Plus, it helps that she is so adorable and sweet!
Since then, I’ve visited her in her studio at Thomasville Center for the Arts multiple times, and I’ve been fortunate enough to start calling her a friend while adding a couple of her pieces to my collection.
Julie, a resident of nearby Tallahassee, Florida, grew up in rural Illinois and graduated with her BFA in ceramics from Southern Illinois University in 1994. She earned her MFA in studio art from Florida State University in 2008 and has been here, with her husband, Clayton and their two dogs, Lucy and Rudy, ever since. This past October, Julie was selected as TCA’s very first artist in residence. In January, she moved her kiln into the studio space at 209 Remington Avenue (aka Studio 209), where she began hand forming and firing her work, as well as teaching classes and entertaining folks who stop by (aka me).
Julie has walked me through each step of her process on our visits, and I’m constantly in awe that a pile of clay that (really) looks more akin to mud can turn into the creative, bright, colorful creations you see.
Julie forms her pieces from slabs of clay, sometimes using various tools besides her two hands. Each indentation she makes by pinching here or pulling there, and she either stamps or signs each one.
She uses molds for some bowls and plates, for consistency’s sake, but each mold can be modified with a simple addition or subtraction.
When it comes to the colors and hand drawn decals that she fires onto each piece, she draws inspiration from stories and pictures of her grandparents, as well as the neons and patterns of her own life experiences in the 80s. It’s clear she is inspired by the natural world as well –honey bees, birds, and colorful florals are an oft recurring theme.
Julie creates her layered look not only by having multiple layers of clay, pigments and glazes (and often incorporating fabric into the final design), but also by having her own drawings, vintage photographs, and other prints transferred onto special decals. The process basically goes like this: each ceramic piece is fired once, called a bisque firing, which removes the water from the clay. Then, Julie layers varying stains and glazes in another round of firings for each one. Finally, she applies her decals and the piece goes through a final round of firing. The end result is quirky yet delicate, retro and modern at the same time.
Julie tests pigments and colors out on these little bits of scrap clay. I’m currently lobbying for them to be turned into business card holders.
It’s pretty amazing how the same pigment can look so different with a glaze and without one.
Once the piece is formed, has had its bisque firing, and has had its colors and glazes fired on, it’s ready for decals. Julie hand draws them, and then applies them much like a temporary tattoo.
Wet. Slide on. Press the air out. Repeat.
Then each piece gets fired yet again. These dark decals you see above will turn lighter after their high heat firing. See those little hearts sticking out? They will receive a color decal, which requires a final, lower temperature firing. Each firing takes a day or two from start to finish and involves preheating the kiln to cooling and removing everything in it. And she does it five to six times for each piece. Exhausted yet? Because after all that, she usually does a Borax wash to age the ceramics, or as Julie says “make them not look so clean.”
Julie tells me she is loving the residency at TCA in Studio 209 (which is the old Coca-Cola bottling plant). “I’m enjoying the energy it provides and the building that I work in, with its exposed brick, has started influencing my work.” Julie even drew the rose motif especially for the Thomasville and the Rose Show, which now adorns a series of coffee mugs, cake stands, and cheese boards, (designed with local Sweet Grass Dairy in mind, of course).
I consider myself so fortunate to have met and gotten to know Julie over the past few weeks.
My hope is that you feel like you have, too.
Drop by her studio on Tuesdays, shop in her Etsy Shop, read her Journal, or follow her on Instagram!