Our Featured Potter for April, Julie Covington splits her time between her studio and living on a farm in the mountians of Western, N.C. She is surrounded and inspired by artists, musicians and farmers who fill their days living passionately with as many handcrafted items as possible. Her connection to the earth is evident in her wheel-thrown and altered stoneware that feels “equally at home on a cozy dinner table or on the floor of an old pick-up truck.”
How did you get started in clay?
I was 15 and your typical bored and broody teenager, living in Greensboro, N.C. I did pretty well in school but wasn’t participating in any extra curricular activities. My mom told me I had to choose something else to do—a sport, music lessons, anything. So I chose the drums. It was just the two of us living in a small house and she said, “I think you’ve chosen the only thing that I can’t handle. You can do literally anything but play the drums.” I wasn’t really that interested in music, just thought the drums would be fun! I had recently seen a potter doing demonstrations at some sort of craft fair and thought that looked like fun, so I chose pottery. My mom signed me up for classes at the Art Alliance downtown and I continued to participate regularly in the eight-week classes throughout high school. I stuck with it in college at UNC-Asheville and majored in Ceramics.
What is your biggest influence?
I think that my work is largely influenced by old things. Mostly handmade, but not always. Things like baskets, quilts, kitchen accessories, tools, furniture. I’m very curious about what elements determine how something stands the test of time. Why are some things still so pleasing to look at and hold and use decade after decade, while others get tossed into the Goodwill box after a year or less from their original purchase?
Tell us about your technique.
My work is all thrown on the wheel, and some of it is altered after. I use a ruddy stoneware for my darker pieces and a white stoneware for my lighter ones, and lately these have been getting a coat of porcelain slip at the wet or leather hard stage. After the bisque firing, everything gets dipped in either a red or white shino glaze (a feldspar heavy glaze that originated in Japan). The pieces sit for several hours or overnight and I use liquid wax and small Japanese brushes to hand paint decoration on each pot. The wax dries overnight and then each piece gets dipped in a second glaze, usually some variation of a copper matte, which gets resisted on the waxed areas, revealing the shino glaze underneath. I usually do my glaze firings in a 60-cubic-foot gas kiln. They take 12 to 14 hours, then a day and a half to cool.
What is a typical day like in your studio?
I usually come in between 10 and 11 a.m.—earlier if I’m in a time crunch. Then I work until 5 or 6 p.m. Occasionally I’ll run an errand, go visit a friend in a neighboring studio or go to a yoga class in the middle of the day, but for the most part I’m making pots during that time. I tend to work five or six days a week, taking Sunday and sometimes Monday off. My studio is in the River Arts District in Asheville, and we tend to have a lot of walk-through traffic, though this can ebb and flow. Some days almost no one comes in, some days 20 or 30 groups of folks will come through! So I’ve had to get better at balancing work with customer interaction, answering questions, making sales, etc. Some days I’m less productive than if I had a home studio, but I end up with more personal connections and relationships with my customers this way, which I really like. And working in a neighborhood where I’m surrounded by other potters is pretty wonderful too. It’s such a creative and supportive community.
What’s your favorite thing about being a ceramic artist?
Definitely stories! Because I’ve been doing the same thing in the same place for 10 years, I often run into people, or they stop in my studio, who are excited to tell me about this or that mug or bowl or plate they bought from me in the past and when/how they like to use it, what they love about it, how special it is to them, how they hide it from their sweetheart so he won’t use it if he gets to the kitchen first…all kinds of sweet and funny stories. This is especially great when I am feeling bogged down in the tedium of mug production or making glazes! I never get tired of hearing these stories.
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Images courtesy Julie Covington.