Catriona McLaughlin meets ceramicist Lisa Stevens to find out what inspires her beautiful work.
Please tell us about yourself and how you got started.
I make porcelain jewellery, beads and sculpture under the name Seaurchin. I have always been creative, finding it hard to focus on one discipline. After my Art Foundation, I went on to a Theatre Design course as it covered a wide range of different media and techniques. During my first year I specialised in costume making - I’ve always loved textiles - but went off on a tangent after visiting Aardman Animation Studios in Bristol, my home town. I was lucky enough to be offered work experience there when I left college, and although initially interested in sets and props, I ended up as a sculptor, making puppets.
Ceramic work was originally a pleasant diversion from the tight work at Aardman. I did an evening course for a few years, where I found I loved producing different textures and experimenting with materials. I bought a small kiln for home use, and having spent the money, I thought I’d better concentrate on making ceramics. I left work to have a baby and ceramics were a great sanity saver. I tried my hand at selling on Etsy and with encouraging results I carried on developing my style. I’m now at the stage where I want to take it further with gallery exhibitions and larger craft shows.
What inspires your work?
A lot of my inspiration comes from the clay itself and my relationship with it. I do not force it do something that is against its nature, preferring to keep the raw edges and natural fissures that appear while I’m working. As you can see from my work, a lot of my visual references are from nature. The textures are often repetitive which I find satisfying. Coral, flowers, pollen, fungus, lichen, shells and geology all feature heavily in my work.
How did the name Seaurchin come about?
Whilst at my evening class, I made a few textured spheres that reminded people of sea urchins. When I first started promoting my work on the internet I wanted a domain name that would reflect my work. Seaurchin was taken, but c-urchin was available, so I became the ceramic urchin. Shop names could not contain hyphens when I joined Etsy and curchin just looks wrong, so I settled on seaurchin....which has served me well. I also now have a shop called seapods for beads, buttons and cabochons.
Can you tell us a bit about your creative space?
Until recently, most work has been created on my lap, part of the reason my work is rather small in scale. I also have a small kiln. I now have a home studio, which I don’t use as much as I should. It is useful to be able to leave unfinished pieces out without them being in the way of family life. Now my youngest has started pre-school I hope to create larger pieces so I will be using the studio more. I guess my studio doesn’t look much like a ceramic studio as I don’t have much in the way of ceramic equipment. I don’t use a wheel and my kiln is in the garage.
What jobs did you have before this?
Apart from the ubiquitous waitressing and pot-washing, and my teenage job as a library assistant, I was lucky enough to join Aardman at a time when they had a stint of continuous work. I started off as a trainee on a few adverts and Chicken Run, and went on to become one of the senior sculptors by the time I left to have my son. I was working on Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit when I left...I’m so glad I had a chance to fulfil my ambition!
How did you find your style and has it changed over time?
My style has become finer and more complicated, partly because I’ve changed clay and I now mainly use porcelain. Obviously over the years I have learned how the materials react with each other, how the glazes work over texture, so my pieces are less hit and miss than previously. By selling my work I have learned which pieces attract more interest and sell quicker, so, in a way that has influenced what I make, but generally I am an intuitive maker - I create what I feel like making at the time.
What's your definition of the perfect day?
My perfect day probably would have been set up the day before with a glaze firing cooling in the kiln. If I had tidied the studio the day before too, all the better! My favourite part of the process is the texturing, especially larger items such as bowls and wall pieces. It’s probably not very professional of me, but I love opening the kiln after a glaze or lustre firing! I’m always too impatient, having to wear gloves to unload the kiln as I’ve opened it too early. I enjoy looking at my new pieces, though I have been making them for a few years now, so I pretty much know how they should turn out. Of course, if I sold something, that would top off a perfect day!
Your product photography is really crisp and clear - do you have any tips on achieving good images?
Thank you. I take lots of photos from different angles and often against a few different backgrounds, then look at them on the computer. I always use indirect daylight and take my photos in the conservatory. I often use a plain sheet of paper stuck to the wall, curving under the product on a table to achieve a seamless backdrop. I like to include a photo of each piece held in my hand to give an immediate sense of scale. I always crop and brighten my photos afterwards, but avoid the autocorrect feature, as it never looks quite right.
Do you have any favourite craft blogs?
What advice would you give to someone starting a creative business?
You need to have a passion for what you make. Don’t base your style on someone else’s, experiment and see what works for you. Originality is key. I found Etsy, flickr, and in the beginning, deviantART were great for meeting like-minded people who would comment on my work. I discovered which styles worked, and which ones didn’t get much interest. It’s unlikely you will have overnight success. Building your brand and making business connections takes time and effort, but along the way, you’ll have fun and make friends too! Join in ... competitions, challenges, even commenting on other people’s work help get you noticed.
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