In the early 70s, Don Olliff and his wife Deb took a ceramics class at a local park in the San
Fernando Valley near where they lived.Inspired by their new-found passion, they bought an inexpensive “Spinning Tiger” potter’s wheel, which inevitably began to gather dust in the garage. “Call it lack of time or lack of inspiration or a million other things, but the Spinning Tiger was spinning no longer,” Don reminisced. Don and his wife moved the wheel with them as they moved from house to house, thinking that some day their interest would return.
In the spring of 2006, Don was cleaning out the garage and decided to see if the Spinning Tiger still worked. After replacing the friction wheel, the wheel was back in action. “It was fun for about 15 minutes. ” Don mused. “That’s how long the motor lasted in the ancient Spinning Tiger.”
But this minor setback didn’t discourage Don. “A friend loaned me her Robert Brent wheel–little did I know how this newfound “hobby” would get hold of me.” Don became obsessed with learning his craft. “One of the things I find so great about playing with clay is that it is very different from what I do at my job. I work with computers all day and it is very analytical. Throwing pots on the wheel is relaxing and therapeutic—almost a meditation. And I love the feel of the clay.”
As Don became comfortable with his studio set-up, he discovered an impatience with the process. So, he started using a hair-dryer and torch to speed-dry pieces so they could be trimmed faster. “This does not always work.” Don warned. “Timing is everything.”
Why are you an artist?
I work with clay because I need a creative diversion from my “day job” at UC San Diego, working with computers, networks and webcasting. I was raised in a creative household. My mother was an Art Center alumna and we were surrounded by her art while I was growing up. She never gave up on her art as long as she was alive. My wife is also an artist, and we actually met in an art history class in college.
How important is “craftsmanship” in your work?
Since I am fairly new to the art form, I find myself striving for control of the medium before I can experiment or be wild and crazy. In other words, “You have to learn the rules before you can break them.” I am a methodical problem solver with infinite patience–despite my “Impatient Potter” moniker here–and the impatience comes from wanting to speed up of the process of working with clay. The rationale here is working faster equals more time to experiment.
Whose work is in your own art collection?
José L Martinez Cano
Who’s your favorite artist in another medium? Why?
I have long admired Ansel Adams for his systematic approach to photography. As a photographer myself I can appreciate his attention to detail and technique. I also admire the work of Steve Hanks, a watercolor artist with an uncanny ability to capture lighting and mood with figures and landscape.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made?
My biggest mistake with clay is related to my impatience with the process. Having pieces blow up in the firing process because I did not let them dry properly has caused me to lose several otherwise successful creations.
If you were conducting this interview, what question, other than the above, would you to want ask?
What do you hope to gain from your intensive study of glazes?
I am searching for a series of glazes that compliment my work. I want people to feel the need to pick up a piece and enjoy not only the color, but the texture and shape.