A short time ago I realized how many awesome Portland creatives I know. These friends have often surprised me with their unexpected talents. Like myself, most of them work jobs unrelated to their crafts, while in their spare time they hole up in basements, garages, or studios to perform their wizardry.
I’m so inspired by the motivation, drive, and different talents of these artists, that I’d like to share their work with you through a series of studio visits I’ll be conducting with each one.
So, without further ado:
I meet all sorts of people at my “day” job, and when I met Brian, I knew him as some sort of professional dude who did stuff with computers. Just under two years ago, he showed me some pictures of ceramics he had made. “You made that??”, I said. They were amazing, weird little doll part ceramics.
For my birthday that year, Brian gave me a butter dish he’d made (pictured at the beginning of this post). It was entirely unique, and wonderfully odd – a duck that, instead of a bird head, had a delicate arm extending from its body.
A year and a half later, Brian has taken his ceramics to a level above and beyond just a simple hobby. He’s mass producing small armies of functional dishes to great success, all from his garage.
Jake and I made a visit to his studio and picked his brain about how this all started.
Brian Connolly: I go to Craigslist. There’s a lady up in North Portland who has a ceramics business, and she was giving away a barn full of molds, and I asked if she had any doll parts. I got a stack of forty molds for $30.
BC: I don’t know. I never counted them, and they keep growing. And I throw a lot away.
LW: Didn’t you tell me a while ago that you have an Art Degree?
BC: Yes, BFA in Ceramics.
LW: When did you get your degree?
BC: I graduated in ’98. I spent 6 years in college, and 3 1/2 of those at Cal State Long Beach. A couple at Orange Coast College.
LW: What happened? You were laying dormant for awhile, weren’t you?
BC: Oh yeah. I started school with an engineering major, so I have a bit of a right brain/left brain that bounces back and forth. The thing is, I felt like I needed to get a career; I got married. I was like Mr. Proactive, I wanted to get my life on a roll. That worked out for so long, then I moved on and let go of the things I thought I needed to do. But, I really like my software career.
LW: What was the official title of the position you were in?
BC: Systems engineer senior professional. I’m a web application and database developer.
LW: What do you call yourself with your ceramics?
BC: Uh, “I Make Stuff”.
LW: Do you feel like you’re running out of space?
BC: Yeah, I’m about to build another shelf. I’ve gone through incremental steps of more and more shelving and space and storage, but it’s getting more efficient. So what I do is set out the molds and I categorize them by the time it takes to cast each one, short molds and long molds. Then, I fill these boxes.
BC: When I started doing ceramics, I did all functional work. I was a potter. And then, right around the time I went to university, I injured my hand, so I couldn’t throw on the wheel for about a year and a half. So I had potter’s skills, but I couldn’t do anything more for a while. Which was good, because I wanted to get more into sculpture, and it forced me to learn to speak more visually.
LW: When did you first participate in Crafty Wonderland (a Portland fair featuring the works of local artists)?
BC: The first Crafty show I did was last December, and that’s kinda when I started selling.
LW: What made you want to put these on the market?
BC: Because if they can pay for themselves, I can make more.
BC: Yeah, there is one store that I’ll put my work in – BillyGoat Vintage on Alberta, where I actually had my work hanging (wall sculptures) this last month. And there is a pop-up shop that I can’t mention yet.
BC: I’m gathering fired items and glazing them so I can do 3-D collage, like shadowboxes filled with pre-fired pieces. Those were some of the early ideas, I actually had that idea before the butter dishes. Sometimes when I have an idea, it takes me a good year to get there.
LW: How much time does it take to make a batch?
BC: It varies. For my first sale at Crafty Wonderland, it took me about three weeks, with a day job, working nights and weekends. 80% of work I sold in about 4 hours. For 3 weeks worth of work to go in 4 hours, that’s pretty fast. The second show I did, it took me 8 days. My process has cut significantly.
BC: People do lack an interesting butter dish. I don’t know where they are putting them, some people put it in a curio, or on a shelf, or sometimes, in their fridge. I’d like to think that everyone puts it in their fridge.
Which reminds me, back before I lived in Portland, I made lots of candles every holiday. Instead of filling them with potpourri, I’d fill them with nuts and bolts. I had a rule – you wouldn’t get a candle the next year, unless you lit the candle you got the previous year.
I want people to use things, if they are beautiful and interesting, use them. You’re gonna die one day, if that thing’s still around, what was the point? I like to make things that people use.
LW: What does your mom think of your ceramics?
BC: She….appreciates my imagination.
JH: When you were a kid, did you recombine the parts of your action figures?
BC: Oh yeah. Cobra Commander and whoever else, traded faces, genders, and whatever else.
To view more of Brian’s ceramics or to purchase his work, visit his website:
Thanks to Brian for participating and allowing me to invade his home, and to Jake for all his help.