My interest in pottery goes back to my high school years. Despite it being a small town, we had pottery facilities and a talented and enthusiastic art teacher who encouraged experimentation, including adding wood ash to glaze! I had thought to revive my interest in pottery for years, but a demanding career and family took priority. Over the years my husband and I acquired a small collection of pottery, including pieces from local potters such as Wayne Ngan and others from trips to Japan and Italy. I love looking at and handling these pieces and remembering when we acquired them.

I must give credit to my daughter in law, Nancy, for getting me back into the pottery studio. We both took classes at a local community centre for a few years, then became members of the Aberthau Pottery Club in Vancouver. It has been a wonderful place for meeting and learning from other potters and also provided a venue to sell pieces until the pandemic shut it down. (The community studio recently reopened). The shutdown resulted in my developing a studio at home and buying a kiln that I share with Nancy. Having our own kiln has provided opportunities to try new techniques that are not possible in a community facility.

I enjoy many aspects of making pottery, though decorating is my favourite, using coloured slips, underglazes and glazes to achieve different effects. My pieces are frequently inspired by Japanese art and pottery. I have based decorations of some of my pieces on pen and ink drawings by my husband’s grandfather, an artist who was an early immigrant from Japan to Canada. Recently I’ve been making pieces using another Japanese technique, nerikomi or layering, that involves hand building with pieces of coloured clay. I was lucky to take a class with Dorothy Feibleman, one of the acknowledged experts in the field. I love creating these pieces despite the difficulties inherent in the technique: the pieces tend to warp and some crack during the drying or firing stages.

Selling pottery is challenging as many of us are inspired to create art, not necessarily to sell commercially, and we are competing with the many talented potters also selling their wares.  Selling pieces that are time-consuming to make, such as the nerikomi pieces, is particularly tough as the price points are above many peoples’ budgets. That being said, I would encourage beginning potters to find their niche: do the type of work that brings a sense of achievement and satisfaction. The other piece of advice is to experiment with different clays and different techniques. There is literally an infinite number of both options and opportunities to improve and grow.

January 23, 2022 — Rhiane Heslop