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Inspirations in Clay: Meet Lisa Jones of Pigeon Toe Ceramics

Images via Pigeon Toe Ceramics

Here at Firelclay we are always interested in the work of other makers, especially those who work with clay and focus their efforts on sustainable design, so we were thrilled to get a chance to chat with the talented ceramicist, Lisa Jones of Pigeon Toe Ceramics.  Jones started Pigeon Toe five years ago with a simple goal in mind, “To provide mankind with everyday beauty”.  With a focus on creating sustainable, handmade objects with a deep-rooted heritage, Jones introduces ceramic collections twice per year in collaboration with a variety of other local makers in Portland, Oregon.  Fascinated by her work, we were eager to learn more about her processes, her desings, and all that drives her creativity.

Image via Pigeon Toe Ceramics

Hi Lisa!  First of all, what sparked your interest in Ceramics?

Lisa – I have a BFA in Intermedia from the Pacific NW College of Art. My thesis was a video installation and I’ve worked in every medium from oil painting to photography. In regards to ceramics, I am primarily self-taught. I was working full-time in graphic design and longed to work more physically with my hands, so I rented a shelf at a community studio and started throwing for the first time since childhood. I’ve always loved objects and décor but didn’t consider it as an actual profession until I took up ceramics as a hobby and realized the limitless potential of the medium and my own creativity within it. It was as if a piece of myself I didn’t know I was missing clicked perfectly into place. I chose ceramics primarily because the medium is so infinitely malleable, and ceramic goods can be found in all areas of the home, which promises a relatively unlimited amount of design applications. Manufacturing on the wheel means I don’t have to be limited by funds for the amount of items I can introduce in a specific season, plus each piece is unique and special since it’s completely hand crafted. I like the contrast between a clean, polished design aesthetic and a more organic (ie not machine made) final product.

Do you have a design philosophy?

Lisa – I have a few basic philosophies that run throughout all of my designs:

-Strive for timelessness / attempt to transcend trends

-Have all elements be both necessary and beautiful

-Utility is equally as important as aesthetics

-Keep the price point attainable

-Manufacture for everyday use and long-term durability

What inspires your designs?

Lisa – I make things I want to have in my own life, and often what I can’t find anywhere. The line between commerce and art is indeed tricky, but I’m not afraid to cut something from my line that I don’t feel fits my vision anymore even if it sells well – evolution is important, and something else will work it’s way out of my brain to replace it eventually.

The Horn Handle Jar.  Image via Pigeon Toe Ceramics

What draws you to the idea of making something by hand?

Lisa – I’m drawn to the personal nature of handmade objects – and knowing I’m supporting a person, not a corporation. I feel there’s more honor in buying from local craftspeople, and in my own life I also strive to invest only in objects I love and want to own forever, not replace every few years. 

What is a day in the life at your studio like?

Lisa – Every day is different, but in general I split my time between the offices for design meetings and the administrative tasks of running a business, and the production studio. Because our building houses multiple brands, there is always someone around to keep you company or provide a distraction. Pigeon Toe has five employees, so on any given day there could be people glazing, shipping, mixing new clay, throwing or casting. 

What types of tools and machinery do you use?

Lisa – I have 3 wheels, 5 electric kilns, a pug mill (for recycling clay scraps), and various mixers and special tables for casting and mixing glazes. It’s a pretty typical clay studio with tons of shelving, ware boards, plastic sheeting and piles of tools and sponges. I also have an office for my ‘clean’ work like assembling my jewelry. 

Can you tell us a little about your design process?

Lisa – Creativity is still a bit of a mystery to me. I get my best ideas when I’m falling asleep at night, or in the shower, or some other similar moment when my brain is allowed to drift. It feels a bit like I’m accumulating little unrelated bits of interesting shapes, textures, or concepts for many months and suddenly it occurs to me how they’re related, or how they come together harmoniously. I’ve learned to just wait and be patient – stress and anxiety over design only proves to be more crippling to my process. I start prototype fabrication once I have the skeleton of a collection outlined in my sketchbook (usually 8-12 pieces). Things tend to evolve a lot at this stage as I problem solve function and the idiosyncratic properties of the material(s) I’m working with. Clay can be challenging that way – sometimes you have a design you love but realize in the process of making it that there’s no way to glaze it properly, or that it warps like crazy in the firing, and you have to reassess. 

The Square Handle Basket.  Imaga via Pigeon Toe Ceramics

Can you tell us about the other makers you collaborate with?

Lisa – Right now I’m in the midst of formally transitioning my studio space into a collective creative workshop call the Makery (makerypdx.com).  I rented a huge warehouse a few years ago and have spent the last two years recruiting some of my favorite makers to join me. We’ve been building out private and communal spaces, and are tackling a joint showroom and meeting space next. We’ll have annual events year round, classes, collaborations and more. It’s very exciting to be forming a community – the central point being that it’s better together than alone. The makers in the building include 2 other clay artists (one who focuses mostly on lighting), soft goods, illustration, letterpress, jewelry, video, photography, and sculpture. I also collaborate with other fabricators in town who help me produce elements of my designs, It’s very important to me to be as local as possible. 

What is your absolute favorite piece you have designed? Why?

Lisa – This is always changing, but I tend to really obsess over lidded jars. My new horn handle jar had to come home with my immediately when I made the first one. I love the tusk-like handle and the rubber cord binding. There’s something very primitive yet modern in the design that I find pretty much perfect. 

Any hints about what you are currently working on?

Lisa – I’ve become very interested in folk art and anti-industrial craft practices like weaving recently. I’m taking a basket weaving class in January so the ideas I have about incorporating that aesthetic can become a reality in 2014. My last collection began to explore binding, wrapping and other attachment styles in a modern way along with my first stab at jewelry, which I plan to evolve as well into a larger body of work this year.

Thank you for chatting with us, Lisa!

Interested in learning more?  Check out Pigeon Toe Ceramic's website here

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