Sara E. Lynch cracks me up. She makes animal mugs with little feet on the underside, and turns a head of cauliflower into a mortuary urn for a beloved cat. It's hard not to be drawn in by her attention to detail, technical mastery, and whimsy. Though I know Sara mainly as a ceramic artist, she's adept in multiple mediums (Lucky dog!), and a pretty smart businessperson to boot.
Sara, how would you define creativity? I would say creativity is the skill of finding a new and different solution to a problem. My daily problem is: I have this damp, mushy material called clay, what can I do with it? This needs to be looked at without preconceived notions or limitations so you can explore all possible solutions then decide what is best. The process of creativity involves being open-minded, pondering as many options as possible, and then eliminating them one by one until you have a solution you think is worth trying. Then, you need to focus and test your solution to see if it's any good. If not, go back to the beginning again, or order a pizza.
What started you on the path to becoming a ceramic artist? This is a rather funny answer. I did one clay project in high school and HATED it. I felt it was unpredictable and way too technical, so I stuck with painting, drawing, and photography. Then I got a full scholarship to Alfred University, which is a great art school, but also a world-renowned ceramics school. Although I was set on being a painter, I couldn't turn down free tuition. When it came time to choose sophomore classes I figured I might as well try a wheel class since it was such a good place for clay. I had zero ideas about how pottery should be, and my teacher was much more into using the wheel as a tool rather than making finished products. Many of the students with prior pottery experience struggled, while I just explored whatever idea struck me. It was the only class I got an A in, so I signed up for it again, and again, and again.
What is it about clay that draws you to it more than other art mediums? I actually wouldn't say I am drawn to it more them other mediums. I do a lot of photography, jewelry, and weird mixed media paintings as well. I am a lucky recipient of a grant to expand my ceramics studio, so it's been taking up more of my time, but I still love all of the other things I do. I love clay because I can create a useful object that is also art. This contrast creates a really compelling tension. My painting, jewelry, and photography work also focuses around a combination of art and craft. I obsessively sew stuff on my paintings, machine stitch my photographs, and my jewelry is usually classified as art jewelry because it is so unusual. This probably comes from going to an art school with a strong connection to crafts, as well as me being a bit of a rebel.
When do you feel most open to your creativity or at your creative peak? It's weird, but I often settle down to do my best work at midnight or later. This can make normal activities, like going to the bank and mailing stuff, difficult, but I love it. When I finally quit my day job last September it was such a relief to finally be able to get work done and sleep more than four hours a night. I also do various physical activities such as swimming, biking, yoga, and distance running. I love getting to work after a really great yoga class or other activity. It's like all my ideas and creative energy had time to percolate and now they can all come out.
One of the things I love about your work is the humor you bring to it. Where does that come from, and is it a conscious decision you've made or a happy accident, so to speak? The first artist talk I ever gave was to a group of mostly older ceramic artists that I really respected. I put my first slide up and everyone started laughing. Not in a mean way, but in a "this-stuff-is-really-funny" way. I decided to go with it, and I now give an absolutely hysterical artist talk that people love. It's really great, because you can't be stressed when you're laughing, so I actually enjoy giving talks. With my work, I am interested in the push and pull between the humorous and darker aspects. I try to keep my work in the middle of these two qualities, but sometimes it veers a bit more towards one or the other.
How do you get your art out into the world? I sell most of my work online to people in California, Western Canada, the UK, and Australia via Etsy.com and my website. I'm not really sure why this is. I also use the site CustomMade.com to get many of my commissions. I do about 2 to 4 gallery shows around the continental US per year, and a few craft fairs to mingle with the locals. When I first quit my day job many people were worried I wouldn't make it because they knew someone else who tried to make a go of it as an artist 30 or so years ago and it didn't work out. I appreciated their concern, but I wasn't really sure how to explain that with the internet it is very easy to find your audience and get your work to them.
You seem to have found a balance between being an artist and being a businessperson. Can you tell me about finding that balance? Well, that's a work in progress, but I'm getting there. To pay the bills I do a lot of custom work. Basically, I'm creating other people's ideas. I make a point though, of only saying yes to things that I find interesting and think I will enjoy. Also, when I feel compelled to sew sparkly fabric on an old badminton racket or explore an abandoned building I do it. I can't make decent work for my clients if I'm not feeling happy and engaged, and I know what things I need to do in order to feel this way.
Who are your favorite artists? I'm pretty much a visual omnivore. I love the work that Freight and Volume shows. They do a really great job of showcasing interesting and clever work by today's artists. I love Judith Brown's jewelry. I just recently rediscovered that I love Fred Tomaselli's paintings. I look at a lot of old fussy English ceramics for inspiration, as well and cheap thrift store mugs. For favorite ceramic artists though, I will always be blown away by Beth Cavener Stichter's animal sculptures, as well as how my former teacher Susan Halls handles clay. And actually, I recently started a Pinterest board called "painting envy." Since it's fairly new there isn't a ton on there, but here it is.
What are your daily or weekly habits and practices? It depends on what's going on. In general, I like to swim, run, do yoga, visit with friends, and volunteer at the animal shelter once a week. I don't always get to all of these. Daily, I like to meditate, sleep, cook, mess around in my garden, and pet my rabbit. The work I do dictates its own schedule depending on size, drying time, firing, cleaning up, photographing, and shipping. It's so random that I can't let that dictate my life, so I work to fit it around the other things that I like to do. I also like to take classes, go to residencies, and apply to shows, so sometimes applications take over my life. This is not fun, but I love to travel and do work in other places, so it's worth it.
Any advice to aspiring artists? I would say if there's a skill you are interested in, take a class about it. This may require you to travel to a craft school such as Penland or Haystack. It may stretch your budget, but it is the absolute best way to learn. The more teachers you have and people you work alongside the better. If you think you know everything you need to know, go to a residency. Don't go with a project to create, go with an open mind, no plans, and have fun learning.
Sara Lynch is a multimedia artist living and working on the northern edge of New York State. She loves spending time with animals, and attempting to grow things in unusual containers. Visit her website for more information. (It's currently under construction, but still looks pretty lovely!)