Firing the Natural World and Byzantium

Emma O'Neill meets ceramic artist Dianne McCormick

In the idyllic setting of her 1850s farmhouse on the shores of Lough Neagh, in Ardboe, Co Tyrone, ceramic artist Diane McCormick creates beautifully distinctive and highly individual pieces of art. Inspired by nature, poetry and intricate architecture, McCormick's products are wonderfully colourful, quirky and vibrant with fine detail and a shimmering finish.

A first class University of Ulster graduate in Fine Craft Design, McCormick set up her Ardboe workshop and studio with her husband Martin Jameson in 1990. Jameson also a first class Art graduate, now specialises in wooden furniture, which is crafted in oak, beech and ash using steam bending and turning techniques. Jameson crafted products are then combined with McCormick ceramic tiles to form the finished product.

McCormick and Jameson each have separate workshops and are proud to retain their individual work, however they also enjoy collaborating on various commissioned projects. They combine their skills to develop a wide range of ceramics and wood creations, which are available at their workshop and in selected galleries and craft shops across Northern Ireland including Killymaddy Tourist Information and Craft Centre near Dungannon, the Baytree Gallery in Hollywood Co Down and Doghouse Gallery in Comber.

McCormick has undertaken several large-scale ceramic artworks in hospitals across Northern Ireland and has just completed assignments in the Children’s Respite Unit in Musgrave Park Hospital Belfast, themed ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ and the Children’s Speech Therapy Unit at Hollywood Arches Health Centre, Belfast.

McCormick describes the purpose of the artworks ‘is to enrich the hospital environment and add a sense of well being through humour, colour and texture’. She has also completed work at the Ulster Museum and has created bespoke presentation awards and plaques for the Arts and Business Awards, Barry’s Tea Awards and Belfast Arts Awards.

McCormick's product range includes ornamental bowls and plates decorated with birds and fish, candlesticks, clocks in ceramic and wood inspired by domes and arches in Byzantine and Russian architecture, decorative domed teapots with birds and fish, large platters with slip trailed images of blackbirds, snipe or fish and framed ceramic pictures.

She places the inspiration for her work firmly in nature and the countryside:

‘My shapes and decoration are influenced by various forms found in the natural world; birds in the garden; shapes of seed pods; insects and beach worn stones; and the different textures of shells and coral.

'I also look at different cultures for sources of inspiration, particularly the Byzantines for their domed buildings and the Inuit for their decorative tools and domestic utensils. Poetry has also been the source for many of my line drawings on pictures and wall murals. Above all, I like to make beautiful pieces which bring out a smile’

McCormick describes the method she applies to her artwork, ‘I try to achieve a depth of surface in my ceramics using layers of texture, colour washes and translucent glazes on top of each other. These often merge in the firings and cannot be fully appreciated until the final opening of the kiln which is always the most exciting time in the cycle of work!’

McCormick uses a variety of complex hand building and printing methods for creating her earthenware; her work is built with soft slabs of clay which are positioned using plaster rollers, which are then pressed into a variety of plaster and wooden moulds.

The ceramics are then glazed to 1060°C and a series of in-glaze lustre finishes are then applied in a gas kiln. The third and final firing to 725°C in the carefully controlled kiln atmosphere transforms the glazes to rich glistening surfaces. Each piece is then sealed with the artist’s name and date.

McCormick is always keen to experiment and try out new artistic disciplines. She is interested in the crossover between different genres and has recently been experimenting with ceramics and printmaking techniques and has developed a new range of products, which include porcelain pictures and lighting.

Special gifts for weddings, retirements or other special occasions can be especially commissioned and McCormick's workshop is open to the public by appointment. Extended opening hours can be arranged by telephoning 028 8673 7008 or contact 16 Brookend Road, Ardboe Road, Cookstown BT71 5BR.