Designer-in-depth: heyday design’s Claire Madill

A few weeks ago, CO’s Social Media Coordinator, Lee-Anne Bigwood, was in Vancouver and paid a visit to the lovely Claire Madill of heyday design to see what she’s been up to. We’ve been carrying her pieces at Galerie CO since the spring and love them as beautiful objects, and for holding flowers and kitchen tools. It was high time for a studio visit which, lucky for us, coincided with production on her brand new collection.

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We’ll be carrying her whimsical “slightly crushed cans”, which are safe for drinking but also make sweet bud vases.

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slightly crushed cans” (source: heyday design)

For this week’s blog post, Lee-Anne shares her observations following her visit with Claire…

When thinking of Vancouver, it’s easy to pull to mind windows with picturesque views of the ocean, with beaches and century-old trees peppering the foreground and snow-capped mountains in the background. You can imagine yourself enjoying the laid back West Coast vibe watching yoga-pants-clad runners and cyclists buzzing by as you drink locally roasted coffee and snack on healthy salads on a patio built for drizzly conditions.

But there is another part of town where the heavy-lifting gets done; in the portlands of the industrial section of East Vancouver. In this part of town, there is less meandering and more passing through, with huge trucks pulling up to loading zones near the massive ships docked from all over the world.  If you take the time to cycle slowly or saunter through, however, you’ll be lucky to come across some sweet spots to visit in the area.

A highlight for me on the way to Claire’s studio was the nearly hidden Cottonwood Community Garden (the oldest in the city, which is at risk of being plowed over to create wider roads for all the trucks):Garden entrance, next to warehouses

The entrance to the garden on Malkin Avenue (this photo and more about the garden can be found here.)

After exploring the neighbourhood on a typically drizzly but balmy Vancouver day, I made my way to Claire’s studio. In an email with directions she had given me the following instructions: “my studio is in a terrific building, full of full-time makers.”

Terrific indeed! The building, though staying true to the blocked industrial style of the area, seems to emit a sort of creative spirit with its bright green exterior.

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The Mergatroid Art Studio Building

“I’m in studio #202 at the top of the stairs.”

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Woodburned/etched photos leading up the stairs to the studios

Claire is incredibly welcoming, but apologizes for the mess. I don’t see the mess that she speaks of, instead I’m aware of the rows of neatly ordered shelves with her work in its many stages.

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One of many storage shelves with her hew “basket” bowls.

The studio is large and brightly lit with natural light, and I ask her how she managed to score such a great space. She tells me that she inherited the studio space from a potter who married her best friend and moved to Montana.

Our discussions about her work come naturally. I start to take notes, but realize that I just want to sit and chat with her about her passion. She smiles freely and she beams with pride around her work.

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Here Claire, wearing a pair of her geometric porcelain earrings, lovingly holds her favourite piece. She explains that this widemouth jar is her most-loved. “I don’t know why, there’s something about the weight of it and it’s so cylindrical. It’s just so perfect.”

She tells me that she is happiest when she is making things and calls herself a “designer/maker”. This doesn’t surprise me, since the kind of gallery-store spaces I’m most attracted to are typically staffed with people who embody the spirit and feeling of a home studio.

Claire isn’t originally from Vancouver, but from Southern Ontario. She went to high school in Whitby. We realized that where she grew up and where she still visits her two sisters and 91-year old Nanna, is where my own family now lives. This pulled at my heart strings a little since my own late Nana would have loved her work and the warm way she welcomed me into her space.

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Claire and her Dad ‘somewhere in Ontario’, secured to filing cabinet with one of her porcelain cube magnets.

I then ask the always popular questions, “How did you get into this line of work? What brought you here?”

Claire tells me that she was really creative as a kid but at the time, one of her younger three sisters became known as the artist. She was never discouraged from creating, but was under the impression that there can only really be one artist in the family. She discovered her artistic self more deeply after her first degree, which was in Criminology (“I thought I wanted to be a cop!”, she laughs). She then thought she would become a photographer. At the time, she also had a line of punk rock wrist cuffs and collars that she made from vintage leather belts.

Subsequently, Claire attended the Emily Carr University of Art & Design on Granville Island in Vancouver. She applied to the ceramics department because, “there was so much to learn. Even with full time dedication, I knew I’d be learning something new all the time.” In her third year she took a mould-making class with Jeremy Hatch and loved it because it was foreign and fun. She started mixing porcelain casting slips and says she has never looked back. Jeremy continues to be one of her design inspirations.

MADE‘ in Toronto was heyday design’s first store and in 2009 she participated in the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibit. She has clients all over North America, although most of her work is still sold in Canada. It seems we are nostalgic and connect to the vintage mason jars and baskets that remind us of times with our grandparents, at cottages and other memories of Canadiana.

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Mould-making is a challenging multi-stage process. “It would be enough to just be a mould-maker, there are so many steps. It’s difficult and all consuming, but it’s worth it. I love it.” Each piece goes through approximately thirty steps from beginning to end include moulding, casting, glazing, sanding, firing, sanding again and polishing.

House and Home’s Design Lab has an episode with a feature on Claire, where you can see her in action going through all the steps, pouring and casting her porcelain pieces in this studio.

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The moulds, which Claire makes herself, are made up of four parts banded together with a heavy elastic. You also fill the actual object you are molding with plaster, because you want it to hold its shape, and it’s the outside shape and features that you are creating a mould for.

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If she creates a cast in the morning, she can’t handle it again until the evening. On an average production day she’ll make around 25 pieces. During the Christmas rush, that number can go up to 42 pieces a day.

Claire shows me one of her most popular models; an antique Beaver canning jar she found at her grandmother’s house. This next photo illustrates the way that the final product is about 13% smaller. This is because plaster is water-seeking, so the mould sucks a lot of water right out of porcelain slip.

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Each piece is glazed on the inside, making it food-safe and water tight. The outside is kept matte, unglazed and monochrome, to keep the embossing of the original more pronounced. The focus is on the form coming through.

heyday (4)The final stage: dusting and polishing before shipping out

Claire also makes jewellery, some of which is black, but has a separate set of moulds, a separate section of the studio, and even a separate day that she works on it because she wants absolutely no mix up. It’s imperative that the pieces are pristine.

I wonder, with her attention to detail and affinity towards clean and monochrome in her work whether that style is carried through in her own art collections. “Oh no! I love colour. But I do tend to be attracted to geometric shapes.” I ask her to tell me about her favourite art pieces at home, and after our meeting she sends me photos of two.

She first tells me about a wooden piece she has on her table.”It’s so simple and complex. Instead of cutting it flat on the ends, he’s cut it on an angle. It is like a flat object, trying to be a 3D object but it IS 3D. It’s beautiful.”

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Sculpture by Christopher Donnelly (photo care of Claire Madill)

“I also really love the bright, geometric paintings of Jessica Groome. I have two that I can see from my favourite spot on my couch!”

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Left, and top right, paintings by Jessica Groome (photo care of Claire Madill)

I asked Claire about her favourite piece at Galerie CO.

donna wilson rainy day blanket grey“Living in Vancouver must be in my soul now — I love the rainy day blanket by Donna Wilson best.”

As I was preparing to leave, I noticed that she had a bag from one of my own favourite artists in Toronto: Bookhou. Claire loves her bags, and even showed me a hilarious photo of her and two friends all coincidentally wearing Bookhou bags at an art festival. She has traded a lot of products with her. This is what she does with many other designer-makers.

What nostalgic memories do her porcelain pieces conjure up for you? What would you like to store in her gorgeous vases?

Let us know in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter or Instagram @GalerieCO

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Galerie CO’s Proust Questionnaire: Joe Jin

We’d like to introduce you to Joe Jin. He’s a young designer from Toronto and we just started working with him.  Joe is also an architect who believes that design should be simple, accessible, intelligent and playful. Here he is, explaining his approach to design in his own words.

We fell in love with Joe’s “Mr.” and “Mrs.” pillows, which present the universal symbols for men and for women, re-contextualized. Mr. cushion, web

Configurations of “Mr.” and “Mrs.” pillows (Source: Joe Jin)

Joe’s pillows are just one of many designs that we admire. In this, our final dispatch from New York Design Week, we want to congratulate Joe for his International Contemporary Furniture Festival (ICFF) Studio Award for his colourful Bent Dot stool. The ICFF Studio is a platform to match selected emerging designers and their prototype products with potential manufacturers. The win meant that Joe was invited to show his stools in New York to the over thirty thousand attendees at the ICFF.

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Joe showing his award-winning Bent Dot Stool at ICFF (Source: Joe Jin)

Joe Jin’s a busy man – managing interns, meeting with manufacturers, and creating new and innovative designs – but he took some time out to answer our version of the Proust Questionnaire to give Galerie CO fans a better sense of what makes him tick.

Galerie CO: What is your current state of mind?

Joe Jin: Active (post-coffee).

Galerie CO: What does sustainability mean to you?

Joe: We cannot continue to live the way that we currently do. It is not sustainable. Current and future products need to think of sustainability as an integral (and inseparable) part of the design process.

Galerie CO: What was your first artistic creation?

Joe:  From what I can remember, drawings on the underside of the family coffee table.

Galerie CO: What is your favourite work of art?

Joe: There are too many to list.

Galerie CO: What kind of weather makes you feel the most creative?

Joe: External weather has less effect on my creativity as “internal weather” (i.e., how I feel). In short, I’m most creative when I am happy.

Galerie CO: What keeps you busy when you’re not working/designing/creating?

Joe: Thinking about working/designing/creating! Design is a labour of love and as such, always seems to be on my mind. That said, I do love time with friends and family. That, and motorcycles.

Galerie CO: Who is your favourite designer?

Joe: Again, too many to list.

Galerie CO: What is your favourite meal?

Joe: Too many to list! If I hadn’t chosen design as a career path, I likely would have trained to be a cook. Joe and his mom, cooking

Joe cooking with his mom (Source: Joe Jin)

Galerie CO: What is your most treasured possession?

Joe: Memories.

Galerie CO: What do you most value in your friends?

Joe: Loyalty. Companionship. Similar goals and interests.

Galerie CO: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Joe: Doing what I love (and sharing that experience with loved ones). Repeat.

Galerie CO: What is your greatest extravagance?

Joe: I’m a foodie, so basing an entire trip on “places to eat” is not uncommon.

Galerie CO: You must have enjoyed a great meal while you were in New York for ICFF:

Joe: Definitely. Here’s a photo of a dish I really indulged in and enjoyed from Le Bernardin.   le bernardin_yellowfin tuna

Layers of thinly pounded yellowfin tuna, foie gras, chives and extra virgin olive oil (Source: Le Bernardin)

Galerie CO: What is your favourite city?

Joe:  New York. It’s familiar, and at the same time, it’s not.

Galerie CO: What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Joe: Having the opportunity to inspire others to pursue their dreams.

Galerie CO: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Joe: I would be less stubborn.

Galerie CO: What is your motto?

Joe: YOLO (just kidding). I don’t have a motto but this seems to be the only motto people keep saying/tattooing on themselves these days.

Galerie CO: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Joe: “Awesome” (my interns just corroborated this).

Galerie CO: Apart from your work, what is your favourite item at CO?

Joe: Ronel Jordaan’s large felt rock cushion is awesome (we have one in the studio!) and supports a great social cause in South Africa. ronel jordaan's large felt stone on joe jim's daisy garden rug

Ronel Jordaan’s large felt rock cushion on top of Joe Jin’s Garden Daisy rug (Source: joejin.com)

Joe’s  design company looks for opportunities to inject its personality into every component of every product it designs. We like this personality and we’re looking forward to seeing it applied to future designs!

Joe Jin pillows

For more information on Joe Jin’s pillowcases, click here.