Leo: Julie Cloutier
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.