Currently based in Portland OR, Carson Culp is a former Leach Potter who treats each piece as a canvas to explore a variety of techniques. Creating decorative yet functional pottery pieces, each handmade piece of tableware is crafted in a high fire reduction atmosphere using traditional glazes.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Portland for the most part. I enjoy warm beaches with right breaks, sliding down mountains covered with snow, playing basketball, and being athletic. Working with clay is a very big part of my life along with playing a little harder than I work!
2. How did you start your career in creating pottery pieces?
My career started pretty young with clay, acquiring my first job in the ceramics field at Mudshark Studios when I was 17. Filled with a number of apprenticeships, residencies, closet studios in apartments, and months of eating top ramen; ten years later I have now started my own production studio in Portland, OR.
3. What inspires your work and why?
My work is inspired by human interaction. How one simple mug can bring so much joy to a daily routine, how comfortable a form can nest in one's hands. Rooted in functional forms that give me blank canvases for my decorating techniques. I am inspired by change of shape, contrast, color, patterns, and using materials from the earth. High temperatures of warped patterns and melting iron strands remind me of places I've been or things I have seen in an altered state.
4. What do you hope to inspire in others with your ceramics?
I hope my work can bring joy to someone's daily life, that is the most I can ask for and that is the most rewarding feeling when I see it.
5. What is a typical day like for you?
Typical day for me is waking up and making coffee immediately, then selecting a mug out of the 50 or so I have on a wall in my kitchen that I have collected. Then drive to the studio and try not to spill coffee everywhere. The first thing I do is turn the heat and weigh up balls of clay for whatever I am throwing that day. Turn on the Joe Rogan Podcast, get a bucket of warm water, and throw on the wheel for about 5 hours. I then justify the time I leave by the amount of work I did that day, if it looks like a day's work then I go exercise. A number of extra curricular activities tend to go one after my days in the studio along with just relaxing at home and watching some good old Netflix.
6. What’s your process for creating your pieces?
The process for creating my pieces can be explained in many ways. For me I can explain my month-long making periods in some depth. Weeks one through three are usually my wet clay making times with countless bisque kiln firings to heat the studio. As wares come out of the kiln by the end of the month I go into a glaze/decorating frenzy. Pressuring myself to glaze and finish everything within a couple days before the firing. This pressure I give myself at the end allows my glaze work to happen in a more carefree way because there's so much to do with so little time. I quite enjoy that aesthetic of seeing marks and dents that accumulate in a piece over the time it was created. Once the big gas kiln is loaded I then fire for about 12 hours making adjustments of gas pressure and air every hour or so. Reaching up to temperatures of 2350 degrees fahrenheit at hour 12 I shut the kiln down, lock her up, and let it cool for two full days. This is followed by an unload day with sanding bottoms and observing the finished results, then repeat.
7. Tell us a bit about the special techniques you use, and why you use them.
Special techniques I use come from the time I worked at the Leach Pottery in St. Ives, Cornwall. Decorating played a big role in making ceramics there. Techniques of brushwork, pattern making, overlapping glazes, and wax resist decorations were used often. My work preserves a lot of those techniques that have been passed down at the Leach Pottery for over a hundred years now.
8. If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?
First off, ceramics saved my life I truly believe. This craft has made me grow as a human being so much and I don't know where I would be without it to be completely honest. If I had to choose something else, probably shaping surfboards and living in a shack in Puerto Rico.
9. How does sustainability fit into the work that you do?
My sustainable practice at the moment is small. Saving every last bit of clay to reclaim and wedge back into new workable clay. Using scrap paper as my packing material, firing as efficiently as possible with propane, and sourcing wood ash as a glaze material. Baby steps!
10. Where do you hope to see yourself and your work in 10 years?
I hope to see myself in ten years somewhere warm on the beach, I hope to see my studio in that same area and my work can continue to inspire daily rituals and routines.
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To learn more about Carson Culp and view his other work, visit Culp Pottery.