I-Touch: Essay on clay and printing

by Kristina Bogdanov, 2011


“My great-great-grandfather signed his name with an inked thumb; my great-great-grandchild will sign the name by touching the screen and scanning the thumb.”


The idea behind this essay emerged after reading what my friend posted about the State Board of Education’s proposed change in the elementary education on removing cursive writing from the elementary school curricula. It may seem to be a logical conclusion because of the growing use of technology in classrooms; that cursive writing is outdated and most kids are typing on the computer. Still, my friend and number of other folks, including me, found the proposal unjust. The comments made on the posts, and yes they were typed, ranged from complaints on how parents are tired of having to read to their kids, the note cards and letters in cursive writing, sent by the grandparents; how will the kids take notes in school or sign their signature; or how will they understand the importance of mark making? I did not overlook the fact that students will learn how to make ‘printed’ letters.

But it was a witty remark from another fellow artist: “Don’t fret, graffiti art will keep cursive alive”, that prompted me to raise the question about the need for cursive writing in my drawing class. I asked the students what they thought about teaching cursive writing or disbanding the archaic practice altogether. Their comments were scarce, and without any real opinion. I tried not to express my personal bias, but I did ask the students if they understood why I brought this issue up in the first place. The majority of students stated that they felt quite indifferent to the whole matter of cursive writing; most of them had not been using it for years. I was shocked. I realized then why it might be difficult for students to comprehend the use of an expressive line; and its importance to the formal qualities found in drawing. Many times I used the example of writing a signature to encourage students to see the meaning of a line as an expressive, unique mark by the artist. At this moment, it occurred to me that the most obvious and natural comparison for me, did not make sense to this generation of students. Technology, which makes our lives more convenient and comfortable, is changing the way students communicate in language and art.    

The Education Board says most students are not writing, they are typing. Typing beats scribbling. The encouragement is on legibility. Yet for many of us, who are also parents and instructors, this ‘short-cut’ in learning forces all of us to live in the world of immediacy, which is intrusive in our daily lives, and workplace. My concern is  that when we use technology as a replacement for all of our ‘hands-on-creativity’ we run the risk of losing our ‘physicalness’ to the many crucial aspects of art and art making.

The aspect of individuality is an innate part of art; particularly to those pieces made and decorated by hand. There are magnificent examples in art history that reveal the beauty of the artists’ fluid line….. I have selected two examples: The Greek Vase Drawings and the Rudy Autio Korean Vase. The Korean Vase is composed of expressive gestural scratches which are glazed and enhanced to increase the sense of touch. The vase itself is a developing form made as the artist runs her fingers, fingerprints and strokes over the wet clay. The expressive scratch on the glaze surface is an additional layer to heighten the sense of touch; it is artists’ energy frozen in time by his last gesture.

One of the epiphanies I had in graduate school was the recognition of why I am so attached to clay as a material. My unquestionable love for clay comes from seeing it as the most receptive art material. Clay, so primitive, raw and dirty, is malleable enough to capture the finest detail of a human fingerprint. I am absolutely aware, that this observation or sense is shared and celebrated by many of my fellow artists. Clay is powerful enough to record the energy, character and gesture of an artist by the simple act of touch. This natural quality of clay—combined with the formal principles of art provide a plethora of visual possibilities. The marriage of clay’s receptiveness to the more formal qualities of printmaking, allow me to create a surface design that is most apparent in clay prints. Print in clay has a long history, from prehistoric stamped pots, to numerous contemporary examples.

Layering is an effective principal in most art forms: painting, drawing, print, glazing, etc. I find it parallel to a my life principle; that the amount of lived-experiences form the structure of one's life so that it is rich and fulfilling which is very similar to the way layers of marks enrich the art form. A quote from an essay by Dandee Pattee, Ceramics: Art and Perception, No. 88 2012 on Toshiko Takaezu's work and the influence of her mentor, portray beautifully the significance of this layering philosophy—"By looking at Takaezu's work, however it is apparent that at least one of Grotell's aesthetic belief systems made its way into her consciousness. This was the belief that there is distinct beauty in layered objects. While living in Finland Grotell had a ring made with a pearl she had found while diving. Years later, she had accidentally cracked the pearl, only to discover that it is not one solid and cohesive object but rather many layers of natural deposits. For Grotell this discovery tied to other curiosities and was the foundation of her belief: "...that everything has to be layers and layers if it is good. If it gets depth, it is because everything in nature is layers and layers." 

Modifications between traditional methods and technology are inevitable. Yet it still remains, that we humans, artists and children have the gift of imagination. Technology is created out of this same creative pool; the product is but one more tool in our creative hands.

 MFA thesis, Kristina Bogdanov, Untitled from the series EVE'S CODE, earthenware, relief printing on clay, 2006.

 MFA thesis, Kristina Bogdanov, Untitled from the series EVE'S CODE, earthenware, relief printing on clay, 2006.