“I try very hard not to force my work into “being”. As long as what I am doing feels good to my soul, I will continue to create. If it no longer feels good, then I know I need to head in a different direction”. Sondra Elder is an amazing artist whose incredible use of colors and crystal designs produces functional pieces that simply take one’s breath away. As a self-taught artist, her mastery of firing processes highlights her talents in and passion for the ceramic artform. Her unique process showcases her talent for striking the perfect balance between capability and beauty; “With my pottery, my chosen medium is porcelain because its strength and delicacy learn to live in harmony. It is my perfect canvas to display the beautiful zinc-silicate crystals that can only be created through normally destructive fire. These naturally occurring phenomena inspire my never-ending desire to artistically harness their capability on the backdrop of my forms – which equally exude capability and femininity”.
“I want the observer to become lost in the crystal and for each person to discover something new every time they view my work”
Elder didn’t begin her artistic journey until after conquering the business world. Creative Pinellas wrote an article about Elder describing that she, “was not able to truly devote time to her creative journey until after retiring from her life in the business world. Now that she has removed her corporate “hat”, her surroundings constantly inspire her artistic expression. After making her first ceramic piece in 2014, Sondra was hooked. Her journey has taken her to study with Spanish, Australian, English, and American ceramic artists to develop her skills”. When asked about why she chose ceramics as her artistic medium, Elder said, “Whenever I saw someone make something with clay, I was fascinated. I decided to try it and found that I was horrible at it. Everything I made was so ugly. BUT, I was having the time of my life when my hands were in the clay. This told me that it was a path I wanted to stay on. I still feel this way when my hands are in the mud. I know that I am no longer horrible at it; and as long as it makes my soul feel good, I will continue”. Although her artistic career began later, Elder has mastered the ability to challenge herself to continue learning and to produce excellence; “I am a self-taught artist who focused on art much later in life than many other artists. I can’t say that I have been mentored by another artist. I challenge myself to follow my heart and let creativity come naturally”.
Elder strives to create a dynamic experience for the viewer right from the beginning of the creative process; “I create my forms on the potter’s wheel with a vision to move the observer’s eye from one end of the piece fluidly around the work without interruption. On this canvas, I apply glazes that I develop using rare earth elements and oxides that create dramatic backdrops for my crystal formations”. The gorgeous crystal designs form as Elder fires up her kiln to 2350 degrees Fahrenheit and holds for varying lengths of time and temperatures to produce a variety of unique crystal effects. With her dazzling displays of color and design, Elder hopes that that her pieces allow, “the observer to become lost in the crystal and for each person to discover something new every time they view my work”. When looking at her pieces, it is clear that Elder has mastered an ability to provide her viewers with bursts of magical whimsy and wonder that harbor a sense of familiarity garnered from her inspirations. Elder explained that most of her inspirations come from her own surroundings, a distinct passion for the many colors within them, and the importance of creating her own joy; “My work is influenced by my need for color. The things that make me stop and stare are colorful flowers, plants, birds, insects…. and just nature. Recreating those colors brings me joy”.
Finding ways to create her own joy has garnered Elder success that has proved to her that this is the path she was meant to find. When asked about her favorite moment of her artistic journey, Elder said, “My favorite moment was the first time I won an award for my body of work at a juried fine art show. It validated for me that I was creating something special. Each subsequent award was equally special to me”. While her constant dedication to and strive for perfection has resulted in pieces that are absolutely stunning, Elder explained that she has also considered it an obstacle at times; “One of my biggest challenges has been listening to my own advice and accepting imperfection. That is one of the hardest things to accept. I want my work to be perfect and I don’t want to have any stress in my process. I know that this is unrealistic, because there are so many variables outside of my control, but it is still very difficult for me”.
The dedication to her art form has helped Elder find her artistic niche and she hopes other artists are inspired by her journey in its entirety – not just her success and the gorgeous pieces that she’s known for today, but the beginning work that showcases her dedication to achieving that success in time. Elder said, “I hope to inspire artists by showing them not only my current work, but also work from the beginning of my journey. My early work was clunky and awkward – as is the work of most artists when they espouse a new medium. Many of us give up during this awkward stage. We convince ourselves that we don’t have the talent for the medium. In truth, we have simply not gotten to the break-through moment”. That “break-through moment” is one that Elder understands the importance of for all artists and advises emerging artists to keep pushing in search of it despite any obstacle; “Just as when we were learning to walk, we fell down many times. We could have decided that we simply were no good at walking. But, one day we found that we were steady on our feet. As we were learning to talk, our words were not crystal clear – until one day they were”. Elder said that she would tell emerging artists to ask themselves, “Is tomorrow the day that I will have my breakthrough moment?” With a clear vision of the affect she wants her pieces to have on her viewers, Elder has found that a dedication to the passions that bring her joy is the best way to deliver that experience. Sondra Elder has proved that doing what she loves while constantly striving for perfection has allowed her to develop a unique process and produce pieces that are full of wonderment and exude excellence.
Educational/Personal Growth Opportunity
“Just as when we were learning to walk, we fell down many times. We could have decided that we simply were no good at walking. But, one day we found that we were steady on our feet. As we were learning to talk, our words were not crystal clear – until one day they were. Ask yourself, ‘Is tomorrow the day that I will have my breakthrough moment?'”
Now it’s your turn to be challenged:
Think about your artistic journey thus far – what were your “breakthrough moments”? Where did you start and how far have you come from that? Where do you want to go and how are you going to get there?