Judy Blake was born in Toronto, Ontario and moved to New Brunswick in 1966, where she now has her ceramics studio. She has been working with clay since the mid 1970’s when she attended the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. From 1998 to 2012 she taught Ceramics at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design.
Judy experiments extensively with unglazed surface treatments using alternative firing techniques such as sawdust-firing, naked raku and saggar-firing. She is one of a small number of Canadians and the only ceramic artist in the Maritimes using these techniques.
“Years ago as a young artist, I saw my first burnished pottery of the Southwest Native Americans and Northern Mexico. I was completely captivated by the sensual beauty and surface qualities of the unglazed pieces and the unpredictable firing processes used to create these timeless vessels. Since that time, I have endeavoured to emulate these fascinating surfaces.”
Saggar Fired Pottery
Saggar firing is a type of smoke-firing in which each pot is enclosed and fired in a lidded container.
After throwing a pot, it is painstakingly burnished (smoothed) with a stone giving the surface a beautiful, silky glow that seems to come from within. The piece is allowed to dry completely, then several layers of a fine liquid clay called Terra Sigillata are applied and it is polished again after each coat. It is then fired to approx. 1000 degrees Centigrade and is ready to be saggar-fired.
The piece is then placed in a saggar (a two piece, thick-walled clay container) which has been individually thrown to fit the pot, along with some combustible materials such as sawdust, straw, seaweed, copper etc. The pots, nested in their saggars, are placed in a kiln and fired a second time. Many pieces are fired several times to achieve a desired surface effect, leaving the pots richly marked with visual texture, pattern, and a myriad of colours.
To protect the surface of the pots, they are given a light coating of wax and may be wiped with a damp cloth when necessary. These pieces are not designed to hold water.
Smoke Fired Pottery
The smoke fired process is similar to the saggar firing process except that it is placed in a metal or brick container, nested in a variety of kinds and textures of sawdusts and allowed to slowly smolder for several hours. The polished, unglazed surfaces become richly marked by the pattern of smoke and flame, imparting a soft earthiness and sensuality to the pieces. Many have been imprinted with a delicate leaf or fern ‘shadow’, using a special carbonization technique. No two are the same — each piece is a surprise when taken from the kiln.
Naked Raku Pottery
Naked Raku is a variation derived from Western Raku firing techniques but differs in that these smoked pieces are unglazed. Following the initial firing, the piece is coated with a thick layer of slip, dried, then a crackle glaze layer is added. The slip acts as a barrier or “resist” layer which prevents the melted glaze from adhering to the piece so that the slip and glaze will separate from the clay surface after firing.
The piece is fired in a small propane kiln to 850 degrees Centigrade, removed from the kiln, “red-hot” and placed in a metal container with combustibles such as straw, sawdust or newspaper. The fracturing action of the slip and glaze layers, when penetrated by the smoke, leaves both striking and subtle patterns of dark, smoked lines on the white clay surface. Often, the pieces are fired several times to achieve a desired effect.
Judy also makes ceramic birds. Each bird is one-of-a-kind. The body of the bird is thrown on the wheel, trimmed and a hand built head and tail are added. When the eyes and beak are in place, the bird seems to ‘come to life’, giving each one a ‘personality’. Finally, the birds are meticulously burnished (polished) and fired in a number of ways – smoke-fired, saggar-fired or naked raku fired.
Her smoke-fired vessels have been exhibited in galleries and exhibitions across Canada, the United States and Korea and are included in many private collections internationally.
Judy has recently published book, titled “Judy Blake“, which is written by Jonathon Bancroft-Snell. The book describes the evolution of her ceramic birds as well as her trajectory from functional potter to ceramic artist to sculptor.
You can see more of Judy Blakes work on her website