Friday Interview with Ceramic Artist Michelle Phaneuf November 22, 2013 11:14
Introduce Yourself! Who are you, what do you make, and where do you make it?
Hi! I’m Michelle Phaneuf and I’m a graphic designer, ceramic artist and mom to two great kids. I make tableware that is a little less ordinary. I’ve been working from my Pawtucket studio for the last 13 years and am lucky enough to share the space with lots of other talented, smart, funny potters.
According to your Etsy, you are a Graphic Designer by day. What is that job description like and how does it inform your ceramic pieces if at all?
I specialize in identity development and print design. I spend most of my work day sitting at my desk, in front of a computer designing logos, stationery suites, brochures, invitations and the occasional annual report. I have great clients who understand that my kids come first and because of that I am sometimes not available in the middle of the day and work weird hours. But they also know that when there is a deadline, I will deliver on time. My job as a designer is a big influence on my ceramic work. Imagery, balance, color, negative space, even typography are all things I’m thinking about when I’m designing a logo and throwing a bowl on the wheel.
How did you get into ceramics, and how long have you been working on them?
In college I spent most of my days drawing, painting and designing. I would walk around my liberal arts campus with my business and psychology major friends covered with paint and my hands blackened with charcoal. Then I graduated and got a job designing catalogs at a greeting card company and my life became inevitably and sadly cleaner. So 17 years ago in an effort to get dirty again, I took a ceramics class at RISD. I’m too impatient and messy to be a hand-builder and unfortunately throwing clay did not come easily to me. I was really bad at it for a really long time! But something kept me going. I was determined! My skill level finally increased after many years, but the pieces I was creating were still not what my mind envisioned. It took a lot more time for me to find my “voice” in ceramics, and it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve really been happy with my work. I still want to develop more deeply as a ceramic artist and feel I have a lot more ideas to work through. I have a feeling that I may always be striving for better. Good enough is not good enough.
What drives you to create? Why not be just contented with the sole title Graphic Designer?
Making something useful that is also beautiful is my goal. It’s what drives me to do this. Being a graphic designer is great. Drawing pictures everyday is the best job! But, when I’m designing a logo for a client, I’m working to solve their problem and 95% of what I create ends up in the garbage. I’m being influenced by my client’s ideas, tastes, wants and needs. Which is how it should be. However, when I’m working at the studio, with my hands in the clay, it’s all about me. I get to be selfish and create what I want. As much as I want. In any color I want. It’s all about what I like and how I want something to look. I’m the only influence. It’s pure creative freedom!
If you're feeling stuck, how do you get re-inspired?
Anytime I’m feeling stuck or need to process a lot of ideas, I take a shower. There is something amazing about the calm of the water, the steam, the quietness I get in there that allows my mind to be more creative. I get my best ideas in there and then sketch them on the steamed up shower door.
What were some challenges you faced turning you craft into a business?
My biggest challenge is time. My fullish-time graphic design business and my completely-all-of-the-time mothering gig seem to get most of my daily hours. It’s so important for me to carve out dedicated time for my ceramics business, but it is often the one thing that gets pushed to the back burner. Well, really, cleaning the house is the thing that gets neglected. It’s seriously messy up in here.
Random Question: What is your favorite stay-cation spot?
My family and I are lucky enough to live a block away from the beach. A walk down there to have dinner, play in the sand and throw a stick around for the dog is great get-a-way. Another favorite spot is my friend Laura’s kitchen. She lives just a house away, and even ten minutes with her and our other friends that congregate there leaves me feeling happy and relaxed…and there’s usually wine.