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Grand Rapids ceramic artist prepares intricate pieces for summer art fairs

Grand Rapids ceramic artist Jiaqi Lin sets up some of her pottery for a photo shoot.
Alana Sawicki
Grand Rapids ceramic artist Jiaqi Lin sets up some of her pottery for a photo shoot.

To prepare for this summer’s art fairs, ceramic artist Jiaqi Lin turned her Grand Rapids home into a studio. A kiln sits in her garage. Her own pottery decorates the shelves and window sills. Her three-season room turned into a “four-ish-season room,” as she calls it, where she prepares and reclaims her clay, mixes her own glaze, and throws on her potter’s wheel.

These art fairs take extra time and preparation for emerging artists like Lin. She has a booth at the Ann Arbor State Street Art Fair this year, which runs from July 21 to 23. Lin is Booth #527 on Liberty Street.

This summer is the first time she’s attending outdoor shows at this scale. She said she signed up for a handful of other shows, including the Grand Haven Art Festival and Art on the Riverfront, the Suttons Bay Art Festival, and the Novi Fine Art Fair.

She and her husband put together their own shelves with materials from Home Depot and bought used tents to display her work. She also likes to add fresh flowers from her garden or a florist to show off her vases.

“No matter what, I always feel like I’m running out of time,” Lin said. “I’m sure it’s because this is my first year … I’ve learned so much and have become so much faster.”

In order to keep up production to stay on track for the shows, Lin said she needed to speed up her work. She’s spent over 70 hours building up her inventory. Because she hand-makes every step of the process, her work can take even longer to complete.

“I do a lot of carving on all of my pottery, like the mugs, vases, and bowls, and they are very time-consuming,” Lin said. “I never thought I could speed up that process but I have sped up at least two times just because I have been doing so much in such a consistent (way), it’s almost like a boot camp.”

Because her carving makes the surface thinner, it poses a higher risk of breaking or not surviving to the final stage. All the pottery needs to be fired twice: the first to transform the clay into stoneware and the second after the glaze is added. The firing itself takes about six to eight hours but takes 10 hours to cool down.

“These times all have to be calculated very carefully otherwise I might end up not having work ready when I have to leave,” Lin said. “Time management is never my strength but I have become a lot better just because of a lot of the deadlines.”

Because she puts so much time into her work, her pieces can be more expensive. Her goal by attending the art fairs is to make money back for all of the expenses, like gas, materials, and food, and compensate herself for the effort she put into her pieces.

“Sometimes you get people who are shocked by the price, but that’s just them,” Lin said. “Most people like it. Most people who talk to me are only people who like me and like my work, so that’s a perk of my job is I only really interact with people who are attracted by my work.”

Lin’s ceramics stand out at fairs because of the intricate carvings she designs into each piece. In college, she took a linoleum printmaking class which is where she discovered her love for carving and inspiration for her work.

“I can’t stop,” Lin said. “It’s just really satisfying for me. A big part of pottery is repetition and so to some extent, it’s almost like an obsession. I feel very comfortable and I have a high tolerance, only for pottery, for tedious and repetitive work which is carving and throwing on the wheel.”

Lin attended Aquinas and it wasn’t until her junior year, four years ago, that she took a pottery class. She combined techniques from her pottery and carving class to make functional and decorative stoneware with floral patterns like roses and chrysanthemums.

“I see other potters who carve, they usually just create a textured surface,” Lin said. “For me, I want it to be intentional. Intentionality is very important to me, like where my carving knife is going to land, what kind of pattern it’s gonna create, how dense or how loose it’s going to be … It’s almost like I’m doing sculpture and drawing at the same time, which I really enjoy.”

She was also an international student from China. She said felt a lot of self-doubt when wanting to study writing or language, but when working with art, she didn’t feel as much pressure.

“When I’m carving, it makes me feel like I can do it and that I’m not being judged by myself,” Lin said. “Carving definitely takes a big part of my anxiety and it’s kind of like building myself up again in the journey, so I feel like it’s been good for me.”

Morgan Womack joined Michigan Radio as a digital news intern in June. She is a journalism student at Michigan State University.
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