MEET YOUR MAKERS
Presented by TIX on the Square
What do a process engineer and a ceramics artist have in common? Everything. Just ask Jennifer Jong, who by day, designs, experiments, and uses creative thinking and problem-solving to understand the “whys” of a process and, by night, applies those same skills to clay. The results? JYJ ceramics, a collection of handmade, small-batch pottery that celebrate the beauty of functional objects. In this interview, Jennifer chats with us about her personal esthetics, a love of possibilities, and the process of letting go. Meet this week’s maker, Jennifer Jong.
TIX: Tell us about the first time you worked with clay. Was it a natural fit from the start?
J.J.: The first time I worked with clay, I was living in Houston and took a class for something to do in a new city. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t really click until I moved back to Edmonton and started taking classes a few years later—I’m not sure what happened, but I fell in love with clay and over the years, took as many classes as possible—eventually registering for two classes a week!
TIX: I’ve heard small-batch, handmade pottery described as “imperfect by design.” What do you want people to know and appreciate about handmade ceramics?
J.J.: The thing I love about handmade ceramics is that every part of the piece you get to hold has been considered by the artist. Every little bump is smoothed by hand. Every bottom is hand sanded. Each piece spends hours and hours with me through each step of the process and is truly unique. And while they may be part of a collection made to look similar, no piece will really ever be exactly the same.
TIX: What’s your favourite part of the creative process?
J.J.: My favourite part of the creative process with ceramics is the chance to constantly experiment. Since I have no formal education in the discipline, I learned the basics in adult/community classes, and that was sort of it. Over the last 1.5 years since I’ve been renting a space at The Shop Art & Ceramics studio, I’ve had the freedom to try more time-consuming things that community classes didn’t afford me. This has opened things up to try—things like plaster mould-making and slip casting, as well as making my own glazes. My background is technical, as I am a process engineer by trade, so having the time to experiment, adjust, retry, alter, and understand the why of what happens in ceramics is right up my alley.
TIX: Your designs seem to celebrate two very different esthetics: vibrant florals with bold geometric patterns and very elegant black line drawings. How do they each represent your sensibilities?
J.J.: In general, I always like to think my personal aesthetic is modern with a lot of clean/straight/sharp lines and clean angles. It shows in the way I decorate my home, and I think it also appears in the shapes I make. I believe that’s why I’m drawn to the geometric patterns and also the cut glass shapes that I like to make moulds of and slip cast. The florals come from my love of plants/colour/flowers, and I adore the juxtaposition of pretty florals layered with almost stark geometric patterns. I like to think that they represent my logical/practical side with my love of just beautiful things. I realize about myself that I like things to be practical and orderly, which is why I always gravitate to making functional ceramics, rather than say, sculptural work, but I like to toss in the florals and colour because practical doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful to look at!
TIX: What’s a project or technique you’d love to explore more?
J.J.: I would love to explore more glaze-making and firing techniques. Our studio has an electric kiln that fires to mid-range in an oxidation atmosphere. I’d love to have the chance to experiment with high firings/reduction atmosphere firing, soda firing, salt firing, and wood firing. There are magical results you can get using other firing techniques that I think would open up a whole new world of ceramics for me. Glaze-making goes hand-in-hand with experimenting with kiln firing, as there are so many variables that can change what a glaze can do in a different atmosphere. I get excited and overwhelmed thinking about the possibilities!
TIX: Who’s an artist inspiring you right now?
J.J.: There is a Japanese ceramic artist, Shigeki Minami, that Danny Ross from EAC and TIX actually shared with me over Instagram (@minamishigeki) whose work I am fascinated by. He carves intricate geometric patterns into beautiful porcelain forms, and his work is breathtaking.
TIX: What has pottery taught you about yourself?
J.J.: I’m not so sure if it’s something it has taught me about myself or if it’s more what pottery has taught me, but it would be to learn how to be capable of letting things go. What I mean by that, is that ceramics is a long process with so many chances for failure along the way, so over the years I’ve learned to be okay with losing things along the way, even after spending hours working on them, and knowing that a failure along the way doesn’t mean a complete failure (It can sometimes take weeks for a piece to make it from a raw lump of clay to a finished, functional piece!). Perhaps what it has taught me about myself is that I really am often interested in the process as much as I am about the final result.
Want more? Visit jyj-ceramics.square.site and tixonthesquare.ca for the latest from Jennifer and other great artists.