Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pumphouse Studios - The Art of Julia Janeway

O.K. I have to warn you these could be addictive. Artist Julia Janeway’s love for books has been translated into ceramics. Ceramic books? No, book illustrations have inspired her. Julia uses the techniques of wood and lino cuts to cut into her ceramic pieces. The results are whimsical, fun and beautiful book inspired pieces. Yes, they have birds on them. I know my fascination on birds is now teetering on the obsessive but wow do I love Julia’s bird. Here is my interview with Julia.

One of my favorite art forms is wood and lino cuts. What was your process of using these techniques with ceramics? How did that take place the first time?
I have always loved books, especially illustrated ones. I think a lot of people have had this experience-- think of those images from books that have stayed with you since childhood, maybe ones you have even forgotten, that you suddenly remember as an adult. Right now, I am having a wonderful time reading children's books to my kids that I read as a child, and while they are not all print illustrations, the images still inspire me-- that bee looking up at Ferdinand's backside...Petunia walking through the weeds with a red book under her wing...the vines growing up the walls in Max's bedroom in Where the Wild Things Are.

My favorite and most inspirational printmaker is Fritz Eichenberg (1901-1990), who did amazing woodcut illustrations for classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. What I like about wood and lino prints is the graphic quality. Contemporary artist Nicky McClure-- who makes wood cut-looking illustrations out of cut paper-- is another inspiration for me. Again, I love the cleanness of the line and the things one can accomplish with black and white or simple blocks of color.

As far as ceramics, I suppose I should credit a young potter I met in Steamboat Springs, Colorado the year my mom died (1994.) This girl and her boyfriend were making black on white cups and planters-- the boyfriend threw the forms and the girl would carve them. The technical term is sgraffito. I had created pottery off and on ever since I was little, mostly because my mom was a high school art teacher and wonderful potter. But I was grieving my mom's death that summer and, although I had inherited all my mom's pottery gear, I was doing nothing in the way of ceramics, and nothing in the way of art. I was that sad.

Still, I bought a cup "handmade by Leah and Scott" (as it says on the bottom.) Little did I know years later it would inspire me to do that style of pottery. It was so unusual to me. I love the illustrative aspect of carving, and how it allowed me to set my own ideas-- about animals, birds, words-- in stone.

My work is obviously such a marriage of my love for books with my love for art.

Birds are such inspirational creatures. You use them a lot in your work. What do they represent for you?

Birds represent so many things! I "knew" my birds as a kid, and the other day my little 2-year old daughter shocked a visitor by looking out the window and saying, "There's a scrub jay." I think birds are fragile and hearty. I think they are the vital heartbeat in the background that you don't notice right away.

Like the goldfinch that come in the winter and cheer you up with their little flashes of sun in the rain.

Like the robins who bounce around on your lawn like comical clowns.

Like the barn owls, who spread out their wings and seem so silent and holy.

Like the chickens. Was there ever a more humble or necessary bird?

Please tell us how you came to be a ceramicist and about the connection you have with your kiln, wheel and glazes.

My road into ceramics has been filled with sharp diversions and a lot of bumbling. As I mentioned before, my mom was a self-taught potter and art teacher. I can still remember her on the weekends or during the summers down in the basement of our house throwing pots. I remember the crazy kiln experiences we had, from setting up her electric kiln in a meadow near Hahns Peak, Colorado to me waking up in the middle of the night in Colorado Springs in the back of our car, and realizing my mom had driven me down the mountain to check the gas-fire kiln at the high school.

I got a PhD in English and Writing when I was in my 20s. (...see, I loved books...) But, when I moved to Oregon in 1999, I found myself drawn into ceramics. I still really enjoyed teaching but I was tired of abstract thoughts. It was so amazing to turn pieces of "mud" into stone!

I had a lot of failures, but just the joy of the transformation of some intangible idea into wet clay, and then into solid form was thrilling. Like magic.

What is your favorite book?

I read so much and such a variety of things that it is hard to choose a favorite book. I delight in the poetry I find in the most pedestrian of things-- like pamphlets from the 50s about "dining out in a foreign country" or offhand phrases a friend might write in a letter.

What wisdom would impart to someone that would love to give ceramic work a spin?

I would not just apply this advice not just to ceramics, but to anything you are thinking about doing: will you have fun doing it? Things that come out of the heart's desire are so powerful. Even when I was making pottery in a little 6X6 foot uninsulated pumphouse, I knew I was on to something because I so looked forward to being there. Then, when I stopped teaching and had children, the desire to play around with ceramics was still there-- and even if I worked late at night or took a precious kid's naptime to work, I was sustained by what I was doing creatively. Whatever you love, whether it is ceramics or something else, drink it in. See if it is the cool glass of water that quenches your thirst.

So, Julia what's next for you?

I am the country mouse going up to the big city of Portland, Oregon in less than seven days to participate in one of the largest ceramic artists' shows in the country-- OPA Ceramic Showcase-- over 200 potters at the convention center the first weekend in May! Of course, I am freaking out. But I hope to make some friends...and, as an added bonus, scope out Crafty Wonderland, which will be at the convention center at the same time!

I'm constantly trying to improve my etsy store.

And, most exciting to me, I started a blog in January, "Was I There?"-- --- which I think only my Dad reads. But, still, it's been so wonderful to tell stories about my life (illustrated with good art and photos), share what inspires me, and, well, to paper my ordinary days with a lot of jokes.

Julia, Thank you so much for this interview. I had a great time getting to know you and learning about your beautiful work.

Please visit Julia at the following location:

Her blog:

Her Etsy shop:

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