Wedel acknowledges that those who are proficient in clay tend to develop a careful process with a fixed number of variables, thus eliminating the chance for failures. But as soon as an artist wants to try something new or experiment, that’s all thrown out the window. “Clay is not forgiving to the individual who is always moving forward,” he offers. To grow and develop new work, artists must face brushes with failure.
He recalls a surprisingly liberating four-month period where he was making large porcelain sculptures that consistently failed. “They would slump over, explode, and crack,” he says. “It felt so good not to know the outcome again; everything was new and exciting. My work now is a constant unraveling of what I know and how I make. It is about a constant evolution, and failure is a good indicator of whether or not I am moving forward.”
“Trying something new is the best feeling in the world, but it’s also the most trouble,” Robenalt adds.
Despite its finicky nature, artists agree that the massive opportunities offered by clay—the ability to create nearly any object imaginable—outweighs its baggage. “I continue to work in clay because failures would happen no matter the medium,” Lopez says. “Actually, failures happen all the time—I always burn bacon—so it’s just learning to accept and try again.”
“There is such thrill in opening a kiln door after a work has been fired,” Wedel explains. “There is so much hope and so much wonder. The material has the final say over who you are as an artist. It can be both humbling and humiliating, and not many artists are okay with that.”