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November 14, 2013
I had the pleasure of meeting with Nicole Aquillano inside her studio in Boston, MA. We all admire her pieces at Crimson Laurel Gallery on a daily basis and it was such a privilege to chat with her in person & be walked through her process.
For those familiar with Nicole's work, you know the beautiful architectural drawings inlayed on the surfaces of her porcelain forms. But before she even gets to draw on her work, she goes through many steps to achieve her ideal form.

After sketching and designing her shapes, she turns plaster positives on the wheel & carves her form in the plaster with giant trim tools. She only has a 5-10 minute window before the plaster sets and can no longer manipulate it effectively. Once she has created her design in plaster, she creates molds that can be reused to create multiple forms.

From there she pours slip in to her newly created molds derived from her plaster positive. Everything then gets wrapped up so it stays wet enough for the ready drawing phase.

Click here for more specific step by step photos of her process.

How do you come up with the forms you want to create?

"I am always really proud of my forms because I'm not taking an already existing form & making a mold from someone else's design. Instead, I actually think about what I want the form to be like. I'll go through my collection and pick out my favorite cup and think 'what is it that I love about this cup? Is it the height, the diameter, the shape or the way the handle fits?' From there I start sketching shapes that incorporate what I think makes a successful form. So before I make anything, I'm putting a lot of thought into the form and do quite a bit of sketching."

Click here to read Nicole's Artist statement.

Tell me about the drawings on your forms?

"It will take me about a week to draw on everything and I use a dolan knife ( similar to an X-acto blade) to scratch in the image. I do the whole drawing by hand, sometimes using photographs for reference, unless it's something like my childhood home which I've now memorized how to draw. I then inlay underglaze, let it dry & wipe it away so it stays down embedded in the clay. I'll fire it once, bring it out, and then apply the glaze over top which draws the underglaze out from the inlayed drawing, giving it that runny effect with kind of like a bluish tint..."

I love your runny effect.

"Thank you, it took me a long time to figure it out."

Did you know this was the effect you were looking for or did you stumble upon it?

"Well, it was kind of an accident actually. I was going through grad school, and I was trying to explain the feeling that I wanted to convey, this longing for home...and I felt like everything I tried was a little bit short of that. I had a cone 6 glaze which I had on some work and I didn't like the way it turned out, so I threw it in the kiln and fired it to cone 10. When it came out, I realized it was exactly what I have been wanting to say."

Do you ever miss throwing each piece on the wheel?

"I still throw every once in a while. If a show wants me to make a certain thing, I'll throw it...but I cast pretty much everything now. I used to throw everything and I loved it, but it was really physically straining. My wrists hurt all the time and my back was frequently hurting. I thought to myself...I'm only 30 some years old, how am I gonna make it? Also, casting is better for the consistency thing too...it's nice to be able to create the same form over and over, especially when you start to get into wholesaling and people want 20 of the same form."

Let's backup a little...I noticed you were on a different path before your ceramic career...an Engineer, Carnegie Mellon...

"Yes, I actually moved here (MA) for my job as an engineer. Then, you know how things happen in your life where you realize life is too short? I thought, I need to do what I really want to do. So I ran a marathon, which was always on my list and I was thought, 'you know what...I need to love what I do for work and I've always really loved making stuff out of clay.' It maybe seemed ridiculous and my parents were like, 'what is wrong with you?' but I went for it. I just took continuing education classes over and over again at MASS Art and MFA & built up my portfolio. It took me 6 years but I finally had enough to apply to grad school, I got into RISD, graduated a year ago, and finally quit my part time EPA job about 4 months ago."

I am so inspired!! It's wonderful you are doing what you love. That being said, do you ever have days where you have to drag yourself to the studio?

"Well, I work all the time. My husband and I have our one break where we make dinner together every night, and I come back downstairs and work till midnight and I wake back up at 7...

But honestly, it's never feels like work. I love everything about it. Sometimes I just get physically tired... like a day of doing mold stuff can wear me out. I mixed clay yesterday and this morning I woke up and was like,..'uhhh...I hate mixing clay!' but only because it can be physically draining There is also a lot of business behind it, which you never really know until you have to do it.

But it's honestly nice to have a break from the physical part of it to do that…

Well, we love what you are creating and wish you luck in your career. Keep up the great work!

Check out Nicole's website here.
Click here for another interview with Nicole.

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