Juliet Ball - A Passion For Pottery

Craft Editions visited Juliet Ball at her studio, just outside Galway, in the summer of 2016. Watching Juliet work is mesmerising, as she makes throwing bowls and pots look easy. However, despite the abundance of skill and talent on show, she doesn’t consider herself to be an artist. “Well, I am, in the wider sense that a musician’s an artist or a writer’s an artist,” she says. “But I’m not a fine artist. I’m not a ceramic artist.”

Instead, Juliet, born and raised in the Midlands, England, focuses on functionality in her pots. She firmly describes herself as a studio potter and talks about her love of throwing and how a pot has “got to feel good”. Emphasis is placed on her creations being balanced and light and the shape is of great importance. “There’s nothing conceptual in my work,” she admits, which is a fresh and welcome reminder that not all art and craft needs to have layers of meaning.   

Juliet Ball’s creative career was inspired from an early age after watching an art teacher at her mum’s school throw a bowl. “I remember thinking that’s amazing”, she says. But it wasn’t until her late 20s that Juliet really got into pottery herself. She enrolled on a pottery evening class and then, while living in France in 1990, trained in ceramics at the CNIFOP (Centre National d’Initiation, de Formation et de Perfectionnement de la Poterie et du Gres) in Puisaye. Pottery making is a renowned tradition in this region of France and before the First World War it was a major producer of stoneware.

Juliet stayed in France for ten years, going on to work at the Poterie du Carbassou in the South of France, before taking the plunge and setting up her own workshop in the Pyrenees Orientales. In 2003, she moved to Ireland, her husband’s homeland and established her current studio, Cloonmore Pottery, near Moycullen, Co. Galway.

Today, Juliet specialises in porcelain goods and stoneware, describing the latter as her “bread and butter”. When talking about the tricky task of throwing porcelain, with its temperamental technique, she likens it to “doing pottery with kid gloves on”. Juliet describes how, when she’s been working with porcelain for a couple of weeks, she loves getting back to stoneware, which in comparison is much sturdier.

The majority of Juliet’s stoneware pieces are created using wood ash for the glazes - sourced from the wood-burner in her home, which is next to her studio. This traditional technique isn’t widely used among potters because it requires a lot of work. “It has to be washed and dried”, she says, but this additional layer of technique adds something different to Juliet’s work. Using wood ash, which has metal salts and a high concentration of silica, makes her pieces stronger with a more stable, whitish glaze.

When it comes to the actual process of making pots, Juliet revels in experimentation. She often plays around with smoke-fired work for different finishes, but she also has a fairly strict system for making sure each piece turns out with the shape, balance and functionality she originally envisioned. Each pot is fired in the gas kiln next to her studio at 1300 degrees; the smoke-fired pieces are fired three times, while the other pieces are fired twice. For inspiration, Juliet draws on her love of Japanese ceramics, Chinese and Korean porcelain and American and Portuguese black-fired ware amongst many other things, all of which add a special ingredient or two to her pieces.

Since establishing her studio, Juliet’s pottery has travelled far and wide. She regularly makes commissions including for restaurants such as Currarevagh House in Galway, for which she created stoneware dinner plates and porcelain tea sets. She also sells to visitors to her studio, which was built by her husband, and at markets, such as the Galway Potters’ Market, which she established with fellow potter Stephen Price.

For Juliet, her pottery might simply be functional but, for everyone else, her expertly fired porcelain and stoneware pottery are beautiful objects imbued with years of dedication, inspiration and talent.

Find out more about Juliet Ball here.

All images by Craft Editions.