Monday, October 26, 2009

Instructor Introduction: Gary Jackson

Please tell us a little about yourself; your name, background, education, and a fun fact or two.
Gary Jackson
Bachelor of Science in Art, concentration in Visual Communications, Illinois State University

I worked eighteen years in the corporate world as a Graphic Designer and Advertising Manager for a chain of nationwide retail paper & office products stores. After many years of climbing the corporate ladder, I switched the focus of my life & career to doing what makes me happy. I now work twice and many hours and make half as much money - but love what I'm doing. And having a fun time doing it.

How long have you been working with clay and how did you get started?

It was during a bike ride in Southern Indiana, when my friend Nancy and I stopped in a local potter's studio. We looked around, asked a lot of questions... and then my friend said that she would like to take a pottery class. I said I would be more than willing to take a class with her. She looked around, did a little research and found that Lillstreet Art Center was our best option. We signed up for our first beginner's class with Marj Woodruff as our instructor. And I've never left. Instead, I went from student to monitor, to teacher's assistant, to teacher to studio member. I now get to work at Lillstreet as much as I want, teach a few classes, and play with great kids all summer during Summer Camp!

What are your influences, both inside and outside of the clay world?

I live a pretty simple life.
I have a very simple life motto -
"If it's not fun, don't do it."
And it's worked pretty well for me so far.

In my previous life, I had a real job. I went to college, worked hard and got good grades. I graduated with honors and got a graphic design job after graduation. I worked hard and made good money. As I worked harder, I got promoted. Soon I was managing an art department. I had employees. I had responsibilities. Another promotion, another rung up the corporate ladder. We all assumed that's what we were supposed to be doing. Moving up the proverbial ladder. That's what we were trained to to. That's what we were expected to do. We had been lead to believe that it was the path to success since very early on in our lives.

After eighteen years of corporate retail advertising & marketing, I realized that it may not be true. That the path to success is not measured by money or rungs on a ladder. The path to my success is happiness. I started out as a graphic designer, but several years later I found myself in countless meetings, dealing with budgets & proposals and doing nothing at all related to graphic design. I had a talented staff to do that... the fun part. I have never been motivated by money. Which is a good thing now that I a full-fledged starving artist... now I get to do the fun part!!!

Over the years I have come to realize that my own happiness is far more important than any company's bottom line or the next investor's meeting. So I struggled with the decision to start my own business and work for myself. While I was still working the corporate gig, I started taking pottery classes at Lillstreet Art Center. It was the perfect creative outlet during my non-creative advertising job. It was tactile, mushy and incredibly creative. You get to make beautiful things out of mud. So when it was time to start my own business, I decided to go with something I love... and I love making things. I always have.
I also love biking. I started biking shortly after college purely as a recreational biker. A quick trip around the block or though the forest preserve. But as my passion grew, so did my sense of adventure. My mileage increased, my stamina increased - and I started pedaling even further. And pedaling further can take you along the coast of Oregon & California, or the other coast from Baltimore to Tampa. The Rocky Mountains from Glacier National Park to Yellowstone... or my greatest biking adventure: cross country from Los Angeles to Boston. I now ride a couple thousand miles every summer - vacations, weekends & mornings before work. I quickly realized that there is nothing better than the sense of freedom you get while pedaling out in the middle of nowhere - and not even caring that you don't know where you are. The sense of wonder and relaxation of stopping, laying under a shady tree and watching the clouds go by - for no reason, in no hurry. And now that I am a self-employed artist, I get to continue my biking obsession. My flexible studio hours allow me the time to get out and pedal... and pedal... and pedal...

For the past few years, I have also been spending my summers teaching Summer Camp at Lillstreet Art Center. It's a great gig - working with 8-12 year old kids and their unending creativity & enthusiasm! They get excited, they make art, they giggle. We do great projects all summer - some for fun, some more educational. From ceramics & painting, to mosaics & drawing, lots of clay, lots of Mod Podge... and my personal favorite - tie-dye! Many people find it exhausting to deal with kids all summer - I find it entertaining and somewhat exhilarating. They make me giggle.

I also work throughout the year with an event production company designing corporate parties, special events and holiday decorations. It's another great gig - a different party, a different theme, a different creative challenge. From large corporate events for thousands of people, holiday decorations for Chicago landmarks & corporate headquarters - to smaller, more intimate events & holiday decor for a few mansions. Both of these "gigs" affords me the chance to work as a full-time potter. And keeping within my own motto... they're both fun!

So that's my life in a nutshell. Nothing too exciting. Nothing too elaborate.
I try to keep it simple. I don't see the need for extra drama or hassles. It takes too much time & energy - that I could be using to do something fun. I don't watch the news. I don't read the newspaper. I don't do sports, religion or politics. I prefer to focus on the positive. I like to be happy. I like to make other people happy.

Plus I like to make things.
And I hope that the things I make also make other people happy.
After all... it's all about me.
And if it's not fun, I don't do it.

Do you sell your work? If so, how can one find it?

I sell my work art art fairs throughout the year, as well as in my studio on the second floor.
I enjoy the art fair circuit and have made many friends and loyal customers along the way.
I love seeing people pick up and item, fell it, touch, love it... knowing that they have to have it.
Anyone interested in making it to one of the art fairs, my schedule is always updated
on my website. I also sell my work in a couple stores throughout the Midwest.

What advice can you give to students of the ceramic arts?

Stick with it. Have fun. And commit.
Working with clay is not as easy as many think. It takes practice, focus & determination.
You can't expect to get it the first time. Don't panic. Don't worry. Just remember to have fun.
Everyone is playing in the mud, having fun and expressing themselves. Enjoy the process.
Commit to what you're doing., Don't be tentative. The clay is much more resilient than you think.
And remember that we're not here to make "perfect pots"... if you want perfect pots, go to Pottery Barn!

How do you spend your time when not working with clay?

I spend as much time as I can on my bike. Sadly, that does not pay the bills.
So to help out, I also work part-time as the Creative Director for a special events company in Chicago. I get to be creative all day, at work and the studio. I get to design great parties and make fun pottery. Along the way, I get to pedal a few mile here and there....

Any parting words?

If it's not fun, don't do it.


No comments:

Post a Comment