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Rising Stars: Meet Diahn Ott

Today we’d like to introduce you to Diahn Ott.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I have been crafting and making art since I was very little – as soon as I could hold a pair of scissors and glue pieces of paper together. My mother sewed all my clothes until I went to high school and I would help her pick out fabrics and cut out patterns, which is likely where I got my love of visual arts and crafts. I also started photography very young and loved finding a new view of the world through a camera lens.

I never had any formal art training in school, though. In high school, I was in choir and students had to make a choice between art classes and choir classes, so I stuck with the choir. So, when I went to college, it never occurred to me that majoring in art could even be an option. Instead, I studied science.

I earned my Bachelors of Science in Geology in 1994, then a Masters in 1996. I was working on my Ph.D. when I married my husband and when I had our first child, I realized that staying home with him was more important than a dissertation, so I dropped out of the program.

As a stay-at-home mom, I started to pick back up on the art journey I had been on prior to high school. I started drawing and painting, knitting, embroidering, photographing – all the creative pursuits I had set aside – and found I was happier than I had ever been. I was able to take a few local art center classes and grow in confidence and skill level. I found so much joy in creating that I knew it was what I was meant to do.

Then, in 2015, my father passed away. My creative energy was sapped by the grief and by the process of moving my mother to live closer to my family so we could help care for her. I spent months in sadness and really couldn’t see a way back until a friend asked if I wanted to join her for a 6-week class in beginning pottery. I decided I would – more to get out of the house and try to see her more often – and found that somewhere in the middle of that 6 weeks, my creative spark had returned. I could see that joy in creating again.

I bought a pottery wheel and set it up in my garage and practiced every day for hours. I could lose myself in the process of taking a lump of clay and turning it into a three-dimensional, beautiful, and useful item. The next year, I got a kiln and now I’m fully functional in my home studio.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Nothing is ever smooth, I think! Learning to retrain my brain from pure science to hyper-creativity was not easy – it still isn’t easy. Perfectionism is a struggle every day – trying to relax and let the creative energy flow, rather than trying to force it into some idea of how it should behave is a constant battle. Doing all this while raising and eventually, home-schooling two active boys was a definite challenge!

Self-criticism is maybe one of the greatest enemies to artists that I know. Every person I’ve ever spoken to in the creative world, from painters to photographers, from potters to soap makers struggles with the idea that their painting/photograph/pot/soap isn’t as great as it should be.

Comparison is the thief of joy, after all – someone else has always done it better. It takes a great deal of positive self-talk to overcome it.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am currently making functional pottery – mugs, bowls, vases, pitchers, etc. My work is full of bright colors and simple motifs, borrowing on the simplicity of mid-century modern Scandinavian florals. My current collection is full of red and turquoise designs on dark, chocolate-brown clay and finished in a translucent white glaze.

I’m also known for my whimsical sculptures known as “Deerfants.” They are constructed from porcelain doll heads and hands and each sculpture has a name and story behind it. People either love them or are completely baffled by them.

In addition, all of my work incorporates a skull somewhere in the making – just as a reminder that this life is fleeting. Carpe diem and all that.

How do you define success?
I think the definition of success is more an internal metric than an external one. If I find satisfaction in what I’m doing, then I feel like I am succeeding. Making sales is certainly part of that and I’m sure that for anyone it is a large measure of success, as it is for me.

But the difference I feel when I sell a pot or a sculpture that I am truly proud of – that the vision I had for it was truly realized – is so much greater than when I sell a pot that came out fine. When another human values the item that I poured my heart into – that’s a success for me.

I do enjoy looking back at the journey as a metric of success, as well. I can look back at the first coffee mug I completed in my first pottery class and compare it to one that came out of my kiln’s last firing and has immediate feedback on the success of my practice. I have to remember to stop comparing my pots to others’ pots and just compare them to my own.

My past self is the best yardstick to measure my own success.

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