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John Mackenzie

John Mackenzie completed a degree in ceramics at Harrow University in 2001, where he developed a passion for wood fired ceramics and kiln building. John has since built a number of wood fired kilns and has been exploring the unique colours, surfaces and effects which can be only be achieved with this process.


John has recently built a new 140 cubic foot anagama (cave) kiln which is fired with offcuts of wood from local sawmills. The kiln is fired for around 50 hours and needs constant attention to build the temperate to above 1300 degrees centigrade, where the ash from the wood melts to form a glaze. He aims to explore and accentuate the protracted and extreme firing process by developing his own clays, glazes and slips which respond to the flame, ember, and ash.

John is fascinated with how the burning wood can imprint its energy onto the clay and looks to vary the atmosphere of the kiln to maximise the kilns potential. He includes locally found granite and feldspar to develop deep surface effects, texture, and colour. Born and raised in Cornwall, John has always had a close affinity to the sea and rugged
Cornish coastline of West Penwith. His work is a direct reflection of this, he aims to make functional vessels which communicate the elemental processes that they have been through.

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Artist Q&A

Artist Q&A

Q&A from June 2023 for exhibition 'Trace' at OmVed Gardens:

Can you talk us through a usual day in your studio?

I tend to use a day to focus on a specific form or function. This could be making simple cylinder as the start of mugs or a type of bowl were I’m thinking about how it might fit in the hand or be held. Or I may work more loosely making a single form trying not to worry too much about the outcome. On days like these I tend to sit at the wheel most of the day. That said with wood firing there are so many different elements which need to be achieved to ensure things are successful. Chopping and stacking wood, mixing clay, cleaning the kiln, collecting shells and grinding pots that have come out of the kiln are all labour intensive and often can take days to get in order.


What first drew you to clay?

I’ll never forget the first thing I made in primary school, and I remember clay being something which I was absorbed in and loved. Beyond that I have always been fascinated by the physical world and how its functions. From studying ceramics at A level, I began to really understand clays potential to be formed and fired.

What’s been the biggest pivotal moment in your practice so far?

This year I became a Selected member of the Craft Potters Association. This means a lot to me and has given me a boost in confidence. After a period of time away from clay it has been great to get back to making, I have been evolving my work quickly with lots of experimentation and hard work and it’s great to have this recognised by an organisation like the CPA.

What are you thinking about when you start making each piece? Do you make in series?

I try not to think too much, my studio is full of pictures and things I have found which might inform shapes or new direction for marks I would like to make. I have found that things happen more fluidly if I allow these to sit in the background as I begin making for the next firing. With larger forms I may take a simple measurement from a sketch or photo then make a series which explore the simple ratio of belly to hight. I can then just allow the subtleties of these form to sink into me rather than try to emulate something. I’m very aware of the power of the subconscious so try to surround myself with thing I find interesting and inspirational.

What is your favourite reaction that you can create in the kiln?

I really love a wood fired effect which is sometimes called ‘ember flashing’. This is where the raw clay sits in very hot embers and the heavy and prolonged reduction atmosphere that this creates imprints its surface. This can give a variety of colours from black, blues and purples through to peach and orange depending on how the pot was staked into the kiln. With wood firing I love how aesthetic decisions need to be consider from mixing the clay right through to how the pot is placed in the kiln. Every element is important and will influence the next.

How important are locally found materials to your work?

I have developed a porcelain clay body which is designed to respond to the flame and embers of my kiln. A locally dug China Clay called Grolleg is the main ingredient of this clay. To this I have been adding ground local granite and feldspar which I collect from a variety of locations around West Penwith. I use shells collected from local beaches as an essential way of stacking work into the kiln they leave an imprint on the fired clay and glaze. I also use a local river mud as one of the few ways I make decorative glaze marks. So local resources are essential to my work, and I love that deep connection to the landscape around me.

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