Why A Scottsdale Potter Credits A Short Attention Span For Success


A man standing in a studio surrounded by ceramics.

“Everything is about making beautiful shapes and there’s something comforting about these nice fat pots—a round form is enticing to people,” ceramist Nicholas Bernard says about his work.

Potter Nicholas Bernard owes a lot to his short attention span. In fact, it’s responsible for the artistic evolution of his 40-year career. “I can only work on one thing for so long until I start seeing something else that I want to pursue,” he says. “A short attention span is a good thing because you keep wanting to make changes and create something different.”

An outdoor ceramics studio with shelves holding pots.

Bernard's Scottsdale pottery studio extends through to his garden, allowing for a plethora of space for him to experiment with various techniques and forms.

A pair of hands kneeding clay.

Bernard has spent 20-plus years in his home studio creating handmade ceramics.

A selection of porcelain pots with stripes and figures on them.

Recently, Bernard has started experimenting with inlaying porcelain pots with patterns using custom tape and layering the pot with layers of color.

Orange and yellow ceramic spheres.

For these brightly colored earthenware pieces, Bernard put up to 12 layers of color with an oxide wash and fired in oxidation at 2,000 degrees Farenheit.

In the 20-plus years since he set up his studio at the back of his home in Scottsdale, Bernard’s body of work has continually evolved. Known then for his raku pottery, his creative trajectory changed when he visited a museum in Rhodes, Greece, filled with 2,000-year-old pots. “Simple forms with no contrivance or pretension filled room after room,” he recalls of what impressed him most about the works. Inspired by the soft colors and classic shapes of the ewers, urns and other ancient vessels he saw in the museum, he began experimenting with similar forms.

But thanks to that attention span—or lack thereof—the process began to morph, as he started to develop new techniques and then explore where they led. “You spray or brush some color or you fire differently,” he explains. “Can you do that again and make it better or different? It sort of all builds on itself. Anytime I see something interesting, I just keep picking away at it.”

In one of his recent series, bulbous earthenware decorated using layered colored slips and oxides almost resemble planets. In another, Bernard uses a custom tape that he painstakingly cuts to create stripes, spirals, tendrils and other patterns on white porcelain pots and platters. He then layers colors on top of that—blacks, golds and blues—before glazing it and then removing the tape and exposing the white of the pot.

If the enthusiastic response from buyers is any indication, this particular chapter of creative exploration is a winner. “Everything is about making beautiful shapes and there’s something comforting about these nice fat pots—a round form is enticing to people,” he says.

Bernard’s constant evolution has proven to have another advantage—he’s learned to embrace failure. “Nothing works all the time,” he observes. “But when something doesn’t work, if you pay attention to what it did or why it did it, you can grow through that.”