Julia Smith isn’t quite sure what to call herself – a ceramic artist, designer or potter…. anything that adequately describes someone who loves to “muck about” with clay. From her studio in Ardersier near Inverness, Julia designs and makes delicately patterned ceramics intended for everyday use. When she’s not in her studio she reckons you’d probably find her up a hill, at the cinema or in her garden.
Tell us about your work?
My current range includes mugs, bowls, jugs, sugar pots and spoons. I throw and hand-build simple forms with earthy red earthenware clay and pour contrasting smooth white slip inside. I fire the clay high just before it is vitrified and use subtle glazes which change colour on edges and where they pool. Intricate hand drawn digitally printed transfers are fired in to the glazed surfaces and patterned decals are playfully used to create my range of ceramics. My work is about contrasts and balance; a combination of raw and refined finishes traditional and industrial processes and creating unique handmade pieces for everyday use.
When did it all begin for you?
I went to art school straight from school to study product design but quickly changed courses when I discovered ceramics. I graduated in 1996 and then worked in shared studios for years on public and community art projects. In 2007 I started the Deepfired Ceramic Studio in Glasgow where I taught ceramics classes and started my studio pottery work. Last year I moved to the Highlands and I now work full time on my studio pottery.
You have lots of beautiful pieces in your Folksy shop and you’re obviously a prolific maker. Could you pick your favourite piece?
My favourite piece of work is a ceramic post box which I made for the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow with some local school children. It is a post box for poems and every so often the poems are read out by actors in the park.
Tell us about your studio?
I moved to a village near Invernesss last year from Glasgow and have been slowly taking over our house with ceramics workspaces. I bought a small garden studio earlier this year which looks out over the Moray Firth. I throw in there and take photos of my work in the natural daylight as the morning light is great. I have just built an insulated room within the garage which is where I recycle the clay, hand build and fire the kilns. There is also a room in the house where I work in the evenings, glazing, applying transfers and listing online. There are advantages and disadvantages to working from home but overall I find where I live and the spaces I work from inspirational and I enjoy the peace and quiet which allows me to work uninterrupted.
Describe your day as a maker?
Morning is my most productive time so I tend to wake up eager to get going. I start the day with a bit of throwing and hand building with little breaks in between for checking emails, hanging up washing and general distractions. Later in the morning I package up orders and wander along the road to the post office. I work in the studio until around 4pm then I make dinner for later before heading out to the gym. I have dinner with my fella when I get back then I head back into the studio to unload and reload the kilns. I fire them at night to take advantage of the cheaper electricity tariff.
What gets the creative juices flowing when creativity is stifled?
If I’m not feeling creative it is usually because I am tired. When I return from doing a big show I have a day of doing very uncreative things such as book keeping and cleaning as I know that I will be useless in the studio. I find that a good night’s sleep sorts it out or maybe it’s time for a holiday.
Are you inspired by any artists from the past or present?
I used to teach ceramics at a project for adults with learning difficulties and was often inspired by their creations. One woman made clay sculptures of animals and people which were so full of life and character. Often she would arrive in an agitated state, wrestle with a lump of clay and create something beautiful and afterwards she would be content and peaceful.
What do you love most about being a maker?
I get a lot of pleasure knowing that people enjoy using my ceramics.
What would you say to any makers starting out?
I would say have a plan in your head of where you want to be and aim towards it. If the plan changes it doesn’t matter but it is good to have a direction.