Jen Mecca – Artist Interview
My husband asked me the other day if I could move anywhere I wanted, where would I go. After I thought about it for a second, I said North or South Carolina, one or the other, because since I’ve started my blogging journey, I see this amazing clay community there. After I explained my answer he looked at me and said, “Oh, we have to stay in the Rocky Mountains.” Well, so much for hypothetical questions and dreaming. For now, I’m very happy to be part of this community via the internet, the next best thing. Today’s interview is with Jen Mecca, and she lives in York, South Carolina. I love her ceramics. Her glazes are so luscious, and her surface designs are complicated, yet very whimsical. I’ve really enjoyed our conversations, and hope someday our paths will cross in real life. Jen’s blog: http://jennifermeccapottery.blogspot.com Become a fan of Jen’s on Facebook. Tell us a little about yourself! I’m a full time Mom who also tries really hard to be a full time potter! In my spare time I teach art history and ceramics to balance out the bills with keeping a five person circus, which is my family chuggin’ along. I grew up near Ithaca New York and moved to the south while in Junior high school. I come from a small but very close family and spent the majority of my childhood around my paternal grandparents who where Italian. Most of my memories of childhood center on the preparation of food, presentation, eating and the conversation that goes along with all these activities. When my family got up in the morning, the conversation at breakfast was about what we were going to have for dinner! How did you become an artist? As a child I was diagnosed with dyslexia. In the 70’s children with reading disabilities where just getting recognized and helped for these sorts of things. I was lucky enough to have parents who where educators and did everything they could to get me help, encourage me and realize that although I had a disability and I was intelligent and gifted in the arts. My parents always encourage me to create and work as hard as I could at what I loved. After four years of design school and one internship at an architectural firm I decided that the “business” of design was not offering as much creativity as I needed for a career so I quickly decided I needed to try something else and I found myself managing a large craft gallery in Durham North Carolina by the name of Cedar Creek Gallery. Here I was surrounded by potters and a family who made their living making and selling fine crafts. I was able to learn a lot about the business of owning a craft gallery as well as being a craftsperson. After three years of being on the retail end of the craft business one of the potters who had a studio there showed me how to throw a pot and I was hooked! I than went back to school at East Carolina and got another undergraduate degree in Fine Art and also my masters in ceramics. How would you describe your style? One of the hardest things for artists to do is to stand apart from everyone else. How long did it take you to come up with your own style and signature look? My work has always been described as being whimsical and fun. I always have people come into my booth or studio and tell me that my pots make them smile. This is such a great compliment and although most potters don’t like it when people tell them there work is cute or fun, I guess it doesn’t bother me. I love what I do and I’m glad that the work speaks for itself. When I have a moment to be by myself in my studio, it is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable feeling that I experience in my hectic life. It has taken me a long time to have my own voice and I am still working on this. I’m not sure I was taught to really reach deep down and bring out my own ideas. I have in the past taken what I have learned from other potters and used those techniques in my own work. Sometimes this has worked and sometimes it has not. For myself, I would love the opportunity to work alongside some other wonderful potters and just focus on my surface and “voice” more. In my world, I don’t always have the time to spend a whole weekend staring at one pot and really looking at what makes it my own ideas or someone else’s. I live a life of deadlines and multi-tasking so for the time being, I’ll keep doing the best I can in the amount of time I have to make work that is “my own”. What is your inspiration for your pieces? I love to look at pieces from the turn of the century. Any art from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s really catches my eye because it’s all about the MORE, MORE, MORE. I love detail and color. I love fabric and wrapping paper and fashion. This is what inspires my surface. As for my forms, I always have seen them as little cartoon characters. I think this use to illustrate itself a lot more in my work about 3 years ago. In that past few years I have been so focused on my surface that I have kept my forms pretty straightforward. I would like to re-visit the days when my pieces had an attitude and took on a more gestural look. In my head my life is a running cartoon or sit-com and I’d like to show that in my work. What keeps you motivated? Funny as it may seem, rejection letters keep me going. I don't like anyone to tell me I can't do something. I guess that stems from having trouble in school. If I don't get into a juried show or a certain gallery I keep trying, over and over again. The initial blow hurts but I just tell myself that my work needs improvement and to just try again. Also, my pottery friends these days really keep me motivated. I have a few really close friends here in the Charlotte area the support we give each other really keeps me going. I wear many hats throughout the day and although I love making pots, at times its hard to keep applying to shows, keeping up with the current trends and choosing the best venues to show my work. I have a great support system that keeps me going! Are you a full-time artist? How do you come up with your creations? Can you walk us through your creative process when dreaming up new pieces? I have a short attention span so coming up with new idea has never been a problem. In fact, I have to tell myself to keep making the same sort of forms and just perfecting them instead of moving onto all the new ideas that pop into my head on a daily basis. When I do come up with an idea I sometimes sketch it out but usually when the wheel and hands meet up my vision sometimes changes. Once I make that first piece, I take it to shows and see what sort of reaction it gets. I would say the majority of the times, I have to tweak a piece three or four times to get it just the way it needs to be. Sometimes I make something and it doesn’t work but I come back to the same form in a year or so and re-evaluate what was working and what was not working. What was it that made you want to start creating? Did something specific trigger it? I have always made things every since I was a child. I can remember trying to make a pair of high heeled sandals out of cardboard and ribbon when I was about 7. It has always just been something I’ve done. Now that I’m a Mom and my oldest child has endless projects for school, I jump at the challenge and chance to help him come up with the most creative and ornate projects he can dream up. We joke about how I say “Bring it on!” What or who inspires you? While in grad school, I was really inspired by all the wonderful female potters who where current (and still are) like Suze Lindsey, Silive Granitelli, Sandy Parentozzi, Gay Smith and Linda Arbuckle. It wasn’t until I had my first child and really needed a mentor and someone who had been a Mother and a potter at the same time, I found a mentor in LindaChristenson. I took a workshop with her in 2004 and even though we make totally different work and live different sort of life styles, she has inspired me to be a patient teacher and true to myself as a potter. I’m a pretty introverted person so networking is not my strong suit. Linda, who is also sort of a funny but quiet individual, had great advice about being a part of a support system and just getting my work out there in as many show as I could enter. I’m still hearing these words or wisdom and I just think of them anytime I need some inspiration. How do you maintain a healthy work and life balance? OHHH…I’m not so sure I’m as good as I’d like to be at this. One more thing I’m trying to work on. I do exercise as much as I can. I walk and go to the gym. I have always tried to eat right and hopefully soon I will be able to start back at Yoga, which I think is really beneficial if you’re someone like me who is tightly wound at times and has a lot on her plate! I have noticed in the last 2 years that my work habits, which usually centers around late night studio visits, is getting to be a bit much for my body. This year my new year’s resolution was to get more sleep. So instead of working in my studio from 8 to 11-12 every night, I try to stop working at 10pm. I have many hats to wear throughout the day and I do try my best to spend as much time as I can with my children, husband and also do what I love. My house on the other hand….suffers greatly. Just this year I was able to hire a cheap cleaning lady that comes when I’m in desperate need of some help. This is a true luxury and since she does not charge us a lot, it’s well worth it! You, like most people enjoy the process of making and crafting and didn't get into it for the sake of "business". But eventually you found yourself having to make the transition from crafter to a businessperson. What have you learned so far and what advice can you give others in the same situation? Keep good records of everything you buy, make and sell. I think a simple spread sheet to start off with is an important step. I’ve learned that you need to have a good relationship with any gallery owners you do business with. Make sure you ask lots of questions about who they do business and what they expect from you as a craftsperson and visa versa. Not every gallery that you encounter is always a right fit. Also make sure a gallery has been in business for a number of years or has some sort of know-how about the product they are dealing with before you send them your work. Same goes for craft shows. If possible, visit the show you are applying for to make sure it will suit your needs. Ask other craftspeople about what sort of cliental they have encountered at the show to make sure it will be beneficial to your sales. I also believe that these days the internet is a very good resource for craftspeople these days and it is one that I’m slowly perusing and learning more about. What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look? Attend as many workshops and conferences as you can. Get together with other potters and talk about your work. Just make, make, make as much as you can and keep up with the current trends. Read and educate yourself about historic pottery and the different periods in art. Visit and really look at different types of work in art galleries and museums. It’s all about looking and really seeing what you are doing. Thanks Jen, it’s been great getting to know you.