Potter Lisa Wilson

In this series on interviews on creativity, I’d like to uncover common traits and what, if anything, is different between each person’s routine. Creative thinking is fundamental to growth every aspect of life so I’d like to discover what practices we can all incorporate into our daily routines.

Creativity is what binds us. It is a way in which we connect through what we make and do; the way we look at the world. I’d like to explore this connection, this expression of our inner world, which ultimately is how we find a way to connect with each other in a meaningful way.

This month I spoke with Lisa Wilson. Lisa makes contemporary wheel thrown stoneware for functional and decorative use. More than 15 years as a graphic designer generated a passion for form and colour. With design as her background, she meets the world of ceramics with a pure and simple style. Her pieces can be described as uncomplicated, functional and colourful. Lisa works from her studio in Kinsale, Co. Cork.

What about pottery motivates you and what would you say is your forte? Was it something you were always interested in?

What motivates me is simply the endless possibilities from one ball of clay. Will it become a mug, bowl or plate? What shape and colour will it be? That potential excites me. The fact that no 2 pieces will ever be the same, and whilst I make pieces to be part of a set, each piece is still unique. That’s the beauty of clay that I love.

I’ve dipped in and out of pottery over the years. I remember so clearly the first time my hands touched clay. I was 8 years old at the Pine Forest Art Centre set in the hills and woodland of Glencullen. A stream runs beneath the centre and each lunchtime we would skip down to it and paddle or even take a quick dip. It was such a wonderful week of creativity and freedom. On one of the days we were given a ball of clay and asked to make a small head. I can still see my little hands pressing and moulding it into shape. It sits on my mums window sill to this day unglazed and unfired. It’s missing an ear or maybe both from being knocked about over the years, but it is a warm reminder of that week of nature, fresh air and above all – freedom to create. I briefly experimented with clay again in my secondary school art class but it wasn’t until I was pregnant with my 3rd little girl that I decided to sign up for a ceramics class and I was hooked straight away.

To answer your question about my forte.. I’m not sure if it is my forte but I am definitely drawn to form and colour. Clean lines and contrasting tones appeal so much to me and I love to incorporate these into my work. Keeping a minimal style is something I like to maintain.

What is your routine? Perhaps something you do to get started, etc. How do you organise your day? 

Once the kids are off to school, I head straight to my little studio in the garden. Coffee in hand, music playing, I’ll start jotting down a few notes and sketches into my diary of what I hope to achieve out of the day. Morning is my favourite time, with the day stretching out ahead of me. I am usually overly ambitious and aim to make far more than I can.. getting this balance of expectation versus reality is something I need to work on.. for 2022  🙂

What inspires you? How does an idea come to you: is there a process or can it happen any time? How do you explore this idea and make it into something viable?

I find inspiration from my surroundings. Living here in Kinsale, I am fortunate enough to be close to the sea and if I stand on tippy toes I can just about see the horizon line from my studio window. A walk on the beach fills me with ideas of colour and form. Seeing the boats bobbing in the water, the pebbles and shells washed up on the shore line, the grassy dunes set against blue skies. It’s a feast for the eyes and senses. Once I have an idea I sketch it out roughly, sometimes I’ll include ideas for colour. From this if I still like how the idea is progressing, I’ll make a little 2d paper cut out of the actual shape and size of the mug. This gives me a really rough idea of how it will sit in my hands. Then if I still like it I’ll make a test piece that I’ll fire and glaze. That’s really the only way to know for sure if it’s going to work.

It can be difficult to create in the modern world with social media and the constant noise i.e.  the constant need to produce ‘content’ instead of actually getting on with creating. How do you maintain your authentic self/voice? Does the constant comparison on and/or influence of social media help or hinder this?

Instagram offers a wonderful platform to engage with a community of makers, retailers and supporters. From that point of view I have found it to be hugely helpful in getting my little business started. But I find social media can overwhelm at the best of times and I try not to be a slave to that constant need to provide content and not get caught up in ‘comparisons’. However that is easier said than done and I sometimes find myself scrolling without even realising I’ve clicked online. Plus I’ve come to understand I guess that sometimes a little healthy comparison is good as it keeps you productive and on your toes.

In a bid to maintain an authentic voice I try to keep my content relevant and true to what I’m working on in the moment. And also if I don’t have anything worth sharing I simply don’t.

Given that creative work is an expression of our inner world, how do you keep positive when an idea ‘fails’ or when you get negative feedback?

I think all feedback is helpful; be it positive or negative you learn something from both. I love to hear all sides. Especially as I work alone and what I make is for others to use, so input from friends, family and social media is so valuable to me. Without it I would be concerned of losing touch with what people like and need in their hands and homes.

You spent 15 years as a Graphic Designer and now work in the world of pottery. How did this switch come about? Was it gradual or did you just take the plunge? What about being a Graphic Designer has helped with your work as a potter?

My departure from graphic design has been a gradual process. Initially I eased from full time to part time after having my first daughter. Since having our 3rd little girl I quickly realised that working for myself and from home was something I wanted to achieve for my family life, to offer flexibility to the girls and also to have a career that can grow as they do.

After I left design I had been missing having a creative outlet and so I signed up for my first ceramics class. I knew straight away this was something I wanted to pursue. I brought clay home every week and made at the kitchen table each evening, and sketched out ideas for the following weeks class. I sought out podcasts from other potters to listen it, watched tutorials on YouTube… anything to soak up knowledge of this medium I was loving. I took a brief break from it while I had my youngest daughter but as soon a she was born, I was dying to get back to come sort of class so once she turned 9 months or so I signed up for another evening ceramics class in the Crawford Art College and that is where I really found my love for throwing on the wheel. It has taken so much practice and many, many, many, failed attempts to get to the point I’m at now but it has been so worth it. I love sitting at my wheel and could easily pass the day making. The sensation of clay slipping between my fingers is so soothing and a welcome change from my previous career at a desk, glued to a computer screen. That said, I do think I have brought skills from design with me into my ceramics. In particular my love of colour, clean lines and a pared back style, as well as an instinct for symmetry and minimal design. Also when it comes to self promotion I have the tools and abilities to do things for myself and I can take an okay photo, so when that all clicks into place it gives my brand a sense of harmony… I hope!

Have you collaborated on a project? Was the experience worthwhile? If you haven’t collaborated, why and/or would it interest you?

I have yet to work on a collaborative project. It would definitely be something of interest to me. You never know what results you can come up with when you have another set of ideas and thoughts in the mix. Working alone from home I realise the importance of taking opportunities to be around others. To hear other peoples point view and keep an open mind on my own work and style. 

How does creativity enrich and crossover into other areas of your life? 

I think I have always been a creative person. My mother is an artist and my father trained as a carpenter so making has always been a part of my life. My husband runs his own graphic design agency and we both see it now in our children who have a huge interest in creating. We always strive to encourage them to experiment through different mediums; our walls and shelves are awash with their creations.

Meaningful connection is fundamental and in creating we are communicating through our work; connecting at an elemental level. Essentially, we are putting our view out there in the hope that it will resonate. What do you find so powerful about colour and clean lines, and the tactile nature of pottery? How do you hope your work will resonate with people?

I love the minimal simplicity of clean lines and this juxtaposed with bright colours makes me happy. I use a flecked stoneware clay that has a slightly dimpled texture and iron like speckles seep through the vibrant matt glazes. I feel this makes them more tactile. In a hectic world I  love the simplicity of the design I welcome into my own home. My hope is that my mugs can do this for others and can turn a tiny ritual like a morning coffee or afternoon tea into something a little more special.

Given the new situation the world finds itself in—dominated by a virus—and that we have seen how creativity has bound us during this time (with many people taking refuge in some form of creative pursuit), what role do you think it should play after this period has passed?

I hope creativity continues to play a role of refuge for many post pandemic. I can see with my own children the soothing benefits it brings them. Helping ground them when they may feel a little overwhelmed. Drawing, painting, making anything with their hands is such a wonderful way to unwind and destress. Allowing your mind to focus on just the task at hand.. what is in front of you in that moment. I am so grateful to have a job that allows me to do this everyday. It makes my heart sing  🙂

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