BY KALISHA MENDONSA
Local artist Jen Obst says she has truly found her calling in ceramics, and can’t wait to make her career take shape.
Obst was recently showing and selling her wares at the Lacombe Farmers Market, drawing in visitors with her unique shapes, functional pieces and vibrant colours.
As a painter, sketch artist and pastel lover, her pottery comes in a wide range of designs and colours influenced by her love of so many mediums.
However, her heart remains embedded in clay.
“I think what really sealed the deal for me was the first time I brought a piece out of the gas kiln, and got to see the changes with the glaze – it was like Christmas. I don’t know exactly what it was about that, but seeing that just hooked me. I would love to work with ceramics for the rest of my life,” she said passionately during a recent interview with the Express.
She said she has tried a number of mediums, and has loved art from a young age. However, she said she had never before experienced the same fulfilling love as she does when she is working with pottery.
“I’ve tried out a few different kinds of art, and different jobs, but never had that feeling of ‘finding my place’,” she said. “With ceramics, it feels like everything is right – I’m just so happy when I’m able to do this.”
Obst recently rounded out her second year as a visual arts student at Red Deer College. Now, she has set her sights on the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
Through her experience at RDC, Obst has been exposed to a wide variety of techniques in her craft, and uses all of these to create a broad range of products and designs. “There are so many directions you can take with ceramics. Lots of people decide to go into sculpture or painting or drawing, and you can do all of that with ceramics,” she said.
“You can make functional pieces like bowls and cups, or you can make pieces to paint on or design. You can make pieces to sculpt – there are just so many options for what you can create. It’s limitless.”
She laughed and added there is almost too many options in ceramics, and it’s hard to limit herself to a single technique for each piece, as she enjoys trying out different techniques so much.
One of the reasons Obst enjoys working with clay so much is the forgiving nature of the material.
She explained that it’s very easy to make small mistakes, and also easy enough to fix them.
“If you make something that doesn’t turn out well, or isn’t exactly what you wanted, you just make it again. If you enjoy the process, it’s worth it,” she said.
Obst likened the suspense of waiting for a piece to come out of a kiln to the exciting suspense of awaiting Christmas morning. She said she didn’t have enough words in the English language to describe her love and passion for creating ceramic pieces, and her love for the process.
“It’s a very exciting process, and I think you get used to the lack of total control. The first time a piece breaks, you’re heartbroken. After a while, you just say to yourself, well, that didn’t work, I guess I’ll try something else,” she said.
“Everything is a lesson, too. You’re always getting feedback from your pieces.”
She explained that with clay, it’s easy to see instantly what is working and what is not. A little too much pressure can cause cracks or dents and from there it’s about adapting the process to bring the desired result.
While working with ceramics, she said, it’s important to pay attention to your piece and be deliberate, open-minded and ready to start again if necessary.
“With drawing and painting, unless you have friends to critique your work or you are part of a group, it can be hard to get feedback. With clay – this may sound a bit hokey – but clay kind of speaks to you. If you tried to fix a crack or push it too far, you can see the immediate response from the material in bends or cracks,” she said.
Obst may have a special place in her heart for ceramics, but she also enjoys working with other mediums such as acrylic paints and pastels. She said her greatest enjoyment in painting is doing abstract work – which can be more difficult than some people think.
“I really love painting, as well. I paint abstracts, and it’s so much fun to work with colours and try to make something out of them. Painting abstracts is actually harder than people think, too. People say, ‘Well anyone can throw paint on a canvas’, but you could try to make 10 abstract paintings before one turns out even remotely good,” she said with a laugh.
“I love pastels, too, because it combines the texture and vibrant colours of paint with the motions of drawing. There are different techniques to each medium, and it’s so nice to be able to explore that.”
Currently, Obst has some paintings in the Red Deer Corridor Gallery, which is located in the lower level of the Red Deer Recreation Centre.
“I’m loving everything I do and all of the things I’ve gotten to try. Going to school for art has been the best decision of my life. I’ve never been happier,” she said.
Follow her work through her instagram, @JenObstArt.