Whatcom artist applies patterns, brilliant colors to her ceramics

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 3, 2013 

Potter Irene Lawson works in her Custer stu- dio on Jan. 29, 2013. Lawson says she has “always done something with a pattern.”

Potter Irene Lawson works in her Custer stu- dio on Jan. 29, 2013. Lawson says she has “always done something with a pattern.”

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

One look at Irene Lawson’s vibrant ceramics pieces and it’s clear what inspires her. "I’ve always loved color and pattern," says the Whatcom County artist.

"I’m especially drawn to the geometric patterns and the bright colors used in the artwork of places like Turkey, Spain and Italy."

In 1995, that interest prompted Lawson to take a Whatcom Museum class where she learned the ancient Ukrainian art of decorating pysanky, or Easter eggs.

The art form uses the batik method, in which intricate geo- metric patterns are drawn on an egg with hot wax and the egg is then dipped in dye.

"I spent many years decorating pysanky, but there is only so far you can go with it creatively, and the market to sell them is limited," Lawson says. "I’d always had an interest in ceramics, but I just hadn’t found the time to pursue it the way I wanted."

That time came about eight years ago, when her four children had left home and her husband, Dave, started a job that takes him to Alaska for several months every year. Lawson signed up at Whatcom Community College for "all the ceramic classes they would let me take," and followed up by renting stu- dio space at the college while she continued to hone her skills. "Ceramics has me hooked," Lawson readily admits. "There are so many options and different directions you can go with it, and the end result is so functional."

Since 2008, when she bought her own wheel and kiln, Lawson has enjoyed working in a studio behind her home near Custer. The cozy retreat, heated by a wood stove, offers an unobstructed view of rural fields and Mount Baker. "It used to be Dave’s man cave, which he generously gave up for me," she says.

Lawson’s colorful, dotted and geo- metrically patterned works are made from white earthenware clay, which she throws on her pottery wheel to create mugs, bowls, platters and, most recently, bottle stoppers. After the pieces air dry for a week, she marks her patterns freehand in pencil.

"I like the finished product to look handmade rather than machine-made," she explains.

Next, color is applied with squeeze bottles of underglaze. Getting just the right pressure on the squeeze bottle can be tricky, and Lawson credits decorat- ing pysanky with helping her develop the fine motor control necessary to create her patterns.

The pieces then go into the kiln for firing at 1,945 degrees for eight to 10 hours, a process that intensifies the colors. They go from being almost faded, earth-tone shades to the vibrant, cheerful hues of her finished pieces.

"There are so many things that can potentially go wrong, causing cracks or other problems in the piece,"

Lawson says. "It’s wonderful to have a piece turn out well. The best part is opening the kiln to see the colors, because they change so much during firing."

She then applies another coat of glaze before a final firing finishes the process.

Local birds inspire Lawson’s other major works, which exhibit a look very different from her colorful geometric pieces. She makes many items in which she carves ravens and colors the pieces with black stain.

"We have a lot of ravens in our neighborhood," she says. "A lot of people just think they’re noisy, but as you can see, I find them fascinating."

FINDING IRENE

Irene Lawson’s food-safe works can be found at Good Earth Pottery, 1000 Harris Ave., Bellingham, and at Schack Art Center, 2921 Hoyt Ave., Everett. She can be reached at 360-366-3592 or irene_lawson@msn.com.

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