Grandma’s kitchen was a happy place for little Julie Mackinnon. “My Grandmothers’ kitchens were a place for baking and beauty. Mixing batter in colourful stacking Pyrex dishes, licking the cream from the beaters and having hot cocoa in Melmac mugs on a gingham tablecloth. Lemon yellows and bright greens. Warm hugs and sweet smells.”
Now that she is a designer and ceramic artist, Mackinnon is delighted that her pieces feature in cozy family scenes. “I hope my work invokes similar memories of a playful kitchen.”
Mackinnon’s tableware designs percolate for years. “My Suburban line is my Modern design take on the Bauhaus and Art Deco movements. I wanted to encase these forms in bright pastel glazes that give a fun nod to Post-War optimism and the joy of 1950’s kitchenware. I designed the pieces on the wheel in porcelain and spent three years perfecting the glazes in high temperatures.”
“My butter dish is the newest piece in this line and it took two years to perfect its’ design in between my production and show schedules.”
Mackinnon has diverse art training: Art & Design History at University of Alberta, the Kootenay School of Craft and Design and training as an Architectural Technologist at NAIT. Her foray into clay started with a course she and her Dad took in the evening. “It turned into more clay classes through all of my other studies.”
Building her ceramics skills “was extremely hard work and close to an obsession. I took positions in studios as a helper to fund my classes, then I worked as a studio assistant for Gary Cherneff on Salt Spring Island for two years. I decided to join and finish the KSA program in Nelson finishing it in a year less and at the top of my class. I built my studio and started pretty much right away.”
“Clay lured me. The vast possibilities for design through choice of clay, glaze and firing environment are lifetimes enormous.”
Mackinnon is now fully clay-committed, living and working on Salt Spring Island. It is “a paradise of inspirational people, beauty and art. Salt Spring offers me the perfect place to raise my twin girls and have an open studio for visitors and the famous Saturday Market to sell my work.”
“Clay runs my schedule daily. I am either on the wheel, assembling, mixing glazes or firing a kiln. My studio is the first floor of my home and it needs to be. Timing is pretty essential to every process.”
Each piece Mackinnon creates is designed as one-of-a-kind. “They all have their own particular postures and personalities. I throw on the wheel and use slab – rolled out clay – for appendages. The pieces are put in their first firing, unloaded, dipped and detailed in many glazes and fired again to 1200 Degrees: a very high temperature in clay standards. This high heat makes the porcelain and their glazes glow; they have movement and a stunning finish and strength.”
Mackinnon also teaches weekend workshops. “This is an enormous source of joy and inspiration for me. My studio is almost always buzzing with music, tea and my student’s new creations.”
Along with creativity in clay, Mackinnon enjoys the flexibility of her work life. “I may work crazy hours, but I can schedule my work around my fantastic kids.” The crazy hours can be grueling. “Clay is not for the faint of heart. You do it because you love it. The constant challenges push you and your life is run by the processes of clay.”
“I find joy in the limitations of my designs – the making of each piece, just a little bit different, maybe a little bit better. Truly being where your hands are is a great way to live. I always have something on the back burner: a new glaze, a new technique for developing lines. It sweetens every firing.”
What advice would Mackinnon offer to others looking to make a full time career from their art?
i. “Be driven by passion and curiosity
The hours and disappointments can make for a grueling experience otherwise.
ii. Find a visual language that comes naturally to you
iii. Trust your hands and techniques
See where they lead.
iv. Take the time to really consider each piece
So you can keep learning from your own work.”
Written by Elizabeth Newton
* Photos courtesy of Julie Mackinnon