Melbourne Ceramicist Leah Jackson and Her Mega-Giftable Mugs
Working with clay is a tactile experience; the sensation of creating a functional object from one’s bare hands is unique. Melbourne ceramicist Leah Jackson believes everyone has a natural affinity for the medium, but we think hers exceeds the norm.
Creating vibrant cups, plates, mugs, and vessels — often adorned with her signature squiggle-and-dot-pattern — Jackson has carved a niche for herself in the Aussie ceramics world. But it hasn’t come without hard work. Jackson sees creating ceramics not only as an artistic practice, but also something that requires dedication and strategic smarts. A standard year kicks off with heavy planning, with the Christmas season in mind right from the beginning.
Jackson’s inspiration process is surprising for someone who works with such a hands-on material — her scrapbooks are filled with words rather than sketches. “If I have an idea about a color combination I’ll write down ‘orange, pink, navy.’ At the most I might jot down a tiny little outline sketch, but then I’ll write down the idea.”
Jackson remains close to her pieces from start to finish. Once complete, she calls upon friends to give them a test run and to tell her about their experience with the object. It’s the little things like this that capture her passionate approach. We found out more below.
Describe your most recent project and how it was made.
I was fortunate to be nominated for a Fleck Fellowship at the Banff Centre in Canada earlier this year, which I attended from mid-March to mid-April. The facilities there are the best I have had access to since I was at university, with multiple kilns, wheels, hand-building tables, a plaster room, a fully equipped glaze room, and a fantastic library.
The Fellowship is intended as a period for inspiration and development, so I also had the added luxury of not being tied to an outcome. As someone who has found themselves running a production pottery — hence a small business — it was great to be able to step back from my everyday practice and focus on something I had been wanting to revisit for some time: glaze development and research.
I took advantage of the access to the glaze room and test kilns, and had an incredible month. Whereas I’m usually concerned with function I could instead focus solely on glaze texture and color. The other convenient benefit of this approach was that transportation back to Melbourne was light – I just recorded the results and brought home recipes and my notes to re-test and continue to develop here with local materials. I’ll start work on this soon.
My starting point for all this was Bram Bogart’s paintings — heavy, dry, clumpy surfaces that are more materials than canvas. I wanted to do something similar to push the idea of form and glaze and how the ceramic body, glaze and the interface between them interact.
Describe your next project and how you’re currently making it.
Running a production pottery (almost) singlehandedly means that the Christmas retail rush begins in July. I am currently in full production mode, as the ceramic process is just that — a process. It can be long and labor-intensive, but I absolutely love it, and love running a business, even when I’m scrambling to keep up.
My process draws on multiple methods, and the pieces are touched a great deal from start to finish. I mix my own slips from hard clay bodies, I knead in paper pulp and other additions to clay bodies myself and I am the predominant maker of each piece right through to polishing multiple times for the perfect finish and often even through to packing the orders and sending them to the post as well.
This intensive process has now led to another interesting project: engaging others’ assistance. Employing ethically, and challenging what employing means is a great challenge to take on. To be part of that conversation moving forward is exciting.
I do love this time of year because there is so much happening, so much activity, interest and support for a small business like mine. I also enjoy the first half of the year for product development, expanding my knowledge and skillset, developing the business and pushing work outside of the functional production range further (such as my glaze development project earlier this year).
Beyond this I cannot wait to continue working on what I started in Canada. The only trouble is my current studio is not equipped to safely develop glazes without restriction, so I plan to create a safe and full equipped space to accommodate my practice in its entirety.
Tell us one thing that’s been inspiring you lately and why.
In terms of what I do on a daily basis in the studio, function is my overriding inspiration. The challenge is take make an object as comfortable and usable as possible, while still making sure it is a joy to look at. It’s about balance. Hence, I am always observing how I like to use something and how other people use their objects. I view this as the riddle that will keep me occupied for years to come.
I have also recently found myself looking back to one of my very early ceramic inspirations — Edmund De Waal’s wheel-thrown work of the late ‘90s. It has a clean but sensual simplicity, something like a Calvin Klein slip dress. It makes me realize that I am a minimalist at heart even though my work might have maximalist tendencies aesthetically.
What’s your favorite piece of design from the last 10 years and why.
It’s hard to pick a stand-out piece of design from the last 10 years, but if I had to choose it would be Kate Newby’s editioned duvet cover for Laurel Doody, a gallery initiated and run by Fiona Connor in LA. Titled The Floor is Getting Dirtier and Dirtier, the edition sits comfortably between function on the one hand and art and design on the other (if the two must sit separately). In addition to that, it had a more pragmatic function: it was an initiative to fundraise for Newby’s current exhibition at the gallery. The design of the Laurel Doody program also speaks to Fiona’s admirable approach to artistic practice: her drive, energy and enthusiasm, inspirational qualities one and all!