One of the first things I learned when I started ceramics was that all organic material burned out when you fire the clay in a kiln. This was a reassuring lesson since I seem to regularly find my hair (and yes, sometimes blood when I’m particularly clumsy) in the pieces I work on. And should any crime be committed with my greenware (maybe by throwing a heavy lump of clay at someone?), all DNA evidence would be erased, not that I’ve thought a lot about that….
All kidding aside, the fact that organic materials burn out in the kiln can actually be a design advantage. You can use natural fiber such as silk, wool, or cotton, plant material, hair (which I’ve discussed already), and even species from the animal kingdom in a variety of ways. I’ve seen some beautiful pieces where someone takes cloth, dips it in clay slip, then plasters it on to another piece. Others have inlaid plant material onto a plate, leaving beautiful impressions after being fired. And some have even created molds from tree branches. Heck, you could probably memorialize your beloved dead pet by pressing it into a slab, letting it all dry, then firing it. Of course, this might be very smelly and messy, so maybe this isn’t the best way to have a lasting reminder of your pet.
Either way, know that when you buy one of my pieces that although my blood, sweat, tears, and probably hair may have been incorporated into the clay initially that it has all been burned away by the time you get it into your hands.
I’m setting up my Etsy Page, https://www.etsy.com/shop/JulietAKurthCeramist (it’s what one might call a “very soft opening” at this moment), and the first thing I have put up there is one of my Flower Pots. So, it seems fitting that I should talk about them right now.
If you read my first post, you already know that my former profession was landscape architecture. And although it isn’t a requirement that one loves plants in order for that person to become a landscape architecture (in fact, some landscape architects actually could care less about plants), most who are drawn to the field do.
I love plants. I pull over to the side of the road when I’m driving just to see a beautiful specimen of a naturally germinated red-flowering barrel cactus since most of those that I see have white flowers. I take photos of tree bark, and although it’s been almost 9 years since I practiced in the field, I still regularly spout off the latin names of plants when I see them just to keep it fresh in my mind.
So, why am I telling you this? It’s because there are certain sculptural planters and vases that I make that I think of a specific type of plant or flower that would work best with it while I am making that said piece. And where this process is most apparent is with my Flower Pots.
About a year ago, my daughter, who is 11 years old right now, came up with the idea of me making a pot for plants that also looked like a flower. That idea started churning in my head: what if I plant Sea Pink in a flower pot so that the foliage looks like the center of a daisy like flower and when it blooms the flowers look like stamens? Or how about if an Echeveria is planted inside an almost starfish type petal layout for the planter so that the two play off of one another? Or what if the ceramic petals are purple, upright, and ruffly while a yellow variegated licorice plant spills out and down between them? I realized I could combine plants, my old love, with ceramics, my new love, and create something more than their individual parts. In other words, I was intrigued and realized I needed to explore more.
And explore I have! I’ve done close to 20 different designs, some more successful than others, and many have gone to new homes minutes after being pulled out from the kiln. But there are still a few left that you will see on my Easy shop, and I plan on doing several more in the future. I hope you enjoy them almost as much as I have creating them!
Clay has a personality, and even memory. Someone who works with clay has to always keep that in mind. Creating ceramics is a collaborative process because of this, which is what I love most about the medium.
In my previous life, before my children’s needs made it too difficult to have two parents with full-time careers, I was a landscape architect. And what I loved most about that design process, besides having a love of the landscape and natural world, was how in order for it to be a successful design I had to not only make what appealed to me but also to take into account the use of the space and the environment within which it was located. A single design could never be completely replicated because the land and nature itself would never allow it. I willingly gave that all up for my family, but a few years later when I found the space and time to start designing and creating again, I found ceramics. And I fell in love immediately.
I am still inspired by the natural world, particularly plants and trees and the vivid color combination found there that in theory seemingly they shouldn’t work but still somehow do. I am also married to an illustrator/comic artist, so I’m very aware of the art world and pop culture. But even then, I look more for what it represents or the subtle symbology used. I love reclaiming old symbols and spiritual representation of nature and incorporating them into my work, either through inspiration for the piece or a hidden placement somewhere. Even in my silliest pieces, if you look closely enough, you will find a hidden symbol or wish which is in part the inspiration for the piece.