I promised myself I would post a new blog post every Monday with a theme from my love of teaching.  Well, my last minute idea is about inspiration, specifically one of the many things that inspired my current work.  (This may not be a teaching post, but it may inspire ideas for students of pottery….)

Paper Cup and holder

Blast from my past - paper cup and plastic holder

My father owned his own business while I was growing up.  Actually, he owned several, as great entrepreneurs tend to do.  I have a fond memory of the water cooler in his store.  This cooler offered both cold or hot water and had cone-shaped paper cups in a dispenser on the side of the cooler.  Those paper cups would burn your hand with hot water, unless you used a little plastic holder with handle.  This was a reusable sleeve that offered a handle to keep your fingers away from the heat.  I found this plastic holder and cone-shaped cup to be intriguing.

As I began flirting with clay in my basement, after dedicating my time to librarianship for 5 years, I tried all kinds of shapes in the round.  I was searching for a form that I enjoyed making, was challenging enough not to bore me but also easy enough to make so that I could make enough to sell at a reasonable price; after all, I am a functional potter, not a clay sculptor.  Sure, I could have gone back to the pots of my past, but I no longer had access to a soda kiln to get the old decorations back, and I was using a new clay in a new place.  Time for a change.

The potter’s wheel is only limited to round if you choose to leave the clay alone after forming your pot.  Play led to my flirting with ovals, squares, darts, etc.  Cutting and re-attaching clay (darting) or attaching bottoms to pots thrown with no bottom and ovaled seemed too complex for my idea of ease in process.  Then I remembered that plastic cup holder and thought I could use that idea to highlight the red clay by making the glazed part  look as though it was sitting within the bottom, unglazed earthenware.  This is all done while forming on the wheel – no need for attaching, unless handles are added.

mugs, stacked

Previous work - mugs inspired by plastic cup holder

Well, this got a bit boring.  It wasn’t challenging enough.

One spring day in the studio, after working in my garden, I came upon a budding flower and thought about how the green stem holds the paper-like flower within…. just as my inspirational plastic cup holds the paper cup within.  Flowers are much more beautiful than plastic/paper cups… and I am a novice gardener.  So why not see if I can reference a little bud in my pots?

Budding Flower - inspiration

generic Budding flower image thanks to

And so I began to think of ways I could alter my pots just a bit more to make them unique, fun and a challenge to make, not too fussy as to become too expensive to create, beautiful, functional and referencing my love of my natural surroundings, specifically my garden sitting above this rich, red clay of Western North Carolina.  And of course, still working with that first image of my cone-shaped paper cup sitting in a plastic holder with handle.

A little practice and patience and I found a tool that I could use to dimple my pots, take them out of round, and reference the multiple layers of a flower coming up from the stem.  I like the way  food looks in these altered shapes, too.

Soup in Pincu Pottery Bowl

Phil Gelb, a fabulous vegan chef in Oakland, CA and Cori Spence, assistant cook and food photographer, use my bowls!

And so I have been working with this idea ever since.  I play with new inspirations and attempt to create new ways of decorating, but the shape concept continues….

Currently, I am working on looking at a new inspiration that has come to me since making this work – fluted Korean celadon pots from 918–1392.  Keep tuned in to see if they inspire a new decorating technique, shapes, or who knows!

What inspires your pottery?


  1. Pingback: More Inspiration « Pincu Pottery
  2. April Nance · February 16, 2011

    Hey Elise! I enjoyed talking with you earlier this week about the Guild website. Love your site and your blog – informative AND inspiring! I look forward to learning more about your work.

  3. phil · February 14, 2011

    thank you for mentioning me 🙂

    How can i acquire more bowls from you????

    • pincupottery · February 14, 2011

      Thanks, Phil – glad you like them! I would be happy to send you more with the thought that the next time I am in Oakland, California I could eat more of your fabulous food – food that I dream about more than I should say!

  4. Michael Kline · February 14, 2011

    Great inspiration. Good for a Monday!! I love to see what inspires artists almost as much as how the artist reacts to the inspiration!

    I wonder how the handle on the cup holder feels in the hand? Since it is plastic (I assume) and has a different “hardness”, I wonder if it matches one’s expectations when picked up. Do your handles meet the visual signals that they convey?

    Wow, I hope that makes sense?!!?

    • pincupottery · February 14, 2011

      Hmmm… good question, Michael.
      I remember vaguely the plastic cup handle – how it was thin and had a seem down the middle, if my memory is correct. The seem was detectable but not intrusive and uncomfortable. Also, that handle was a one finger guy, and I prefer two-finger handles overall. Plastic has such a cold feeling, even with hot liquid inside… I can’t even say that I liked this plastic holder better than the now popular paper sleeve on paper to-go cups. I was just tickled, as a kid, that I could put my paper cone inside this half-mug and make it a functional mug!

      I like to talk a bunch about handles with new pottery students. Most don’t know what they like until we talk and then go home to reflect on their favorite mugs/handles. I’m not sure what my handles convey except comfort – and I think my handles are comfortable. In fact, I would say that my favorite item that I make – or in other words… THE pot that I am proud of most – is my mug. I have worked hard trying to get the right shape, width and girth to my mug handles so they look as good as they feel (if not feel a ton better than look!).

      Thanks for your comment – both the complement and question.

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