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Julia Michael/Slow Grit Studio

Julia mostly works in clay at the studios and has a small fiber arts studio in their home where they weave on a loom, knit, and naturally dye fiber. They have been with RWS since January 2021. Julia is our studio technician. Making art gives Julia control over what they're doing and acts like a form of meditation. They want every piece they make to feel grounding for the recipient as well. They also want to learn how to do everything so that they can be self-sufficient and live sustainably. “I think it’s awesome when someone is driven by a want to make something for themselves.” Julia creates using three different techniques. Functional pieces are made on the wheel, while their more sculptural work is built in two different ways. The big sculptures are made through coil building. Julia also throws hollow-domed enclosed forms and then manipulates them into more organic looking shapes off the wheel. The natural world is a great source of inspiration for Julia and that means bringing in a lot of natural elements through surface design and by building these organic shapes. The natural elements are a source of sensory inspiration, such as feelings or sounds that nature evokes, and manifest as sensory experiences in the work as form and texture. “I think a smooth rock in nature is one of the most pleasant feelings, and at the same time a piece of bark that is very abrasive is really interesting to me.” The musty, earthy smell of the clay makes them feel like they are in nature. Julia chooses clay for its visual attributes and the way it feels in their hands. They have experimented with a lot of different clays and currently use two. One of the clays is very striking, and “ definitely the most fragrant!” This is a red clay that fires a deep brown/black and has a lot of organic texture. “That one’s quite groggy; it’s really gritty”, and it stains their hands red for days whenever they throw with it. Julia uses this red clay for things like planters and sculptures–things that don’t need to be sanded super smooth–though they have made pipes and cups with it so that the pieces could be visually different. The other clay Julia works with has a smooth, off-white finish that's speckled with black. “The clay dictates what I make with it a lot of times. More functional kitchenware is usually going to be the lighter body clay that is super easy to smooth out." They sand each piece to achieve a softness and butteriness to create an added element of being fired but not finished. This is a huge time commitment that is hard on Julia’s hands. Much of their work is unglazed, which is a deliberate choice to focus on the clay body. Julia will use clear glaze, sparingly, when a piece calls for it. This would include on the inside of a cup or piece that will frequently come in contact with your hands or mouth, but some pieces are not meant for kitchen use. “The sculptural work that I do, I don’t use glaze because it gets in the way of the making because I have to consider what glaze I’m going to use and where it’s going to go.” Leaving the clay unglazed is actually more labor intensive because Julia refinishes the texture by hand. Clay is an organic material and Julia is able to highlight its natural beauty by finishing it this way. “A lot of people will come up and say, ‘I love this glaze.’ It’s confusing because most people interact with ceramics in their kitchen, which are going to be glazed because it makes them easier to clean.” The unglazed pieces are dishwasher safe, though Julia recommends washing them by hand right away to extend their lifespan.

The unglazed, fired clay will absorb what’s on it and all of the pieces are otherwise pretty resilient. Julia appreciates the natural changes of a piece that result from everyday use over time. One time they used one of the pieces as a weight in a natural dye bath–in a moment of convenience–and it turned the lightest shade of pink. Julia is drawn to the earth tones of using natural dye, and most of their work is in that palette range, so the circumstance worked out. This crossover in their craft making may be something they explore in the future. Julia will be at the Queer Makers’ Market at Congress Square on May 15th and will be teaching a natural dye workshop at Dandelion Spring Farm in September. Drop Julia a DM on instagram @slowgritstudio or email to get in touch.

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