The Ladysmith Spring Art Tour is set to start on April 24, 2015. It will run from 10 – 4 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Our own studio, JoVic Pottery, is open until 5:00 pm. Use this wonderful opportunity by taking the self-guided tour to meet the artists in your neighborhood. Pottery, Glass, Printmaking, Painting, Hand hooked rugs, and so much more. You can also head to the tour Facebook page for more information and some images of the kind of work you’ll be seeing on the tour.
There are loads of beautiful new pots at our studio here in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island, including the always collectible Mocha and Crawl or Alligator glazed mugs.
There are wonderful vases, lidded vessels, teapots, and so much more freshly coming from the kiln today and tomorrow. Be sure to stop by, making it a special weekend, checking out the lovely gardens filled with beautiful rhododendron blooms, apple blossom, dogwood blossom, azaleas and more. Yes, come celebrate spring with us.
Feel free to wander the garden, the studio and our showroom. Meanwhile, we’ll do our best to ask for sunny days while you travel our beautiful area.
I once heard an elderly potter say “if I don’t like what I’m getting, I just fire it again.” That was not easy before potters began to fire pottery in electric kilns. In fact, those extra firings often resulted in pots for the yard, if not the garbage can.
Firing pottery at Cone 6 in an electric kiln (in oxidation) wasn’t exciting in the past either. Potters often frowned upon the results, and those with gas or wood-fired kilns which make use of oxygen reduction to bring out the beauty of their glazes swore they would never switch to oxidation. You just could not get a lot of great color development unless you were using commercial glazes–or so it was believed. How could you get that great variation in glazes on your pots if you didn’t have the magic of the reduction fired atmosphere which helped add variety and depth and interest on just a single pot?
But potters love to invent, whether it’s a new tool for their use in the studio, or a new glaze to put on their beloved pots. It seems much of the fun comes from experimenting. While there are still lots of potters quickly dipping their ware in buckets of glaze (and it’s admittedly much less expensive with so little waste), many of us are also using spray booths. This requires a good safe space to work with phenomenal ventilation. It also results in lots of waste of glaze chemicals. The upside, however, is that it enables a very even coating of glaze without the dreaded unintended drips marring the final surface finish.
Not that drips aren’t sometimes desired. But for a potter to be truly happy or excited, those drips need to be placed in such a way as to enhance the work. And since we’re firing in oxidation, and we’re spraying the glazes, well then why not look for ways to enhance color and texture by spraying different glazes onto a pot.
Yes, there’s a lot of experimenting, and not just a few disappointments to contend with along the way. Each glaze causes reactions within the heat of that kiln, and some of those reactions aren’t just to the heat, but to the different glazes introduced.
But back to the original statement, about firing again; it is now not just to salvage failure, we re-fire with intent. We increase the number of firings in order to bring about results we could not otherwise have with the typical bisque followed by one glaze fire. We don’t just add the exciting variety that potters formerly achieved with gas or wood-fired kilns: we have taken that to brand new heights. We don’t have to spray a pot evenly with just one color, we can use bits here and there, spraying gently, choosing a heavier application here and lighter one there.
After our initial bisque firing, we fire glazed pots at lower temperatures to ensure that the glazes adhere or you might say that they are baked on, usually at cone 04 somewhere in the neighborhood of 1900 ° F. Sometimes we add more glazes and again fire at that low temperature before finally firing our pots to maturity (or to a stoneware state) at Cone 6, approximately 2200 ° F. Some pots may have 3, 4, or even 5 firings before we decide they’re finished and ready to sell.
For a final finish, some of our pots are treated to a crawl glaze application, and this, too, is comical when we think about the former “taboo” of having a glaze crawl on our pottery.
With electric oxidation firing, we can play to our heart’s content. We can introduce and generally control the crawl so that it enhances our work. And that’s true for our ash glaze applications as well. Ash glazes tend to run, but instead of worrying about the runs, we carefully introduce them just where we know they are likely to bring about some incredible beauty. The pots that in ages past relied on wood ash to create their glazes, well, I guess we’ve experimented and found ways of using them in an electric oxidation atmosphere.
And just like that elderly potter, we’re happy to believe that we can even re-fire a pot that had previously reached stoneware maturity.
This last kiln load had us both smiling with glee. There are some gorgeous functional pieces, like the wine bricks and the tall stemmed goblets with crawl glaze decoration that take function to art and are absolutely perfect for entertaining special guests.
Crystalline layered glazes with final ash glaze layers (Mt. St. Helen’s Ash actually), and fabulous tenmoku liner glazes on the interior which make the wine bricks not only functional, but allow them to become decorative vases or utensil holders.
And how delightful are large ginger jars with beautiful lids?
Should you want to use this beautiful jar as a vase, you might enjoy setting the lovely lid slightly to the front and side to give it an extra wow appearance.
Also fresh from the kiln are two lovely lidded pots, again glazed with Mt. St. Helen’s ash layered over crystalline glazes. The similarity of these pieces comes from the skill of glaze applications–but slight tweaking of the process ensures that though the pots are alike, they remain unique.
Note the wonderful slip application–a treatment put onto the pots when they’re just slightly stiffened. Combing through the slip adds texture to the shoulders of the pots and also aids the “breaking” of glazes showing up color beneath the layers.
And the last vase here is a delight to hold and would be wonderful displayed with or without flowers. It, too, shows the benefit of slip-combed decoration which adds depth and texture. Engobes and crystalline glazes, sprayed over a period of several days to allow sufficient drying between applications adds so much visually and texturally. Come visit our studio in Ladysmith, BC on Vancouver Island to enjoy not only looking at, but touching and collecting work that brings art to function and function to art.
The making of quality stoneware pottery, whether functional or decorative, is far from a rapid process. Aside from clay preparation, pots made require careful drying before they can even be put through their first bisque fire. But just the making is a time consuming thing, especially for large vases that are thrown in two stages.
Getting the neck onto the base requires careful joining; after all, if the pot is not put together correctly, the neck would come free of the vase. Careful smoothing and finishing is needed.
Then there’s a process that allows us to get some color onto the pieces before a first firing–of course not until the pieces are bone dry. We often spray the work with engobes, or brush on slip.
Once the pottery is again bone dry, we’re able to place the work into the kiln for a first firing. We bring them up slowly and cool slowly as well to avoid any potential cracking or warping through this cycle.
The cooled pots then need waxing before we can glaze. If we didn’t wax the bottoms the pottery would end up stuck to the kiln shelves.
Once the waxing is finished, we can get on with the work of glazing. This is frequently a slow process because we tend to use multiple glazes and each coat must be completely dry before we add a next layer. Bisqued pottery is still somewhat porous, and the water base of the glazes is absorbed into the work, requiring careful and total drying between each step.
Some of our pottery is actually put through a few low temperature firings. This ensures that the first layers of glaze are fired on, allowing us to handle the pottery without smudging or accidentally removing some of the glazes. Though the glazes in this case have not reached a mature melt, they are stable enough to handle.
Fired on glazes really help with some of our more complicated glaze applications. Crawl glazes, for instance, cannot be applied to glazes unless they have already been fired on at a lower temperature. By their very nature, as reticulating glazes, they would pull up any immature glazes they were placed on and instead of an attractive crawl, exposing lovely sub-surface colors or glazes, they’d end up exposing some terrible peeling effect that exposed clay.
Each kiln load has us looking forward to seeing whether what we envision at the start of making our work actually lives up to our hopes.
With the glazes applied, the final drying begins.
Once we’re sure the pots are dry, we can carefully load the kiln. Great care must be taken with vertical vases that have crawl glazes applied near the base.
A slight bump and the glaze will fall off the pot, potentially leaving bare spots where they might not be desired, and also fusing to expensive kiln shelves or other kiln furniture.
Some of the final results pleased Jo Duffhues immensely–not so Vic. He’ll likely take the vases he’s not thrilled with and apply additional glazes for yet another re-fire.
I have to remind him that some of our customers love the pieces that he is not excited about at all. The trouble is that when we work we have an idea of the outcome we’re seeking, and if things don’t turn out that way, we tend to think it’s a failure. It’s very hard to get past that kind of negative response. But since I love these pieces, I think they’re a great success.
Yes, these are the vases that Vic is seen making in the images above. Now it’s just a question of who wins the argument–will they be fired once again?
One of the things we love about being artists as well as artisans and also potters (and yes, the distinction is deliberate) is the fact that we are able to continue to experiment with a vision to always improving all our work. Our studio is not limited to work that creates art for art’s sake. We also create functional stoneware, and by its nature, this means a certain amount of production, in other words, repetition. Without the added joy of striving to make this work fresh by developing new glazes and styles, we’d soon reach a level of boredom and mediocrity that would make our work become a form of drudgery.
Years of experience and practice naturally also changes the work. Our own growth, starting in 1979, stems from the knowledge gleaned from many years of such practice and experience. However, our work is also a reflection of our interests, and is additionally influenced by the nature around us here on beautiful Vancouver Island. Testing glazes, developing new approaches, searching for ways to bring our vision to life helps us to bring a reality to our vision.
Vic has become more and more keenly interested in pushing limits when it comes to glazing, and these days he loves spraying layer after layer of glaze on some of his pots. Unlike other potters who traditionally limit techniques that might use ash or crawl glazes to decorative pottery, Vic enjoys seeking ways to incorporate these techniques into production and functional ware. His goal is to make each piece, whether it be a mug, a goblet, a bowl, an urn, a teapot, or those incredibly unique one-of-a-kind decorative items into art. Functional stoneware pottery is the bread and butter income for our studio, while the decorative work is the dessert. But since every single piece created is made by hand, it needs to fulfill us at a creative level too.
I found myself thinking about the development of our glaze technology over the years. Initially my own experiments involved learning about each of the ingredients by firing them separately onto small bowls. This let me see what worked as a flux and what worked to stiffen and so on. The next step involved combining these elements to understand what happened in synergy. My original glaze tests were all done by trial and error. I learned heaps, but the results weren’t often exciting or of use. Even the glaze chemistry courses didn’t add much to my working results. In time we learned about glaze unity and began to understand much more about the interaction between elements at different temperatures and using varying approaches to bringing our kilns to our desired temperature, or holding the work to soak at a specific temperature, or cooling the work in specific cycles. Of course many of those things weren’t really possible either before the onset of computer controlled kilns which we can set up to suit ourselves.
Picasso, one of the most prolific artists of all time, started out by following the rules before intentionally breaking them and developing his unique style. Likewise, authors like James Joyce, intentionally breaking all the norms of English, stands out for us as a literary giant. Sometimes people who read such works are confused, as are those people who just don’t get cubism, or abstract art. I would say that the artist who not only understands and can follow the rules of art is also the artist who can choose to break those rules. Isn’t that actually the mark of true art–a way to move forward and find a new expression for your work?
The joy of creating is fraught with failure–at least in terms of work that we can sell and earn from. But there is no failure at all when the work teaches us so much, and when it both teaches and delights us, it keeps us interested. We continue to strive for ways to break the rules and find new expression.
At JoVic Pottery, here in Ladysmith on Vancouver Island, it has been our privilege to participate with families memorializing and keeping the ashes of their lost loved ones. We’ve been able to make urns in either a stoneware or raku process. We have made them shaped as Traditional Ginger Jars, or as more round, spherical shaped vessels. We have even had the honor of holding a candlelight service at our studio for one of our customers–a service for which we closed our studio to all but the family and friends in attendance–a customer who has become a treasured friend.
As potters, we have the joy of helping people celebrate all of life’s special moments from birth to graduation from college, for weddings, anniversaries, holidays, birthdays, and more.
But perhaps the most sacred of all is that moment of transcendence from the physical to spiritual stage in a loved one’s life.
The lidded vessels made by request can also filled and sealed with the ashes of the deceased at our studio. This is done with the utmost respect. Stoneware vessels are sealed with wax, and in some cases with an additional item that belonged to the departed loved one. For instance, in one case a beautiful gold chain was worked into the closure. Out of respect and for privacy, these dedicated and specially created urns cannot all be shown in such a post as this. It is important to note, however, that we are willing to individualize such special vessels whenever possible.
Should a customer choose a lidded vessel from our showroom, we’re delighted to assist with sealing if requested.
However, we’ve often found that people want us to create their urn specifically. We then make the vessel from start to finish with the love and respect, with special intention, adding unique touches that celebrate the loved one who has moved on. Custom urns generally take up to two months to complete and range in price from $250 to $450.
The Ladysmith Waterfront Art Gallery recently set up a special show in conjunction with the Crafts Council of British Columbia. It celebrates the 40th anniversary of the council. The show was by invitation only. Vic decided to create a truly amazing dinnerware set. The show is wonderful, with quilts and paintings and delightful furniture. The dinnerware set stands out as exceptional in this lovely creative environment, and I hope Ladysmith and area residents make sure they visit the gallery before this special show closes on August 25th.
The pieces are stoneware, wheel-thrown, and have received multiple glaze applications and added firings to allow for the texture on the rims of the plates and create the delicious depth and coloring of the work. He rounded out the display with several other fabulous pieces, including a gorgeous ginger jar and a teapot. However, I think whoever ends up owning this remarkable dinnerware will be able to gloat that they are serving their food on functional art!
To aid the display, we took our oak harvest table, made for us by Mennonites in Waterloo County about 30 years ago, and refinished the table top. The table legs and drawer details still need to be refinished, but time was short, so only the top got done. But this table has seen so much use and dare I say abuse over the years, and it’s great to see how beautiful the top looks following some TLC.
This dinnerware is a one-of-a-kind set. The work involved is truly labor-intensive. The plates not only received multiple glaze applications requiring extra firings, but the final “alligator” glaze on the rims also meant having to wax the interiors of the plates and carefully sponge away any excess of the alligator glaze. Vic’s love of functional stoneware is apparent in this gorgeous set, and he’s now determined to create one special set per year.