Techniques & Traditions: Nicolette Johnson

As we inch closer to Christmas, we are surrounded by beautiful pieces in-store celebrated in our ‘Objects of Desire’ Christmas campaign.  What makes an object of desire?  We think it’s a combination of beautiful form, mastery of technique, original concepts, tactile textures and sensitive use of colour.  In the second of our Techniques & Traditions series we interview Nicolette Johnson whose hand thrown ceramics embody these values.

Nicolette’s coveted vessels have struck a chord leaving her barely able to keep up with supply yet Nicolette continues to value a slow and steady pace of work. The patience and attention she gives each of her creations is clearly evident.

In this interview Nicolette generously shares insights into her making process, her inspirations and the feelings of vulnerability that come from putting yourself out there.

Nicolette Johnson in her Brisbane studio

Are you a prodigy? No, but seriously you have only been making ceramics since 2015 and your work is simply stunning. We’d love to know the steps you go through to produce one of your original and perfected forms?

God no, I am definitely not a prodigy, but I have recently plunged myself into full-time making which results in a real mix of emotions, (the foremost being excitement!) and putting yourself out there as an artist can leave you feeling raw and vulnerable.  It can be terrifying to show a part of yourself to a big audience, and as a person who tends to take things to heart, the thought of “what if no one likes it?” runs through my head all the time.  But the reason I make ceramics is because it makes me so happy to take something from one stage to another, transforming it from something so rudimentary like clay to a piece of art that someone would want to admire in their home.

The first step in making a vase is weighing out my clay and kneading it to remove air bubbles and align the small particles in the clay to make throwing easier.  Air bubbles in clay can cause unevenness when throwing, which makes forming a symmetrical shape difficult. ”
— Nicolette Johnson

I usually throw my large vase forms in sections on the wheel and then attach them together after they have stiffened up for a while.  My Symbol Vases are all thrown on the wheel, and the handles are all hand-rolled and shaped, left out to stiffen for about half an hour before being attached to the vase body.

At the moment I am using just two glazes with four combinations (black, white, white over black, and black over white) and using different clays with these combinations results in a huge amount of different surface finishes.

Nicolette's Symbol Vases are thrown on the wheel, and the handles are hand-rolled, shaped and dried out before being attached.

The techniques of making things by hand have been around for millennia with many processes remaining unchanged. Ancient forms are often reimagined in contemporary ways. How does your work and process sit within that historical context?

My processes are pretty luxurious compared to the methods employed by ancient potters.  I don’t dig my clay out of the ground, it comes out of a bag, as do the materials that form my glazes.  I use electricity to turn my wheel and to fire my work.  Many potters today still do use these more traditional tools, like a kick wheel and a wood fired kiln, however for my purposes I choose to utilise newer technologies.

The tools that have always remained the same, for thousands of years, are our hands.  It's thrilling to know that I am making the same movements and using the same gestures to form my work that people have done for millennia. ”
— Nicolette Johnson

Moulding and moving clay into a desired shape, attaching handles to bodies of pots, smoothing a rough edge with water and a sponge, marking your work with a signature.  These are things that I know have been done before me and will be done after me, and it’s a nice thought.   

'Granite Hourglass Vase' – Nicolette uses just two glazes with four combinations (black, white, white over black, and black over white) combined with different clays resulting in a huge variety of surface finishes.

What do you love about your ceramics practice and the techniques you employ?

If I’m honest, I really enjoy the pace at which I’ve allowed myself to move.  I don’t make a hundred vases a day, some days I will barely manage to make one.  I try not to rush, and I think that results in something of quality.  If it takes me half an hour to perfect a handle so that it’s symmetrical, then that’s how long it takes.  Of course, clay sometimes has a mind of its own when it’s drying or being fired in the kiln, and all the hard work put into making something straight or symmetrical can be undone when the clay decides that it’s tired and bends over a bit.  This used to bother me because I am a perfectionist, but more and more I feel that I should bend with the nature of the clay.  Also, I’m not a computer so sometimes things aren’t exactly straight or symmetrical anyways!

At Nicolette's studio inspiration from the natural world is never far away.

Who or what inspires you?

Most of the time my new work is inspired by the last thing I made.  I dislike making the same thing twice, so this is a way that my work can naturally evolve and change over time.  At the moment I am finding inspiration in natural forms, like flower petals, insects, and seed pods.

 

Work in progress at Nicolette's studio.

Related content

Related products

  • Join our newsletter

    Weekly updates, offers and exhibition details.