Space and contrast, storms and clay

It’s still storm season, although the more severe (read “interesting, beautiful, thrilling, where-I-wanna-be”) thunderstorms are up north this time of year in my native Nebraska. I’ve taken a number of photographs this Spring of cloud forms as they pass by, and am also mulling over a couple of new thoughts with respect to their influence in my artwork.

Western anvil of a small thunderstorm on the first day of summer.
I like the juxtaposition of the tree with the fluffy foreground clouds.
Taken with a cameraphone, 2008.

My first observation is pretty simple. It is a comparison between my material of choice, clay, and the material of the storms and clouds I so often choose to represent. The finished ceramic product is very hard, more or less a rock. Clouds possess a volumetric and spatial presence, but are “wispy” as my wife suggested yesterday. They are atmospheric, per se, as opposed to solid. Regardless of this stark contrast, wet clay may be the best material (that I can think of) for molding the nebulous nature of thunderstorms. Stone and wood are harder to cajole into such organic forms, and with clay an artist can model almost as quickly as a summer tempest pops up through the heat and humidity.

Swirling clouds over my house in Siloam Springs, Spring 2008.
The speck in the middle is a bird, not something on your screen.

Observation number two. I’ve focused, with good reason, on the dramatic forms and colors of the storm clouds themselves. Recently more of my attention is being drawn to the space in between the bottom of the thunderstorm, with a commonly flat appearance, and the horizon. The characteristics of this defined space are a new fascination for me. It’s an enormous space, hard to discern when you’re in the midst of the squall. The colors contained in this environment seem to penetrate the air; they take on a tactile quality. The observed “room” is huge, the size of a city, but only able to be comprehended from a significant distance — to the point the powerful storm becomes an icon instead of a threat.

Mammatus ceiling over my house in Siloam Springs, Spring 2008.

I don’t know where these new thoughts will lead, but I’m eager to find out. I’ve begun with some sketches to further this novel surveillance and hope I can act on them in the next few months.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

One Response to Space and contrast, storms and clay

  1. Tim J. says:

    Nice photos, especially the mammatus clouds. My son and I are both would-be storm chasers, also.

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