“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

A kind of adventure, artist residencies are exceedingly valuable periods of time when, by taking a perpendicular stance to one’s studio routines, one can develop one’s practice in new and often unexpected directions. For me, artist residencies offer a number of significant benefits: the challenge of working with new materials and methods, an enlarged social network of like-minded professionals, and the impact of thinking outside of the box for a month or two. International travel and cultural exchange offer a means to expand the technical and conceptual boundaries of my studio practice. In this article, I will reflect on the impact that participating in a number of artist residencies at The Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, China, has had on recent developments in my work.

Paul W. Leathers, JDZ (Silver Fern) Fragment Brooch, 2013. Oxidized sterling silver with titanium (PVD) coated porcelain, underglaze transfers, 2.75 x 1.25 x 0.5 in. Photograph by the author.A quest for knowledge underpins the study of making and of the artifacts that are made—process and product, respectively. Exploring various connections to the material world is central to being a curious participant in the unfolding of that world. I am curious. I am curious about how things work and how they may be brought together to work in new and unfamiliar ways. I am curious about the connections, both visible and invisible, that exist between material and maker, and believe that it is this curiosity—the fundamental desire to seek answers to self-initiated questions—that drives each of us as makers.

Our hands extend and project us into the material relationship from which our dreams of activity and action grow. We are the conduits through which intangible ideas are made tangible. Studio practice is layered, like an onion. It radiates outward from the individual maker, through the ideas, the materials, and finally, through the artwork to the viewer, and back again. It is both reflexive and reflective. Each of us, while engaged in the process of making, may experience a sense of heightened focus and compressed time. It is in this state that one “dances the materials,” in an interactive and responsive process of taking the material, and being taken by it, to the edge of one's expectations. For me, the studio is a private space—calm and supremely controlled.

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