Connie Norman
Connie Norman

Paul Barchilon – Artist Interview

FA2862E0-BDAF-4BB7-8954-DB964D1ADBE6 Timurid Ten-Step, 16″ diameter, glazed earthenware, 2010

Visit Paul’s website: Paul Barchilon Ceramics 

 Paul’s work can seen at  Plinth Gallery

After many weeks of computer problems, and losing several interviews with the crash of my hard drive.  We are back with Paul’s Artist Interview!!  Paul Barchilon’s work is beautiful, intricate, and timeless.  While we were setting up the interview and emailing each other.  I found out Paul teaches ceramics to high school students.  (I’m glad I’m not the only one who teaches the young.)  His students are very lucky to have a teacher like him.  Paul has shared some exciting news. he will be featured in the September issue of Pottery Making Illustrated.  I hope this interview gets you excited about his work and look for his article this September!!! 

Tell us a little about yourself!

I was born in Boulder, Colorado, but have always loved to travel.  My dad is from Morocco, so we were back and forth to there and Europe all the time when I was a kid.  When I grew up, I found the travel bug had stuck with me.  I have had the good fortune to travel to over 20 countries, including India, China, Turkey, and Brazil.

27amberTwenty-Seven Lovers, glazed earthenware, 2007

How did you become an artist?

I think I was always an artist.  My mom was a painter, and we were always surrounded by art.  From a very young age, I was encouraged to make things.  Making a living at art seemed almost impossible though, so I supported myself by working at Kinko’s for 15 years.  I always kept my art alive though, working on weekends and whenever I could find the time.  Finally I dropped down to part time when I was able to pull in a little income from my art.  Nowadays, I spend about half my time teaching art to kids.  I enjoy this a lot, although it also takes time away from making art.

3D3862B8-F1F2-48D6-BDA2-0B12029B1DB5Tracing a projection on to a platter.

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?

I have long felt that so called “Western Art” is only one form of art, and that it is only regarded so highly because it is what we are familiar with.  Having traveled all over the world, I find European culture to be a very narrow slice of creativity indeed.  What really moves me is Islamic Art, which I think is the most sophisticated and most beautiful of any form in the world.  Integral to the artform is a willingness to spend massive amounts of time on something.  The stunning tile creations of the Islamic masters involve thousands of hours of work, even to cover relatively small areas.  As a child, I saw these beautiful tile patterns all over Morocco.  I remember whenever I came back to America, I was always surprised at how boring and drab America was.  Didn’t Americans realize you could decorate white walls?  In my 20s I gravitated towards Islamic pattern and began putting them on my pieces.  This soon led to designing my own patterns, and the more I learned, the more depth I found in the practice.  I have been at it for about 20 years now.  I consider my work to be very traditional, and it fits perfectly in the 1,300 year continuum of Islamic Art.  Although I am Jewish, I find that this art resonates more with me than anything else.  I reject the distinction between artist and craftsperson, and consider both to be equally valid.  There is tremendous value in the time and love an artist puts into their work, and the often anonymous artisans who crafted the great mosques and palaces of the Islamic world have poured their souls into each building.  It fascinates me that you can look at a building that is 800 years old, and still hear the voice of that ancient craftsman.  

92C9D043-332D-463F-957F-6413246B0202 Painting on greenware.

What is your inspiration for your pieces?

Mainly ancient Islamic buildings.  At the moment I am particularly fascinated with Samarqand, a city in Central Asia.  The Timurid style was founded there, and features incredible patterning systems from the 14th century.  Modern mathematicians have only just recently even learned how to describe these formations, which are called quasi-cristalline pentagonal tilings.  It took us until the 1970s to catch up to what the Muslims were doing 600 years ago.  You can see one of my patterns that use this system in Timurid Ten-Step.  To learn how to use this system, I worked from a copy of a 600 year old Islamic pattern manual, called the Topkapi Scroll.

alcazarblk2upAlcazar Key, two views of a three sided vase, 2003

What keeps you motivated?

My work is very time consuming, I can spend over 30 hours decorating a single platter, but in the end I am always filled with joy that I created something beautiful.  The process is also quite meditative, and I am happy when I am painting a piece.  There are so many amazing patterns that have been created, but there are an infinite number more that can still be created.  I get really excited when I discover something I haven’t seen before, and then I like to pursue it and see what happens. 

tunisa-fA Night in Tunisia, glazed earthenware, 2008

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 teach part time, and make art the rest.  I almost always start a pattern in pencil on paper, working with a compass and a straight edge.  The techniques I use have not changed in over a thousand years, and I always begin by dividing a circle, into various numbers.  From there, I connect lines, and look for interesting shapes.  I often have hundreds of lines intersecting, and seeing the patterns in all of the confusion is part of the challenge.  Once I have a foundation, I usually scan it and then manipulate it in either Photoshop or Illustrator.  The computer allows me to try all sorts of color schemes, and I can turn layers on and off to help me visualize what I am creating.  I move freely between paper and the computer, both are useful tools.  Once I have a pattern, I project it onto a dry platter with an opaque projector, and then trace the lines in pencil.  From there, I paint colored slips on the green ware, and then bisque to 04. After that I apply a clear glaze and fire to 06.  If there is gold on the piece, I apply it after the glaze firing, and then fire a third time to 018.   To see how I design a pattern from start to finish, go here:

sisters2-fSeven Sisters, glazed earthenware, 2008

What was it that made you want to start creating? Did something specific trigger it?

I was in Marrakesh in 1991. While winding my way through a labyrinthine souk, I came across a man making brass platters in a tiny little shop. I was fascinated by his designs and asked him how he made them. He was kind enough to give me a demonstration. Taking a flat sheet of metal he first drew a single circle, and then divided it into six equal sections simply by setting his compass to the radius of the circle and then marking the divisions around the circumference. From there he drew lines between some of the points, and then again crossing into the center. In no time at all a complex interwoven pattern began to appear. He told me that all of his patterns were stored in his head. Many of them he had learned from his father, others sprang out as he played with the lines. I watched him in awe, but also had an inkling that this was something that perhaps I too could learn to do. I bought some paper and crayons at a small stationeer, and everywhere I went I took rubbings of the tiles. Some of my favorite patterns were found in local bars and one was even found in the men’s room of the Alcazar in Sevilla. When I came back to the states, I carved some of the tracings in clay and began putting them on vases.

Winter-f Winter Monarchs, glazed earthenware with gold detailing, 2008

How do you maintain a healthy work and life balance?

I try not to work for too many hours in a row, and I often change tasks to prevent repetitive strain in my arms and hands.  I try to make sure I have time for yoga, walking to school, and riding my bike as often as possible.  In general, I spend too much time at the computer, and need to get better about balancing that.

7EA8247C-1EBE-45DF-BA46-86C02418886B Rkab Djaja, two views of a five sided vase, glazed earthenware, 2004  

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?

I think it is important to realize that the public at large has very little interest in art.  People are interested in football and television, not art.  That doesn’t mean art isn’t important, but it does mean that it doesn’t really command market share.  Don’t expect society to support you for being an artist, accept that you are probably not ever going to make much money as an artist.  Accordingly, look for other ways to supplement your income, while still finding time for your art.  If you are lucky enough to have good sales, don’t ever take it for granted, and always give your work your all.  I would rather make what I want to, and not sell that much of it, than make things I know I can sell but don’t really want to make.  Make your choices consciously, and you will be happier with them.

A907FB78-BB52-4362-9A9A-B50D52E3DFFD1412 Overture, glazed earthenware with gold detailing, 2009

What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look?

There is really no substitute for time spent working in the studio.  Take any idea, and pour your energy into exploring it fully, and you will learn much in the process. Keep your heart in your work, and don’t ever tie your sense of self worth into whether you can sell what you make, or even if other people like it.  The only person your art needs to please is you, and it should make you ecstatic.  If it doesn’t, keep working at it, and keep improving your skills until  you can make the things that will make you ecstatic.  Being an artist is not an easy path, but you should accept no substitutes. Artists are charged with being able to see and create beauty, and being able to re-imagine the uneventful into something more exciting.  When you succeed, you touch the divine within yourself.  This spark is what the world needs more than anything else.  If everyone connected with that spark, there would be no war and no violence.  As an artist, you have an obligation to share what you can do with the world.  It is a sacred trust, and if you fail to live up to it, you will find yourself unfulfilled and unhappy. 

Thanks Paul, I’m looking forwad to seeing your article in Pottery Making Illustrated.

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5 Responses to “Paul Barchilon – Artist Interview”

  1. Linda Starr Says:

    Beautifully intricate work and great words for artists in the last paragraph.

  2. Lisa Says:


    Inspiring article. Congratulations! I especially like the advice you give the artist, that their work should make them feel ecstatic. And not to get into judgment about how the world responds, just stay in touch with your feelings and relationship to your work.


    All the best,


  3. jim Says:

    hi connie, so glad you interviewed paul. i first discovered him on facebook and love his work. he’s an unbelievable craftsman and the amount of time he puts into his pieces is mindboggling… and very much worth it.

  4. Kayla Says:

    Hi Mrs. Norman,
    This guys work is really interesting! I like how he uses the geometrical shapes to create his work. When I stare at it, it starts moving. Really cool!

    K thanks bye.

  5. ashley cuthbertson Says:

    i agree with kayla the shapes in the art work a beautful and the colors a bright and beautful in his work.