Bonsai Potter Spotlight - Michael Marchand - AKA "Sorce"
Updated: Dec 26, 2020
If you've spent anytime on a bonsai forum, you’ve most likely ran across the always excellent BonsaiNut. And if you’ve spent anytime on a BonsaiNut, you've most likely ran across the always memorable “Sorce”.
I've been on the forum for a few years and have come to know Sorce as an eager hand to bonsai enthusiasts, quick to share his experience with members and also a promising bonsai potter. When I posted my first "Potter's Spotlight" on John Cole last month, Sorce was eager to continue the slab-built rectangle conversation and I was happy to host him. I enjoyed our wide ranging conversation about pottery and my continued search for the "Great American Unglazed Rectangle". Here follows our (slightly) edited conversation, enjoy!
PeaceLoveBonsai: So I have to start with the name Sorce. Where does that come from? Does that pre-date your bonsai?
Sorce: It's definitely from before bonsai. I was making music. I produce hip hop and rhyme. It comes from “sorcery”. The idea of magic or fixing things, making things happen, making things work. That was many years ago, but it’s kind of stuck.
PLB: Ok, cool, how long ago was that?
Sorce: Oh, wow, the late nineties.
PLB: Love it! Now, I always like to ask, which came first, the pot or the tree?
Source: Tree first. Yeah, similar to music. The only reason I started making music or making beats was because I needed something to rhyme on. And I like doing everything myself. So it was probably pretty early within bonsai that I had the idea that I was gonna make pots someday.
PLB: So then how did you get started? If I remember right, you were messing around with concrete and stuff at the beginning, right? Is that what started it for you?
Sorce: Well, it's kinda weird, because in the beginning, you know, with the trees, you're wondering what the hell do I do with them? What do I put them in? And I was in an apartment, so I had to make some heavy things to put on my window sill.
PLB: Yeah, right. So they wouldn't blow over, right?
Sorce: Absolutely. So I made concrete base bottoms like a net pot, and that was kind of the initial thing.
PLB: Have you gone through any type of formal, you know, pottery training or do you considered yourself “self-taught”?
Sorce: Definitely self taught. In my day job, I’m familiar with building materials and there is a lot of crossover between my work and pottery. Measuring, materials, all that stuff. But coming in, I didn’t understand all the difficulties that would go into making pots. There’s no shortage of those. But it’s a fascinating process. It still fascinates me every time. It’s really what keeps you going, you know? I mean there’s so many things that happen, you know, things break. There’s so many failures. But the drive to find that next fascinating piece of newly discovered “whatever” is the fun, you know?
PLB: Yeah, it's the journey, right? So, what's the most challenging aspect of making bonsai pots for you?
Sorce: For me, it’s the physics. A lot of people really don’t understand all that goes into firing a pot. The distance, the span, the sag. How much the pot is going to shrink. I can make a really large pot, but if it’s flat on the bottom, it’ll shrink rather easily and it just makes it hard.
PLB: So what are you working on now?
Sorce: Trying a turn at mixing my own clay body. I fired a couple ones that still haven't come out. I want to make my own nice, unglazed body. Trying to only make rectangles right now. Every now and then I'll slap together an oval and I did just make a dog bowl yesterday. But for the most part, I'm trying to focus on these rectangles just to keep them perfect and get them bigger.
PLB: Yeah. That's a good segue. As you know, I'm in search of the "Great American Unglazed Rectangle". Why do you think we don't see more unglazed, slab built rectangles in America?
Sorce: I mean, it is difficult. I did a little six month stint at my local ceramic supply so I learned a lot there, but everyone starts on the wheel. You know, like from "Ghost", the wheel is the romantic thing. Everybody wants to be on the wheel. And then once you get proficient at the wheel, it's kinda easy to make a larger round pot. You know, you could get one popped off in 15 minutes. Where a rectangle you're still just rolling out the slab for that 15 minutes. You know what I mean? And then when people get comfortable on the wheel, they could sell a lot of those and they don't really need to change, you know?
PLB: Right. The thing is, we have these great American trees. Great American conifers like Rocky Mountain junipers, One seed junipers, etc and there's no great American rectangles to put them in, right?
Sorce: Yeah, definitely, You're absolutely right on that part. It's exciting to see all these great trees and really nothing to go under them, nothing to compliment them. The American style is different and the trees are different. I'm trying to fit in that niche.
PLB: Yeah, I agree 100%. We don't have to follow the Japanese way. I see what Ryan (Neil at Mirai) is doing with some of their American trees, with the slabs and some of the funky stuff for their American conifers. And that's fine. I get it. You know, that's an American style. But, I just wonder, is there an American style to the rectangle? Just like there's an American style to the Rocky Mountain juniper? Does that make sense?
Sorce: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And that's exactly what I'm doing. Finding the clay and dealing with the sagging of the clay to make a nice unglazed pot is difficult. Or it's another depth of difficulty, I should say. But that's what I want to do. That's where I'm at.
PLB: Cool, so do you consider yourself more of an artist or a craftsman?
Sorce: That's a pretty good question. Actually, yesterday I was thinking about whether people are artists and use clay as a medium or whether they are potters that become artist? I'm definitely an artist that became to use clay as a medium.
PLB: Excellent. That was awesome. Thanks again, Sorce. Where can we find out more about you?
PLB: Ok. Final question. You're in the Chicago area. I love Chicago. I’ve been a huge Chicago Bears fan for years. Jumped on the bandwagon in '85 and I can’t seem to get off. With that in mind, what’s the best Chicago style pizza?
Sorce: That’s a tough one. I knew you were gonna ask me some hard questions. I was actually thinking of this question before our discussion because it’s important to me. Villa Nova is the one that I always go to now. I think it has best flavor and it’s not so commercial like so many others.
PLB: Excellent! Thank you so much. This has been great. Keep building those slab rectangles and kicking ass, and keep us updated on those new pots!