Meet Becky Blackburn, Arrow Creative’s new ceramics studio artist in Residence. Becky Blackburn is a ceramic artist from Oklahoma, currently living and working in Memphis, Tennessee. She received her BFA in ceramics at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2018 before moving on to the University of Memphis to receive her MFA in ceramics in May of this year. This fall she will be teaching ceramics at both the University of Memphis and Christian Brothers University. We sat down with Becky to dig deeper into her start, inspiration and goals.
Can you tell us a little bit about the moment you realized you were an artist? It is rather anticlimactic, but my pursuit of art has made me feel like an artist. I know this is a feeling that some people struggle with but working in the medium and making ideas a reality gives me that feeling.
How did you learn your necessary skills? I took ceramics in undergrad studies and then continued through to grad school. I spent time outside of required assignments to learn other techniques and practices that helped me get farther ahead with my own work.
Are there specific opportunities or challenges that focused your career? It began with my undergrad professor David Smith showing me the sgraffito technique. It is a process of covering clay in slip or colorant of a contrasting color and then scraping them away until your designs come out in the clay. At the time for me it was world altering. I began transferring all my sketched ideas onto three dimensional forms and knew that I was in the right field.
Who do you consider as your most influential mentor?
Kate Roberts and David Smith have been great mentors to me as I have developed my work and my practice. Kate helped me work through some of my biggest challenges in developing my personal voice and how my ideas translated into my work. David helped me think about clay in a way that I had never done before and still offers critique and advice. I have many more amazing people who have mentored me on this journey, and I could go on and on about them. Artists are extremely resourceful and often create multiple streams of income.
How do you measure success in your work? I think a piece is successful if I can see my own improvement in it. I look for increased technical skill and how well my ideas were collected in the details. I learn from every piece I have ever made, and I apply that knowledge to the next thing I make.
What artist inspires you the most? I draw inspiration from Ariel Bowman's work with prehistoric animals and eighteenth-century details. Her work's ties to the ancient and the time in history when our knowledge of the natural world was being expanded by science are intriguing to me. I also find inspiration in the ivory carvings from China, Japan, and France. I love the way they stack details within the shape of the tusk or horn. I am glad that measures are being taken to stop the practice of using ivory, though.
Do you have a creative hour, or a time/ place/ or activity that inspires your creativity? Research into anything that interests me usually focuses me on my work. My findings are the building blocks that I create with. All the information that I take in about a subject gets drawn into my sketchbook and then I piece things together until a bigger idea is formed.
Do you have a ritual, or do you set specific assignments for yourself? While I am working, I listen to audio books, podcasts, and a few YouTube channels. It helps keep my mind busy while I am working on sculpting. If I am doing something that requires more focus than usual, I will listen to movie or video game soundtracks to help me stay focused.
As a kid what did you see yourself doing as a career? As a kid I was all over the place. I wanted to be a paleontologist, then I wanted to be a meteorologist. As I got older, I was drawn to Egyptology, then went right back to paleontology. During all of that I would draw the things I read about or saw in books on those subjects. I didn't realize it until I was already in grad school but that was me developing my approach
What told you ‘this is the life for me’? (and when) When I had that first experience with sgraffito on functional ware and I enjoyed the work so much that I lost track of time often I knew I had found the work that was no longer work. This was my junior year of undergrad.
What compromises have you had to make in order to succeed (ie: location of studio, driving a lot, not doing something you really want to do, working seasonally etc) Has it been worth all of your effort? I have had to become a pro at time management. It is one thing that I was terrible at, and I still struggle with it daily. To successfully juggle friends, family, work, hobbies, and art it takes skill with managing time. It is very rewarding to lead a full life that art is a major part of and I am glad I have these things to split my time between.
What do you love about being a Creative in Memphis? There is so much potential here you can almost feel it in the air. The ceramics community is growing, and people here are very interested in clay in general. It makes for an exciting atmosphere to work in.
What are you looking forward to most during your upcoming residency at Arrow? I am excited to be a part of the growing clay community that will be working out of Arrow. It is very rewarding to watch others enjoy working with ceramics and I look forward to being able to help others have that opportunity.
Get ready creative community. You will be seeing a lot of Becky and we are so overjoyed to have her genius and experience at Arrow. If you are interested in Becky and what she has going on please feel free to visit her website; www.beckyblackburn.com or follow her on instagram @b.k.blackburn. She will also be teaching the slab mug making class Friday, August 20, 2021 from 6:30 PM – 9:30 PM !! It’s sure to be fun, register at www.arrowcreative.org/creativeclasses