Wild Clay: Q&A with Potters Hitomi & Takuro Shibata

Hitomi and Takuro Shibata learned pottery making as professional studio potters in Shigaraki, one of the oldest and largest pottery villages in Japan. Now based in Seagrove, North Carolina, the Shibata’s join The Art League gallery the evening of Friday, June 14 to speak about their experiences in Shigaraki and Seagrove, inspirations and influences, wild clays in North Carolina and their wood firing methods. The Shibata’s small pottery studio is named “Touya” which means “pottery house” in Japanese. Studio Touya focuses no making simple and functional pottery by using local wild clay and wood firing techniques.

Where do you get your inspiration for creating your work from? Nature, people, experiences, other…?

I think I get inspirations and ideas from my experiences that I had with friends, families, great foods, at special places and occasions. Nature and function are also important elements for making pots. We use natural materials, fire by our wood kiln, and use handmade pots everyday.  How did you learn the method that you and Takuro use to create and fire your work?

I learned pottery making at my school, Okayama University in Japan in 1990-1996. It was great to learn from my professor who made very traditional functional table wares everyday at my undergrad and grad programs. But I learned more practical lessons through my pottery jobs in Shigaraki that is one of the biggest pottery villages in Japan, as a young potter. Making living from pottery job was not easy, you must work very hard from early morning to late night with very small stipends. I learned a lot (good and bad), and it made me think of how I want to live as a potter. Earning good skills is important, and having clear goals, learning from good artists and craft people,  and keeping working hard are also important, too. 
What is one thing you’ve learned from being a working professional artists that you’d like to share with those who are aspiring professionals?I wrote an article for Ceramics Monthly in 2017 and it has an advise for young potters. I would like to paste here.“It takes time, money and lots of energy to set up your own pottery studio and business. You need skill, tenacity, intellectual curiosity and an old fashioned work ethic. You need to read, you need to travel. You may need to go to school, work as an apprentice, complete a residency or take on a part time job. Success doesn’t happen overnight.  It is challenging, but there are many opportunities in many places for a young potter. Our potter’s world is full of welcoming, generous people.”

Where do you get your inspiration for creating your work from? Nature, people, experiences, other…?

I am getting my inspiration from beautiful nature, and people and also experiences. But I especially inspire by clays and materials as a part of nature. It is so fascinating for me to see how they change by fire.

How did you learn the method that you and Hitomi use to create and fire your work?

I learn my basic pottery making skills through my apprenticeship in Shigaraki. And after that, I leant from Hitomi and the people who I met and work together. And I try and made mistakes, those experience made my current method for making my work.

What is one thing you’ve learned from being a working professional artists that you’d like to share with those who are aspiring professionals?

Believe yourself and keep trying. 

About the Shibata’s process:

Most of their work is made of North Carolina local clays, including those new clays that they test and mix up with wild local clay. The Shibata’s built their Anagama kiln in 2009. To make the ash glazes, they collect wood ash from wood kilns and wood stoves, which are traditional in Japan. The studio uses iron oxide for brush decollation. Iron Oxide is the only oxide the Shibata’s use for pottery, and they aim to use simple and natural and non-toxic materials to create their work. The Anagama firing takes three days to load, and five day to fire. Salt chamber firing itself takes one day to load, and one to two days to fire with a small amount of rock salt.

Summer Classes are Here: Choose Your Summer Getaway

Art by Andy Warhol, quote by Marshall McLuhan

“Best Place to Take Classes in DC”
– Washington Post Express

Summer classes are already here…but don’t worry! Although the term has started, many classes don’t begin until after the July 4th holiday!There’s still time to make room for creativity this summer! How will you spend your summer….

Those are far from the only options, of course. With 128 classes and 50 workshops and 101 camps this summer, you and your little ones can get creative any way you choose!

Sterling silver rings from Whitney Staiger’s teen jewelry camp.

For Little Artists

Art camp — for ages five and up — provides children a wonderful introduction to visual art. This summer, we’re offering 101 different camps over nine weeks!

In our regular art camp, each day brings a new project that may include drawing, painting, printmaking, or sculpture. Our specialty camps, like Drawing Camp or Painting Camp, focus on immersion in one particular medium.

  • Art camps run from June 17 to August 12, Monday through Friday, and have a varied curriculum from week to week.
  • You can register for half-day camps, full-day camps, or full-day camps plus an extension.
  • This year you can also register for before-care for your children

Not sure where to start?

If you’re brand-new to art classes — or if you just need a refresher — we most often recommend Basic Drawing as a great first class…if you’re looking for a little inspiration, this article is helpful. If drawing not your speed, there are classes for beginners and those getting back into the swing of things in every medium, including ceramics, sculpture, fiber art, painting, photography, and printmaking.

Why an Art Class is the Best Way to Treat Yourself in the New Year

New year, new you, new term of art classes!

With Winter term starting next week at The Art League, this is the perfect time to get a head start on a more fun, more creative, more you year. Here are four ways taking an art class can help you be your best self.

Be present

There’s no way to check your phone when you’re elbow-deep in clay. Practicing art is a way to break your routine, shoo away distractions, and clear your mind. Painting, drawing, weaving, photography, and even things like soldering can be very Zen.

Pablo Picasso

Exercise your mind

“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” —Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

What do you see? It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. When you take an art class, you’ll learn things like white isn’t always white and how to see like an artist. Of course, there are plenty of technical skills to learn as well, but seeing comes first.

Wayne Thiebaud, Three Machines

Accept failure

It’s true that pencils come with erasers, but artists actually use several different types of erasers — they’re that important. (You can use erasers not just to refine your pencil marks, but as a drawing tool in its own right.)

Helen Frankenthaler (photo by Gordon Parks, 1956)

Part of creating art is confronting failure, that moment when you smush a so-so pot and start anew — or paint over a struggling canvas for a fresh start. Edit, rework, find the good parts, and leave the rest behind.

In art, you can always go back to the drawing board.

Art by Andy Warhol, quote by Marshall McLuhan

Challenge yourself

Just because anyone can take an art class doesn’t mean it’s easy. A good class will challenge you to think in new ways, to use your creativity differently, and to do difficult things. Some of our instructors even assign homework.

One of the most common remarks art students make is that teachers “make it look so easy” — and it’s true! Mastering any medium takes years, but every step of the way has its rewards.

Browse the catalog

Keith Haring, Untitled, 1987

Scholastic Art and Writing 2017 Winners Announced!

The Millis High School Art Department congratulates all those that submitted pieces, and we are pleased to announce that the following students have received awards through the Scholastic Art and Writing program:  

  • Johanna C was awarded a Silver Key for her oil painting of Kylie and 2 Honorable Mentions for her oil paintings Chopper and her Self-Portrait.  
  • Adriana G received a Gold Key for her photograph,  Ride Of Self Reflection and a  Silver Key for her photograph Stories On Province Street.
  • Emma M received 2 Silver Keys, one for her illustration titled Acadia and one for her photograph, Boat Nest, and she received an Honorable Mention for her photograph, Beefeater. ​

The regional award ceremony for Gold and Silver Key winners and their teachers will take place on Saturday, March 11, 2017 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. There will also be an exhibit of Gold Key work – we’re currently waiting for more details as it is sure to be amazing! Congratulations all!

The Double Challenge in Photography Class – Futuristic City

My school has a seven day schedule and each period has a long block once during that rotation.  In digital photography /advanced computer art  I’ve started a tradition called the “Double Challenge.” It’s a great opportunity to try something new – to add some hands on skills to our digital repertoire and to step away from our computers for a bit. We’ve donelight paintingphotographed lizards, designed spooky book covers and made and created  paper lanterns. When I saw this Create a Futuristic City tutorial on the High School Photography Teachers Facebook group, I knew it would be perfect for our next double challenge! Well, it was so much fun and I think the variety of results really surprised me. 

Behind the scenes look at creating the cities…

Black History Month and My Kindergarten Year – 1963/1964

Can you believe that my picture was in the newspaper on the first day of kindergarten and on the last day, too?
​I knew I had these clippings and uncovered them the other day.  The newspapers are over 50 years old and I decided to share them here because of the  relevance to Black History Month (and to what’s going on in our country and schools today).  See below for caption/article transcriptions:


Classroom photo caption: Bayonne’s youngest students, members of the kindergarten class at Woodrow Wilson School, began their scholastic careers this morning. For many of them, it was the beginning of almost two decades of education. Some of them were a little apprehensive of the awesome task before them but most had settled into the routine of school bells and scholarship by noon. Parents help out in the weaning process at Wilson, following the suggestion of Principal John A. Marconi, who thinks children can adjust better if their parents are around for a little time.  (That’s me at the bottom corner of the table.)And then this was the adjacent story…Kennedy Set to Use Troops To Aid Alabama Integration – BULLETIN BIRMINGHAM, Ala (UPI)- Two Negro students slipped into a back door of a white elementary school today, becoming the first of their race to attend a white public school. Gov. George C. Wallace made no move to halt them. 
Three other Negroes were scheduled to enter the city’s previously white schools for the first time, although Wallace vowed they would not and sent nearly 200 state troopers to turn them away. 
WASHINGTON (UPI)- The Kennedy administration was prepared today to use federal troops if necessary to enforce school desegregation in a new show-down with Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace. Justice Department officials said they hoped the Alabama crisis could be resolved by local authorities but they made it clear that troops would be brought in if required to back up federal court orders. Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy and his aides were watching developments in Birmingham, where three public schools were scheduled to be integrated today before deciding on federal action. (…)​So while I was being supported by parents, teachers and administrators there were “Two Negro students (being) slipped into a back door of a white elementary school…?” Since reading this I cannot stop thinking about those two students… How did things turn out for them?


Photo Caption – END OF SCHOOL – Whee! School’s out. A whole summer of fun. These thoughts are on the minds of hundreds of Bayonne youngsters as the school vacation session begins. Shown here are students in the Woodrow Wilson School helping Mrs. Joseph Fleisher, kindergarten teacher, put toys away for the summer. The student (l. to r.) are Patrick Devaney, Karen Romano, John Franconeri, and Carol Messenger (ME!). And the adjacent story…President Hails Civil Rights Bill as Challenge –
House Leaders Promise Speedy Action on Measure WASHINGTON (UPI) – Americans of every race and creed faced a challenge from President Johnson today to join in making the provisions of the newly passed civil rights bill “the customs of our land.”
The president, on a speech making trip to the West Coast, issued a statement in SanFrancisco shortly after the Senate approved the controversial measure Friday Night, exactly a year after it was first requested by the late President John F. Kennedy. Johnson hailed the action as “a major step toward making equal opportunities for all Americans,” and said that while no law can eliminate prejudice, the bill will go further  “to invest the rights of man with the protection of law than any legislation in this century. ” Looking forward to the day “which will not be long forthcoming,” when he signs the bill into law, …​So, a lot happened during my kindergarten year. President Kennedy was assassinated.  And a week or so after this newspaper story, President Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act into law.  I will never know exactly how the year went for those “Negro” students slipped into the back door – but I do know that we still have a long way to go.  
​Let’s not go backwards America! 
Further reading/ links to share with your students:
The History Cannel: Black History Month
Unpublished photos relating to Black History from the NY Times Archives Mature Content –
Two 2017 Films Nominated for best documentary feature that deal with race in America:
O.J.: Made in America (Hulu)
13th (Netflix)
Loving (Amazon, iTunes, Google Play or Vudu)

Vans Custom Culture

Another year – another fantastic group of shoe designs!

Four teams each received a brand new pair of shoes to customize using Music, Action Sports, Art and Local Flavor as the theme.  The result is a creative collection and among the strongest we’ve ever submitted. New this year was a 2D design component with the broad theme “Technology & Design.”

As a unit, the students worked together to creatively solve the given design requirements for this authentic challenge! And it was really FUN!


Our tween / teen class created these amazing contour flowers using india ink and acrylic.

We wanted students to practice working on a very large scale, to create a contour drawing using gestural line work and motion, and to explore how to build up a painting layer by layer.

We set up a fresh arrangement of winter blooms as inspiration, and started by drawing directly with india ink on large white heavy weight sulphite drawing paper as we worked to create a gestural drawing of their still life.

We explained that when we work gesturally it means that we can see the movement of our arm within the mark making method on our paper. 

Students were challenged to make a continuous contour line – never lifting their ink and moving quickly.

We guided them to explore a variety of organic shapes found in flowers – we don’t always see simple and spread out petals. Flowers are made of a variety of organic, twisting, and intersecting lines. 

This is a 90 minute class. The above photo is about how far they got during the first class.  The following week, they worked with gestural brush strokes to add color to their arrangement of winter florals, greenery, and sprigs.  They were so beautiful and these kids were so proud of their amazing creations!  And we loved how each student’s unique style emerged as these evolved, and they all looked so different in the end!


Want to know how to make a 3D drawing that appears to float? Of course you do! Today we are sharing a PDF drawing tutorial on anamorphic drawing. Your tween and teen students will love this project!

Anamorphic drawing is a 3D drawing using forced perspective. You can only see the correct image from a certain angle or when using a special mirror or lens.

There are two types of anamorphosis: mirror and perspective. Mirror anamorphosis requires a cylindrical mirror to view the image in its correct state.  Perspective anamorphosis requires the viewer to look at the image from a specific angle.

A well-known painting that uses perspective anamorphosis is Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors,painted in 1533 during the Renaissance. The viewer must place their head near the lower right-hand corner of the painting, and look to the left, to see the skull in its correct proportions. Viewed from any other angle it looks like a skull that’s stretched and tipped on an angle. A link to The Ambassadors is listed in the resources below as well as contemporary examples of anamorphic art.

Download our FREE Anamorphic Floating Puzzle Cube PDF and follow the directions for a lesson that will be a hit with your students. Librarians can use the PDF as a passive project for teens.

Join our Facebook group Freelance Art Teachers in Libraries. The group is for sharing ideas about teaching art and other subjects in public libraries. Whether you are a librarian looking for new ideas or a teacher seeking an enjoyable side hustle, we are here to answer questions and support you!


Anamorphic freebie


The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger

TRULY design is a visual communication studio founded in 2007 and directed by urban artists active in the graffiti scene since 1996

Check out their portfolio of anamorphic and optical illusion public art https://truly-design.myportfolio.com/street-art-3d-street-optical-illusion

Perspective anamorphic art by Felice Varini

Anamorphic sculptures by Jonty Hurwitz


I recently spoke to someone from our Facebook group Freelance Art Teachers in Libraries. She wanted to know how she should promote her classes to the libraries where she lives.

The conversation brought me back to the early days of Pop up Art School. I had forgotten the questions I had at the start of our business and the points of discovery as we grew.

Libraries offer our workshops to the public for free, so many people assume that we teach for free. In fact, we charge anywhere from $200-$425 per workshop, depending on how long the workshop is, how far we travel and if there are one or two teachers. 

When I told our FB group member how much we charge per workshop, she asked, “Is that the price for a six-week class?” Nope! Those are the prices for a 1 to 2 hour—one time workshop!

It also surprised her to learn that a librarian’s job involves hiring performers/vendors for their event calendar. If you have a talent or passion — you have something you can offer to libraries in your area. 

Here’s how…

Our first year, we promoted ourselves by sending a mailing to the children’s librarians in Eastern Massachusetts. We had a modest WordPress site with five or six workshops listed. From that mailing we booked 12 workshops. One librarians out of the 12 recommended us on an online forum. From a shout-out from one librarian we booked 24 workshops the following year. We are now in our sixth year of business and we have booked 46 workshops for 2019, and it’s only April!

If you think you want to offer your skills to the public libraries near you, brainstorm a list of your skills. Here are some examples to get the juices flowing:

  • A history teacher, passionate about the Revolutionary War, can create a lecture and a slideshow for adults.
  • A creative hobbyist can teach the basics of their craft to teens and adults.
  • A yoga or meditation teacher can teach others how to balance the stresses of everyday life.

I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to speak to our Facebook group member because it opened my eyes to how we can explain our business model to others.

Yes, YOU can earn money using your skills and passions at your local library. Stay tuned, for more blog posts with tips for marketing yourself to public libraries.

Join our Facebook group Freelance Art Teachers in Libraries. The group is for sharing ideas about teaching art and other subjects in public libraries. Whether you are a librarian looking for new ideas or a teacher seeking an enjoyable side hustle, we are here to answer questions and support you!