in the Marais contains some of the best shops in Paris, in my opinion—especially Petit Pan.

And when in doubt, I recommend using Joshua Clover’s poem “Ceriserie” as your guide to Paris both historical and contemporary.

 

 

 

Article

LOCALITIES [13]

Molly Sutton Kiefer spoke with us about where she writes and what role her surroundings play in her work. She’s the author of two chapbooks and the recent lyric essay Nestuary, which was published this year by Ricochet Editions (an imprint of Gold Line Press).

Could you tell us about your work in general—what you make, what your making thinks or talks about or performs, what kinds of things you want to or are trying to make? 

I write mostly poems and poem-things.  Little fragments I try to tie together into a whole.  I’ve recently had this strange convergence:  as an undergraduate, I thought I would become a memoirist and then as a graduate student, I studied poetry.  With Nestuary, this, along with other iterations of creative nonfiction, have gotten the chance to smash up and meld. When I’m in my deepest periods of quiet, the ones that give me a panic but I know will always end, I often make other things with my hands:  knit, sew, garden.  I dabble a lot, so you could find me taking an embroidery class or a letterpress class or studying photography.

Maya with manuscript

Do you routinely get to spend time making or focusing only on your creative life? What do you do on a day-to-day level, and how does (or doesn’t) making figure into that? 

There are so many ways one could use motherhood as a comparison to the writing experience:  oh, the long labor and the birth of the book!  Each book is a different baby!  I think, of all these ways we can cross-hatch the two experiences, the comparison of “once you finally get the hang of it, everything changes” is the one that resonates the most with me.  As soon as I find myself having a contented writing routine, it changes, on a whim.  It’s all so different:  when I was working on my thesis manuscript, I would creep downstairs after a late night nursing with my daughter, and I’d write a poem or two, you know, in that confused fog of half-sleep, where poetic connections were loosest.  Nestuary was written in a burst and revised quickly too.  At this very moment, I have this packet of writing notebooks and each notebook, a beautifully decorated Moleskine I’ve either collected from the shop at Minnesota Center for the Book Arts or etsy, represents a different writing project:  the one with the hot air balloon is where I am working on my most urgent manuscript, which is about death and the afterlife and grief; there’s another with a whale splayed open that are my Alaska poems, and on.  Because my daughter is in preschool, I have this space of time in the mornings solo with my newly toddling son, and I’ll maybe watch a documentary on a topic relevant to one of my projects–something on skeletons found in the Sahara or commercial fishing in the Cook Inlet.  I’ll take notes; I’ll see if I can transform those notes into a poem later at night.  I’ll try to capture as much as I can in fragments.  And now that I am a mother, whose arms are often full of diapers or little toys or sixty pounds of offspring, I have learned to work out poems or goals in my head, which is awfully difficult to pin down when I get the chance, but still a good part of the process.  One of my teachers, Oliver de la Paz, said he’ll often spend the first chip of his writing time working on revision–this work can help him enter generating.  For me, it’s often reading a good book of poems–I love it when I finally cannot read another page because I have to scurry away and make too!  I am thankful to those poets, and anything else that can help me cross that bridge from everyday to creating from the everyday.

Tell us about where you work—the city, the neighborhood, your tours around the local geography of your workroom, your desk, your computer, your notebook, your equipment. What’s it feel like?

There’s this little blue room off our dining room–blue, painted by my husband in a color I picked, blue, because Minnesota winters are so grey–and it has a futon (still guest-worthy, but so cramped) and books upon books upon books and my desk, which is always such a mess.  I’m ridiculously lucky in that my husband does understand the need for my own space, though I rarely use it as I should.  More often, you can find me mobile, writing with a babe in my lap, my notebook askew.  I love my poetry dates–museums and wildlife sanctuaries and coffee shops and the like.  Most often, much to my husband’s chagrin, you can find me pecking away at the dining room table.  All of these rooms in our house have books, floor to ceiling, and I think that’s something that brings me comfort.

I’ve become more particular about equipment too; I know most writers can relate to this.  A specific pen–I had used one ink pen for the last, oh, twenty years, and recently, I’ve switched to a specific grey ballpoint.  Ballpoint!  Not long ago I never would have heard of such a thing!  I remember, just before getting married, Carolyn Forche gave me a fountain pen, told me to use it to write poems on my honeymoon.  Before, I could only use narrow-lined notebooks (oh, those fat, wide-ruled pages are my enemy!), but now I prefer lineless entirely, so I can write in the tiniest of handwriting, can doodle, can clip images from magazines that will help keep me in that mental space.

How does your space reflect or inform the work you’re able to do? How does it inform your most recent work?

Nestuary is very much a physical-body oriented piece, and even towards the end, I consciously wrote about where I was while writing:  engorged, pumping, hunched on the floor of our living room, writing the last pages of the manuscript.  It was spring of last year, and winter was very much so on my mind, as the light from the street corner filtered through our window and I thought of Hestia and her hearth. I’m not rooted into my neighborhood and town as I’d like to:  I only worked outside the home here for one year, so most of my time outside our small sphere, like my husband’s, is spent commuting.  I have more writerly connection to the Twin Cities than here, which is fine; I have a drive to work myself into that space.

Maya at deskBut place is crucial to what I do.  It lives inside of me.  When I write of Alaska, the time I spent there rises up.  When I write a poem about my father-in-law’s illness, I am back in those rooms of that house, can feel and smell.  So it isn’t as much about the immediate space, but about the imagined space, about what can grow up around me.  Perhaps this is why so much of my writing happens without the lights on–not to discourage others from approach, but so that it spills into me. So much of my landscape has children in it.  So much is about learning how to work around and with the children.  Being able to give my daughter her own writing notebook so I have the chance to write in mine.  Comparing handwriting.  Pressing flowers in the pages.  My son who has to have a pen of his own.  So much is looking around and seeing them dashing, little streaks across the yard.  And that pull within the center of me, how even when she’s in preschool, my daughter is every part of me.

What would be your ideal spatial configuration for making your work? Is there something you long for in terms of surroundings, something without which it’s hard to get down to the task of making work?

I wish I wrote outdoors more.  I wish I picked up my notebook, waved good-bye to my little family, said I’d be back in a few hours, and sat at the banks of the creek.  Or brought a blanket outside and just existed.  I wish I could shut the distraction of the computer down, but there’s always something on the to-do list that keeps me tethered:  the slush pile, the laundry, weeding the garden, checking Facebook.  I distract so easily.  What would happen if I were dropped off in a forest and told to write?  Just write, I’ll come back for you later.  Just read, just write, just lie on your back and look at the clouds.  It’s the sitting right here that presses in the most distractions.  My husband is always saying, “Why not go to a coffee shop?  Go somewhere–take your work and go.”  And I say, “No, no, I can just go into my room,” but then I don’t and all of a sudden I’m too tired to squeeze anything interesting out any more and can’t we just cuddle in bed and read books for escape?

I do love the view from my writing desk.  It’s our backyard, at the right level, the right framing, that makes it only seem as if it’s our world, that we could exist alone in a sea of dandelions and maple and strawberry blossoms.

 

* * *

If you would like to be featured in our LOCALITIES series, please drop an email to miel.books at gmail.com!

Article

cafés in Ghent

Mrs. Beanzz, Ghent: a café with a view over the Leie

Mrs. Beanzz, Ghent

Ghent really has some of the loveliest places to have a cup of tea or coffee (two coffeeshops beloved of younger Gentenaars are the trendy Simon Says and Clouds in my Coffee). Besides traditional cafés (serving alcohol and other drinks), Ghent’s many coffeeshops are full of students on laptops, families having a day out in the city, tourists, and ordinary people. Some of our favorites are Le Jardin Bohémien (especially nice to sit at the long central table), Barista Zuivelbrug, OR, the Leescafé in the central library with its fabulous constellation ceiling from the 1960s, and Mrs. Beanzz. One caveat is that in general (although less so in the latter two locations) service can be poor. Barista especially tends to have grumpy service! But in all of these locations, you can stay and write for a good long time with one drink—and Barista’s tea comes in big (almost pint) glasses; definitely the best value in Ghent, where a tea generally costs between €3 and €4.

Article

LOCALITIES [12]

Where I Work:
Alan Brown

alan work 2

What I’ve always wanted to do was make comic books, which I’ve begun to focus more on in the past year.  It took me a long time to find a way to approach writing a story.  I’ve discovered what works best for me is to write scenes while listening to music organized into a kind of soundtrack to the arc of the story.

 

alan studio 5

alan studio 4

I just passed the 100 page mark in my first comic and I’m really pleased with how it’s turning out so far.  I’m about one quarter of the way through the story. I also make watercolor and gouache paintings and wooden action figures.  These are usually inspired by or inspire ideas for characters and situations for my comics.

 


alan work 5It’s never really been hard for me to find time to work on my art because it’s pretty much all I’ve ever wanted to do.  So coming home from work always meant time to draw.  Free time is creating time.  I’ve been really lucky the past few years because I’m in a place where I can spend all of my time making stuff.  I’ll wake up and start right in on a project almost immediately and will work anywhere from 8 to 15 hours a day or more.  It’s basically a dream come true.  I usually don’t go out on the weekends, I just want to make stuff forever.  You can get me out of the house for pizza and a root beer otherwise I’m quite content to hide away and draw.

alan studio 6

I’m actually a bit indifferent to the neighborhood I live in (leaning toward the not especially fond of end of that).  Bear, Delaware.  It’s your basic suburban wasteland of strip malls, TGIFridays, etc.  Between that and the fact I find the act of driving unnatural and horrifying I lead a pretty monastic life, sometimes seeing only my girlfriend and our dog before realizing I haven’t left the house in two weeks.  Drawing, honestly, is just kind of the most fun ever for me so I don’t really mind.  I lived in Philadelphia for about 6 months last year, though!  For someone whose transportation is a bike (which I love riding and miss terribly, there is nowhere to ride here) it’s much more fun.

alan studio 2

As far as my workspace goes I really enjoy it.  I’ve taken over the dining room in our house.  I have a hard time working when I feel all crammed into a small space like a typical art desk affords so it’s pretty great for me to have the luxury of Kati’s dining room table!  I usually work on paintings that are part of a series and it allows me to lay them all out to scrutinize them while I work, it’s super handy for making comics for the same reason (and it helps with continuity).  Also, I tend to work on several projects at once so I often have different projects taking up different parts of the table.alan work 1

I’ve been kind of a nomad ever since I went to art school back in 2003-2004 and never really felt I had a highly personal space for creating.  Like, it’s the dining room, so if we’re having Kati’s parents for dinner everything’s got to be put away (which is totally fine! Hi Mr. and Mrs. Driscoll!).  The whole house is really just a shared art space to be honest, I don’t know how much it informs or reflects our work.  I like to look at it more as a kind of “Q Branch” like in James Bond.  Where you go into different rooms and there’s a bunch of people doing ninja training or flamethrower testing or laser wristwatch exercises except it’s just Kati and I.  In the back room I have my scroll saw set up and there is where I cut out all of the pieces for my wooden action figures, etc., the kitchen usually sees Kati making candles or myself fiddling around with silicone mixes for molds and resin casting for other toys, Kati has a sewing room upstairs which she also paints in and another room where we keep a surplus of art supplies.  Combine that with four cats, a new stray kitten and a dog and it’s quite the circus but it’s also the most fun ever! Every day is the best.

alan work 4

In truth all I really need is my watercolor tray, brushes, some paper and a surface to paint on.  Aside from that I find it difficult to concentrate unless there is a movie playing so I usually have my laptop showing some old horror movie or whatever.

You can purchase Alan Brown’s work in his Etsy shop, Medusawolf, or in the shop he co-runs with Kati Driscoll, Twamies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* * *

alan work 3

If you’d like to tell us about where and how you work, please drop an email to miel.books at gmail dot com!

 

 

Article

LOCALITIES [11]

Carol Rowntree Jones
Where I Write: ‘amongst piles of rich, unstable things’

Welcome to my untidy world, where I work amongst piles of rich, unstable things.

L1010350.JPG

My work in general: I write, and I make books sometimes, for some of my words. I write poetry, short fiction, essays and non-fiction. I write because I need to secure something: my work explores what it is to suddenly wake up and how an awakened self can function in a civilised world and not lose the wakefulness. Not go back to the easy, the sleep-walking, the this-is-how-it-is.

L1010388.JPG


I love it when my work fires and explodes into places I recognise as ‘home’, in a belonging, created, found sense. By this I mean a sentence or a phrase rather than a physical place.

I never make enough time to focus on my creative life. This is partly for fear of sitting down and disappointing myself, and also because of guilt that as a woman I should worry more about having a house to run. It’s also about simply the length of time. It’s about allowing myself the time to keep at it long enough to get to the place I didn’t know I was headed.

Saying that, sometimes my best work comes straight out, in a rush, so what do I know!

Routinely, I walk my disreputable dog every day. Mostly we walk down a lane between tall, elegant ash trees, pass through a small wood and then the path opens onto fields lined with hawthorn hedges. I can see the daily changes in the wheat, the hips and haws, the birdsong. The fizz in the hedges is the young birds calling.


L1010385.JPG

Three minutes from my house in the other direction, I am in a sloping parkland field, with mature poplars, newly planted oaks and ornamental trees shielding the Hall from the footpath. Yesterday I went through the kissing gate, wondering where the cattle were and if I had to leg it to safety, to see a cow looking at me, matter dripping from her mouth. A new calf at her feet and she was eating the placenta. The calf already lifting its head. Two crows bounced around, a few feet away. I crossed the field higher up, to make it clear we were no threat to her and I was beside myself with excitement. I snook a few glances. She started to walk away – perhaps I was wrong, perhaps she didn’t have a new calf at all, was I mistaken? Then another look to see she had returned and was standing, stock-still as if to take another step, but with one foot raised, solid energy directed at the crows – Don’t you dare…

When I returned, the cow and calf were walking down the field to join the rest of the herd. I checked under the poplar, and there were the remains of the placenta, rich and pink, stretched, bubbled and drying around the edges.

Also in the field: two more calves; one hare running, a bolt of energy; buzzard mewing overhead. A way to start the day.

What else gets me writing? Conversation. See Dorothea Brande Becoming a Writer: “You will have to find … persons who, for some mysterious reason, leave you full of energy, feed you with ideas, or, more obscurely still, have the effect of filling you with self confidence and eagerness to write.”

My paid work (which I love) is media relations for The National Forest. This calls for constant writing, but of a different nature to my creative work. Although surrounded by trees at work, these rarely seem to creep into my subconscious.

So, where I am geographically: I live in the southern-most tip of Nottinghamshire, a Midlands county bordering on the north. I live in a small village (about 1200 inhabitants) called Sutton Bonington, which, if anyone has ever heard of it, is generally because it houses an outpost of the University of Nottingham; go to Nottingham to study agriculture, food sciences or to be a vet and you will be based here. So for a tiny village it is welcoming, used to transient populations of staff and students, and the village school benefits from children of different nationalities, a bonus for the local families.

L1010352.JPG

The room where I work is the garden room. It was part of a big extension we did before I started writing. I would probably have made more wall space for books and less window space if I had planned it as a writing room; it is probably as well I didn’t!

Major house redecoration is currently underway, so the room is half full of books and maps and stuff decanted from elsewhere. Decorating. Maintenance. Ongoing. So you don’t get to see that half. But I will get more shelves for my books out of the shake-up. Yay!

Fireplace: wood burning stove with wine bottles drunk with my daughter. One has a label congratulating me for winning a caption competition at the local organic farm. Strangely, that made me feel like a real writer! The cactus has been with me since I slept in an attic room on the last hill of the Cotswolds before you descend to Bath. It has been with me longer than most things in my life. Also heather from the North York Moors and pine cones from Corsica.

L1010376.JPG

The table where I work is an old Utility furniture dining table that my parents would have bought shortly after the Second World War. It is made of oak and has two extending leaves. It has seen many family dinners of grey mashed potatoes and gorgeous rice puddings, and I used to play underneath it, balancing on the cross piece where my feet are currently resting, tunneling up through the dining chairs that had removable seats.

L1010381.JPG

I use black Bic medium ballpoint pens; I generally write in hardback A4 notebooks: I try different sizes and styles every so often, but these are what I come back to. They feel utilitarian and fine.

I went on an Arvon course when I first started to write. Kathleen Jamie was one of the tutors and at our first one-to-one session she congratulated me for having a simple A5 exercise book – nothing too daunting, nothing that demanded beautiful work from the get-go.

In preparing for this piece for MIEL, I was thinking about where I used to work. At the front of the house we turned the original main bedroom (near the front door) into a study/guest room and I set up a snug corner to work in (see other pic). However, it would get taken over, and then the room got co-used. I do live in a house with other people, so that is to be expected! I can’t remember writing poems there, though. Until recently, I would still use my beloved old iMac in that space for emails and for business-related work. This summer it had a major implosion and it appears to be unrescue-able. [PLEA! If anyone knows anyone who can rebuild a ‘vintage’ iMac running OSX 10.3.9 please get in touch!]

When I was in my final year/s of my part time creative writing degree I moved into this space, so that I could leave my work out and get back to it more easily. First one extension leaf of the table was needed, then the other. They’ve stayed out ever since.

L1010360.JPG

The summer I started to write I bought a sweet little blue desk on ebay, and had to travel to London to collect it. That day, I had lunch with my brother and it was our last real conversation.

The desk is in a corner of the bedroom, never written at; holding [up] a lot.

L1010400.JPG

Okay, I’m outside now, because the garden room gets so hot on a hot day and today, 2/3rds through September, is baking.

I am now in the garden looking down at it ( see picture)

Where did I get to? My computer. I’m using a MacBook, (see earlier, re beloved iMac ) I don’t particularly enjoy using it to write on at the table, I get backache, but using it on my lap is much better.  Ergo… yes, I know. We make so much effort at work to configure workstations correctly: it all seems to go out of the window with a laptop on a desk.

My mother, in North Yorkshire, has a small, oval, drop-leaf table, oak, with barley twist legs. I enjoy writing at that.

I acquired the space, and no one is complaining. It’s a beautiful room but I have to moor myself in it. The table set in the middle of the room makes me feel marooned sometimes, and it can feel like a goldfish bowl when people are around.

It feels kind of temporary; I want my writing to be more grounded, more ample, than I feel in the room.

An ideal space would bring together the love and delicacy of my blue desk, the snug workplace-feel of the study and the spaciousness and clean lines of the garden room – oh, and the comfort of the kitchen table as well! Not that I want a lot!

Article

LOCALITIES [10]

Where I Work: Michael Lorsung, ceramicist and kiln builder

Michael Lorsung | ceramicist

What I am making varies from day to day, in terms of the actual objects.  I love history, use, and the deception that simplicity offers.  I am currently working on a series of sculptures that derive their forms from wood crib grain elevators of the great plains and the plains of Canada, while at the same time are influenced by Great Lakes freighters and other nautical architecture.  I also make pots because the I enjoy the challenge that merging aesthetic and utility offer me as a maker.  Their forms are simple, influenced by things like North American pioneer tinware, industrial tinware from the turn of the 20th century, as well as more ceramic influences like the Mingei potters of Japan and their western counterparts.  I want to make beautiful things that illuminate the otherwise overlooked.

As someone who doesn’t make a living from their work, I really have to be diligent to make sure that I get into the studio every day.  I work a couple of regular jobs, one of which is for the university here in town and that affords me a studio space with access to kilns and equipment I might otherwise not have.  There, I repair and maintain equipment and assist in the day to day physical needs of the facility.  My other job is fabricating stained glass windows for an artist here in town.  I work between 40 and 60 hours combined at these jobs in any given week.  This basically means that my studio time has to be well-considered and taken as it comes.  I work a lot of late nights (which I enjoy), and fit my studio practice into nooks and crannies throughout the day.  I am nearly constantly sketching or doodling, and thinking of work and ideas occupies a good deal of my mind.

Michael Lorsung | ceramicist

My studio has two 4′ wide by 8′ tall windows in it–they are old single paned warehouse windows.  The bottom sections pivot in their centers allowing the hot and moist Louisiana air in when I want it….  It is a studio within the art department at Louisiana State University, and as such there are often a few dedicated students working in their own spaces adjacent to mine.  This brings with it the sounds of their music, the smell of coffee being made, occasional interruptions of questions or requests for assistance…. The walls are concrete block, scarred by years of clay and neglect, the floors are worn linoleum tile that is chipped beyond recognition in places.  It smells of clay—imagine digging a hole in a field after a rain, with the ground soft and that fresh, earthy fullness that meets your nostrils—that’s the dominating odor.  Beyond my studio is a campus populated by turn-of-the-century architecture, live oaks, and of course students. It is regal in ways that make me uncomfortable, but visually interesting nonetheless.

My space is very much a black box.  It exists for me to work inside—when I first moved into it it was full of junk.  I spent a day finding new homes for equipment, and throwing away refuse left by its previous inhabitants.  Now it has become a space that changes based on what I am building or making.  In my current work I am building large scale sculptures, so the potters wheel becomes a rotating platform, and table space is for Michael Lorsung | ceramicist rolling coils and allowing slabs to setup prior to their addition to the work.  This will shift again as the work dries and becomes ready for its surface treatment with buckets of glaze, engobes, and slips making their way from under tables and shelves to be mixed and applied.  Perhaps the best way to describe it is that it is flexible.

The ideal configuration of a space for me is large.  Large, and open, with lots and lots of shelves.  I collect things—sometimes these things make their way into my work directly as additions, but mostly they serve as a tactile and visual library providing me with source material to work from.  I love large, empty industrial spaces.  This comes from my attraction to the marks of use.  I enjoy seeing tools that are well used and cared for that show the hand position of the user, they all give hints to the purpose of the object—spaces are the same way.  Seeing the outline of where some machine was once bolted to a floor, or the remnants of a belt system that ran a machine shop at some point in its history are inspiring, tell-tale signs for me.

Michael Lorsung | ceramicist