While studying ceramics at Hornsby TAFE in northern Sydney, Jo Wood was asked to make a pinch pot. Unfortunately, she didn’t know what a pinch pot was. Regardless, she pressed and squeezed at the lump of clay in front of her until it became so thin the emerging bowl kept collapsing. “The teacher came over and said, ‘No, no, Jo, that’s not what I want at all,’ ” Jo remembers. “But I thought, ‘Mmm, I’ll come back to that!’ ” Now the seasoned ceramicist exclusively uses the technique she stumbled upon – and later perfected – to create bowls, vessels, table lamps and pendant lights of exquisite, ethereal beauty.
The process involves taking small bits of porcelain and squeezing them into small flat pieces. Jo then presses these pieces into casts she might have made from a batik print block, a piece of seaweed or a section of corrugated cardboard, to add another layer of texture. She then intricately pleats the pieces and uses them to line a support mould. “I like doing jigsaws and it’s not dissimilar to that as I’m always looking for where a piece will fit,” she explains. “I find it very addictive!”
Jo’s first taste of a creative life came in England, where she lived with her partner, Simon, and two young children, before emigrating to Australia in 2000. “I went along to a local class where you paint on greenware, which is something that’s been cast by someone else but not yet fired,” she recalls. “It was a hobby, but the guy who ran the class asked if he could put some of my pieces in the window to sell, and it took off!”
Once settled in Sydney, Jo pursued her craft, and was studying ceramics part-time when she entered her work into the 2006 Gold Coast International Ceramic Awards, and collected a prize for excellence. She now shows regularly at small galleries and participates in group shows, but that’s as close to the limelight as you’ll find her. She prefers to work away quietly in her home studio in Sydney’s upper north shore. “Winning that award was amazing, because I hadn’t been doing this for very long, but it also terrified me,” she says. “I haven’t entered anything since, because I’m not at all comfortable being in the spotlight!”
Jo chooses to work with Southern Ice porcelain for its whiteness, translucency and plasticity. The pliability of the clay means she can manipulate it with her fingers into the thinnest of slivers before turning them into something whole and luminous. However, that’s not to say she has total control over the creative process. “Every time I open my kiln, everything has moved and changed and warped,” she says. “It’s always a disappointment until I’ve got the pieces out, touched them, washed them and sanded them. That’s when I think, ‘Oh, these are really nice!’”
Watching such things of beauty slowly unfold on Jo’s work bench, it’s easy to understand why the softly spoken artist likes to spend her days in the calm, cocooning atmosphere of her studio. “The connection with the clay is really lovely,” she says. “I love doing what I do.”