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From the Potter’s Wheel

Port Hope

Practically Potty owner is always creating

Susan McDonald is a self-described ‘type-A personality’

Article from Northumberland News, January 27, 2012. Written by Kevin Narraway

When you meet Susan McDonald at her pottery studio, Practically Potty, just outside of Port Hope, you get the feeling she is always in the process of creating. If not pottery, it’s water colours. If not artwork, it’s a new business venture. If not business, it’s political activism.

A self-described “type-A personality,” Ms. McDonald has an infectious laugh and a gentle intensity that likely comes from years at the potter’s wheel.

“Pottery is a form of mediation,” she explains. “You centre yourself on the wheel. You have to approach the clay in a centred position, you can’t be distracted. The pot must be the focus.”

It could be that this combination of focus and calmness keeps Ms. McDonald’s business thriving and students coming back year after year to work with and learn from her. All of Ms. McDonald’s students come from word of mouth and referral. Her classes are a different experience than those offered by others. Her studio is intimate, featuring three pottery wheels, and the instruction is very much one-to-one.

“This is a hands-on thing. It has to physically make sense, you must learn with your hands and your body,” according to Ms. McDonald.

Ms. McDonald works at her wheel and has her students watch, learn and follow along as she creates. She cautions potential students that pottery is not about instant gratification — it’s very much a process that requires time and patience. In some cases, students can work on a piece for six weeks before having a finished product. She herself paints in watercolours when she is looking for instant results.

Ms. McDonald also tells students they need to leave everything behind when they come to her studio, including their expectations. Her experience with students shows that everything they bring to the class is revealed in their pottery. If a student is distracted, in a bad mood, short on patience, or otherwise not centred, their pottery reflects their situation and the outcome is an unbalanced work.

“The pottery can take you to another place and put you in a different mindset”, she explains.

Ms. McDonald’s business, like the artwork she creates, is multi-dimensional. She not only teaches, she sells most every piece she creates. Ms. McDonald has sold her work across the country in shows such as the One of a Kind.

Often spending four or more hours a day at the pottery wheel, Ms. McDonald’s work is a study of form rather than production pottery.

“I don’t have a look,” Ms. McDonald explains. “I think in series. I do a series of black teapots in different forms. Sometimes I go back and expand on a series I’ve worked on before. You have to do what suits you.”

Ms. McDonald’s foundation as a watercolour artist shows up again and again in her work. Currently, she is studying with one of her mentors to marry watercolours with clay. She is developing wall murals, room dividers and translucent pieces that can hang in windows. Obviously, the mechanics involved in this process are unique and Ms. McDonald plans to spend the next three months working on the logistics of this new expression in clay. For that reason, Ms. McDonald will not be offering any classes until April.

This new endeavour in clay will likely result in success, much like Ms. McDonald’s other career iterations. Her work has been recognized by peers throughout North America and China. One of Ms. McDonald’s personal favourite works — a black teapot with a unique matte glaze — drew international attention.

Ms. McDonald finds this recognition gratifying, “The kind of things I like to do, other people seem to like as well. Everyone tells me I make happy pots.”

Ms. McDonald’s pottery is for sale at her showroom, open only by appointment through her website – www.practicallypotty.com

Kevin Narraway of Port Hope is a guest contributor to the Northumberland News, writing a monthly column focusing on how artists and other people use their natural talents to earn a living. Connect with him via the Northumberland News, northnews@northumberlandnews.com.

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    The Municipality of Port Hope
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    Port Hope, an enviable lifestyle community that encourages and fosters creative industry is centrally located one hour east of Toronto on the Montreal to Windsor 401 corridor with daily VIA rail service.