Happy New Year friends!
We made it through the whirlwind that was 2017. I think many of us are feeling a bit weary from the ups and downs that last year brought, but overall I'm very satisfied to be on this side of what will be a very big, wonderful and weird 2018! After a long silence here on the blog, it feels like the right time for an update.
My husband and I are expecting our first baby this year. After a long road of trying and uncertainty, we found out that a little boy will be joining us in February. It's so surreal. By early November I had to slow down very drastically in the studio and cut my holiday shows down to only two (thank you Hamilton + Toronto!) because for once, I was not in control of my body...the baby and spiking hormones were. Even now at almost 35 weeks, if I happen to forget I'm no longer driving this bus the babe will remind me with a flurry of strong karate kicks.
Years ago I started taking stock of what it might look like to be both a parent and an artist by observing other artists in my community (both artists who chose to become parents and those who chose not to), because in all honesty, at times it felt like art + babies = crazy town. And I'm sure it does! Since working alongside some amazing artist parents in the Make and Do collective, I've been so inspired to just jump in with both feet and figure it out as I go. I know I won't be perfect in my career or my parenting, but I refuse to accept that I can't do both. When I need a boost of morale for this artistic parenting experiment, I've found this website to be so helpful. It's a digital scrapbook of working moms in the field of ceramics and it makes my heart swell.
One curveball we definitely did not see coming in 2017 was my dad's stroke. Since May he's been slowly recovering his ability to walk and speak with an incredible amount of support from my mom, our family and people from the community in Muskoka where they live. It's been a humbling experience that has reminded us to savour each day we have. While visiting Muskoka over the summer to rest and visit with family, we made another GBD (great big decision): we decided we wanted to move back home.
We always thought we might end up moving back up north, but the imminent baby arrival and my dad's health really helped to refocus everything. So in May 2018 we'll be leaving Hamilton (so bittersweet... ack! Hamilton has been so good to us) and moving back into the wilds of Muskoka for fresh air, big blue lakes and bonfires. We've found a sweet old century home and I am so excited to start building a new ceramics studio on our land (I'll post about our progress here and on Instagram). I'm hoping to one day be on the Muskoka Autumn Studio Tour but there's lots of work to do before I can apply for that. I'd love to connect with more Muskoka artists and get involved in the vibrant arts community. Coming home feels really good.
To wrap up, I want to thank everyone who supported me and my work on Make and Do this year, at the Hamilton Potters' Guild Sales and at City of Craft. Taking a hiatus from making work feels so bizarre and hasn't really sunk in yet but the awkwardness has been eased by seeing so many warm, familiar faces at these shows. Thank you to everyone who stopped by my booth to offer words of encouragement and to purchase pieces. And a big thanks to all the shops that carried my work this year. THANK YOU.
Looking forward to rolling with all the ch-ch-ch-ch-changes this year will bring with so much gratitude,
Image above by Jeff Tessier.
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About 2.5 hours drive west of Copenhagen, you will find the CLAY Keramikmuseum Danmark. We very nearly cut this gem out of our travel plan, as driving a standard rental car was proving to be a bit of a challenge, but I'm SO glad we made the effort. It was worth every sputter and stall along the way. The museum holds a wonderful collection of Danish porcelain from Royal Copenhagen and Bing & Grøndahl, as well as the Flora Danica porcelain series (botanical lovers, this will make you drool).
When we visited, the museum had recently finished a beautiful renovation and opened with an exhibition of Peter Brandes & Thorval Bindesboll ceramics. (See that giant pot outside of the museum? That's a Brandes, and so is the splashy pink pot above, right). Each collection in the museum flows naturally from one section to the next, so you get to see contemporary pieces within sight of pieces that are 200 years older. Here are a few of my favourites:
Can we talk about this vase and this plate? They made me cry. I just stood there in front of them, sniffling away as patrons walked by. Loving on them so hard like only a ceramics geek could do. The cobalt-outlined fronds reaching across the surface of the vase (at left) stole my heart. It was made by Svend Hammershoi in 1899. On the right, "Plate with Kneeling Woman," made by Jo Hahn Locher in 1899 as well, was luminous. The multiple painted layers were so thin that they added enough perspective to make it seem like the woman could start moving at any moment, like an animation held in the porcelain swell.
Gorgeous ochre, yellow and vivid blue tones in the Bindesboll plate (left) and the two Sevres vases (right).
Luscious carved vase (left) made in 1925 by Effie Hegermann-Lindencrone for Bing & Grøndahl. Her work in porcelain was based on detailed sketches of plant and marine life, then deeply carved, pierced, and painted with underglaze.
An entire case of delicious blue & white candelabras, clocks, etc. And finally, on the right, an example of the Flora Danica dinnerware set, first commissioned in the 1790s by the Danish Crown Prince as a gift for Catherine the Great and produced (to this day) by by Royal Copenhagen. Totally decadent.
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How to summarize this nordic magic into a blog post? I have been avoiding writing about it for over a year just to escape this very issue! Yet...here we go:
Journeying from Reykjavik, we landed at 1am local time in Copenhagen. We took the train from the airport into Vesterbro, aided by a friendly local who could see we were obviously not from Denmark and needed a bit of direction. We knew we were arriving in town in the middle of the Distortion music festival which sounded exciting, and had booked our Air BnB in the same neighbourhood but were not fully prepared for what this actually meant -- complete hedonistic chaos in the streets.
Picture two harried travellers lugging broken roller-suitcases through a mass of 100,000 very drunk twenty-somethings. That was the longest night of my life... the festival went on and on into the wee morning hours. Soon the sun came up and our intro to Copenhagen was having beer cans thrown at our door, people urinating everywhere, and J being confronted by a stoned bodybuilder demanding we direct him to the "nearest prostitute!" Velkommen!
From there on out, everything was wonderful. We knew we wanted to see as much as possible during our six days in Copenhagen, so we opted to walk most of the time and explore the neighbourhoods near our flat with art/design, food & historic sites as our main focus. On our first day we went hunting for great Danish design and we were not disappointed. At Artium (above) I died and went to Marimekko heaven (and somehow J found the patience to window shop for hours)! This kind of marital magic only happens on vacation.
Our next stop that afternoon, was the expansive Illums Bolighus. This great find was thanks to the design*sponge Copenhagen city guide and you can easily spend a few good hours here. It has many floors and many awesome brands (big + small! how refreshing). I was happy to find one of my favourites, Finnsdottir (above left). Their faceted vases and bottles were so unique. Another great find (above right) was this graphic line of ceramic canisters by Helbak, which had beautiful turned wood lids.
From there we found the Royal Copenhagen flagship store, just a few shops down from Illums. To Danes, Royal Copenhagen is old hat, but for me, I say "sign me up for all the tourist-y ceramic goodness!" RC is a blue + white porcelain goldmine. While we were browsing, we got to see one of their master painters, Mette Schousen, demonstrate the blue underglaze painting technique for their classic "Blue Fluted" pattern with the finest pointed brushes. Talk about a steady hand.
I grew up with a lot of Blue + White antique porcelain in our house. My mom had a mismatched & wonderful collection of pots that cemented my life-long love of this colour combination.
On day two we ventured up to see the palaces at Amelianborg, home of the Danish royal family, then hopped over to trendy Nyhavn. You can rent a bike and see all these areas just as the locals do, yet we found walking allowed us to find more little surprises along the way. Bring some comfortable shoes.
In Nyhavn, you can spend a lazy sunny afternoon sipping beer and eating enormous smoked salmon sandwiches by the water. It's not cheap, but it's totally worth it just to people watch and have a good, leisurely sit. Grab some churros & stroll over to see the Little Mermaid if you can (we didn't make it due to said beer and churros, we have no regrets).
And, to wrap up this first installation of our Danish journey, I have to say that a visit to the Botanisk Have (botanical gardens) will rock your world. It hosts a huge collection of plant & fungi specimens. The Palm House offers a tropical respite if you happen to be visiting in spring, when Copenhagen breezes can be cooler.
Best of all, being at the botanical gardens means that you're kitty-corner to what may be my favourite place in the city: Torvehallerne market! If you or your traveling companions are foodies, you will end up here more than once, I promise. Feast on foods of all varieties while you sit in the open air market courtyard. Try the most amazing coffee from Coffee Collective, or the traditional + trendy porridge at GRØD, paleo stuff, sushi... My heart! Sip a fresh brew or a bottle of wine. An entire bottle. No problemo. After your snack, head inside the market to shop for kitchen delights that no one can afford (The Beardo, pictured below, optimistically turns up the heat on his new Ilve stove).
Gosh. Writing this all down just makes me want to go right back. Have you been/are you going to Copenhagen? Such an inspiring and livable city.
Stay tuned for part 2 + 3.
I'll split it up so it's not just one thousand pictures of ceramics.
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Above left, Reykjavik from above; right, Kogga ceramics studio in downtown Reykjavik
If you've been following me on instagram, you may know that I was lucky enough to travel to Iceland and Denmark a few weeks ago. This was my first time overseas and it was even more amazing than I imagined. Can I just say briefly that travel is an insane luxury, for both financial and environmental reasons, so I really wanted to make sure I got the most from this trip! No pressure or anything, Scandinavia :) My husband was there with me (we started calling this our long overdue honeymoon) and he was such a good sport, because I managed to find something ceramics related for us to do for ten days out of our thirteen day trip.
I have always admired Scandinavian ceramics/design. There seems to be a purity of form and reverence for materials in everything they do. On top of that, their ceramics have had a longer history, more time for development and a longer period of national support than the ceramics industry in North America, so I went into this journey with the romantic notion that nordic folks have the clay hustle all figured out. Or perhaps more figured out than we do over here. Reykjavik was my first stop, where I found several beautiful ceramic studios and retail spaces. Kogga (above right) is the home of ceramist Kolbrún Björgólfsdóttir. She has been working and selling from this beautiful location since 1985.
Another gem that was super close to our AirBnB was Stigur, which hosts the work of several artisans. Bjarni Sigurdsson's work really caught my eye. You can see in the photos above, Bjarni uses a diverse range of glazes, layering them on top of each other and fires his pieces several times until he has achieved the desired surface texture. His work, and that of Björgólfsdóttir at Kogga, is inspired by the natural elements and rugged terrain of Iceland.
Speaking of terrain...we rented a car for a day so we could drive down to the southern part of the island to see several (hundreds?) amazing waterfalls and the tiny, breathtaking coastal village of Vik. Famous for its black sand beaches and incredible rock formations, Vik was the perfect place to take a picnic (skyr, rye bread with lox...we ate that for days and never got tired of it) and be humbled by nature. I have a few friends who have also been to Vik and everyone comes back saying a similar thing. Basically, that we still aren't sure how to put this magical place into words but it surely leaves its mark on you.
It's clear how this landscape would be a huge influence on artists that live in Iceland. Sometimes the earth is used directly. Though I wasn't able to visit, a friend mentioned the ceramist Sigríður Erla Guðmundsdóttir of Leir7, who has been using native Icelandic clay since 2007. Thanks for the suggestion Margie! Looks like I already have my excuse to return to Iceland one day.
...to be continued.
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I love what I do. I am currently surrounded by 80-100 pots that came out of the kiln this week. I have lined them all up on my studio tables so that I can sand the bottoms smooth, price sticker and pack them to take to my show this weekend, Handmade Harvest. I can't tell you how satisfying it is to see the fruits of my labour and to have three back-to-back, super successful kiln firings. The past three months have been heavy in production for me and though it has been stressful at times (including the kiln needing expensive repairs and our beloved cat passing away after 17 glorious years) but this practice of keeping my hands busy has made it all manageable. It's been a minimum of 12 hr days, 6-7 days a week and through this hard work my pots are made and my sculptures for the mentorship group show are complete. Sigh of relief...
With ceramics, your hands are always busy but at times your mind can wander. One thing I always carry in the back on my mind is that being able to do this work is an incredible privilege, yet I'm doing it during a time when the world is pretty much in shambles. Perhaps not the earth, it will prevail over us in the long run, but civilization might be. I sometimes have to laugh nervously when a customer says, "Cute pots!" because my mental response is sometimes, "Thanks, I was thinking about what an uncertain future the human race has while I made that!"
Hey, are you still reading this? Ok. Good. Moving forward, the big, bad questions of: Does the world need more stuff? Is there a way to make this work without burdening the planet? How am I preparing or helping my community to deal with hardships to come by making art?
It's a crunchy subject that no one enjoys. I had to block it out for the past few years to be able to actually make art, but many of us are pondering this as we work away. What I've found that there aren't always good answers to these questions but I'd rather think them than keep creating mindlessly. Of course, life has a funny way of giving you answers if you pay close attention. Just this morning I saw that NCECA posted Malcolm Davis' 2010 lecture in which he touches on this very subject. For him, clay was inevitable but his belief in social justice work was always there behind the scenes. If you've been pondering how your tiny studio art practice relates to the larger (pretty scary) issues of today's world, listen in around the 36 min mark (then go back and take in the entire thing. It's fantastic!)
Real talk. Art talk. Let me know if you're also working your way through these big questions as you grow your art practice.
"Art restores hope." Malcolm Davis
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The 2015 craft show season kicked off for me last weekend with City of Craft! We had a great turn out and gorgeous spring weather. It was nice to see some familiar faces, both vendors and shoppers, returning for this year's show. It was also the 8th year that City of Craft events have been happening (do I have that right? incredible!) based on the tireless efforts of founding members Becky, Leah and Jen, and of the very sparkly dynamo, Kalpna and volunteer coordinator headmistress, Michelle. Big ups to you guys!
Next up, I'll be in Kanata, just outside of Ottawa, for Handmade Harvest Spring. People have been raving about this high quality show and there are often lineups out the door, so I'm really looking forward to being there as a first time vendor. Hey, Ottawa! Come say hello!
My online shop will be re-opening at the end of this month! New pots are being photographed this week and will be added very soon. I am so excited to debut the new spring items!
In other news, I am happy to report that I'll be adding a new stockist this spring in my hometown, Port Carling, Muskoka! More details on that to come. After hibernating in the studio all winter, this spring season has already brought some amazing things my way. Here's to dusting off the cobwebs and getting busy!
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Willing summer into being with clay. Dreaming of new growth, layers of vegetation & vibrant plant life. I have been continuing with my sculptural floral series (these individual elements will all be combined in a final piece for exhibition in the late summer). And more recently, I've also been making some vessels decorated with 3D slip forms, trying to build lots of texture/layering with dripping slip. I love the fractures that the layered slip creates as it dries (pictured at top, left). Hope it survives glaze firing.
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Slowly but surely, I'm getting to an interesting place with the sculptural work for the mentorship program. Here is a quick "bouquet" I arranged from greenware & bisqued elements (some slip trailed, some hand built). This week I mixed a quick batch of paper clay, using old Laguna Frost casting slip and some paper slurry (water, toilet paper, immersion blender). I've never used paper clay before, but have watched other artists sculpt with it, and I knew it would enable me to build & join the porcelain with more ease. I was definitely able to work the paper clay more aggressively. I treated thin slabs of it like fabric and cut it with scissors to create petals. These are just the first efforts -- blossoms and greenery roughly based off the memory of the plants in the floral nursery where my mom worked when I was young and where I was lucky to spend time every day (our house was right beside the nursery, so essentially I grew up in a flower bed...think 80s bedding plants -- lots of geraniums & petunias).
My second experiment was to create a hybrid of the Laguna Frost casting slip & the paper clay mixture, so I could still draw quickly & gesturally with the bottle of slip, while taking advantage of the strength of the paper clay. This allowed me to make flat components that I could sketch out and then slip together later on & build into three dimensional forms (pods, layers of flower heads). The possibilities of this method are really exciting. I keep veering between wanting to work in a very free and intuitive way, yet all my drawings/concepts are more uptight. When I went back to my sketchbook I saw the words WILDNESS vs. RESTRAINT and yelled, "AHA!" That's my theme, 100%
Pictured above is a quick study of what the original elements (just Frost slip, no paper clay added) look like when presented on a bold, painted wall surface (gauche). I'd love to create a whole wall like this, with many porcelain elements integrated onto a wallpapered pattern. Again, wildness vs. restraint.
Since I have resolved that 2015 is my year of creative & professional development (shouldn't they all be?), alongside the mentorship program, I'm starting an exciting new e-course tomorrow with Molly Hatch & Ben Carter: Think Big! A Branding Series for Ceramic Artists
Happy New Year, everyone! What creative goals are you pushing for this year?
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For the past few months, I have been participating in a ceramics mentorship program lead by Linda Sormin
, and organized by Fusion
. If you ever need a serious kick in the ass when it comes to your studio practice, I highly suggest joining a similar program or group, as it will get you talking about your work, get you out of your head and challenge you to question everything that you make and do. Sounds terrifying, right? In all
the right ways. Above, you can see some of the questions we're trying to answer as we approach our work -- which will eventually be exhibited in a group show in September 2015 at Craft Ontario.
I've been craving a return to a sculptural/assemblage approach for a long time. When your main focus is functional pots (especially after the holiday show season), you can struggle to itch that part of your brain that wants to make things that are weird, grotesque or just not quite fully resolved. There is incredible freedom in working sculpturally. The thing is, once I realized this I ended up having so many ideas/directions to pursue that I was completely overwhelmed. I struggled to focus.
To free myself up, I started "drawing" with porcelain slip (above) by using a large squeeze bottle -- making floral patterns and quickly sketching out loose motifs. I have a tendency to remain in my sketchbook for too long, so this was the most direct way I could transition out of it and actually get my hands dirty. I loved how the elements looked all together on the kiln shelf. My first idea was to create a large wall installation of these individual parts (which would cast shadows) and perhaps keep the stark white colour of the slip, while painting the wall behind with bold, colourful patters. As my friend Michelle says, "More is more?" I think the next step for this idea will be to make a miniature version (with all the colour and shadow) so that I can see how it will read on a larger scale.
Then, the One of a Kind Show happened and my Creative Brain morphed into my Biz Lady Brain. I reluctantly hit the pause button when I realized I was feeling super restricted and burnt out... the exact opposite of how you want to feel when you're trying to develop new ideas.
Cue holiday break!
When I picked the work back up again, I wanted to model some more three dimensional forms (see above, third pic from the top): buds, blossoms, soon hopefully some twig-like forms. The bud forms are directly translated from surface designs I use on my functional pots. These bits made the most sense to me once I started arranging them as a group (carefully, as these are still just greenware). I can imagine a larger version based off of this maquette being really interesting -- what I don't yet know is what narratives I can create within these plant forms. One of my goals for this mentorship program was to integrate more of a narrative in my work -- perhaps by using flower symbolism
or eastern-European folk symbols (see Phytomorphic Symbols
from Pysanky). These are patterns I'm always drawn back to, and have layers and layers of meaning -- how to decode them visually, though? More to think about...
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We made it!! Thank you to everyone who came out to visit me at the Christmas One of a Kind Show! And to everyone who helped me prepare for this, be it with your generous helping hands or supportive words of encouragement. It was a total whirlwind and I'm not quite yet recovered. More sleep, please! (Soon) Here are a few pics of my booth, with the barn board walls/shelves, antique tables and DIY painted floral mat. I thought it was pretty sweet & homey. A cozy spot to spend 11 days! All I needed was a fireplace... It was great to see so many familiar faces & hear all the positive feedback on my work.
This was my fourth time doing this show (over a six year span) and I feel like this year was a turning point. Not necessarily in the way I was expecting, but more of a mental shift both for me, and perhaps for shoppers, too? Many people have asked me about what it's like doing the OOAK. When the holidays are over, I think I will do a follow up post here on the blog to talk more about my experiences.
In the meantime, here are a few pics from friends & fans of their new #potsinthewild! I LOVE seeing my pots in their new homes & being enjoyed. If you have any pics to share, please post them on Instagram and tag them #potsinthewild
From left to right: diaryofachefswife, dallascurow, lovefreshdotcom
Wishing you a wonderful holiday season!
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