artist interview: sarah dorr

APPALACHIAN ARTIST CRUSH is a series of interviews with artists from around the East Tennessee region, whose work I admire and who I want to share with the world.

Sarah is a ceramicist and all-around nature fanatic.

Tell us about your creative beginnings. What was your earliest experience of artmaking, and what drew you in? Was creativity encouraged in your early years?

I have always loved creating. As a child I would make small silly creations and I would gift them. I had a great grandmother that every Christmas she would give all the kids an art box. Even more than all the gifts, this was always my favorite. She would put the basic things in there, paper, crayons, scissors... but than she would add in things that some may not consider adding: corks, lids, egg cartons. As a kid, this opened my eyes such that everything can be made into art.

That’s the best thing about kids: imaginations that are free, and no limits to their dreams.

I am inspired by nature, mostly. My love of nature has been enriched in me since childhood. My mother would take my sister and I on walks through the park and the woods, and we would have a bag, and she would tell us to find treasures. No other instructions other than that, and she never told us what this treasure was, she just told us to find it. She would start filling her bag with the most colorful leaves, or the curviest twig, a pretty stone, or a piece of moss.

I was lucky as a child to get to play outdoors a lot. I had a big yard, my grandparents lived on a lake. I had a field, woods, and plenty of places for creative adventure. I was comfortable being outside and playing in the dirt. There was no limit to what I made art with as a child. Paper, sticks, a rock, crayons, a feather... it was all equally important.

I love the way that children view the world, and as I have aged I have made it a point to never stop seeing the little things. I never avoid getting excited about a feather, or a lichen, or a pretty stone. I want my works to emphasize the small, sometimes overlooked aspects of life.

Tell us about your creative process--what makes it unique? How do you create your best work? What do you love most about your process?

Here is a honest look at my process…. It is how life works for me at the moment and I feel every little bit of it is unique to me. I love everything about clay and I plan to do it for always.

I have a pottery wheel in my dining room along with a dining room table that I never eat at, which is currently covered in clay in all different stages of dryness. This room is less a dining room and more my my messy clay room. My kiln sits in my living room like a nice little metal sculpture. When I need to fire it, I put it on my back porch, but for storage purposes, it lives in the living room.

I have lots of clay tools. Also: anything can be a clay tool--find them and make them free my friends! One of my all time favorites is coffee stirrer straws--they make great tiny little holes in my birds and other necklaces that I make. I find textures, and molds, and all kinds of inspirations outside and everywhere, like the bottom of your shoe, or a dog paw, or a weird carrot, or a squash, or cauliflower. I can press all that into clay, and I have. I'll never stop. Everything can be made into art.

Most of the time when I am hand building clay, I make a lot of small pieces. I make these pieces on my couch with two little side tables next to me, one for my computer to have on a background show or music, and one covered in clay and tools, and scraps of clay and whatever else I may need at the moment. There is always a large bag of clay on the couch with me, and a dog curled up next to me--sometimes two dogs. I've tried sitting elsewhere, but have discovered that for me, I would rather be on the couch, where I'm comfortable. COMFORT IS KEY to making art--make art, be comfortable, why not?

I make a mess! I have clay all over my house: bags of clay, fired clay, finished pieces, stamps I’ve made, tools, little inspirations. Since it's me in my house with two dogs, this works really well. I would love a studio space, and I would really love for clay to not be everywhere, but this is what works for me for now, and I get work done this way. My art spills out of my brain and all over my house. My house is clean, but there is surface mess everywhere… there is clay and stamps and glaze and paintbrushes and all the art stuff everywhere…. I know where it all is…. It looks like chaos, but it is organized chaos to me. My biggest insecurity is coming over and judging me for having clay and art everywhere, but honestly that has never happened. What usually happens is people come over and ask, "Did you make this?" or "Wow, what's this?" and then they end up making art too.

I work as a nanny in the afternoons to supplement my income. I love making clay, and I love selling my work. But selling in galleries that take 40-50% of the profit, doesn’t always make it easy to make enough money. I am a single woman living with my two dogs. I have to have another job besides just making clay. So I do what I love, and what I am good at. I am great at being a nanny and I make it work with my life. I love that my everyday is different, and that I am never bored. I get to work with children, and I get to have freedom in a job that I need. I am not a good 9-5 desk worker, and I know that about myself, so I do what works for me. I can make clay all morning before picking up the girls from school, and I can make clay late into the night. Eventually I would love to have my own little gallery maker space, and not have to work a second job, but my studio space will always be open to little ones and dogs.

I am still a little girl out in the woods collecting treasure. It is all over my house in little clusters and it makes me happy.

What has been a habit or focus you've had that's integral to your art practice?

A habit that is a must for my art practice is to collect my inspirations. I pick up pieces of nature and have them in front of me while I work, or have pictures of pieces that I cannot pick up. I am inspired by the small & eclectic things: ocean creatures, rocks, seed pods, fungi, leaves, texture, and more. I am inspired by so much, and I want it to be seen in my work, so it is a habit for me to surround myself with those things. All the things I find beautiful are all over my house in small or sometimes large collections. Also, I think it is a good practice to surround yourself with the artists that inspire you, so I buy or trade whenever possible with my artist community.

Tell me about a hurdle you've had to overcome in your artmaking or art career.

My biggest hurdle to overcome is that I need to own how I make art, and how the process works for me. I need to be proud of it, and this interview is a big step forward in me doing that.

What is your educational background, and how does it influence your creative work, if at all?

I received a bachelors degree in ceramics from ETSU in 2014. Having an educational background in art is not necessary, but I think it did help me find my way with clay. I learned a lot of the technical aspects of a ceramics studio. When you are in an educational setting, you have access to things that you may not necessarily have once you are out. I appreciated my time having access to a wonderful glaze room full of materials, a room where I could make my own clay, and access to amazing kilns. At ETSU I loved the artist community. Here in Johnson City, I am very lucky to have a community of local artists around me that are very supportive and wonderful. If you are going to make art, it is good to have a people--a little tribe of honest people that can tell you how it is, help you unlock a creativity that you are stuck on, and be your support when you need it. We all need a tribe. Find yours.

Sarah stores clay on cookie sheets in her oven so that the dogs don't get at them before they're fired!

Sarah stores clay on cookie sheets in her oven so that the dogs don't get at them before they're fired!

The imagination of children is a constant source of inspiration.

The imagination of children is a constant source of inspiration.

What are you most excited about in your creative landscape in the moment?

At the moment, I am most excited about upcoming shows.

This weekend in Kingsport, Is the Carousel Fine Arts Show. I am privileged enough to do this show with a wonderful group of artists from our community. We have big art right here in our back yard people.

Also I am very excited about the Upcoming Toad Egg Hunt that will be happening on May 6th at Art Curious Gallery on Boones Creek Rd. The hunt will be at 10:30 am, with artist demo’s going all day from 10:30-5pm.

Share your favorite local hangout & or another hidden gem.

My favorite Local hang out is Art Curious. It is a lovely large art gallery that is consistently getting new work from all different kinds of artists. It is a wonderful place to continue my art education with one of the many classes that they offer. I am also enjoying the show openings and receptions that they have.

If It is a beautiful day outside, you will probably find me at Wing Deer Park with my two handsome dogs. The park is beautiful, and there is the lakebed floor to explore while the water is so low. There are woods, and caves, rocks, and moss. All the things an artist wants to see.

Where can we find you on the interwebs?

Instagram: @sarahdorrceramics
Facebook: sarahdorrceramics

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See all the Appalachian artist interviews here.