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A couple of months ago, I interviewed ceramic sculptor Guillermo Guardia about his artwork. I was so inspired by his story and how he overcame the challenges of sculpting a perfect human body by sculpting bodies made of puzzle pieces. The new subject was symbolic of his journey.
When we finished the interview, Guillermo extended an open invitation for me to visit his studio and try the craft for myself. How could I pass up an opportunity to see a talented artist in action and learn hands-on about his process?
As the arts and entertainment reporter for the Herald, I often speak to artists about their inspiration and process. But after the interview, I’m always left craving something more. And this was it — my missing piece. I needed to see the artist in action.
And after much planning, I’m excited to present the first episode of “In the Studio,” a monthly Web series where we take you in the studio with area artists to show you a behind-the-scenes look at their craft and workspace.
Each month, we’ll visit another artist’s workspace, and I’ll share my hands-on experience with the new art form.
Since Guillermo’s offer sparked the idea, I thought it would only make sense for him to be the first artist.
Working with clay
Sitting in Muddy Waters Clay Center, Guillermo handed me a wad of clay. It was tough, damp and intimidating.He said we would make a dog and a llama, and I tried to convince myself that it couldn’t be too difficult.
I reminded myself that Guillermo typically taught children, so it couldn’t be too difficult, right?
I circled clumps of clay in my hand trying to form two round balls — one for the head and one for the body. While Guillermo made his effortlessly, I struggled to smooth out the lumps. As soon as I had smoothed one side, I’d pushed the opposite side out of whack. I laughed. I didn’t have time to get it right. I set aside my uneven pieces and moved on to the legs.
Rolling a slab of clay between my hand and the table, I thought back to making snakes out of Play-doh as a kid. “Why couldn’t we make snakes,” I thought. “I could handle that.”
I wondered how this long snake-like piece would become legs, but Guillermo quickly explained. We tore the long piece into four even parts. That was the goal anyhow; mine were all different sizes. Turns out, I’m not too great with dimensions.
I started putting my lopsided dog together. Again, I struggled while Guillermo worked with ease. We made two flat pancake-like circles for floppy ears and a little nub for a tail. When it all came together, I laughed and tried to see the dog in my jumbled cluster.
Next, we tackled the llama. “Great,” I thought, “even more pieces to struggle with.”
But, with one animal under my belt, the llama came together more smoothly.
The pieces were similar to that of the dog, except slightly different in size. I tried attaching the legs, but they weren’t stable. Guillermo offered to help, and I watched his hands as he worked. His fingers molded the clay proficiently.
Sculpting was second nature to Guillermo. He didn’t think; he just let his hands move and transform the clay.
He handed me my llama and with his kind heart he assured me that it was fine. I finished the face and tail. Then, we used a small sculpting tool to poke holes for the eyes and make lines along the body for the fur.
This time when we finished, I saw a llama, albeit slightly disfigured. I was proud of my little guy. We also made a tiny penguin with big eyes and angry eye brows, which turned out quite cute. With each piece we made, I gained more confidence, and I was able to relax and enjoy the process.
Despite my inability to form accurately proportioned smooth shapes, I had fun molding the clay and learning from Guillermo.
If we had more time, we could have fired the figures in the ceramic kiln and painted them. But, Guillermo said if I let them dry they would last forever as long as they weren’t knocked over. So, I thanked Guillermo for the tour and the lesson, grabbed my little figures and made my way back to the office.
The puppy fell apart in my hands. But, my surviving llama, Fernando, and penguin, Frankie, sit on my desk reminding me that art is not about perfection — it’s about experience.
First published in the Grand Forks Herald, Jan. 17.