Interview with Ehren Tool
1) What does a typical studio day look like for you?
I try not to have typical days in the studio. Studio time is my special time. I take it where and whenever I can. In the last few years curators have invited me to places to come make work. Some folks call it a performance but it's really just studio time for me. The process is throw the cups. Wait until the cups are dry enough to stamp. Stampe the cups. Pu underglaze decals on the cups. Bisque fire the cups. I do an underglaze wash on the cups to highlight the stamos. Glaze the cups. Glaze fire the cups. Then if I have a photo or something I put an iron oxide decal on the cup. Decal fire the cup. That is the process for each cup. There is also a lot of time spent with correspondence from cup requests researching images to put on cups. I use a lot of Photoshop to make new images or edit/modify existing images. I use a laser engraver to make stamps very similar to using woodblock or intaglio printing, without a press and paper. I do some screen printing and I hand paint some of those prints. If I'm making a one off sometimes I will trace an image with underglaze. Simple images like unit patches. Folks let me borrow insignia they rate and I make molds of the insignia to decorate cups for the folks whose insignia I borrowed. I used to use iron oxide decals a lot but the price went from $0.60 to $3 per sheet. I don't usually get large blocks of studio time so I do a few of the above when I can. It all adds up.
2) What made you decide to use printing techniques to decorate or adorn your cups?
Printers are using ceramic techniques. Before there was paper people were printing on clay. Many of the old cuneiform tablets are unfired clay. My first ceramics instructor (Phil Cornelius) was prior Army. I was In the Marine Corps. Cornelius said I could not decorate my work so I went home and started making sprig molds of my insignia and toys I had from childhood. It was 100% because Cornelius said I couldn't. As I've gone on and I got access to new techniques I incorporated them into my process. Sprig molds, then laser decals, then laser engraved stamps then screen printing. The idea of all of it is just to share stories. My own and, more importantly, other people's stories. All of the images on the cups are meaningful to me. What I have found most interesting, with the cups, is the stories others tell about the images. A daughter takes a cup home and the father shares a story he never had before. The hope is the cups can be touchstones to speak about unspeakable things.
3) Aside from starting a conversation, what does it mean for you to give your cups away? In many cases I think it is wrong to say I give the cups away. I give the cups to folks who have already paid. Many folks have paid with their youth, their innocence, their son, their father, their sister, their Aunt. The cups are just cups. There is no difference between my cup and a red Solo cup. If anything is different about my cups it is because of the people they resonate with. I really want my cups in those people's hands. When the cups are in those folks hands they become something more. I'm so grateful to folks who take time to contemplate the images on the cups. Spend time with the cups. Half way through a bottle of whiskey the images get more powerful as do the stories. Some of the cups are adopted by families. They become heirlooms. As an object maker, that is really a great honor. Money just gets in the way of getting the cups into the hands of folks who they resonate with. The day may come when I need more money than I have. I hope I can always give cups to folks who want them.
4) It is a well known fact that you make a lot of cups. Do you think you would ever make, say, bowls or plates, in the same excess as you do cups someday. If you did, would this be the start of a new or different conversation? I have, and do, occasionally make other things in addition to making cups. I like the hand to hand of a cup. You don't toast with a bowl or plate. Drinking and talking is a thing we have done for a long time. I am so grateful when my cups are part of that history. I have been thinking about making some large containers/dispensers that folks could gather around to fill their cups. I don't know I'm just fumbling through my life. I have no grand schemes or plans. Making cups is a very small and impotent gesture in the face of all of the tremendous challenges we face. I think it is important that folks do what they believe in. Cups are what I have.
5) What do you find is the easiest way for you to get your work out to and in the hands of people?
For most of the time I've been making work show closings is where I would give most of the cups away. The studio is pretty backed up as shows have been canceled or postponed but I keep making. Since programs have been posted online and television folka have been reaching out. I am SO behind on cup requests. I feel really bad. I wish making the cups was my day job and I had a grant from the USPS for free shipping. Recently, for the first time, I have been having problems with the USPS. I really think the PostMaster is trying to dismantle USPS. I am outraged at the attack of the USPS. When I was in the Gulf War I was so grateful to receive packages and news from home. I have insisted on using the USPS for shipping my whole career. The USPS is a great institution and should get the support it needs.