Updated: Apr 20, 2020
I first found Tim Kowalczyk when a gallery showed off his work online and I was initially perplexed, "mugs made out of cardboard?" I wondered, "How on Earth does that work?" Upon digging a little deeper I found out that these things were ceramic and I was blown away. As someone who can barely form a random shape with clay, I'm always amazed when people can so flawlessly mimic another object or material with it. Kowalczyk is incredibly talented in both the sculptural and technical aspects of ceramics and his work will blow away the viewer.
I was incredibly fortunate to get to Interview Kowalczyk about his work, artistic journey and the detailed process that goes into making such enticing pieces. He answered the questions a little differently than usual and I think it makes for a fun read. For more of Tim Kowalczyk's work you can find him online at Timsceramics.com, on Instagram @timsceramics, and right here on Plebeian! It may be hard to believe but this stuff is all ceramic! Thanks so much to Tim and we hope you enjoy!
1. So to start off, tell us a little bit about your background. What got you started in art?
I have always been an art kid. My father is/was a jack of all trades, my mother is/was a flat glass/abrasive etcher and my older brother(6yrs) is/was an inker for independent comic books, as well as, a self-trained graphic designer now working for a large firm in Chicago
What got you started in ceramics?
I was actually forced into my first serious ceramics course. I needed the class as a prerequisite for both of my undergrad degrees. 2 really great Graduate Assistants and a couple people telling me I could not do what I want to pushed me down the rabbit hole of ceramics.
At first I thought I was not doing anything past my high school art classes, but i slowly started taking classes at the local junior college. After taking all but 5 art classes they offered, including ceramics, I decide to continue my education and go to a university. I obtained my BFA in art education and ceramics from Southern Illinois University. I took a year off, got married, moved and decided to move again to go to graduate school at Illinois State University to obtain my MFA in ceramics.
What made, or makes, you the artist that you are?
There are too many contributing factors to what made/makes me into an artist . . . family, tv shows, humor, drive, work ethic, challenge and desire to create. this question might have to be talked about or summed up in a better way.
2. What made you want to start mimicking other materials in ceramic?
It is because of clay's inherit ability to become anything trough raw formation, clay type, firing temperature, firing method, glaze and other finishing techniques that drove me to ceramics and maybe a small inner mad scientist pyromaniac.
From there what inspires each piece?
Different levels of objects that people overlook . . . GARBAGE! Not in the negative connotation, but just very garbage. that might take for in location of the garbage or what subculture that garbage comes from.
Do you find that they come through a set thought process or is each work kind of spontaneous?
Some of the ideas come through making. In the making the failures inform my work as much as the successes and then sometimes I might be walking, shopping, cleaning or surfing the internets when something just jumps out at me.
3. I'm very interested in your process. What goes into creating cardboard with clay and then sculpting with it?
I guess to break it down, I very simply deconstructed the cardboard making process and found techniques and clay that simulate making corrugated cardboard just on a much much much smaller scale.
Are you ever limited by the medium?
I am limited in the size of equipment I personally own, but I have had the opportunity to work outside my studio with larger equipment. I also think that ceramics as a medium has the limitation of translucency in general unless an artist pushes the envelope or incorporates mixed media.
4. Sculpting the way that you do certainly isn't easy, do you find there's still a learning curve to each piece or do you have your process down to a science?
I always think I have it down . . . but then I decide to change something, I think of a different way to make objects or I do my research and find a technology that helps me achieve the effects I want to achieve.
5. How important is functionality in your work?
I have a functional line of work as well as a sculptural line of work. If it is meant to be functional . . . it has to function.
Your work varies is size, shape, imagery, and so on from piece to piece but they all appear to bare some sort of practical function (usually mugs), is this a big aspect to your work?
I like to think that all the information I include in a piece mug or not helps create a narrative in the viewer/user. I take all of these manufactured from size to imagery are used to help generate that narrative and keep speculation on why this object exists.
6. Firing and glazing are notoriously unforgiving processes, how do you manage these two areas?
One never manages this. you could fire 99 times and the 100th time it changes. I have learn to roll with the punches and use failures as learning opportunities to test new techniques or different ways to "fix" a problem.
Is this something that you've kind of safely figured out or are you still experimenting all the time with it?
I have a general way of firing that works but every once in a while I try new firing techniques and temperatures. Is this where you add the decals to your work? I only do 2 firings for my work. no actual decals are used for the majority of my work, I apply underglaze transfers in the greenware stage and add tape, splatters, stains and over sprays on bisqueware. The bisque then goes into second firing and when it comes out it is done.
7. Finally, for this portion, do you have a favorite method in your work, or favorite piece that you've done?
I always like pulling thing out of the second firing. I am always most excited about the newest thing I am making.
And do you have any new avenues, or experiments that you're excited about in your work?
3D printing applications and adaptations, printmaking with underglaze applications and atmospheric firings all seem to be where I am putting a lot of energy.