Crafter Michael McDowell makes whimsical ceramic AirPods, which turn typing hanging planters on their heads -- literally. We asked this Etsy crafter where he gets all of his unconventional ideas, and what it's like to be a full-time DIYer.
Michael McDowell is the brainchild behind Mudpuppy
, a popular Etsy shop filled with whimsical ceramic works, like hanging plant pods, chimes, and vases. Michael lives in Denver, where he used to do ceramic work at the Art Students League
. He considered his craft a hobby -- that is, until he lost his day job as a web designer in 2008.
Instead of hunting for a new job, Michael decided to focus on his art full time. "A door opened and I decided to walk through it...to really start pushing myself with ceramics and take it more seriously. Turned out to be a great decision. " Michael says.
Michael's basic design ideas are born of own needs and space.
"My home has 12-foot ceilings and skylights, so my ideas lean toward smaller vertical pieces. For years my works have strictly been white, although I've been gravitating toward black and bits of color here and there. I am a minimalist at heart, and think the most important thing for artistic success is to know when to stop."
Hanging AirPod Plant in matte Natural Morroccan Sand. Photo: Mudpuppy, Etsy
Michael's process is measured. His head brimming with designs, he goes straight to hand-crafting prototypes out clay. Most of McDowell's pieces are slip cast, a process that involves making absorbent plaster molds of his work.
Once the molds have dried, he pours slip -- a form of liquid clay -- into them. The plaster sucks the moisture out of the slip and a piece is created inside the mold. A few hours later, when the slip is firm, Michael pulls it out of the mold by hand, trims it, and allows to dry naturally. At this stage, unfired pieces are called "greenware."
After lots of inspection and polishing with steel wool, Michael fires pieces for the first time (in a process called a bisque firing) in a kiln that reaches around 1700 degrees Fahrenheit. After this, Michael dips bisqued pieces in raw glaze and then re-fires them to maturity in a kiln that reaches more than 2000 degrees.
"I am addicted to those a-ha! moments when an idea and reality meet, and a piece I can hold and hang and enjoy emerges from the kiln," says Michael, whose studio is in the inspirational River North District of Denver. "The neighborhood is fantastic, filled with artists and is a real hot spot for the creative culture. It is located in an old dry ice factory building that's been lovingly restored while maintaining the original factory elements and aesthetic," he says, adding "I've only been in this space since June so I'm still getting it organized. It's filled with my plants and pods, and my faithful dog, Ennis."
The artist's faithful companion, Ennis, approves of his miniature ceramic planters. Photo: Mudpuppy, Etsy
Michael produces about 100 to 200 pieces a month, with prices averaging $26 to $65. His work stands out, he thinks, because of "the duality of both use and sculptural elements. Perhaps because I start by designing pieces for myself and my own small space, and this resonates with others living in similar urban spaces."
Why does he create so many pieces specifically for plants?, we wondered. It's because he loves how they liven up a space and become a living piece of art. Michael is also inspired by fellow artists Clare Elsaesser
and Will Bryant
, who once tweeted, "I make stuff because I get sad if I don't." Michael can relate. "Truly, I need to make things to live, be happy, and feel fulfilled."
When asked about his least favorite part of being an artist, he says, "There's nothing I dislike about making the work, but I don't enjoy packing and shipping. I would much rather focus on developing new pieces. I am drawn to the permanence of making pieces out of clay that have the potential to be around long after I am."
So why Etsy
? Michael says he was initially drawn to the online marketplace because of its community aspect. "It's a one stop shop for well-made pieces by actual individuals. The site is an ideal response to the mass-produced culture we all grew up in, and really speaks to a desire to reconnect with what makes us human. " "
Spoken like a true DIYer.
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