In The Studio with Randy Johnston and Jan McKeachie-Johnston

In this installment of the Ceramic Arts Daily Video Series, Randy Johnston and Jan McKeachie Johnston invite viewers into their studio for a look into their working processes. Soul mates as well as studio mates, Randy and Jan’s pottery shares ...(Scroll for more.)

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Runtime: 4 hours

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…the common influence of the Leach/Hamada traditions, but they each bring their own perspectives and techniques to the making process.

Once an apprentice to Japanese pottery master Shimaoka Tatsuzo, Randy uses traditional Japanese tools and methods, and combines them with his own innovations and ideas about form. Jan incorporates a strong sense of form along with rich surface pattern and texture to her work. From Randy’s simple thrown yunomis and slab-built forms made from inventive molds, to Jan’s thrown, altered, and assembled baskets and slip-decorated dishes, this video is packed not only with inspiring techniques and tips, but also the stories from their rich lives in clay.

Part 1: Jan McKeachie-Johnston

The pocket slab roller

Jan begins with an overview of what she and Randy lovingly refer to as the “Pocket Slab Roller.” This ingenious, efficient, and ultra low-tech method of making slabs for handbuilding was discovered by Randy while apprenticing in Japan. Jan explains how this process was ideal when her two boys were young because of the efficiency with which she could make work. Later Randy expands on Jan’s demonstration, explaining more of the benefits of cutting slabs in this way as opposed to rolling them.

Hump molds and slip decoration

Inspired by low-fire pottery from medieval England, Jan shares her process for creating hump-molded dishes next. It is delightful to watch her uninhibited movements as she first decorates the slabs with slip-trailed decoration. Then she drapes the slabs over custom molds she has made mostly from plaster (and shares a brilliant tip for creating elevated molds!). After the forms stiffen up on the molds, Jan’s favorite part comes when the designs are revealed again as the forms are de-molded. The transformation of the design from 2D to 3D is pretty magical!

Folded vase

After seeing a pot by Bob Baker that was inspired by Native American Birch bark baskets, Jan began exploring Native American baskets herself. Her folded vase form is her translation of the Birch bark basket into clay and is made using a paper template she came up with through trial and error. She shares all her secrets to creating this folded form including how to bevel the cuts for healthy joints.

Baskets – short and tall

A video featuring Jan McKeachie Johnston would be incomplete without her basket forms. Inspired by both Native American and Japanese basketry, Jan demonstrates both thrown and handbuilt baskets. From forming and texturing to forming extra long handles, Jan explains each step along the way, as well as how she works intuitively and responds to each form differently.

 Part 2: Randy Johnston

Creating patterns and developing forms

Much of Randy’s work begins with sketches and patterns, which is also how he begins his presentation here. Randy explains how dissecting ordinary objects such as a Starbucks coffee sleeve or a Melita coffee filter can help inspire new forms and shapes for handbuilding. Then by making durable templates out of heavy-rag-content drawing paper, the forms can be repeated again and again.

Boat form from template

A fan of sailing, the first form Randy demonstrates is inspired by the sail on a sailboat. The pattern is cut from a paper template that resembles a pair of pants and then the “legs” are folded over one another, which results in a lovely curve. The size of the dart between the “legs” can then be adjusted to create different pitches of the curve. Randy also explains how he uses a fiberglass roofing material that is flexible enough to bend into shape, but still rigid enough to support the clay while it stiffens up.

Drape mold with complex curves

Most drape or slump molds create pieces with curved bottoms and flat rims, but Randy wanted to make a form that had a curved bottom and a curved rim. So using plywood and Masonite, he created a curved drape mold. If you have basic wood-working skills (or know someone with these skills who will make one for you!), the sky’s the limit with this type of mold. Your creative juices will start flowing after watching Randy create one of his “spoon” forms with this mold.

Traditional tools

Randy moves onto his Leach-style kick wheel to create some traditional yunomi forms, and his Japanese-style wheel to make a squared off platter. Randy explains that he prefers these low-momentum wheels because they retain much more evidence of the human hand than an electric wheel. The results are pots with a beautiful gestural quality. Throughout the demonstrations, he shares amusing and fascinating recollections of his apprenticeship with Shimaoka Tatsuzo.

Subtle textures

Randy’s surfaces have beautifully subtle textures created by rope impressions. A traditional Japanese technique, Randy uses ropes that were used to tie kimonos that he got while in Japan, but any rope will work. He then brushes on a white slip, then scrapes the cup leaving the slip only in the crevices. This texture is enhanced by the wood firing, but could also be gorgeous under any breaking glaze.

Bonus Features:

Randy and Jan share recipes and information about firing their kilns, plus they take you on a tour of their beautiful studio and property.

Artist bios:

Jan McKeachie Johnston earned her BFA at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls and went on to study at the University of Minnesota and Southern Illinois University. Since 1979, she has been very active in teaching workshops and working in her Wisconsin studio. Her work has been exhibited widely throughout the United States, and she is represented in many private and public collections, including the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia; the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota; and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Randy Johnston is a professor at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls, and has been making work in his Wisconsin studio for more than thirty five years. He earned his BFA in Studio Arts from the University of Minnesota, where he studied with Warren MacKenzie, and his MFA from Southern Illinois University. He also studied in Japan at the pottery of Shimaoka Tatsuzo who was a student of Hamada Shoji. He is the recipient of numerous awards including two Visual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.


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