Catherine Witherell: Muse Personality

Date started working in metal clay:

It was spring of 2000.

I took a two day class in the Spring of 2005 and immediately went home and bought a kiln because I was completely obsessed!

Certified: (what clay, year and with whom)

PMC, Rio Grande Certification in September 2006 with CeCe Wire.

Accomplished at what media in addition to metal clay:

Well, to be honest, I feel like I'm a constant student in many media. But if you asked me what would I feel confident about working in if I had to come up with something, I'd say ceramics, mixed media and collage, acrylic painting, drawing, photography, digital art, bookmaking and printmaking, sewing, and metal fabrication. I love them all and spend time doing each one. When I hit a wall in one, I move onto another and come back to the first when I've thought of a solution. Some of my best ideas come when I'm pretending to listen to boring stuff. People think I'm a calm person and maybe I am but really, I'm just thinking about making something.

I began as a ceramic artist, a potter to be more exact and was always taking classes and experimenting in the "Pottery Barn" in the old historic neighborhood of Salem, Oregon. My husband and I moved around some right after we were first married and before we had kids. We started out in San Francisco, moved to Eugene, Oregon and then Salem, Oregon.

Minneapolis came after that and there I saw a real Tiffany lamp in the shop window that was selling for about $2000 and I didn't have that, so I decided I wanted to make one.

I took a series of classes and went nuts over stained glass and made the lamp and then designed a hand mirror and other things before we decided to move back to the SF Bay Area to have kids. After our 2 kids were 5 and 6, we got together the resources to outfit a small ceramic studio in a nice sized gardening shed in our yard and I made stuff! Espresso mugs, carved cups and mugs, bowls, rolling bisque stamps and platters patterned with them, I learned about sculpture and took classes for ideas and techniques… Well, you could say I was busy.

I had a few shows and I was sitting imagining one day that I wanted to be a goldsmith and then, it seemed like the next minute, I heard about metal clay. Around the same time I'd started attending a mixed media art retreat called Artfest organized by Teesha Moore. I attended for about 8 years and for three of those years I taught sold out classes with 20 students each, teaching them about metal clay. It was a very satisfying period.

Website and short bio:

I have a blog about all my adventures in art called "HappyDayArt!" at and I've been working on it since December of 2005 at the suggestion of Teesha Moore who told a bunch of us back then that if we wanted to get noticed, we should start a blog. I did and shortly after that I started making little round PMC birdhouse necklaces with dangling charms and birds for a "Birdhaus" online exhibit and live auction in my town. That first little house sold for $245 for the benefit of the arts council and it also made it into the first PMC Guild Annual in 2007.

After that I just plowed through the metal clay and taught at Artfest for Teesha Moore. I posted hundreds of photos to flickr and got myself into some other books and magazines for a while. I wrote 3 articles for Belle Armoire Jewelry 2 and 3, was invited into a mixed media jewelry book called "A Charming Exchange: 25 Jewelry Projects To Create & Share" by Kelly Snelling and Ruth Rae (2008), "Metal Clay Beads: Techniques, Projects, Inspiration" (Lark Jewelry Book) by Barbara Becker Simon (2009), and "The Art of Metal Clay, Revised and Expanded Edition (with DVD): Techniques for Creating Jewelry and Decorative Objects" by Sherri Haab (2010). My work has been included in three of the five PMC Annual books (2007),(2008) and (2011).

I've also been published in three mixed media books "1,000 Artist Journal Pages: Personal Pages and Inspirations (1000 Series)" by Dawn DeVries Sokol (2008), "Crafter's Devotional: 365 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Techniques for Unlocking Your Creative Spirit" by Barbara Call (2009) and "Collaborative Art Journals and Shared Visions in Mixed Media" by L.K. Ludwig (2009). I LOVE BOOKS!

In 2008, I got a crazy inspired idea to compile a jewelry zine and wrote a letter to 50 jewelry artist friends who I considered to be my peer group, many had been published before but we all wanted more interaction and exposure and a reason to create. I really wasn't interested in a zine per se, which is just a little pamphlet with a couple of pages xerox copied and folded over.

My partner in crime, Deryn Mentock was a big support to me and finally it turned into a 128 page book with 17 how-to projects and gloriously colorful art filled pages, some inserts, cut-outs and stickers. Hadar Jacobson inspired me to self publish and I used her printer who made me almost 300 copies that I spiral bound myself. I know it could have been way easier to ask them to do it all but then I would have lost the handmade aspect of the project so I persevered and bound them all myself by hand. They sold out in about 2 months.

What is your inspiration now?

Well, like what isn't? I'm open to it all. People say that there isn't anything new under the sun. Then people say so and so is "so original". Then someone has to say something like "They got that idea from so and so and should give them credit". Why? The person who makes it, makes it. The person who teaches it, teaches it and should let it go.

If you're in a small specialized group of artists, and I mean now about 500-1500 people because of facebook and other social media, people are going to know anyway. I have friends that make the birdhouse shape, some gave me credit that the idea came from me, some don't and act like it was their idea. I let it go as soon as it was published. A gift for their attention and I get the private credit that there are people out there who really like that design. I keep saying this and it doesn't make me popular, that "The world is a big, fat, freaking free-for-all."

You can get an idea and not remember exactly how you got it. You can get an idea and know exactly where you got it too. If you're on the Internet a lot, the ideas are endless and constantly streaming. If your idea succeeds and you can make some money from it, then use it for your benefit until other people start copying you and then look into your little notebook and find a new idea and move on.

An artist who feels like they're being stolen from is acting like their best idea is behind them and a better viewpoint is that your best work is ahead of you. So why hoard that old idea? Take the next risk! Truth is I can't stand making more than about 10 – 12 of anything so I like the variety of the new idea and I try to stay away from ideas that I know other people have a very strong vested interest is theirs, even if it really isn't.

I have traveled to a lot of places to meet artists who are now famous to hear what they have to say and show me what they've figured out. They all got something from someone who worked hard and had an idea before they did. The most successful ones are the ones that keep on working on their new ideas after the book comes out. They are the ones that teach and get some new twists from their less experienced students. They're also the ones who love what they do and their success is about sharing and helping others express themselves and the goodness that comes back to them because of it. I've benefited from them greatly. It's not really about the credit. Maybe what it could be is fear or envy that someone else could take your idea and make it better or succeed with it more than you could. I encourage people to take any idea I have and use it however they want. I admire the ones who allowed that with me.

Do you have a muse?

Jewelry artists who are new school and open to the way things are changing in the world, using new ingredients and experimenting. I use some of the traditional metal smithing techniques but what I love to do is mix things together in new ways. I will try anything at least twice. In 2011 I was part of a group of artists on Flickr in a Ring a Week Challenge that was very inspiring and pushed me in new directions. I was learning all the time and it kept me in my studio all year and I completed the challenge. YES!

What is currently on your bench/workspace?

A whole ton of stuff, but mostly I've been making some small molds for a doodad project, drawing small scale patterns for a piercing project and an etching project and I have a few piles of handmade chains that I've been documenting how to make, while I make them. I'm also moderating a community inspirational page and group on facebook called "Texture Tuesdays" where we post photos of textures that fit into weekly themes and people are getting ideas from it. This week's topic was 'Technology'.

What project/direction are you working on now?

I'm making some brooches and pendants with what I produce from my doodad, piercing and etching projects. Right now I'm making components that will later make up the pieces. My direction is straight ahead and usually what others aren't making.

How much time do you average at the bench per week?

When I'm working on a fully imagined project, like my three boxes in the last PMC Annual or on the rings, I work as much as possible, forsaking almost everything else – 40 to 60 hours a week. It's true I hardly sleep when I have an idea that grabs me. For the last 2 months I've hardly been there at all, preferring to work on paper at the dining room table or on my computer.

What's the average time you spend on a piece?

There's no average, as long as it takes.

Do you sell your work?  and where?

I have some work in an etsy shop at Otherwise I do commissioned work and people email me or come to my studio.

Where do you get your new ideas?

Everywhere and anywhere. I try to keep my eyes and mind open.

Do you keep a sketchbook and how do you organize it?

I have many sketchbooks. I usually tape tabs on some of the pages to divide them into sections. I have books dedicated to one thing too, like line drawings.

Are there places or things you avoid that zap your creativity?

Places where there is a highly competitive edge, I tend to step back. I'm not interested in vying for attention. There's always someone louder than me. Conflict zaps me, personal or professional. I avoid TV almost completely.

Do you have a ritual before you begin to create?

I clean up the area before I start and bring parts that I may use into view. I like silence but I can tune sound out if I need to.

What do you collect?

Rubber stamps because they give me ideas. Little objects that look like they could become components in jewelry. Patterns, swatches, computer screen grabs of them, little drawings, photos of patterns, postcards of patterns, papers with patterns on them, pattern books, art books. I collect jewelry from artists I like. I collect packaging I like and design my own.

How do you rejuvenate your creativity?

I like going to the local Antique Fair and taking hundreds of photos. Sometimes I'm more excited about those than with something I bought. It happens once a month and I'm looking forward to going this weekend! I like museums where they let you take pictures. My current laptop has over 34,000 photos on it. I think it may be coming to a critical point where I need to do something about it.

What would your perfect creative day be like?

I would wake up early because I was so excited about a new idea. Everyone else is out for the weekend and I have finished all the household jobs the day before. Ten 50 gram packages of PMC are waiting for me on my work table. I'd start working as soon as I finished washing my face. After a few hours I'd probably look up and realize I was hungry and eat something but I would go right back to my project, veering off into other ideas too as the moments ticked by.

I've set up individual projects on the bench and I'm doing common steps at the same time, like a mini assembly line. Forming, trimming, sanding, firing, polishing, tweaking, then the patina and assembling.

Around 3:00, maybe I'd look something up and take a short break. I'm not tired at all and after returning some emails or a fun phone call to some artist I am collaborating with, I go back to work until I'm all out of ideas and I'm at a solid stopping point, or I start dropping things, whichever comes first.

I've stayed up until I hear the birdies chirping and think "Oh no, maybe I should get some sleep." By that point there are 14 completed pieces, all different yet related, on my bench with only 3 more to finish… I can do that tomorrow.

20 Responses to Catherine Witherell: Muse Personality

  1. I like it! Thanks for the interview. The date I started was in 2000. I'm sure I started something in 2005 but have a hard time remember what it was without looking it up. :O)

  2. I like it! Thanks for the interview. The date I started was in 2000. I'm sure I started something in 2005 but have a hard time remember what it was without looking it up. :O)

  3. I like it! Thanks for the interview. Of the two year dates, I started in 2000. Blog was in 2005. Lots to say I guess. :O)

  4. What an incredible interview! Thank you for the 15 minutes of utterly delightful reading about one of my favorite artists! I just love that you stay up til the birds start to chirp :)

  5. Thank you for sharing your creative process. I love that you do it all and when you "hit the wall" you do something else. That really spoke to me.

  6. What a delightful person…I have been told the "highest compliment is paid when a copy is made". I agree with making a few and moving on and I would love to have one of your ideal days at the bench!! Thanks for your interview and insight.

  7. I loved reading all about Catherine and am proud to know her personally. She is so incredibly talented. I just adore that box!

  8. Thank you for the interview. You reminded me why I love teaching. I was getting discouraged and I needed the inspiration you provide.

  9. So nice to learn more about Facebook friends, understand what we all have in common. My ideal day would be much like Catherine's. Must be a same name thing!

  10. Catherine,
    What a wonderful interview. I guess I am in good company at 3:00 in the moring. It looks like many of us have those hours. lol I love that statement about not appearing like our best work is behind us. I would rather view my best work ahead of me too. Nothing is ours to keep anyway unless we want to make an original and not ever show it to anyone. Art is for sharing, coming together over, enjoying in unison. I also like to work without the noise of the radio or TV. I would rather hear leaves rattleing, crickets singing, or snow crackling under the foot of a deer nearby. You really can hear corn growing! That is where the spirit of creativity lives for me too. Blessings to all the artists out there. Sue

Don’t Miss a Thing - Sign Up For My Free Ezine Now