Teacup & Plate Designs

The Victorian & Albert Museum in London has in its collection a number of teacup and plate designs made as pen, ink and watercolor drawings for English bone china manufacturer H. & R. Daniel in the mid 19th century. These drawings speak to the scope and skill of craftsmanship that spill over the boundaries of ceramics themselves yet are closely linked to ceramics.

The background of these drawings also speak to the evolution of business involved in ceramic manufacturing, reflecting the ever-changing world of ceramics. Production of English bone china was a major industry for centuries even though the entire category seems so remote and out of fashion today. (I covered some of these topics in an earlier post.)


Henry Daniels was an artisan who worked for many years as an enameller and color maker for Spode, a major bone China manufacturer. Apparently Daniels served as Spode’s enameller for almost two decades, operating as an independent business on Spode’s premises. A Wikipedia article describes the role of an enameller and the business arrangement between the two firms this way:

“Whiter’s job description of an enameller is of an “art director, a decorating manager, a colour manufacturer and a works chemist”. This illuminates the important role that Daniel held for Spode as he bought blanks from Spode, decorated them in his own rented premises and sold them back to Spode to market.

“Henry Daniel’s relationship with Spode II was that of one businessman to another. Daniel rented his workshop from Spode, paid to grind his colours and have use of the gold pan, purchased all the equipment necessary, hired his own staff and built three kilns on the Spode site.”


Henry’s son Richard joined him in business (hence the name “H. & R. Daniel”) between 1822 and 1846, at which point Henry had died and the firm fell into financial distress. Son Richard was sent to a debtor’s prison.

The Gentle Rattle of China website notes that H&R Daniel company may have fallen victim to the forces of industrialization and mass production:

“The Daniel factory was the last true cottage industry among the English porcelain factories, resisting the increase of industrialisation and mass production. This resulted in extraordinary and unrivalled quality, but it probably also led to the factory having to close its doors in 1846 because it could no longer compete with others who did modernise.”

Teacup & Saucer for sale on Etsy

H. & R. Daniel tea cups and plates are for sale on the internet, including on the Gentle Rattle of China website, although I did not find any examples of pieces that match the teacup design pages in the V&A Museum.


Better Lovers – Artist Profile

Better Lovers is an artistic partnership between Layla Marcelle and Jacob Raeder, two artists who describe their work as “applying contemporary dance methodologies to object making. Choreographers designing ceramics and ceramists making films, [we] are committed to the entanglement of material processes with things, and assemblages of humans and non-humans in complex topographies of being and becoming.”

I, too, found this description a bit cryptic, but nevertheless reached out to both artists to explore what they do. I will be honest – I still haven’t wrapped my head around this collaboration. I’m reminded of some conceptual artists I studied 40 years ago when I was in art school, although Jacob in particular does produce ceramic objects. I do note that both artists have some serious credentials so I’m not quick to dismiss them. Both Layla and Jacob hold BAs in philosophy and BFAs from Alfred University. Layla also holds two MFAs, one from Simon Fraser University and one from Tyler school of Art, while Jacob earned his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Jacob also was a Fulbright Scholar at Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam.

I asked in particular about their films, but they told me “it matters a lot to us how our films are experienced. Chapter 1: On Warm Adobe, for example, was part of an installation, where you had to stand on a platform in order to watch the film, as pictured here.”

Layla did provide 2 gifs (one above, one directly below) featuring ceramic dice from the film Chapter 1: On Warm Adobe. It may give you a sense of their film work.

Just because I don’t completely understand Better Lovers doesn’t mean I shouldn’t relay our conversation. So here goes…

JTW: My first and most overriding question is: “What the heck is going on here?” Better Lovers is a design company that “applies contemporary dance methodologies to object-making.” Can you walk me through that a bit more?

BL: When we first started talking about creating a singular identity that encapsulated our different respective practices, we often had conversations around different material or methodical discourses. We both have a deep love and respect for craft and craft histories and traditions, but are not exclusively invested in what we see as contemporary institutional craft discourses.

We embrace what excites us, and choreographic/dance-thinking really excites us. For example, what happens if we think about the artistic production of objects as choreography? Choreographic thinking proposes a series of relationships, so rather than an object being a discrete thing, how it is made and how and who uses it and it and how it breaks can all be considered as part of its ontology.

Dance-thinking is a framework that allows us to experiment in a way that feels unknown, playful and expansive. We think of what we’re doing as designing relationships with objects, in addition to making objects. The objects are then also collaborators.

JTW: Can you tell me more about your ceramic objects and how Better Lovers’ methodologies were used – it they were used – to create the objects I see on your website?

BL: We are artists deeply concerned with how the objects in our lives come to be, and continue to exist. Our name Better Lovers is itself about the relationship we have with our things, and our things’ relationships with us, and each other. We have a few maxims we work with when making objects. One is ‘Better Over Time’ and can be understood as the beauty we find in aging and use: the stained cracks in the glaze of a coffee cup, the polishing of heavily used handles, the fraying of well-worn garments. Things breakdown, but they can do so gracefully. We consider wear as a vital part of design.

Utilitarian ceramic has historically been designed to resist any sign of degradation, but many of our ceramic objects have idiosyncratic crawl glazes on them. Like gold luster being slowly worn away through use, the crawl glaze can sometimes break away, marking its passage through time.

Jacob started researching crawl glazes in the Netherlands in 2010 when he was a Fulbright Scholar. He made ceramic climbing-holds that featured non-slip grip surfaces. We continue to test and use crawl surfaces because they’re so viscerally compelling. Crawl glaze demands touch, and we’re all about touch. We love sensuous surfaces. Felt, chocolate, rubber, polished porcelain, crawl glaze. We want to seduce audiences to taste our sculptures, to smell them, to caress them.

JTW: I see riffs on functional ceramics in your Urschrei exhibit. Can you tell me about inspirations for your work?

BL: The sculptures in the Urschrei exhibition are effigies of misanthropic optimism and distracted consumerism. They are playful, but not whimsical. Absurd, but functional. They are in conversation with one another, but not dependent on one another. Together they’re an exquisite corpse.

2:10. Burglary, larceny. Photo by Dominique Nichole.(https://www.dominiquenichole.com/)

We wanted the rich and manifold history of ceramics on display both from a materiality standpoint (thrown terracotta, cast porcelain, slab-built stoneware, figurative sculpture, mix media) as well as the inculturated understanding of the material (the shaking dice as infinite loop of fate, the direct references to Vanitas paintings and mortality via the tombstone photograph and skull polaroid, the repurposed John Gill bowl cast into concrete and turned into a clock). We also wanted to engage with the trendy, naive gloopiness of some contemporary ceramics, but we wanted these objects to have gloopy auras. They’re a little funny and a little sad because it’s 2023 and the planet is dying.

5:08. Typewriter, etc., written in a vertical column

JTW: I also see combinations of object references that reminds me very much of some surrealist painters – dice, mechanical items such as clocks and radios and fountains, etc. Again, will you share more about your sources of inspiration for these items?

BL: We have a reverence for the materiality of things coupled with a deep commitment to silliness. Poking fun at ourselves and the culture of consumption feels healthy. Perhaps that is where our affinities with surrealist painters comes from? The seriousness of play. Maybe more pataphysics than surrealism? The objects are earnestly absurd (chocolate fountain bookends; ashtray flower vases) and absurdly earnest (the photograph of the headstone engraved with “Help” marks Jacob’s grandfather’s grave).

1:45. End of tags

In the exhibition, all of the titles are borrowed from the score for “Street Dance,” one of Lucinda Childs’ first choreographic works in the mid 1960s. The score is a set of directions for the audience, guiding their gaze and attention to objects in windows, to small actions and to architectural details at precise moments; e.g., “3:50   fire escape.” It’s a brilliant piece. There’s a way in which objects become performers, and that’s something we wanted to point to, to footnote. We want to point to dance history as well as ceramic history.

JTW: You are exploring media such as textiles and of course film. Yet the core of what you do seems centered around ceramics. What does clay offer that other materials may not?

BL: Jim Melchert has a lecture titled ‘Once a potter, always a potter’ where the thesis is that there is an infectious quality to ceramic production and ways of thinking. Regardless of other artistic activity, our formative time in the ceramics studio will impact how we think about and ultimately produce work. The films, performances and textiles are great examples of this infection, this fever. Our sweaters have puff paint applied as if it was crawl glaze, as well as references to Ettore Sottass’ ‘bacterio’ patterns. The labels on the sweaters are the recipes of the crawl glazes that we use. The films we’ve made promise to teach throwing on the potter’s wheel through hypnotism. So yes, perhaps now we are the vector. But all materials have their own specificities. We both just happened to be seduced by clay in adolescence, and here we are.

JTW: Can you tell me more about your collaborations – such as with Crush Studio? How do these collaborations come about? How do they play out in terms of working together and producing finished products? Are they expanding or limiting?

BL: Better Lovers is a collaboration between us (Jacob Raeder and Layla Marcelle) and we’ve collaborated with other artists, such as Crush Studios (Jenna Robb and Olivia Verdugo) as well as filmmaker Hsin-Yu Chen. The nature of our collaborations is a direct result of Layla’s experience as a choreographer and dancer, and the generative reality of multiple voices. Collaboration is a practice of communication.

Our collaboration is a back and forth of ideas that are rejected or elevated and begin to fuse into a singular focus. Collaboration often acts as wheatstone, grinding and sharpening the individual’s ideas more efficiently than if we were working on our own. Collaboration can look like division of labor, where everyone works towards their strengths, and the finished work is stronger as a whole. Collaboration can also look like cooking in a kitchen, like a dance, like watching a movie in a packed theater. We resist the idea of the virtuosic and instead lean into the idea of collaboration as AI prompt, as tarot reading, a protest march. The statistical aphorism “All models are wrong, but some are useful” seems appropriate when discussing our collaboration, and our collaboration’s collaborations – the seeking of useful, albeit flawed, ways of creating our art.

Better Lovers has a website and an Instagram site.

Timea Tihanyi – Artist Profile

Timea Tihanyi is an interdisciplinary artist working with ceramics and educator at the University of Washington in Seattle. She was an early adopter of 3D ceramic printing technology, and we discuss how and why she ventured into that area as a sculptor. Once she purchased her first 3D ceramic printer, she converted her personal studio into Slip Rabbit Studio as a space to explore, educate and collaborate with 3D ceramic printing technology. We also discuss that. And finally, I asked Timea, a hands-on sculptor, about her journey into the world of technology and creating with the use of technical

We. The. People. 2020. 3D printed and handbuilt porcelain.

JTW: Will you tell me about how you got involved with 3D ceramic printing?

TT: I have a BFA and MFA in ceramics and have been a ceramicist for over 20 years. I wasn’t involving any technology in my ceramics practice, but I was slipcasting for much of my professional life. I was very interested in the relationship between industrial processes and an artist’s or craftsperson’s studio.

Several things happened around the same time to get me interested in 3D printing. At first I was most interested not so much in 3D printing but more in 3D designing using CAD/CAM systems. About 10 years ago I took an architecture class here at the University of Washington to learn a software program called Rhinoceros (“Rhino” for short). Rhino is a surface modeling program used first by architects, and later by designers, to create the structure and form in a digital model.

I had a hunch about 10 years ago that this whole design technology was something I might incorporate into my sculpture practice, so I took the class to learn more. Honestly, I was not good at it. It wasn’t natural for me. I worked with my hands, I worked with materials and I just did not like the digital environment.

Mothering, 2018. 3D printed porcelain and blown glass, concrete, shock cord.

Shortly after taking this course I did a residency at the European Ceramics Work Centre in the Netherlands. They had already set up a “fab lab,” bringing in equipment not for ceramics specifically, but things like routers and foam cutters for people to use. Just before I got there they added 2 types of ceramic 3D printers. So I had access to one of these printers during my residency.

About the same time I connected with a Belgian design studio called Unfold. Dries Verbruggen, who at the time was in an exhibition at the Bellevue Arts Museum nearby, and had some very interesting ideas about how to use this 3D printing technology. Not so much as a potter would use it, but more as how a designer would use it. His ideas, which challenged crafts as exclusively hand-made, were very interesting to me.

So basically it was a combination of several things that got me started: some familiarity with CAD design systems through my architecture class, access to 3D printers during my residency, and a set of intriguing ideas with regard to the place and use of 3D technology. I decided to jump into it.

JTW: How did your initial experiences with 3D printing evolve into what you do now at Slip Rabbit Studios?

TT: I came back from my residency and bought a 3D printer that was just out on the market. It’s called the Potterbot by 3D Potter. This was very early in the era of 3D printing with ceramic materials. When my Potterbot arrived 1 month after I ordered it, it was already slightly different than what I had ordered. The technology was changing that fast. There weren’t really stable, off-the-shelf devices, it was all evolving. I got this new Potterbot and just starting figuring things out, learning by doing. There was no one to ask. There were a few resources, mainly online by a few people who were also trying to figure things out.

Vessel for Spring II, 2018. 3D printed porcelain and glaze.

Because I had this 3D printer and was figuring out how to use it, I got interested in how it would be possible to also use this opportunity as an alternative form of mentorship and education. Older models teaching manual crafts like the master-apprentice arrangement didn’t seem to fit. Newer versions of that like design research in academia also didn’t seem to fit. University classes aren’t set up in a way to work with multiple people teaching at the same time, teachers are used to conveying known information vs. searching for solutions as a group, that type of thing. So I decided to set something up on my own, as a test, as part of my art practice, outside the University walls.

JTW: And that’s how Slip Rabbit Studio became a training and collaboration space for 3D ceramic printing?

TT: Yes. I decided to turn my own ceramic studio over into this project, and that’s how Slip Rabbit Studio came into existence. It is still my studio, and I still create my own work here. But there’s a lot of stuff that happens here in a form of service to the community: mentorship, teaching, research, etc. Sometimes people propose projects that they would like to work on and if I like the idea, they can come in and I will help them or we’ll collaborate. It’s not like other residencies where I open the studio, people come in and they can do whatever they want. What I do here is more hands-on.

Colors of a Punctured Donut, 2019. 3D printed porcelain.
Collaboration with mathematician Professor Sara Billey on mathematical sandpile models.

I have students who come to my studio to learn the 3D printing process. I have collaborators who come to the studio with projects they initiate. Other times, I initiate the project and I bring in collaborators who can help me. Twice a year we have an open house, advertised to the public, and there will be 30-60 people who show up to see demonstrations of the process and projects. We connect with school districts, various universities around the world and help them set up their teaching environments. There’s so much that happens in Slip Rabbit Studio.

JTW: You have students working at the Studio from a wide range of academic backgrounds: the arts, industrial designers, mechanical engineering and even a chemistry student. Is the idea here some type of innovation lab where students can come and test out – maybe even commercialize – some idea relating to 3D ceramic printing?

TT: That’s a good comparison, but it’s not the exact model we’re following. We do have a lab like this at the University of Washington and I have interacted with them a bit. My thinking was simpler than that, and definitely non-commercial in its intention. My idea was more about broadening the dialog about this topic, the possibilities, and less about what can be made here that may have market possibilities. What we do here is in no way a commercial venture or built around commercialization.

I want to return to something we discussed earlier. There are pieces of software now that fit together seamlessly for making a shape on a computer and then generating code to instruct the 3D printer to make the physical object. There are 2 types of software involved in designing and producing a 3D printed object in any material. First, there’s some kind of a CAD program that helps you design the shape. Second, there’s what’s called a slicer that translates that shape into a path the 3D printer follows to deposit slip and build up that shape in clay. What the slicer produces is a simple code, something that could also be written from scratch, and this is what instructs the 3D printer. There are basically all these different pieces of software as well as various tiers in the process.

In the early days, none of them really fit together so the details of when, what, and how have always been an exciting challenge to figure out. Similarly to a craftsperson making an object, throwing a bowl or hand building a form, where they have to figure out where the hand must be placed, what tool is to be used, when is the exact moment to do something. That was exactly the kind of detail that I had to hone in on during the digital making process. I call that workflow, and that’s what is part of the craft when working with 3D printers. Not just the software part, or how the 3D printer works, but how the software and hardware and physical actions of the the clay and artist interact together in the creative process.

JTW: I see that you offer introductory workshops at Slip Rabbit Studio.

TT: Yes, we offer an introduction to 3D printing as a day-long or weekend workshop plus some other, more specialized, workshops.

There are some people who come because they have a product in mind, or because they have a 3D printer but they need help getting things set up for production – figuring out what’s feasible or how to modify the shape to efficiently produce it. But the learning curve is pretty steep. I’ve had people come and take the introductory workshop in order to better understand 3D printing technology for themselves, but all along they intended to contract out the design and production work because of the complexity.

I have had artists here who wanted to make things for themselves or see if this is a viable way to produce their artwork. I’ve also had teachers come who want to learn so they can teach about the process at their location.

JTW: Are the collaborations you do mainly with creatives or are they more with technology people or folks looking to work with 3D printers in a more industrial, production capacity?

TT: People do come to me looking to design products for commercial markets or manufacturing purposes. I originally thought that would be a big part of the “client” base. But it turns out these are the types of projects I have the least amount of time for, given my teaching schedule and my own sculptural work.

Many of the collaborations I’m taking up now have to deal with auditory data, for example the ListeningCups project where I collaborated with Audrey Desjardins. We collected sounds from a space, basically the audio “signature” of a location. I then designed a way to add that sound information to the code that drove the 3D printer. I worked out a way for the printer to do something with that audio data that it normally wasn’t designed to do, which created an artifact in the clay (a bump or blob) which represents the sound.

These are the types of collaborations that I’m really interested in doing these days. How can we use this entire workflow in ways that are different from the way it was originally designed to work – as opposed to using the technology in the way it was designed to make an object or product.

JTW: What else would you like people to know about Slip Rabbit Studio and what you’re doing?

TT: What I like emphasizing is that clay printing is another tool in the ceramicist’s toolkit. It’s somewhat different, but not completely different, from an extruder or a pottery wheel. I’m going to teach a workshop about clay 3D printing at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in the summer and we are going to practice this thinking: what it’s like when you’re using the printer as you would use your hand and what technological alternatives are there for accomplishing your objectives using clay.

I so enjoy having students here from all different areas. Everybody is new to this and I love watching the different ways people learn, and they ways different people are interested in different parts of the process. When I have engineering or industrial design students, they are much more comfortable sitting in front of the computer doing that part of the process. Other students are totally into the clay part of the process, getting their hands dirty.

Right now I’m super interested in VR (virtual reality) both for the production of a form as an experience of tactility and space.

JTW: On a personal level having come from a person who liked to work with her hands with materials, are you satisfied with your explorations with technology and 3D printing?

TT: I still do that (working with my hands and materials), very much so. A lot of my personal work is manipulated by hand. The printer is making patterning on my pieces, but the shapes are totally hand-manipulated using every aspect of the ceramist’s toolkit. I use kilns for deforming, I make molds of pieces that I printed and I will blow glass into them. I hope that 3D printers will be another piece of equipment in every ceramics studio and everyone would have access to the skills to use them.

Sunday’s Tablecloth, 2020. 3D printed and altered porcelain sculptures, pigments and glaze.

Right now, for example, I’m 3D printing forms that I originally hand-built, then scanned into a computer and 3D printed so I can make multiples; ultimately we will integrate the separate parts together and add some some electronic sensors and displays. In the project before, I designed the form in CAD, but 3D printing it did not yield to a satisfactory option, so I had the form prototyped by a CNC machine in foam and then made a slipcasting mold around that for the production of a small edition of multiples. Old technology hand in hand with new technology. In the project before, I designed the form in CAD, but 3D printing it did not yield to a satisfactory option, so I had the form prototyped by a CNC machine in foam and then made a slipcasting mold around that for the production of a small edition of multiples. Old technology hand in hand with new technology. 

I’m also working with the Pacific Bonsai Museum here in the Pacific Northwest to create some containers for their plants, integrating tradition with new technology. So there’s lots going on.

Here are links to Timea’s personal website and the Slip Rabbit Studio website.

There are more detailed explanations about 3D printing technology and more projects in Timea’s book:

Online version: https://www.sliprabbit.org/book

or Print version: https://quickrabbitdesigns.bigcartel.com/product/book

Julie Wiggins – Artist Profile

Julie Wiggins describes herself as a functional potter, a seasonal potter, and a historical potter. She is widely traveled and has a particular interest in how people used wares in their homes in earlier historic periods around the world. Julie incorporates those discoveries into contemporary versions of functional vessels. Her work is considered and yet light and lyrical.

During my interview with Julie, I was struck by the range of her interests, and how she’s been able to blend a wide variety of experiences into her lifestyle and ceramic work. Julie trained as a dancer, for example. Just as she brings her interest in historic forms and designs to her pots, she also brings physical grace and movement to her work.

JTW: You trained as a dancer. Will you tell me more about the influence that dance may have had on your ceramic work?

JW: As a dancer I have a strong sense of how to use my body and especially my core when making ceramics. That has helped me center clay on a wheel, for example. I also associate translating the movement in making a teapot – like the placement of a handle or spout – with a perfect arabesque or a pirouet. When these things are in harmony it’s just right and you feel it and know it. Being aware of of the subtle parts of a form, the beauty of a lip or the foot on a form not being too thick or too skimpy, the balance and harmony of a piece, all these things recall my experience and training in dance.

My experience with dance also affects how I move around my studio when making pottery. I try to move my body from a station every 45 minutes, and within each station I am moving my body and stretching out my side body which gets short and tight when making pottery. I’m aware of the importance of me moving around because everything I do in my studio is so physical.

My training as a dancer taught me so much about the importance of practice, and creativity in my studio is a practice. It goes back to the discipline of practice in order to consistently achieve harmony – that perfect pose. Practice and staying after something taught me a lot, including that it doesn’t always work out.

JTW: How important is the interplay between precision and fluidity in your work?

JW: That interplay is definitely an extension of my dance and movement. I’m using precision in my work, using things like tape measures and cardboard templates when I make a large historical pot to guide me when I’m coil-building and pinching. I use templates to honor the shape that was formed hundreds of years before me.

Often these pots are such great decorative canvases. I didn’t mention this before, but I have a minor in surface design. I love textiles and surface decoration. I use combinations of repetitive geometric, meditative patterns and floral patterns around the surface of the pot, both of those really honor the balance of the parts of my brain – sort of the yin and yang of precision or free-form, open to space and grace.

JTW: You grew up and live in North Carolina. How important is the creative community in North Carolina to your personal creative work?  How do you stay engaged with other local creatives where you live?

JW: My ceramic career started in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was there for 20 years and I was part of a ceramics studio there. I participated in a group there called Thrown Together Potters. Three other potters and I started this group about 20 years ago, and as a group we show twice a year. We cross-promote each other, market & advertise for the group, we help work out glaze calculations, we get together for potlucks and talk out ideas, including what’s working and not working in our studio practices.

I moved to Bakersville, North Carolina, last year, near Penland School of Craft. I bought Shawn Ireland’s pottery studio which is a dreamy place to live and be. I came to Penland 25 years ago as a 19-year-old student and it blew my heart wide open. I had the opportunity to move back to this community, to be part of a group of creatives, where like-minded people support each other as a community of makers, from glass blowers to weavers to painters to a blacksmith. The support is amazing. Last fall, for example, I hurt my back and my community supported me. People help each other load and unload kilns, lend each other kiln shelves. It’s a really beautiful thing to be living in a community of people who are making a living making handmade.

JTW: You’ve had important relationships with mentors to you throughout your career. Do you have any suggestions on how other artists can find and develop similar mentor relationships?

JW: Those mentorship arrangements were formed by me saying “Yes” to things. Saying “Yes” to going to craft schools to take classes. Saying “Yes” to being a studio assistant to other artists at their workshops or craft shows. In those intimate situations beautiful friendships formed and many of those people have gone on, like Susie Lindsay and Kent McLaughlin who both live here in this area, to be huge inspirations in my career. Suzie was a woman making a living doing what she loved. She received her MFA. I hadn’t met anyone like that, nor a woman who kept her last name. So that was the type of thing that right out of the gates made me ask, “Who are you people and what is going on here?” Dan Finnegan taught my first class here at Penland when I was 19 and he is still one of my biggest supporters and cheerleaders. He really set the stage for me while I was here at Penland.

Bob Chrisco, who I met through the Saint-Croix Pottery Tour, is one of the most generous hearts and spirits that I’ve ever met. Any questions I ever asked were never too silly. He always pushed me and asked me questions that made me really want to make great work.

JTW: You have traveled extensively to study ceramics, including some graduate work at the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute. Will you tell us more about your experiences and what you’ve learned in China, Europe, Mexico, Morocco, and Central America?

JW: Traveling at a young age, whether to study art and ceramics or for pleasure has taught me about the way people interact with each other, and how we use objects though time and space in those interactions. I’m a historical potter; I love history and I love connecting to an earlier time when people used objects in their home. What was important to them? Before a time when we can order and have everything immediately, what did people really use? I’ve done deep dives in China and Europe, going to Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, really looking and studying pots and how they were used – and how I want to use them today, in my contemporary versions of these historical pots that really inspired me at a young age.

The architecture around me, and the flora, have a huge inspiration on my thoughts. I’m a big gardener so anywhere I go I’m always seeing out a garden or native plants and trying to get an understanding and appreciation of the area. And it’s really the people I meet along the way that really influence my work and inspires the way I want to connect with people. To me it’s all about connections.

JTW: Will you tell us more about your creative process?

JW: I do sketch a lot. Everything around me is grabbing at my eyes. I take a lot of photos. I create a visual diary from me to pull from, whether it’s objects in nature I see or objects in space. I may just be taken by a form or a curve, and I think about that could play into a new vase form or a new bowl shape.

I’m a seasonal potter so usually I’m drawing seasonally and I’m making pots that you’re using in your home during that time, like a soup bowl for winter to berry bowls in the summer.

I have a huge ceramics library in my home. Books and books filled with historical pots that I pull ideas from. I encourage every artist to maintain a visual diary of ideas that are inspiring them, and thoughts on how to make them your own.

You can see more of Julie’s work on her website and Etsy page.

Barnaby Barford’s Tower of Babel

In 2015, Barnaby Barford created a 6 meter (18 feet) high sculpture out of 3,000 individual ceramic pieces for the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Each individual bone china unit contains photographs of an existing, particular London retail shop, transferred onto ceramic surface prior to firing.

Collectively, the sculpture is a monument to consumer culture, reflecting not just stores that sell consumer products, but also documenting architectural styles at a point in time and reflecting hierarchies of purchasing and consumption in modern British society. Barford placed outdated, closed shops at the bottom of his Tower, more modern, typical shops (such as local butchers and stationary shops) above those lower layers, more expensive and exclusive shops above that, and topped the Tower off with fine art galleries and auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

Individual sculptural items were (and still are) listed for sale at various prices at the V&A Shop, ranging from modest £90 to extremely expensive £6,000 – prices rising for shops placed higher on the Tower’s structure.

More information about the Tower of Babel is available on the V&A’s website. Information on Barnaby Barford himself can be found on his website.

Alissa Coe – Artist Profile

Alissa Coe is a ceramic artist with a strong design background. After training in industrial design and launching a design studio in Canada, Alissa set out on her own from a new base in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Well, Alissa reports that it is nice – great in fact. She’s been able to deeply connect with materials and a sense of place, while maintaining a successful business with clients around the world.

Floating Petals, looking up at an installation of 1500 hand-rolled ceramic porcelain shapes created for the Brahma Residencies in Beijing, China.

JTW: Alissa, you studied industrial design at the Ontario College of Art & Design (“OCAD”). Will you tell me more about that general training and also what particularly attracted you to ceramics?

AC: While I was studying industrial design I began to realize that my favourite part was the tactile model-making, prototyping part of the design process. When I had the opportunity to take a ceramic mould-making class it filled the desire to actually make finished products with my hands. It was completely captivating to me because it opened up a new possibility beyond designing for production to designing and hand-making multiples on a small scale. It was the first experience I had with ceramics and I felt very inspired.

Hand-Thrown Black Stoneware Pedestal Vases

JTW: After graduation, you formed a design studio Coe&Waito with a partner, Carly Waito, making porcelain table top wares and sculptural installations. What role did you play in that partnership and what did you learn from it?

AC: Carly Waito and I worked together through most of our time at OCAD. We understood each other and shared the same design sensibility and passion for details. It was her idea for us to take the ceramic mould-making class that set us on our path. We did our final thesis project together and when we won an award for it we put the money toward the purchase of our first kiln and got our first studio space. It was a 50/50 partnership, we designed and made everything together and ran the business together as well. It was our experimentation with installation art which was the most interesting part to me and it was ultimately what set me on my current path.

Wood Inspired Carved Sculptures, one of two series created for hotels and residences in Hong Kong and Taiwan

JTW: You now have your own firm and have also moved to northern Italy. What prompted those changes, and how do you now divide up the work between you and partner Matias?

AC: With coe&waito we developed a wonderful body of work together but we got bogged down in the sales and production of our wholesale collection and had a hard time finding time for creating new work. It wasn’t really financially or emotionally sustainable for us so after a while we parted ways. It wasn’t so long before we were approached by an art consultancy asking about one of the sculptural installations we had made together, and if we would be interested in doing something similar for a hotel project. Carly wasn’t interested at the time and I accepted the project on my own. That ended up being the beginning of the solo chapter of my career which lasted 6 years until Matias joined me in 2018 as part of our plan to move to Italy. It was a move we had dreamed of for most of our adult lives and when my studio grew too busy for me to manage on my own that dream became a real possibility.

Ceramic Flower Walls, installation created for the Bellagio Hotel in Shanghai, China
Ceramic Flower Walls, detail

Matias handles most of the day-to-day administration and logistics which leaves me to focus most of my attention on the creative side: concept development and the creation of the work. It’s a dream for me to have a partnership that is split in this way.

JTW: Has your relocation to Italy influenced your creative directions?

AC: Living here in this incredibly peaceful, beautiful place, being able to focus my attention on the creative process, and working with the new materials which are available to us here have all made a huge impact on our work. We draw so much inspiration from our surroundings, the details, natural materials, the changing seasons and constant stimulation of the senses. We are becoming part of something quiet and enduring here, I sometimes feel almost like a conduit, filtering our natural and ancient surroundings into the clay, honing an idea: a warm, rich, minimalism, which has been developing inside of me since the beginning… an idea which I believe is part of what lured us here.

Stoneware “Roca” Pitcher
Stoneware “Roca” Pitcher, detail

JTW: Will you tell me about your creative process? Do you plan out your work in advance – perhaps in response to a client’s specific direction – or is your work more spontaneous and intuitive?

AC: Yes, most of our work is planned out in advance. Our clients usually have criteria they are working within, even if it’s just overall dimensions. We use these to develop the concepts which we propose using drawings or small scale mock-ups to communicate the ideas. When an idea is approved we produce it more or less to the specifications we outlined in our proposal.

Vase Installation, 16 hand-thrown porcelain vases grouped in a composition, created for a luxury residence in Taiwan

I love the challenge and satisfaction of designing within parameters and executing work according to the design, but outside of the commission-based projects I tend to be very spontaneous and intuitive which is my absolute favourite way to work. It allows me to discover new materials and techniques and, eventually, that informs the work we do for client commissions. So, to a certain extent, it’s all connected.

JTW: How much of your current work do you create as one-off pieces, and how much is made with more “industrial” or production-type processes like slip casting? Do you have a preference for one over the other?

AC: It completely depends on the project. We usually only use slip-casting when we require many multiples of the same shape or of a series of shapes – especially shapes that would be difficult to construct by hand. Slip-casting requires a lot of set up because of the model-making and mould-making stages and it also requires a significant amount of finishing work since the edges and seams of the cast pieces come out of the mould rough. So, it’s actually quite labour intensive which means it is only really useful in particular projects. Most of our work is hand-built.

Hex Collection cast porcelain geometric tableware

JTW: What inspires you and triggers your creativity? How do you keep those sources of inspiration alive?

AC: I am very much inspired by my surroundings: forms and details in nature, the quiet, a sense of timelessness. It’s amazing how a walk in the woods can be both calming and revitalising at the same time.

And working in clay inevitably sparks creativity. On one hand, it’s so malleable that it invites exploration. But, on the other, it can be quite precarious—at every stage in production there’s a risk of failure: cracking, warping, slumping, etc. There’s always a tension between what I might try to do and what the material will allow. I’m constantly learning which always leads to sparks of inspiration.

You can see more of Alissa’s work on her website.

Sunbin Lim – Artist Profile

I recently came across Sunbin Lim’s work online, and reached out to him to learn more about his evolution as an artist. Sunbin is originally from South Korea but now works in Germany. Sunbin has had a number of very interesting experiences around the world, and through those experiences has worked with various media. I’ve loved perusing his work on his website, which contains samples of his work continuously from 2012 to 2021. Austere, multi-element pieces from 2012-14 that speak of engineering and industrialization have given way in more recent years to very tactile, gooey, fluid work oftentimes referencing domestic furniture.

Night Table B, 2020

JTW: It looks like you originally studied stage design in Korea, but then switched to ceramics. What attracted you to ceramics?

SL: Yes, I studied stage design and ceramics in South Korea. At first, I was more interested in stage design than ceramics. I didn’t want to just make a bowl, but when I was a freshman in univ, I mainly learned the basic technique of making a bowl. So I lost interest in ceramics and started to focus on stage design. After finishing my first year of university and serving in the army, I was able to experience ceramic sculpture and I’m starting to get a lot of interest in it and as I began to concentrate on ceramic sculpture, my interest returned from stage design to ceramics.

Zusammengesetzte Struktur, 2012

JTW: You worked as an assistant to Brazilian sculptor Jorge dos Anijos. He works primarily in metal. What did you learn from that experience?

SL: My experience in Brazil was a very special time for me. I was able to indirectly experience life as a successful artist from him and it became a valuable asset to me. I made a work in Brazil using metal and paper, not clay. I experienced something new and realized a lot while making a work using new materials there. I realized then that even the same type of work can look different if the materials are different and it was an opportunity to think a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of clay as a material.

Goffnete Objekte mit Facherstrukturen, 2013

Jorge also influenced me a lot at the time. He explained the beauty that I could feel in the imperfections and it influenced my current work a lot.

Terzett, 2013

JTW: You moved from Korea to Germany in 2011 where you currently live. What prompted that move? And how are the two settings (Korea vs Germany) similar and/or different in terms of artistic culture – specifically in terms of ceramics?

SL: I had good ceramic skills when I was in Korea, but I always had difficulty in creating. I looked for a professor who could teach me well, but I couldn’t find one in South Korea. I got to know professor Jochen Brandt of IKKG (Institute for Ceramic and Glass Art, University of Applied Science Koblenz) in Germany at the recommendation of my Korean professor Suku Park and came to Germany in 2011 to study in IKKG and I think it was the best choice for me.

Object mit Facherstrukturen, 2014

I think German ceramic sculpture is much ahead of Korea. The German professors who coached me had an open mind and taught me the creative process I needed in great detail and easily. When you studied in South Korea, there was no professor who could teach me the creative process so easily and in detail. I don’t think there are any professors with that ability in South Korea right now. I think there are many professors in South Korea who can teach good ceramic techniques. However, Korean professors are very lacking in creativity. Perhaps because of that, in South Korea, there seems to be a better evaluation of ceramic works with excellent technical completeness than creative ceramic works. However, unlike South Korea, Germany evaluates creative and original work better even if the work lacks completeness. I personally appreciate creative work even if it lacks perfection.

Einschusse, 2015

JTW: Will you tell me about your creative process? Do you plan things out in advance or work more spontaneously? 

SL: Before I start my work, I collect data and sketch slowly. And I start my work by referring to the sketches, but it doesn’t make the same work as a sketch.The process of reproducing sketches into works equally hinders my creativity, because new ideas always come up in the process of working. When a new idea comes up, it changes the work.

Verbrannte Ruine, 2017

JTW: Your work since 2018 shows an interest in furniture. Can you tell me more about that?

SL: I saw a big piece of furniture in my dream while sleeping and it felt like a sculpture to me, not furniture. After I woke up, I sketched what I saw in my dream and later made it into a work. That is the beginning of my furniture series. Perhaps one day the furniture that I saw interesting influenced me. So I think I would have had such a dream.

Commode, 2018
Vermoderte Couch, 2018

JTW: Generally, where do you find inspiration for your work? Has that changed over time?

SL: Inspiration for the work comes from my surroundings. I still get a lot of inspiration when I take a walk and travel. Living in Europe, I see many interesting things. Inspiration in everyday life is endless. Inspiration changes over time. Sometimes things that were interesting in the past are not interesting at all now. But there are things that were interesting in the past and things that are still interesting now.

Vermoderte Sofas, 2019

JTW: You mention an interest in imperfection – imperfect structures and imperfect beauty. How has that influenced your art?

SL: I have been interested in broken or old buildings since I was young. In my hometown (Cheolwon), there are many buildings that were destroyed during the Korean War. I was very interested in the buildings at the time, but I didn’t know exactly what was interesting to me at the time. I slowly realized later that I was interested in broken buildings, or in imperfections that were broken and destroyed, such as Roman ruins. I was able to find interesting elements through them, these are open structures, internal spaces, surface textures.

Night Table A, 2019 (detail)

I have been working hard on this. I can also feel imperfect beauty through them. These elements are an important basis of my work. Since then, I have been paying attention to the beauty that I can feel from the imperfections, and it still has a lot of influence on my work today. I am currently working upon the above-mentioned elements and reinterpreting interesting objects in my own artistic language.

Female Bust (from Two Busts, 2021)

Carol Long – Artist Profile

Carol Long is an extremely talented artist working in St. John, Kansas. Her work is lyrical, playful and stunningly well-executed. Carol’s elaborate forms and surface details reflect her childhood experiences growing up around plants and animals on a family farm. Her technical proficiency reflects years as a working potter as well as countless hours she puts into each of her individual pieces.

Below is one of Carol’s sculptural vases called “Lidded Butterfly”. Following the first photo is a close up of one section of the piece showcasing Carol’s skills at slip trailing, glazing and overall design. I love the palette, too.

JTW: Will you describe your creative process more fully?

CL: Throwing, extruding, slab, and casting are the main methods.

Although it took years get over the fact that I could use a thrown form as a starting point instead of an ending, I am intrigued by the manipulation of an existing form. Producing a harmony between the visual and the structural is a thrill.

On the other hand, casting bypasses forming pieces. In some projects that is preferable. For instance, construction of a lidded box may not expand my clay experience but having the box to start with allows more time for surface design. Even so I am tempted to alter them.

JTW: Do you plan out your pieces (for example, sketching or prototyping in some way) or work more intuitively and just start building?

CL: Intuitively. A plan may suggest that I know the ending to the story. Plans are quickly changed with a push here and a squeeze there.

JTW: What are your sources of inspiration? (You mention “botanical life and hidden aspects of nature” – can you expand on that?

CL: I like to make pieces that have a visual flow of growth. Like it could change shape when you look away. Handles that reach out into negative space like a vine or a squiggle on a page, animals that are in motion, the foot of a vase that may have flapped in the wind are ways to evoke nature.

The extruded chrysalis forms take the idea of a tiny hiding place to a large vessel.

JTW: I see some references to Art Nouveau in some of your tile on IG. Almost Tiffany-glass-like. Am I off base here?

CL: You are correct. I strive for the gracefulness of Art Nouveau.

Slip trailing is the white lines between different colored glazes. It is like cake decorating and has the visual effect of stained glass, cloisonne, cartoons, and coloring books.

JTW: You also mention that your work continues to evolve. Can you sketch out that evolution for us?

CL: Through the years my style has changed from obvious thrown pieces with geometric surface designs to free and flowing forms and surface designs. I don’t mean to suggest that the later has come about by accident, like the work starts perfect and then I mess it up and call it art. It has been intentional changes to forms that I want to look effortless.

The joy in making the piece and the delight of the viewer is my goal. I look forward to my time working in clay because there is always something to discover. Clay is limitless.

JTW: What first attracted you to ceramics?

CL: It could have been little tikes electric wheel I had when I was a kid or the cattle syringe I used as a slip trailer in the mud of our driveway. I grew up on a farm and there is no end to finding ways to create in the country with no one looking over your shoulder. High school art class was the first serious experience. I had great instructors in college and I spent all my time in the ceramics lab. I’m glad I passed my other courses. I married a farmer and moved to another farm. Guess what I thought about all day driving the tractor. We had three kids. No more tractor driving. I had clay projects on top of the washing machine where little hands couldn’t reach them. When the kids went to school I became more serious and demanded more time in the studio. When I thought I saw the light at the end of the motherhood tunnel, I built a bigger studio and declared it my full-time job. Thus, thwarting any future tractor driving ideas. I got lucky when I hired a couple of wonderful employees. Then the rapidity of exploration and growth really took off. They have since gotten real jobs. Teachers! I am very proud of them. Now my daughter has taken a lot of the tedious responsibilities over in the studio so I can get back to work. She is a gem to work with. That brings us up to date. That rambled and went off topic.

JTW: Will you tell me about your use of scale? (Sometimes I think I’m looking at large vessels and tiles, in other photos it looks like the objects may be tiny.)

CL: My work ranges from a couple of inches to 26”. That just fits in my kiln.

Slip trailing designs have to be simplified on small pieces. They can get messy and crowded leaving little room for the glazes. The slip trailing designs can get very complicated on larger work. Tiles are almost always 6”x 6”. I put several tiles together for larger pieces.

You can see more of Carol’s work on her website and her Instagram page.

Samantha Dickie – Artist Profile

Samantha Dickie is a Canadian ceramic artist, based in Victoria, British Columbia. She describes her work as “focused on abstract expressionism and minimalist sculpture within an installation practice.” A defining element of Samantha’s aesthetic is the concept of multiplicity – numerous (sometimes thousands) of individual ceramic elements that she combines into a piece or installation that exposes the viewer to the collective whole, individual elements in the whole, as well as the negative space between individual elements of the collective.

Samantha notes in her bio: “Integrating a theoretical degree in women’s studies with her broad interests in philosophy and psychology, she has become drawn to the visceral nature of rough and intentionally imprecise clay as emblematic of rejecting social pressures, often placed with particular weight on women, to strive for unattainable perfection. For Dickie, there is expressive beauty in imperfection.”

Given the scale of Samantha’s work, I’ve included photographs of a few installations and interspersed them in this article, focusing on both individual elements as well as the overall context. Additional photos of Samantha’s work are located on her website.

JTW: Much of your work involves creating lots of objects – similar forms. Has this requirement for volume changed the way you work?

SD: Multiplicity has been how I’ve envisioned my work for the last 20 years. As far as changing the way I work, I’d say that producing large-scale pieces with huge numbers of components has been an entrenched work routine for a long time now.

As you say, the requirement for volume is different than creating a smaller grouping of forms. However, as many of my forms that are in smaller assemblages are in fact large in scale individually, I am still working on them over a long period of time.

The process of creating a large-scale assemblage or installation starts with a preliminary time to experiment, resolve and plan how to execute my vision for the piece. Following that development process, is major production mode with a lot of studio time doing very repetitive work. Sometimes repetition is meditative. Sometimes it is boring. I distract myself from the monotony with learning through podcasts and audio books. I often hire a studio assistant to help keep production going efficiently as I never seem to have enough time.

People have an idea that being an artist is always creative. When I’m in a time of visioning and creative flow, it is awesome. The rest of the time my work predominantly requires diligence to simply produce. I carve out months to prioritize a large-scale project. In order to meet my deadlines, being self-employed and working from my live/work home requires setting a work schedule amongst life’s busyness if I have any hope of completing a project for installation. It’s work, work, work. Seeing a vision that takes months to create installed in the flesh is the most incredible feeling and is worth all of the effort. I love this work.

JTW: There seems to be some idea behind most of your work – an intellectual underpinning like abstraction/minimalism, feminist politics, etc. Are there any elements of your work that aren’t connected to some idea – or that you don’t understand on a logical level?

SD: Absolutely. The creative process always includes intuition as a requirement to experiment with different forms and ideas in order to find a degree of resolution with new work. At times, such as during the artist residency I just completed, I give myself intentional time to play with new ideas, new inspirations, and new forms without constraint. The place of spontaneity, as you put it, is where the seeds for new projects sprout. Most often I come away with a collection of fresh visions, ideas, techniques, forms, and approaches to installation.

As I often respond to a particular gallery space, residential commission, or corporate design, I have parameters from which to syphon my ideas and visions for a particular creative project. I like responding to a space, or design concept, or curatorial theme. When I have a crystal-clear vision for a new installation in the early hours of the morning, that vision needs to percolate over the ensuing weeks or months for the ideas to emerge that will frame the project. Most often what I create is close to that first vision; and intuition is always the guide. Because my work is often thousands of components, it takes that clear vision to be able to endure the time required for the whole project to come to fruition.

I want to have ideas ground my work. That is why I like to work with installation. It gives me the opportunity to create something that can have an embodied response by the viewer, and hopefully can be both emotional and thought-provoking.

JTW: You mention Agnes Martin, the abstract painter, as a source of inspiration. Are there other artists who have inspired you with their work, and if so, in what way?

SD: A few artists have inspired the way I approach my work. Agnes Martin and her use of subtlety. Ernesto Neto. I saw one of his hanging installations at the Guggenheim 2 decades ago and was blown away. I can see how it inspired me to want to work big and use the ceiling so that the work can float and be walked into. At the time of seeing these artists I didn’t know that they would eventually inspire directions that I take in my work.

I admire a breadth of artists such as Ai Weiwei, Barbara Kruger, Betty Goodwin, Dale Chihuly, Hans Coper (to name a few), but I can’t say that they have influenced my work.

At times, I have made work that responds to something I have seen from another artist. For example, Walter De Maria’s installation in Soho, the New York Earth Room. He filled a 3600 sq ft, 2nd floor gallery with 22 inches of dirt, 250 cubic yards of earth. It has been maintained since 1977 in that space. Incredible! It inspired my piece ‘Grounded’. Or while I was in France, I wanted to make work responding to the local surroundings. Vallauris is a historical ceramics town in south France where Pablo Picasso made his ceramic work. I made a piece inspired by a painting that included his deconstructed wheels that I saw in the Picasso Museum in Vallauris. I named it Picasso’s wheels.

JTW: You’ve done a number of residencies during your career, giving you important time to reflect. How long are those residencies, typically? Have you approached residencies with an intention to try something new, or to just devote yourself to work & thought and see where things go?

SD: Residencies are deeply fruitful times for creative exploration and production for me. Attending an artist residency is like a magic break, where I can fully immerse in my work at arm’s length from other life responsibilities.

Viveka (2107), Photo: Cathie Ferguson
Viveka (2017), installation detail shots

I have attended residencies when I can over the course of my career: 3 residencies in Canada that were each three months (the Banff Center for the Arts, the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC), and Red Deer College) before parenting became more all-consuming in my life; and 2 one-month residencies during the busy years of parenting (the Sculpture Factory in Jingdezhen, China, and A.I.R. Vallauris in France that I just finished). As my kids head out into the world, so will I for my work as much as possible. I’m already dreaming of what could be next.

Viveka (2107), Photo: Cathie Ferguson

I’d say that more time is better in a residency, but time is a luxury that many of us can’t carve out easily. Whatever amount of time, I dive in. I have created entire exhibitions that were proposed, received grants to create, and produced while in residency for ensuing public gallery exhibitions. I have also attended residencies with free-flowing time to experiment, to be spontaneous, to respond to the local environment, to seek fresh inspirations, to work out unfamiliar ideas and to resolve new techniques. Each time, I come out of the residency with many different things that evolve and expand my practice when I get home.

I have three concurrent intentions for any residency: explore in the studio to bring home the seeds for future projects (incorporating different ideas, forms, and techniques); make new connections and friends with artists from around the world (the best part); and make sure to explore the local area around the residency (that inspiration part is essential). Don’t just work in the studio like at home, fill the well with inspiration and connection.

JTW: Has becoming or being a parent changed your creative life? How so?

SD: Absolutely. Prioritizing parenting has changed many things for me, some good, some hard.

The downside is that in order to prioritize my kids, given the circumstance of where I live and single parenting, I’ve had to postpone some ambitions like graduate school that would have furthered my career sooner. I’m now heading into my MFA after deferring it for 19 years. That has had an impact on the trajectory of my career opportunities, but I’ve worked hard to be an artist and a single parent and have no regrets about my choices. Kids first.

A Moment in Time installation, 2016

On the other side, being a parent expands a creative life outside the studio and into everything. Kids hold a spirit of creativity that is lovely. Besides having part of my studio dedicated to materials for my kids to use (from watercolour paints to printmaking to soap making), I did a ton of volunteering at their elementary school with art workshops, and permanent art installations to inspire the kids in their learning environment. Now that they’re older, they come to exhibition openings with their friends, or travel with me for work. I’m super inspired to see them engaged in their own creativity, whether that’s on the dance stage, in the wood shop, or in the art studio. We all need creativity as part of our lives. Of course, they’re my best creation (and biggest distraction from my work).

Concurrently, I think creating my home for my family (a live/work/family space) brought me to the residential house design work that I do (on the side to my studio practice), where I use the spatial skills from working in sculpture and installation to create functional aesthetic spaces for people to physically live in.

My personal experience as a parent has simultaneously played large part in my work conceptually. Many of my recent installations have been created to pull viewers into an embodied experience of generative pause. My work over the last number of years is about what I am thinking about and want to feel.

A Moment in Time installation, 2016.

As a single parent, I crave space. Space to take a moment to slow down, to notice the details, to refuel, to catch my breath. For me this pause, a suspension of time, is most easily felt in the deep backcountry wilderness, or even in the forests where I run my dogs or the ocean that is close by. The experience lying under a canopy of trees, or the starry sky reminds me of the minute detail and expansiveness that surrounds us, a life force that is much bigger than us, that pulses underneath and above, where we can sink into, feel held and then stand taller. Finding pause, through any contemplative practice, is like pressing the reset button to go back into the busyness of life, work, and parenting with a little bit more clarity and grounding.

A Moment in Time installation, 2016

In my work I use multiplicity to create a feeling of expansiveness in the installation by drawing attention to the spaces that are saturated between, inside and surrounding each component, highlighting spaciousness as a point of contemplative pause.

JTW: You say public feedback from viewers is important. How do you typically gather that feedback?

SD: That’s a great question. The viewer’s interaction with, and reaction to my work is the most interesting part for me. With installation, I can invoke a feeling, an association, an embodied response. I garner feedback at public openings, artist talks, online posts, and from conversations with curators and educators, and interviewers, but I also know that I miss a lot of potential feedback from public exhibitions. During COVID when I couldn’t attend public openings, I asked for feedback by email, and gratefully received some. Any gallery or artist talk that includes time for dialogue between the audience and myself has given me lots of information about how viewers receive my work. Most often what I garner is in line with the conceptual intentions behind the work. I hear people talk about how they want to interact with the work, such as wanting to touch, or move, or hear the components; or wanting to dive through, be curled up inside, or be enveloped by the installation. All responses are fascinating to me and illustrate the kind of embodied experience I am creating in the gallery, and how I can evolve the work to be more invocative. My next work will be an interactive installation where viewers need to duck underneath, step through and around the installation while being invited to move the components as they see fit.

Elusive Containment. Yukon Centre Public Art Gallery. 56 components (2006)
Elusive Containment. Yukon Centre Public Art Gallery. 56 components (2006)


FormaFantasma is a design studio of two Italian designers, Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin. The studio has offices in Milan, Italy and Rotterdam, Netherlands. Their stated aim is “to facilitate a deeper understanding of both natural and built environments” and to apply transformative design principles to product design and spacial design (e.g., designing environments for companies and museums). The firm lists some recognizable clients including Lexus, Hermes, Prada, Samsung and the Rijksmuseum. Objects from their projects have been acquired by MOMA, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris and others. Basically: an impressive resume.

I was attracted to FormaFantasma’s deep enquiry into materials – of course seeking out how they examined clay in particular. I found several relevant FormaFantasma projects.


In “Cromatica“, the designers investigate the attributes of subtle color variation in industrially-produced ceramic tiles. The designers created ceramic large panels in two “base colors”, two “light full colors” and two “dark full colors” using a combination of digital printing and traditional high gloss glazing. The Cromatica project essentially built on variation of color hues and values to add interest to large tiled surfaces. Two photographs provide a quick summation.


In Clay, FormaFantasma designed a collection of vases and bowls with unique, “torn-off” appearances (where the vessel was ripped off the support after being thrown). The torn-off surfaces have a jagged, raw quality that contrasts with the precisely-thrown vertical surfaces of the form, and accentuates certain emotional properties invoked by violent tearing apart action of the wet clay.

In addition to designing the vases and bowls themselves, FormaFantasma developed the production process to rip thrown vessels from the throwing wheel without distorting the shape of the vessel itself, thus enabling high-production replication of these forms for the collection.

Moulding Tradition

A collection of ceramic vessels created by FormaFantasma for “Moulding Tradition” reference patterns of immigration and assimilation of people flowing from Northern Africa into Sicily throughout history. The ceramic forms of the collection reflect Sicilian “Testa di Moro” ceramics still seen in Sicily today. (Testa di Moro vessels portray either a Caucasian female face or a dark Moorish male face, recounting a traditional Sicilian legend of a Moor who fell in love with, and then abandoned, a young Sicilian girl.) FormaFantasma’s collection incorporates these deep historic and artistic traditions while at the same time acknowledging contemporary opinion that 65% of Italians believe that immigrants are “a danger for [Italian] culture”.

FormaFantasma’s website contains additional projects examining materials other than clay. Check out “Charcoal“.