Brick bakes and porcelain pieces
Ceramic artist Julie Miles from Barrowford tells us about playing with fire and earless elephants!
Julie's work ranges from delicate porcelain pieces inspired by nature, to larger brick constructions that can be found across Lancashire. We found out more...
How did your interest in ceramics start?
With my family moving to Lancashire from the Potteries it makes me a bit of a ceramic cliché as I come from a long line of pottery workers from brick makers to tile painters so I suppose its in the blood, but when I went to Art College I wanted to be an Embroiderer! I turned to clay as it was a material that I could use to create outdoor work and also play with fire.
Julie hard at work in the studio
What's the process for making a piece?
The range of leaf and lavender vases are made from a slab of porcelain rolled out very thinly on a plaster bat. Leaves, petals and seeds are rolled on to the vase before the porcelain is dry leaving the imprint of their shape and veins that run through them making each piece individual or one off. This imprint is then flooded with a colouring oxide to pick up the fine detail and fired to create a permanent record of the object used on the vase.
The Copper Landscape vases are created using the same construction techniques and are decorated with copper to reflect my drawings within landscape using charcoal and graphite in my sketchbook.
Tea light holders are designed to glow and show the translucency of the porcelain, they will get warm to the touch and should not be left unattended but are an excellent atmospheric addition to the subtle lighting in any room.
The flower forms are dipped into a porcelain slip and fired once to 1280 degrees burning away the natural materials but leaving a porcelain shell. This creates a rather unique form, almost a creating a ceramic fossil of the flower head or seedpods.
You use a lot of porcelain and brick clay - how different are they to work with?
I can use porcelain like paper and cut and create the vessel forms very easily but it does pick up any mark or dent in the surface so I have to be very careful with it. My kiln is not in my studio so I have to move the work very carefully to the kiln - and that's not always done successfully!
Brick Kiln, Wayside Arts Trail Burnley
What inspires you?
Walking through the natural environment and the details within it such as a leaf or a feather. Witton Park in Blackburn has been an inspiration in my earlier work using the trees and natural objects found there such as pine cones and seed heads. I am also interested in gardening which is coming out in my work through the slip dipped flowers and the watering cans.
What was the first piece you made - and do you still have it?
I think it was a clay elephant I made at school and I was ill when we had to take them home so a boy in my class dropped it off with an ear missing. I have no idea where that elephant is now - or what happened to the ear.
What's been the most challenging piece you've made?
The most challenging piece was the Brick Kiln on the Wayside Arts Trail in Burnley. It is an imitation Coke Kiln that stands on the site of an old brick and tile factory. The whole project involved the local schools, taking children into the environment and looking closely at what can be found there. Each child carved a waymarker for the trail or the map which can be found at the back of Towneley Hall which takes the walker up past the Brick kiln towards Crown Point and the Singing Ringing Tree. The whole project involved so many different partners from the funders to the children and the guys in the brick factory who made each brick by hand so they fitted together to make a dome shape for me to carve the children's drawings onto. It was nominated for a Brick Award from the Brick Development Association in 2006 in the Best Landscape project category which was a bit of an honour. The two brick seats in Witton Park High School were nominated in the same category in 2007 so hopefully this year will be third time lucky!
Porcelain and copper watering can
Has anything ever gone horribly wrong?
I was carving a brick piece for a convent in Birkdale which had the French motto of the order of the Sister of Notre Dame on it. It was almost finished until I realised I had missed out a word! I had a bit of a moment to compose myself as I had no spare bricks to replace those in the piece till I realised I could turn them over! It was a good job I spotted it before it was fired and installed as it was the last piece to complete the convent's extension. That would of been a bit of a nightmare explaining that to the Mother Superior!
You do workshops for school children - what's it like working with them?
Its good fun exploring clay with children and seeing what they can do. I work in a number of schools and am resident in Casterton Primary School in Burnley and also Trawden Forest in Pendle at the moment. We are looking at how to teach the curriculum more creatively so we are all learning from each other from playing with light to creating our own island homes each project springs up new ideas and every day is different so it's all good fun.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
To keep at it and believe in your work. Talk to people, network, find out who your arts officer is, look for opportunities everywhere and keep going!
* Julie is running a porcelain workshop at the Platform Gallery in Clitheroe on 1st March 2008 - call for more details on 01200 4432071.
last updated: 11/06/2008 at 10:46
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