Inside the Artist’s Studio with John Brien

John Brien (1)

Applying slips before the first firing

I am originally from Rochester, NY and grew up in Dayton, OH. I moved back to the Rochester area after high school and currently live in Victor, NY. I studied art and art education at Monroe Community College and Nazareth College, and I currently teach art at Fairport High School.


“Fleeting” early rough in of the sculpture

I was not able to concentrate on clay in college as much as I wanted to, so a lot of what I do has been learned in the studio, through practice, or from the wonderful, sharing clay community on the internet. I am an avid reader of ceramic blogs, books , and magazines and I have watched hundreds of hours of demos on YouTube. So, even though my ceramics education was not traditional, I did learn from the best.


First layer of colored slips applied

As an educator, I believe it is important to teach by example. Early in my teaching career I read an article about ceramic artist and educator Paul Soldner. He talked about the importance of teacher as maker in the classroom. I believe it is important for my students to see me work. The pieces that I work on in the classroom are used for demonstrations and discussions on technique and craftsmanship. I find that it raises the level of understanding about what it is to make art and be creative.


work in progress faceted yunomi

Mishima skull yunomi

Mishima skull yunomi

I have two very different bodies of work. I make figurative sculptures, and I also make functional ceramic work with my wife as J&K Clayworks. Because I chose to (and love to) make functional pieces I only have time to make 2 to 3 sculptures a year.

Fleeting 2015

Fleeting 2015

The figurative work I do is often related to personal reflections and can be an interpretation of my experiences and people in my life. I start each sculpture with a general direction and I enjoy finding the face and form in the clay. I let my ideas evolve as the work develops though a process of trial and error. There is always a lot of experimentation in what I do: If something works, it works. If it doesn’t work, then I find another way.

Flora 2016

Flora 2016

I have always been drawn to figurative works where the subject connects with the viewer through a gesture or through eye contact. Art is an interaction between the maker and the viewer. Most of us have seen work that “speaks” to us. It gives us pause and allows us to reflect on what the artist is saying or to connect with a narrative in the work. This is my goal. This is what keeps me making. Whether it is a sculpture or a cup, the interaction with the audience allows my art to achieve its purpose.

Stop by Main Street Arts to see John’s ceramic sculpture “Fleeting” in our current exhibition The Human Figure (runs through July 1). View his work on Facebook at You can also follow John on Instagram @jbrien145.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by painter Paul Garland.

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