Local ceramic artists create pottery not to be glazed over.
By Tanya A. Yacina
Practice Makes Perfect
When Laguna Beach resident Mary McDonald became a potter “on a lark” about 10 years ago, her children were grown and out of the house. Yearning to learn something new, she turned to Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, where she took ceramics classes for a year.
“I had never made anything out of clay before,” McDonald says. “I wasn’t what you would call a quick learner. I had a lot of difficulty figuring out how to center a ball of clay on the wheel.”
But practice makes perfect, and she put all of her effort into improving and honing her skills. “I would go to Open Studio at Saddleback whenever I could to practice. I would stay up late and watch YouTube videos of people throwing pottery on the wheel.”
Her determination eventually allowed her to find success in creating pottery and, with a little bit of luck, enabled her to start selling her pieces as well. “Ceramics isn’t something that can be mastered—and if you choose to work with clay, there are endless ways to express yourself,” McDonald says. “… I had never planned on selling anything, but I was approached by a shop and, much to my surprise, it started selling and grew from there. It was an accidental business, and I get to do what I love.”
After her time at Saddleback College, McDonald frequented the Ceramics Open Studio at Irvine Fine Arts Center where she would station herself near practiced potters to watch their techniques.
McDonald, who has converted her home’s garage into a ceramics studio, says she works primarily with mid-range clay, though she sometimes uses high-fire clay as well. She also likes to work with clays that speckle in the final firing, as well as underglazes. All of her pottery is wheel-thrown and the pieces she creates have practical uses in addition to artistic value.
“Simple design catches my eye: bold color and simple shapes. I like to put colors together that don’t necessarily match,” she explains. “Also, I enjoy making pottery that is functional—something to drink from, put a plant or flowers in, serve food in, as well as admire on a shelf.”
Find her work around town at Laguna Supply and The Garage Collective, as well as on the Double M Pottery website.
Double M Pottery
Bill Darnall knew at the early age of 17 that ceramics were his passion. He began his journey as a studio art major with a concentration in ceramics and a minor in psychology, and has since had a long career as a ceramicist.
Darnall taught at Laguna Beach High School for 30 years, serving as a ceramics teacher from 1982 to 2012. He says his inspiration has always been his love of the medium as well as the challenge of working with his hands. Darnall also bases his artistry on the joy and love that his friends, family members and customers express in appreciation for his “functional wares.”
“I love that I have so many returning customers … [who want] more pieces to add to their collections, and their heartfelt appreciation [and] affection for my work,” Darnall notes.
According to Darnall, the quality of the materials he uses and the extreme temperature under which the pieces are fired render all his pottery safe to use in the microwave, dishwasher or freezer; they are also lead-free. He uses two types of firings for his pieces: bisque firing at 1900 degrees Fahrenheit, and high-firing at 2400 degrees Fahrenheit in a cone 10 kiln.
“All pottery is totally handmade by myself—no employees—of white stoneware and goes through two firings,” Darnall says. “… My ceramic pieces are skillfully thrown and formed on a potter’s wheel, and are glazed and decorated by hand.”
In addition to his ceramics work, Darnall is also an avid photographer. He has been a Sawdust Art Festival exhibitor since the 1970s, often operating a booth in both the summer and winter shows to display each side of his creative ventures. During that time, he has also been elected to the show’s board of directors nine times and served twice as president. This year, he is taking a break from the show due to COVID-19, but work can still be purchased from him directly.
Bill Darnall Ceramics and Photography
Plein Air Perfection
Many different galleries and organizations follow Laguna Art Museum’s lead as the Art & Nature initiative takes place each fall. One big supporter, naturally, is Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, which recently announced the winners of its annual juried “Art & Nature” exhibition. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the show was displayed virtually, raising more than $4,000 for LPAPA through sale of the artwork over the course of a week. First place went to Jason Li for his “White Water” watercolor, while second place winner Paul Kratter’s “Morning Atmosphere” and Ed Pulella’s third place painting, “Winter Afternoon,” both depicted beautiful tree-centric scenes. Lisa Mozzini-McDill picked up honorable mention for her “Morning Haze” sunrise painting. But, when the public had a chance to vote for their favorites on Facebook, they selected Laguna Beach resident David Kizziar’s “Morning Mist” to receive the People’s Choice Award. (lpapa.org) —Ashley Ryan
As an artist, it’s important to always keep things interesting, and that’s just what local gallery owners are doing with recent collaborations. After the start of the NFL season, Steve Adam, who owns an eponymous gallery in town, announced a partnership with SoFi Stadium, the complex that is home to both the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers football teams. The new collection, which can be viewed on the artist’s website as well as in The Equipment Room store at the LA stadium, features modern abstract designs on everything from surfboards and skateboards to canvas paintings, team apparel and more. Inspired by both the West Coast and the teams at hand, the unique collection will continue to expand as time goes on.
Another collaboration is taking place between Christie Smith, owner of Unleashed Art Gallery, and photographer David Stratford, who’s known for his iconic images of legendary rock stars taken in the 1970s. Smith is using the photographer’s prints as a base for her “Satisfaction” series, which incorporate more rare materials like resin and metal flakes to create innovative art pieces. The first finished work is based on a photo of Mick Jagger, while Smith says upcoming paintings will include stars like David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Elton John and members of Led Zeppelin. (Steve Adam Gallery: steveadamgallery.com) (Unleashed Art Gallery: unleashedartgallery.com) —A.R.
The CAP Gallery
Inspired by Laguna Art Museum’s Art & Nature initiative that took place in November, “Reframing Nature 2020” showcases a variety of works modeled after stunning landscapes and pieces of nature. Located in the second-floor rotunda of the Wells Fargo building downtown, the exhibit will be on display through Jan. 30, 2021. (949-533-7507; caplaguna.org)
JoAnne Artman Gallery
The latest show at the JoAnne Artman Gallery combines artwork with pop culture. “Popular,” which runs through the end of the year and features works by Michael Callas, John “Crash” Matos and Greg Miller, is based on a song of the same name from the Broadway musical “Wicked.” The artists use pop art to draw attention to concepts of beauty and conformity plus advertising and, well, what’s popular. (949-510-5481; joanneartmangallery.com)
Laguna Art Museum
There’s no doubt that this local artistic center is integral to the arts community in Laguna. Malcolm Warner, the museum’s executive director, is retiring at the end of the year, so visit the organization’s website for an ongoing tribute to his legacy and to sign a guestbook with a note for him to read. (949-494-8971; lagunaartmuseum.org)
Laguna Beach City Hall
Although Festival of Arts wasn’t held this year, locals can still check out pieces of the permanent collection, on display at City Hall through Jan. 13, 2021. Works date back as far as 1920, and include pieces by locals like Jacobus Baas, Stefan Cummings, Ken Auster and the late Joane Cromwell. (foapom.com)
Las Laguna Gallery
With a revamped website, Las Laguna is displaying its “Photography” exhibition both in the gallery and online through Dec. 31. The innovative and intriguing pieces that make up this show—from well over 100 different artists—are intended to be thought-provoking glimpses into specific moments. (949-505-0950; laslagunagallery.com)
Each year, the Fine Arts undergraduate department presents an exhibit of artwork created by seniors in the Drawing & Painting program. Curated by Hope Railey and Kenny Harris, and available by appointment in the Ocean Avenue gallery through Jan. 15, 2021, visitors can view cohesive portfolios that reflect conceptual growth and mastering of still lifes, landscapes, figures and more. (949-376-6000; lcad.edu)
LOCA Arts Education
From Jan. 28-30, 2021, LOCA will host its first online art auction fundraiser. Titled “For the Love of Art,” the web-based showcase and shopping experience will feature pieces by members of LOCA, the organization’s instructors and local artists in a variety of mediums. Registration is free, but required. (949 363-4700; locaarts.org)
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel
With a number of festive and artistic ways to celebrate the season, a stop to The Ritz-Carlton is in order. Through early next year, “The Space Between Dreaming and Reality: The Magic Realism of Paul Bond” will display the artist’s vibrant, dreamlike oil paintings in the lobby’s art exhibit hallway. The annual holiday surfboard auction is also taking place through the end of the year to benefit Surfers Healing, and visitors can stop by the lobby to view sand sculptures by Archisand Professional Sand Sculptors until Jan. 2, 2021. (949-240-2000; ritzcarlton.com)
As usual, Sandstone Gallery will present two simultaneous showcases. The first, located in the Front Gallery, will highlight abstract expressionist acrylic pieces by Sunny Kim, painted on linen. Then, in the Skylight Gallery, enjoy mixed media paintings created by Lynn Welker as part of the “Skyline” series. Both groupings will be displayed through Jan. 4, 2021, by appointment. (949-497-6775; sandstonegallery.com)
Sue Greenwood Fine Art
In the new year, view narrative paintings by John Randall Nelson as well as mixed media pieces by Martin Webb in a two-person show, held at the gallery from Jan. 15 to Feb. 28, 2021. Pandemic allowing, there will also be an artist reception held on Feb. 4, 2021, within the gallery. (949-494-0669; suegreenwoodfineart.com)
Editor’s note: Due to the pandemic, events may change. Check with organizers for updates.