When pandemic shutdowns reached pottery studios, Montana potter Sunshine Cobb had to rethink her teaching and her practice. “I went from having a bunch of events to cancellations,” says Cobb, who has more than 33,000 Instagram followers. “I was really concerned for folks who needed something to do during the downtime.” She began making videos showing home potters how to create “from your kitchen tables,” which led to The Beginner’s Guide to Hand Building (Quarry, Oct.). Cobb discussed the book with PW, which, in a starred review, called it an “inimitable guide” to crafting ceramics without a throwing wheel.
You have a BA in studio art and an MFA in ceramics. How did you first get into hand building?
When I was in grad school, I wanted to stop making things that were round. Three days later, I was teaching hand building. I fell in love with the coil building and slab building process during that time, and this book’s a look at how hand building really is just another tool, another skill that helps you achieve your vision.
How do you feel about functional vs. sculptural projects?
I love making functional work. That’s where my heart is. Sculptural projects use the same kind of skills; it’s just a matter of how you choose to interpret those skills. A lot of times, for people who have only made functional stuff, stepping into a sculptural space can be very intimidating, because you just don’t know where to start. For me, it’s about finding a starting point, and then running wild. You get to break all the rules and figure out where you want to go.
What’s your favorite project in the book?
The match striker. It’s a fun little object that fits together like a puzzle. I challenged myself to come up with new projects for the book—75%–85% are ones I hadn’t made before, the kinds of things I always looked scoffingly at. But I asked myself, why do I do that? I challenged myself to make these and see what I think about them and ended up really loving making them.
Why was it important that the book include not only projects but also hand stretches and other self-care tips?
Everyone has different mobility with their hands. I’ve been making pots for 20 years, so my hands are very, very strong, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not suffering from arthritis or carpal tunnel. We’re our most important tool, so we have to care for that tool. We all look to creative practice as an escape from the world but if you haven’t fed yourself or drunk water, you’re gonna suffer. Stretches, eating right, or taking a break if you’re frustrated in the studio: all those things feed into our ability to be present in a creative practice.
What advice do you have for someone new to hand building?
Just get started. Your space doesn’t have to be perfect; your tools don’t have to be perfect. You just have to start to play. What draws a lot of people to clay as material is the fun of just making stuff out of clay. That’s the best time, the sweetest time of my creative process. So, I’d encourage people to enjoy that moment as much as they can. Don’t worry so much about the finished product—with every object, you get better.