Musings on Clay with Jodie Fried
When life is a whirlwind, having a gentle ritual to look forward to offers a sense of refuge. For Armadillo co-founder Jodie Fried, that meditative moment happens on the pottery wheel. Born out of a lifelong love for artisanal craft and the beauty of the handmade, Jodie’s ceramics vocation has evolved over the years through careful study and inquisitive practice. Below, she takes us behind the veil of her other creative pursuit.
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What drew you into the world of ceramics?
I have always had a passion for travelling and over the years would encounter all sorts of handmade ceramics and treasures from around the world, whether it be traditional pieces or beautiful tableware in restaurants or pottery in art galleries. Collecting pieces became a bit of an obsession, long before I even contemplated making them myself.
I’ve always been a tactile person – I studied sculpture then went on to make costumes and production design for theatre and film, all very hands on. As we came out of the pandemic, I started dabbling in ceramics as a form of meditation. When you’re working with clay, you really need to be in the moment and 100% focused. I savor having that time to myself, where I am completely disconnected from the outside world and technology.
As a creative, you spend so many years perfecting your craft and your skill. To then start something new and not be very good at it was extremely humbling. The practice of pottery gives my life a sense of balance and being centered.
"As a creative, you spend so many years perfecting your craft. To start something new was extremely humbling."
Are there any themes you explore in your craft?
Honestly, I have spent the first four years just learning. I have experimented with different types of clay, shapes, wheels, glazes, kilns and firings…along with reading about the history of ceramics and studying potters and their work. There are so many processes and it felt important to dedicate myself to learn each one individually before putting it all together.
What really interests me is vessels – I’m fascinated by the way they were used going back thousands of years, to carry water and store food, and often used in rituals, across different cultures from Ancient Egypt to the Celts to Korea and Africa and more. There are so many beautiful references of pottery in history. Earlier this year, I visited the Louvre in Paris and whittled away hours in the Ancient Pottery wing, providing an abundance of inspiration!
This past year has really been a process of refinement, not only mastering an aesthetically pleasing shape but achieving different scales and ensuring each piece functions well.
Which ceramicists or artists inspire you?
Right now, my main muse is a potter from the 1950s named Lucy Rie. Originally from Austria, she emigrated to Great Britain during the war and became one of the first prominent female potters. Her work is extremely modern for what she was doing at the time – beautiful shapes and proportions, experimental glazes and finishes.
In terms of contemporary references, I really admire the work of British artist named Maria De Haan whose vessels are wonderful. She is a master of pit-firing, again an ancient technique of firing in the ground resulting in a beautiful and organic smoky texture. I was lucky enough to learn from her during a workshop in Mallorca earlier this year.
I look up to Eloi Mora Bonadona, a Catalonian craftsman whose family has worked with ceramics going back for generations. His vessels are all about scale – they are so big they require physical exertion to bring to life.
I also stumbled across Moon Do Bang’s moon jars and think he is so incredibly skilled. I love how he has taken traditional Korean porcelain and refined it for modern times; each piece is impeccable. Yoona Hur is another wonderful artist who is based in New York and draws on her Korean heritage.
Is your creative process with clay similar to how you would approach the design of a rug?
Ceramics is similar to rug-making in that there are so many incarnations of what you can do with the simplest materials and one surface. With a rug, there’s an array of processes that inform how the end-product turns out – fiber, dye, weave, size, texture and pattern. Likewise with ceramics, each decision has a flow-on effect. You can hand-build or throw on a wheel; you can choose to keep a piece unglazed or glaze, or layer glazes; you can leave it unadorned or make a pattern. The possibilities are endless.
When it comes to glazes, are your choices instinctual or are you quite purposeful in your color mixing?
There’s an element of alchemy with glazes that makes it hard to plan. The particles in the glaze respond differently depending on how thick the glaze is, whether you layer glazes, the order of application, how hot the kiln is, which area of the kiln you place the item in, what it sits next to. I’ve been lucky to learn from several studios, and through my own trial and error and testing on small pieces.
A few months ago, I did a residency in Ubud, Bali with Gaya Ceramic and had the opportunity to play around with their glazes for my latest group of work. Each time you open the kiln door, it’s a surprise. For one set of vessels, I was able to achieve the desired rich charcoal hue with throws of pink. But with another, I had intended them to be bone white and they turned out a delightful green! Sometimes it’s a shock, sometimes it’s a happy accident, but each time you learn something.
"Ceramics is similar to rug-making in that there are so many incarnations of what you can do."
Like our rugs, ceramics is very much driven by the materials and the techniques. What have you been experimenting with lately?
Ceramics is partly muscle memory, with repetition being what helps the technique stick in your brain and your hands. While I was in Ubud, I practiced creating vessels over and over in different sizes. I tried different clays – some with stoneware, others with gritty sand for a slightly rough texture. But mostly I was excited to have access to their glazes. They only had 24 colors, but mixing and matching them all resulted in a vast palette. After experimenting, I settled on deep, earthy, almost geological tones for the work which is now on display in our Sydney showroom.
Is there a particular piece you’ve made that holds sentimental value to you?
I feel like each time you make something with your hands, that object develops meaning but there’s no one piece that has special sentimentality to me. As you grow your skill, you look back at different pieces and remember all the layers of joy in their making. You see each shape at different stages – how beautiful it was unglazed, how it transformed in the kiln. Sometimes it takes on a story because it conjures a place or a moment in time. I love some of the pieces I made in Mallorca because I was feeling so inspired and learning so much. Even though it wasn’t easy, I like recalling the challenges and the journey. At the same time, I don’t feel particularly attached to any of my work and am so happy to pass on a piece I love to someone else who will love it too – at the end of the day, that’s what has the greatest value.
"Each time you make something with your hands, that object develops meaning."
Why is craftsmanship in general so important to you?
I think something happens in your brain when you hold something handmade. Even if you aren’t consciously thinking about its provenance, you can feel the difference between an item that was made in a factory, or even in a mould, versus crafted by a person’s hands. One of the best bits of advice I received was that when putting a handle on a mug to lightly squeeze your hand as if you’re about to pick it up. That slight imprint won’t ever be visible but the small movement in the clay will fit a person’s hand more naturally.
That care and thoughtfulness imparts a depth of experience to handmade objects which is impossible to replicate with mass manufacturing. I think it’s important for humans to keep making and for craftsmanship to stay alive – whether it’s through rugs or ceramics or furniture or building houses. That rudimentary element is what keeps us in touch with our surroundings and brings us everyday joy.
What makes a space suitable for a daily ritual?
I like spaces that are visually and environmentally quiet, with natural light, fresh air and a sense of order. Whether you are working in a studio or a kitchen or living room, everything should have a place. I also think it’s important to have living, moving elements – a bowl of fruit, an arrangement of flowers, incense in the bedroom, a plant by the windowsill that casts shadows on a wall. Whatever objects you curate, they should be useful or meaningful and not add unnecessary ‘noise’ to your daily practice. And as we’ve discussed, incorporating a bit of the handmade, like the cup you pour your tea into, adds that little something to set you up for a good day.
What other rituals do you practice to stay grounded?
I love getting up and flinging open the windows to let the light in. When the morning hustle of children and breakfast is over, I take a moment for myself by lighting my favorite incense and making a cup of tea. I went to Paris with a girlfriend recently and we spent time at a memorable Japanese teahouse in the Marais called Ogata. They had an incense room, where I chose one that resonated with me. The scent is beautiful and takes me back to the experience of the tea ceremony we had with a Japanese tea master who had trained for 10 years. They had the most incredible handmade ceramic cups, plates and spoons – everything had intention, which is what I’m drawn to.
My week is a balancing act of family, work, mindfulness and my ceramics. My favorite part of the week is my studio time, when I can let everything else go and focus on my craft. Some days it comes easily; some days it doesn’t and you have to be okay with this – after all, clay is just an object. It’s a good process for learning to let go.
"At the end of the day, clay is just an object. It’s a good process for learning to let go."