Early morning. Alarm goes off. You, Golem-esque, bleary with sleep, climb out of bed. Shuffle to the kitchen. Open fridge. Orange juice. Need glass. Open cupboard. Look at glasses. And then, suddenly, you feel that morning fog begin to roll off your wakening body. That great Kyla Francis glassware in your cabinet has, once again, brightened up your morning!
Sure, this situation may be a bit extreme, but the crux of the vignette holds true: Kyla Francis has created designs for dishware so awesome, you can’t help but perk up like a sunflower in light every time you see them. Because these distinct and inspiring designs, featuring plenty of fashion — and vintage-related motifs, struck such a chord with us, we decided to have a figurative coffee talk with Kyla to get a crystal clear idea of what she does!
What’s a day in the life of Kyla Francis like?
I start my workday with a reverse commute from my city home in Halifax, out to my studio in a small fishing village which is only 15 miles away by road, but a world away in terms of the pace of life there. It’s the kind of place where the last names haven’t changed for a hundred years and most people still live off the ocean, so the kinds of things I’ll see out my window when I’m working are men pulling lobster traps up by hand in the bay out front, and all sorts of wild birds and butterflies and flowers, [as well as] the odd dolphin or seal.
It can really feel like time doesn’t pass there, and it makes the work day pretty peaceful. I always take the time to jog out there because the air is so sweet and fresh, it’s a real treat.
Francis’ seaside studio, located outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
History and vintage influence your work; have you always had such a penchant for the past?
As a child, I had the lucky experience of getting to travel to many parts of Europe, and seeing all the palaces and museums really made me fall in love with craftsmanship; even if it took art college to teach me the words for appreciating skilled handiwork and design, it’s always been something I was into.
In high school, [my] love of vintage bloomed—I discovered the joy of kitsch, of thrift store treasures. At first, it was mostly wrapped up in nostalgia for an imaginary past, a really idealized vision of things being ‘better,’ and vintage objects always have great power to evoke emotional landscapes. The older I get, the more academic the love has become; I’m now just kind of obsessed with how we manufacture our world and how much the methods and materials have changed.
A lot of your work features musical instruments. Do you play any of them?
I’ve fiddled around with a guitar before, and I could pluck a tune or two, but I’m just a fan with musician friends.
What drew you to ceramics and dishware as a medium for your drawings?
I’ve been into pottery since I was a little kid going to community center classes. At university, I learned so much more about the history of ceramics around the world, and it opened my eyes to this rich vocabulary that connects to every part of human history in often the most intimate ways, and to the entire population, not just the rich. We eat, drink, wash and relieve ourselves with ceramics every day, so the language has a familiarity for everyone, even if they may not realize it.
Once I had learned so much of the craft of clay, moving into glass was natural, as much of the kiln science is the same. I love the opportunity glass offers for us to see front and back at the same time, and of course I prefer to drink any colorful drink in a glass where I can see it, so I knew I needed to teach myself how to get my prints on them.
How did you get involved with the Halifax Crafters group, and what do you do with them?
When I joined up with the group, they had already been putting on small shows with a dozen or so friends in Halifax, but the first organizers were moving away, so a new group of us moved in to keep the shows going. It has been a really fun project and has grown to need a group of a dozen organizers to keep up with all the work. We really feel like we filled a big need here for people who really take their craft seriously and are skilled, but who needed more opportunity. And, we get a lot of love from our city; people really like finding out that their neighbors are up to really cool stuff.
You previously had a pet goat named Lucy Parsons. That’s awesome! How did this come about?
I love Utah Phillips’ telling of labor history and how people fought for the rights we have. Goats are real agitators always ready to butt heads, so naming her after a proud, [injustice]-disturbing hero seemed appropriate.
Lucy Parsons, former pet goat and assistant kiln technician. She is now retired.
Now that Lucy has retired from her assistant duties, is another critter keeping you company in your studio?
I have a black pug named Mr. Pink, after his look-a-like in Reservoir dogs, and he makes sure I always bring him out to the studio so he can run around the field and forest there.
You’re a self-professed devotee of museums. What’s the last exhibition you went to see?
I haven’t been to anything too recently, but one long-standing favorite would have to include seeing an Allied propaganda show at Canada’s War Museum in Ottawa. It was so interesting to see that the Axis forces didn’t have any monopoly on racism, sexism, or on super cool Art Deco printmaking, revolutionary designs.
Any advice for the aspiring crafter?
Make the project. Whatever it is. Just go ahead and make it, even if you don’t know where you are going with it or how it will turn out. Once you’ve made something, you can look at it and think of how to make the next thing better, or what to try next, but in the first place, the most important thing is to get down to it and give it a go.
I love the website Craftster.org—it’s a forum where people post all kinds of things they have been working on, and it’s always inspiring to check out so many ideas. Many people offer instructions if you want to try yourself, and people are all really supportive. The internet has really become a fantastic resource for beginners looking to learn more about how to make things now that so many people post how-to videos and tutorials.
Does Kyla’s work inspire you too? Have you ever worked with glass, or do you craft with other mediums?