Billy Ritter’s Ceramic Artistry
I first came across Billy’s work on Instagram, and was immediately struck by two things.
One, his effortless vibe. The precision and craftsmanship to create the work that he does is obvious. At the same time he knows when to embrace “flaws,” or rather natural strokes of brilliance that unfold in the creative process. Those types of beautiful strokes are often edited out by artists who are plagued by perfectionism. Which is too bad, because imperfections add interest and complexity. In contrast, Billy’s apparent intuition for what works is inspiring.
(Pictured above, Billy’s kiln about to be unloaded, and 15 of his gorgeous finished mugs.)
Two, his passion for the natural geology of Ohio piqued my interest. When I was younger, I discovered the earth in my parents’ yard was quite clay-like in some places. I had always wondered where the clay used in ceramics came from. Could I just dig up clay out of my own yard and make ceramics with it? I was so excited when Billy made an Instagram post about doing just that — creating pieces from local Ohio clay.
(Pictured above, clay from my parents yard and Hectic Studio kiln.)
Sourcing Our Own Clay
When I told Billy about the clay in my parents yard, his enthusiasm was infectious. He invited my mom and I to bring some to his studio to be test fired. As we entered the studio, we spotted large pots of very similar-looking clay on the floor, ready to be sifted for rocks and other elements.
He had samples of pieces of this type of clay that had been test-fired (I don’t want to show them here because I don’t want to spoil the reveal of my and mom’s pieces!). What struck me was how the creamy green-brown of the unfired clay darkened to a deep red brown, with a black-ish sheen that appeared silvery and glaze-like once it had been in the kiln.
His instagram feed shows an image of an original edition of a book called Geological Survey of Ohio. It includes the history of clay in the state, and it’s been reproduced in paperback, if you’re interested in learning more.
My mom has told me for years that when she retires, she wants to take up ceramics. That day, I thought, “How cool if she could source clay in her own yard.” I was pretty impressed with the little pinch-pot basket she made from the unrefined clay. She’s got potential! I made a heart-shaped paperweight, and a tiny mug with a disproportionately large handle. We figured this was more fun than just test-firing balls or wads of clay.
Billy’s studio and showroom are located inside the historic Hildebrandt Building, in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m so enamored with this space, also because it’s home to my favorite coffee roaster in the world, Rising Star Coffee.
One of the things I love about ceramics as an art form is its functionality. I collect beautiful pieces like mugs and bowls that I can use day to day, and think about the artists who made them. It adds depth to the mundane — my morning coffee ritual feels momentous when I sip from a handmade mug. I start the day reflecting on my dreams and the world, and I love to have objects that artists created surrounding me for that.
My mom and I each found some favorite pieces we wanted to add to our collection in the showroom. Billy polished a tiny flaw off a mug for my mom (above). She was intrigued to watch his process. I hope this trip to the studio has lit her creative fires to start working on her own ceramics project!
Have a gander at the Billy Ritter website and his Instagram feed, so you can get a feel for his authentic vibe. I took home one of his bubble bowls, made with “magic.” You’ll probably want one, too. And, you can order from his shop online.
I was thrilled he said I could snap some photos to share for this blog post. Hope you have enjoyed. Thanks so much for having us, Billy!
Photos shot on my Fuji X-T10. All images © Sarah Sloboda 2018; do not copy or use without written permission.
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