Ceramics by Joyce Sousa – The Muse Behind the Art
Ceramics by Asheville Artist Joyce Sousa
The artist we have interviewed for this month’s “Inside the Artist’s Studio” piece is Joyce Ann Sousa.
Joyce brings to Mountain Made some of the most remarkable hand-built ceramics! Her unusual “nested bird egg” bowls are some of the most talked about pieces among our gallery visitors. Not to mention her amazing hand sculpted pitchers and mugs.
So we invite you to come with us and explore behind the scenes with this wonderful artist.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
You have to place this question in context. I was young in the 40’s and 50’s so I honestly can’t remember in terms of thinking about a career. I just don’t remember thinking like that.
If I had to choose something to say about myself as a child, I was a dedicated Tom Boy and rarely went anywhere without my cowgirl hat and cap pistols. Davy Crocket was my hero. Boy is all of that dated!
When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist?
This all took its own odd course. I loved all subjects in school but received particular praise for my science and math skills. I can’t remember anyone complimenting me on my artwork. I think like a lot of people I would have thought if I didn’t start out good at art then I wasn’t made to do it.
I am not sure that even now I think of myself as an artist. To the extent that I do, it has come after the fact. I just plunged in. I think that is my way.
I actually studied to be a physician. In later life when our boys were almost grown I earned a masters in counseling and chose to work with the criminal population. But I always had my hands in something creative: spinning, weaving, knitting, crochet, needle point etc.
I do think I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to try watercolors and pottery when I found the time, and that is exactly what I did when we retired here 10 years ago. Asheville has been good to me.
How long does it take you to create one of your pieces?
I approach pottery as I do a painting: one piece at a time. My muse is turned off by anything that has to do with an assembly line. I hand build and rarely use the wheel.
My favorite thing is rolling out a big slab of clay and just letting ideas bubble up about what to do with it. Anything can happen. I make a few pieces a day. Sometimes 6 at the most but more often 3 or 4. I can make 9 mugs a day, if I have to, but I try to stay away from that.
What is your schedule like when you’re working?
I take retirement seriously. My mornings are leisurely, and I get out to the studio late morning. I work a few hours before lunch and then several more hours in the afternoon.
I rarely put in more than 5 hours—usually a bit less. I like to listen to podcasts on my iPad when I am working. I might go back out to the studio in the evening for a very short visit if a piece needs some special attention at a particular point in the drying process.
Unless I am seriously interrupted by events, I work about 4 to 5 days a week. I have worked more when I had a large order to get done. That is not what I would choose, though.
What would you say is your interesting quirk while working?
I need to be in control of the creative process. I work best when I make what comes to mind and then folks can choose what they like. I have trouble getting out into the studio if I have agreed to do items on consignment.
It makes me nervous, and I worry more about the other person. It turns into work and makes me unhappy. Oh yes, and I do everything standing up.
Where do you get your ideas or inspiration for your artwork?
I make pottery because I love to. I do not strive to create perfection. I want to create objects that people attach to, feel comfort with and enjoy using—even fall in love with.
I want to personalize the object so I leave both imperfections, a natural part of all life, and surface information that shows how the piece came together. I love texture. It makes our lives interesting and unique.
I make it an integral part of my pottery. Ideas come easily to me because of all of the above. I work best when I am not wedded to one outcome but just enjoy where the plasticity of clay takes me.
What do you like to do when you’re not working on your art?
I paint. I read. I walk a lot. I am an active person. I do some volunteer work. I love spending time with my husband.
I am one of those people who needs a lot of time alone or I seem to lose track of myself and how to think about the world and what’s going on. I think a lot about what I do and how to live my life. I think I was born middle-aged. I take life seriously.
I used to garden a lot, but my hands are wearing out. I need to save them for painting and pottery. I am tired of housekeeping and cooking. I have done enough of that and keep it to a minimum. I have a kitty and yoga partner, Rosie, and a family of crows who count on me.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned while creating your art?
It is the most fun of anything I have ever done! It takes me completely outside myself. For me it is stress-less.
Though a day in the studio may wear me out, it also regenerates. To the extent that I play at anything, I play with the clay. I never would have guessed that.
I thought I would be good at the wheel and turn out hundreds of well crafted pieces. That didn’t turn out to be what works for me. I take care with each piece and find enjoyment in the creation of one item. In the rest of my life I am such a task oriented and focused person I didn’t expect something like this to emerge when I make pottery.
How many pieces have you created? Which ones were your favorites? How do you decide on which ideas to develop?
Lots and lots. I have no good idea; certainly thousands. I can’t keep Crazy Mugs in stock. They sell out as fast as I can make them.
Choosing favorites is hard. That changes. Sometimes I will hit weeks where I just love making pitchers; sometimes it’s bowls.
I don’t have the sense that I decide what to develop. I do not like to duplicate. Often when I go out to the studio I have no idea what I am going to make. I do know that choosing what I make on the basis of what sells is a sure way to strangle my creativity and fun. That would be a kind of drudgery I don’t think I could continue. I know I am very fortunate to be able to make that choice.
Do you hear from your fans? What kinds of things do they say?
I hear the nicest things. It makes me feel so good. The fact that people get enjoyment from what I do is a constant source of wonder to me. I find all kinds of lovely notes in my own small shop, Lucky Landing Pottery, and I do get emails.
I have had feedback from people for whom I have contributed to weddings and conferences about what a difference my pieces made.
I get notes from folks who chose things for family and friends or for themselves and how well that went; how happy they and/or others were. The feedback has been wonderful, and it is certainly a source of inspiration.
What do you think makes good art?
I think anyone would say that good art is strictly a personal thing. I believe in rules. I think we need to agree on some basics about how we are going to all get along in society. But I see no need for rules in art.
If someone makes something and another person gets enjoyment out of it—that’s a good thing. I think it’s important to keep clear about market considerations.
When those get confused with whether or not something is “good art” unfortunate things happen; for one—people stop trying, and that is our loss.
And we here at Mountain Made are glad that Joyce has let her muse lead her to us, and are looking forward to her next
We invite you to come by the gallery to browse our current selection of Joyce’s works….