Maker Spotlight: Ian Petrie

Maker Spotlight: Ian Petrie

Drawing, screen printing, and surprise are essential to this ceramist’s novel design.
Published on Thursday, January 14, 2021.
Assorted ceramics by Ian Petrie with snacks and more

A sampling of Ian Petrie’s ceramics, which offer narrative prompts. Photo: Ian Petrie.

Ian Petrie looks for mystery in the mundane. He turns everyday ceramics into story worlds by embedding images into his mugs and plates. His original images are reminiscent of single panels torn from comic books.

The 29-year-old artist started reading comics in high school. Rather than superheroes, he was drawn toward more realistic stories like in graphic novels such as Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Shortcomings, and Ghost World. “I was really getting into comics about the time that my interest transitioned away from writing and toward art,” says Petrie, who lives in Philadelphia.

Ian Petrie I Would Agree Snack Plate Ian Petrie Luster Speech Bubble Salad Plate
Ian Petrie Luster Cell Phone Hotdog Plate

A selection of Petrie’s midrange earthenware pieces with screenprinted images: “I WOULD Agree...” Snack Plate (top left); “Luster Speech Bubble” Salad Plate (below left); and “Luster Cell Phone” Hotdog Plate (right). Messages are hidden underneath the gold, which rubs off over time. Photos: Ian Petrie.

Like the comics he read as a teenager, the everyday scenes Petrie draws into his works are experiences that the people who buy and use his wares can intimately relate to. “But,” he says, “I like there to be a little mystery to what I’m depicting.” Watching others find their own meaning in the ceramics is a gift. “Part of the fun of the work is that I give a narrative prompt that everyone else finishes in their own way,” he says.

Ian Petrie in studio

Ian Petrie in his studio. Portrait: Amira Paulwan.

Petrie’s method for embedding his drawings into his ceramics evolved over time. He initially used decals, images he applied to glazed pots, but grew frustrated with the way they slid around on the glaze. In part inspired by manga, a style of Japanese comics that uses halftone shading and was traditionally printed using screens, he entered a two-year residency at the Worcester Center for Crafts in 2016 to explore screen printing. With this technique, says Petrie, “you’re actually applying the images onto the clay itself, so it’s under the glaze and part of the actual pot.”

Petrie’s process for making ceramics now includes three art forms: drawing, screen printing, and sculpting. He starts each piece by using a dip nib quill to draw a comic panel. The nib offers a tactile element to drawing that feels more natural to the artist than a brush. “With a nib, you’re almost scratching on the paper, and you have to be applying that pressure,” he says. “A nib is almost like carving in clay.”

Ian Petrie process illustration on clay

Petrie pulls away paper to reveal an image on clay. Photo: Ian Petrie.

After drawing with the nib, Petrie picks up a brush to shade his comics with watercolors, sticking to a black and white palette. His drawings then go to Photoshop, where he turns them into halftone images. He passes a specially formulated ceramic ink through a screen onto the newsprint. The result is a series of small dots, creating the illusion of shading. He then uses those sheets to transfer the ink to the pottery.

Ian Petrie Tearing Up Mug 1
Ian Petrie Tearing Up Mug 1
Ian Petrie Tearing Up Mug 1

Reading the story on the “Tearing Up” Mug from three vantage points.

People use Petrie’s plates, mugs, and bowls on a daily basis, allowing them to revisit the story on their ceramics again and again. With repeated use, the story they’ve created about the comic changes. “Maybe a month later they’re up earlier than normal, and they’re kind of pissed off, and the story is tweaked, or they see it from a different perspective,” says Petrie.

“Part of the fun of the work is that I give a narrative prompt that everyone else finishes in their own way.”
   ~ Ian Petrie
Ian Petrie illustrated portrait

He adds an extra element of mystery in some of his works through a layer of gold or silver luster. Inspired by Doug Peltz-man’s gold-lustered handles, Petrie uses the luster to obscure speech bubbles or windows in his comics. Over time, the hidden message is revealed, but some customers just can’t wait that long and choose to scrub off the luster soon after purchase. “In order to find out the real truth,” he says, “you have to remove some of that bling.”

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