Y'all! Here is another an interview from my astrology interview series HOW TO BE YOUR OWN NATURE, every month featuring a person whose sun sign corresponds with what's in the sky currently, aka it's their birthday month. I've known Julie in many capacities for many years, working on art projects together, and as a friend. I've always been in awe at her ability to focus (Scorpio), to set gentle and realistic goals for herself (Leo), to build her work over time, and to be so incredibly organized and detailed (Virgo).
Julie Cloutier is an artist living and working in rural California. Her ceramic work focuses on handheld sculptures, functional wares and everyday objects. She investigates domestic rituals through play and draws upon her architectural background to inform her minimalist lines.
1. Leos can be known for having a strong creative desire. Do you identify with this urge to create? Has there ever been a time in your life when you didn't make art of some kind? If so, did anything replace that creative urge, or was it just not met?
Completely! I need to make! Allowing myself time to explore, fail and play is my medicine and I’ve only recently come to realize that creativity is my self-care. Without it, I get easily run down by the day-to-day stuff. It feels like a luxury, but I’ve been setting aside one day a week for painting and it feels so freeing and honest.
There was a time when I stopped making art for a couple of years. I didn’t think my work was good enough and was dabbling in too many mediums, nothing felt right. I was very sad about it, so I just stopped making time for art hoping I would get over it. After being out of grad school for a few years and not creating anything for a long time, I burned out at work. At the time, I was an architectural designer working on the computer every day. The lack of creativity in my life was starting to build-up and the void grew. That’s when I signed up for my first ceramics class, I just needed to use my hands and playing with clay attracted me for that reason alone.
Now that working with clay is my full-time job, I create things for a living but it’s not always creative, so I need additional time to experiment. I like repetition and the process of it all, but it can be mundane and hard on my body. That’s where hobbies and side projects have become incredibly beneficial for my health and my work.
2. Will you talk about other forms of art you've created in the past (for people who don't know)? And do you miss those and/or still do them?
Once people started labeling me as a potter I felt very strongly that I wanted to be identified as an artist. It took me 10 years to comfortably say that. Most people think I only work with clay, but I’ve worked with many mediums over the years so that’s why being called a potter feels so foreign. I went to school for architecture and loved every second of it. That foundation has influenced how I see the world—from drawing details of a staircase to understanding how cities are put together. Looking closely is where my strength lies and I bring that to every project I work on.
To list a few, I’ve made time-based drawings, rock portraiture, site-specific letter installations, letterpress prints, screen-printed note cards for the everyday. I’ve designed logos, a limited-edition alphabet t-shirt series, art books, photographed city landscapes and documented sidewalks. I don’t necessarily miss all these different ways of thinking/making, because having too much on my plate stresses me out. I’d rather pursue one method intensely for an extended period of time, and than switch it up once all my options are exhausted. It feels as though I need more than a lifetime for all the art projects I want to make, but for now, having one hobby like painting is all I can handle in addition to running my ceramics business.
A project that still resonates today is a collaborative 26-page alphabet book I made with Claire Nereim. Although we made this book a decade ago, it feels so fresh in my mind and there’s so much there I want to continue exploring. We designed the letter A from a Z, B from a Y, C from X, and so on. I think about language and meaning a lot but can now see that it’s all just a variation on a larger theme; function, utility and legibility and/or lack thereof. No matter the material, conventions are being questioned.
3. I'm interested in your relationship to time, especially as it shows up in your work - in so many places over the years, with so many time-based and / or time intensive projects. What are you exploring in work that deals with time in some way?
Time is change, time is routine, time is money, time is the sun and moon, time is a diagram, and than again time could be nothing at all. I love how subjective it can be. The first day of every month is like a mini-new year for me and I love setting and attaining tiny goals on a regular basis. My relationship to time can be playful and reflective. I make this clay object that I like to call a Time Keeper; a sculptural, ceramic hourglass made for celebrating goals and accomplishing daily tasks. This conceptual clock encourages domestic use by rotating the object when a project/idea/task is initiated and than flipping it back once complete. Each side is identical but it’s the intention that is key for this to function. This device strikes a balance between my pottery and my art practice, and this elusive zone is where I feel happiest with my work. It provides a different approach to recording time and it’s a shape that most people can identify with, but it’s also unclear what it’s for and I like that.
Rituals play an important role in my ceramic collection. A cup can simply be a drinking vessel, but it can also be the time we spend with it. My slow mornings are directly tied to my tea cup. I love my water cup so much that I actually take more breaks throughout the day to hydrate because of it.
Keeping time can be dreadful though, and I work really hard at not letting it get the best of me. My income is based on how many pieces I can make in a day so it’s an ongoing challenge to keep my productivity separate from money. Taking time-off doesn’t come naturally either. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m not a machine and that my work is not linked to my worth.
4. How do you decide what to do for money, and what to keep separate from money-making?
This is such a simple and difficult question to answer. Making work to sell clouds my creative judgment. I have to completely remove the audience/customer/user in order to make work that is unique, which in turn “makes money”. First and foremost, I only create things that I want to use in my home. I’ve been lucky enough to sell everything I make, but it took years to build up the confidence to put the work out in the world with a price tag. Being frugal helps, as making money doesn’t become the sole focus. The more financial constraints I have, the more I can express myself and have less worry in my life. I’m religious about doing my budget on the first day of every month, it keeps me on track and I learn so much from an hour of crunching numbers.
I’ve had recent interest from friends and strangers wanting to buy my small paintings. I’ve taken just a few commissions, but I’m weary of selling them. Part of me wants to keep it all to myself because it just feels so good and I don’t want to lose the magic it gives me. The other side thinks “how awesome would it be to sell paintings for a living?”. They’re both legitimate opinions, but for now, only selling ceramics feels right.
5. When do you experience the most joy?
Looking at plants, touching leaves, noticing bugs, making tiny bouquets make me incredibly happy. Tapping into my inner child and removing any kind of adult expectation is an important element in feeling joy and it’s the closest I get to pure freedom.
This may sound strange but compulsive daily re-arranging brings me a lot of joy as well. When something is placed or aligned/misaligned in just the right way, it feels like perfection. I like to think of it as rational uselessness and irrational usefulness.
ARIES | March 21-April 19
Question - How much do you think through the realistic nature of your goals?
Meditation - smaller steps.
Assignment - Just take note of when and how you set goals, what they are, what you want, etc. Do you tend toward making big goals? Or none at all? Or too many at once? What is your relationship with the future in this way, and how does it cause you suffering in the present? Can you scale back to make your sense of what you are accomplishing feel more easeful? Or shift your ideas of what you need to do to feel like you got something done? Your life changes when your mind changes, so investigate your mind.
TAURUS | April 20-May 20
Question - When do you savor fruit these days?
Meditation - fruit.
Assignment - If you live in the northern hemisphere, there's lots of fruit in season! Eat the rich colors, all the reds and oranges. Bring this into your life as a ritual, make it slow and deliberate like you're good at doing with sense pleasures. You can include these pleasures and remember that they are part of what makes you feel like yourself.
GEMINI | May 21-June 20
Question - When is your body connected to the earth?
Meditation - protein.
Assignment - Eat some protein this week, as a way to ritualize your connection with the earth, to bring your body down to earth. If you eat meat, this is a way to root downwards - but you have to give your body the time and space to digest this protein! So it's an assignment to nurture yourself, to stabilize the energy with a slowing process. If you don't eat meat, do the same with the vegetable kingdom foods that bring you down into the deep, living earth.
CANCER | June 21-July 22
Question - What light are you exposed to and when?
Meditation - light.
Assignment - How much time do you spend outside? Inside? In the light of electricity? In the light of the sun? Don't worry to much about this, but just take note of your schedule, your daily life, and what lights you spend time under. Are there small changes you can make to experience more natural day light? Are the conditions of your indoor light something that could be improved upon? Your environment is such a huge part of your vitality - so give yourself permission to look at what's happening and make changes if needed here.
LEO | July 23-August 22
Question - What parts of your life feel creative?
Meditation - mind nourishment.
Assignment - Make a list of the parts of your life that feel creative, whatever that means to you, places where you get to be playful and experience a sense that you are creating in some way. If you find this list is too short, ask yourself about what areas of your life that already exist that you can bring more creative energy to. And what ways you might want to develop more time for this. Remember this creative expression is a need, so reflect on ways to fulfill that more this year and you will probably feel more like yourself!
VIRGO | August 23-September 22
Question - What place does your ego have in your life?
Meditation - bringing ego into the light.
Assignment - Ego is not something that we usually associate with Virgo, because you do tend to be so humble. But every human has an ego, and the less conscious we are of it, the more it runs our lives. So the assignment is about looking into where ego might be unconsciously at play for you. (With a lot of kindness!) You don't need to go on an analysis spiral, but when you notice that your self-critical thinking is revved up, that's an indication of ego running the show. Because it tends to enlarge the importance of your mistakes, whereas other signs have other kinds of ego patterns. One cue that ego is present is when you feel like you've really messed up, done something horrible, etc. Pay attention to that, and remember that the antidote to this ego show is self-love!!!
LIBRA | September 23-October 23
Question - What is happening with your digestion?
Meditation - lower body.
Assignment - Moving your attention to the lower body this week, noticing what is present there, what is neglected, what is happening! You can't really overdo this - moving your awareness down from your headspace into your lower body. The digestion has to do with how well we are processing what is happening, using what we nourish ourselves with. So look at your digestion in a literal sense and also metaphorically. What needs to be digested that's not yet? What needs time to move through, without you rushing it?
SCORPIO | October 23-November 21
Question - What is your relationship to sounds, other than music?
Meditation - the soundscape you live in
Assignment - Tuning into sounds this week can bring you back to the present, over and over. Noticing sounds in your life, in the different spaces you occupy, can be a gentle way to pay attention. Are there birds that talk and sing that you've never noticed before? Who talks around you in public that you might typically tune out? What is your focus on and what does that make you unaware of? Let your awareness expand out, loosen, and it will bring more ease into whatever circumstances you're currently in.
SAGITTARIUS | November 22-December 21
Question - What is happening in your body, right now?
Meditation - noticing the body.
Assignment - Bringing it back to the basics. This is so important for Sagittarius, bringing it from the broad view, the big view, to the small, the momentary, the present what is. The body is the easiest way to access this, to understand reality. What happens in your body that you typically don't pay attention to? Your digestion? Your skin shedding? Your eyes blinking? Your legs moving, even while sitting? Your rib cage? Be with simple noticing in this way, let it keep you tethered to the earth. When your attention wanders, remember it's just because your mind thinks it's already been here/there before. But this is an illusion- you've never been here, in this moment, with your body, before!
CAPRICORN | December 22-January 19
Question - What foods feel energizing, like you are eating life?
Meditation - eat the sun.
Assignment - Return to these foods, bright colorful foods that are full of the sun's energy. Remember that you need this, that you are a living being and need life force to replenish yours, every single day. This is productive, this is worth your time and money, no matter what your mind tells you. Make it happen. Devote your time and money to this, eating the sun, this week.
AQUARIUS | January 20 to February 18
Question - What are your hands doing right now? What do they most often do?
Meditation - your hands.
Assignment - Be with your hands, attend to your hands. They do so much for you! Let this be a way of returning to your body, over and over this week. What activities include your hands. What activities DON'T include your hands? How can you care for them more? When do they get fatigued and you override this message? How can you take more little breaks with them, to listen to that message, attend to them? How do the hands connect to the heart? How does overriding their information connect with what you might override from your heart?
PISCES | February 19 to March 20
Question - What is happening within your joints?
Meditation - connecting to your joints.
Assignment - How often do you pay attention to your joints? Often you don't pay attention to them until they hurt. So how can your attending to them now change what is happening, how you are using them, how you are treating them, how they might feel in the future? What foods and drinks lubricate them, which ones dehydrate them? What movements feel good for them, and which ones feel bad? Don't get lost in worry about your body or the future with this exercise! Just notice as you go through your week, in a gentle way, what is happening with them, and see what happens. Noticing changes everything, if we don't react so quickly that we miss the new information and think we already know.