Just the Facts
Tucker’s Porcelain, MCS clay for functional work and white sculpture clay for raku-fired pottery
Primary forming method
Primary firing temperature
Favorite surface treatment
painting with brushes
the Giffin Grip
Zen ambiance with Japanese music
It all started in Charlevoix, a region of Québec, Canada, nestled between the majestic St. Lawrence River and a silhouette of rolling mountains. Charlevoix has breathtaking scenery and an accessible beach (though the water is close to freezing point), not to mention a luminescence and silence conducive to artistic creation, including music, painting, forge welding, sculpture, and hand-blown glass. It is a truly awe-inspiring reality—a world between a river and mountains that offers all there is to stimulate creativity and gratification.
In operation for more than 25 years, the Ateliers Charlevoix overlooks the picturesque village of Saint-Irénée, on the road between Baie-Saint-Paul and La Malbaie, and offers visitors an exclusive array of wares. Thematic boutiques exhibit raku, utilitarian pottery, and contemporary urban art. A gallery space presents painter Marc DeBlois’ recent artistic production.
An old barn at Ateliers Charlevoix shelters my 240-square-foot studio, which is comprised of two separate spaces: one for my wheel, slab roller, and thankfully ample storage space—whereas the other is dedicated to my firings. Two kilns operate in rotation: a ConeArt BX-4227-10 that I use for glazing and a BX-2827D for my bisque firings. Overlooking my work space at the wheel is a large window through which visitors can see me work, immersed in the rolling hills of Charlevoix’s countryside above the St. Lawrence River, which licks the shores of the village of Saint-Irénée, nestled below.
I let the studio work flow, which stems first and foremost from a creative impulse, guided by movement, deeply rooted in concentration. I combine the tranquil energy of this unadorned work space flooded in natural light with my creative impulses to embody the piece, much like an organic unfolding mechanism, intuition bringing matter to life in a natural flux.
Every day at the studio, my solitary work is interspersed by friendly and enriching encounters. Visitors have access to the workshop situated behind the gallery shop and can therefore see me make a piece from the wheel throwing through to the decorating or even glazing stages. This has its advantages as visitors get to witness the process in its entirety before the piece finds its way onto the boutique’s shelves.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I felt an urge to create from a very young age. As a little boy, I would imitate a painter seated in front of his easel in contemplation. With time, it became obvious that I was meant to express myself artistically and destiny led me to a summer job as an apprentice in a pottery workshop located in my village. The workshop was operated by two artists who gradually shared their knowledge with me: Marc DeBlois, a graduate in design who was a painter and bas-relief sculptor, and Joan Côté DeBlois, who had already acquired 20 years of experience as a potter (and with a degree from the Ontario College of Arts).
My apprenticeship, interestingly, started backward. Usually, making pottery starts with the forming process at the wheel, working the piece step by step up to the final touches. In my case, however, I began by cleaning up the ware before firing, then firing and cooling, and progressed to glazing. Since it became obvious that I was keen on learning more, Côté DeBlois taught me the initial phase, that is, the art of wheel throwing—revealing to me the purity of lines, the foundations of aesthetics, how to design a piece based on its use, as well as the fundamentals of pottery making. The firing process and its effects, the smoking smells and reflections of metal oxides as they succumb to the effect of heat or oxygen, all of it fascinated me. This was inevitably accompanied by singed eyelashes, burned lower pant legs, and scent-laden hair reminiscent of smoked ham. My apprenticeship was arduous, for I had to meet the standards of quality upheld by my mentors. It was a stalwart grounding, but ever so beneficial.
Today, I work at the wheel from 8am to 3pm during the week. I reserve weekends for decorating and preparing the firings for the week to come. I work 7 days per week from May 1st through to October 31st. The coming of winter allows me to rekindle creativity and renew the collection of forms that I make. Throwing transforms itself in a fervor, whereby I fine tune my technique during the long, cold months, sheltered and warmed by the heat of the wood stove or the kiln.
My past background as a graphic artist has led me to be on constant lookout, and this serves me well in developing new products and identifying new trends. Having worked in this business for the past 20 years, I am well placed to face the challenges of an ever-changing retail market. Online sales and the presence of social media are an inevitable reality. If boutiques do not wish to be mere window displays, they have to have their finger on the pulse in regard to shopping trends. Charlevoix’s beauty is in itself a muse, but my clients’ suggestions also spur new ideas for items. I love to cook, therefore I’m always on the lookout for new trends; poke bowls are a good example—they were definitely not in vogue 5 years ago as they are today. Poke bowls have therefore started adorning my shop.
About 85% of my studio income comes from boutique sales, whereas the other 15% is derived from online sales and occasional Christmas markets. My recent collaborations with restaurant owners have led me to create signature dinnerware to nurture their culinary creativity. Engaging in tailor-made approaches like these collaborations can take artists out of their comfort zone, but it inevitably creates bonds within the community. Nowadays, low-rimmed or flat dinner plates have gained favor. I also create serving dishes and soup bowls, as well as starter and bread plates.
Most Important Lesson
When I need to relax, I cook and invite friends over. Cooking also allows me to come up with ideas for new kitchen wares. I challenge myself to find that one object that I can’t do without. With a bit of brainstorming and innovation, I always find two or three new objects to adorn our kitchen collection. When I’m not out strolling the beach or snowshoeing on our outback trails in winter, I renew my inner self by taking in the harmoniously formed landscape and its unparalleled colors, characteristic of Charlevoix, which harbors an inspiring art community.
I am keen on making myself available for participating in my local community and supporting the organizations that thrive in a tightly-knit hamlet. Whether it be to propose a piece for various fundraisers or host an open-house studio demonstration, every action can promote and foster mutual collaboration.
The combination of solace and solitude forged my character as someone who is hardworking. I am not one to base my life, daily schedule, or creative decisions on sudden spurts of inspiration followed by lulls waiting for things to happen. I rather think that it is through painstaking work that one can develop their potential, that invention leads to striking pieces, and finally that determination begets our best results. That approach is how I was taught, and it is a reliable method for me. Passion is a necessity but it has to be sustained by effort, trial and error, and ingenious ideas combined with creativity, spontaneity, as well as a touch of eccentricity.
Raku pottery best defines my philosophy, as it involves mindfulness—bringing attention to what I am creating—and time, which is a rare commodity these days. The creative process involved in raku differs from that of utilitarian pottery. In contrast, this low-firing technique is based on the research of harmony between the four classical elements (earth, water, fire, and air), the artisan, and their creativity. These exclusive pieces are conceived to be beautiful, shaped with simple and natural lines, akin to the teachings of Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes rigor, sobriety, and inner space. Above all, raku requires a free spirit and creative impulses (an onslaught of swift and incessant ideas). A craft of the heart, it is first and foremost an intuitive form of art, a question of feeling. These values steer me to work, not for a living, but rather toward a state of happiness—pausing, forgetting about oneself and entering a different state of mind, reflecting, and putting two and two together. With preparation and presence of mind, all of it is right there at our fingertips!