Mankind and Corals - Lisa Stevens

What makes your day? I had to answer that question immediately. And it is one of the most important questions I received. It's not what I wished to do that particular day. It's what I did consistently every day, and what "my present" was about. It gives you the bird's eye insight into your life, and some decisions are easier to make.
When I notice a similar situation - it immediately tangles the feeling of freedom. The freedom of learning and developing yourself. When I notice that a person already went through the same thing and developed some higher understanding of the world around us. That particular feeling leads me to have an interview with Lisa Stevens, the creator of Seaurchin pottery brand.

Where are you from? Where does the art journey start for you?

I live, and work from home, in a village just outside of Bristol, in the South West of England.

I have always been a creative person, both of my parents made items out of various materials. My Dad was a carpenter and builder, and my Mum made our clothes and soft furnishings, both of them encouraging myself and my sister to do the same, and draw, paint, sculpt, sew, knit, build.

I enjoyed any creative subjects at school and continued on to an Art Foundation course and then an HND in Theatre Design, where I could still use many different media and materials. I spent a lot of time making puppets, and costumes-not always out of traditional materials. I always liked to experiment.

After college, I spent nine years working at Aardman Features as a sculptor, making plasticene characters, as part of a team, for films such as Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Wererabbit.

I took ceramics as an evening class, as a creative subject that was looser and less restrictive than my day job. I bought a small home kiln and, after I left work to start a family, clay became my main creative outlet. My eldest is now sixteen.

What is the first emotion that drives you towards creating an art piece? Do you recognize the connection immediately and let yourself flow on the creative process? Or do you "bake" the inspiration for some time?
What is the back story of your design? Because every one of us sees the world through separate lenses. How hard it must be to transfer it to other people?

Generally, the shapes and forms primarily are very much driven by the immediate connection with the clay. The forms grow as I work on them and I follow the direction they take. The coral-like shapes developed over time form a series of mark-making exercises. Partly that came about because of my frustration of not being able to make a piece perfectly smooth, so I started dappling and scoring the surface of my pieces. When my texture experiments started looking like coral, I then followed the clay, trying to find more coral-like textures and forms. Everything I do now has evolved through years of playing and experimenting, becoming more extreme and complicated.

On the other hand, nature, in its many forms, has always been another love of mine, since childhood. The plight of the planet and the impact of our actions on the environment around us is never far from my mind. On a personal level, there are many improvements I can make in my own habits and consumption of resources and I can influence those people directly around me, but by making this part of the narrative of my work, in some small way I can reach more people.

My pieces range from coloured to pure white. A healthy, thriving reef to an ecosystem in trouble. Coral bleaching and dying due to rising sea temperatures, pollution, and disruption of the delicately balanced ecosystem due to mis-managed fishing practices and tourism.

I have created some pieces that explore the relationship between mankind an corals more explicitly in pieces such as “Change”, a piece of street art for The Cheltenham Paint Festival. This is a series of coral textured, brightly coloured letters that spell out “change” installed on the brick wall of a car park. They start off brightly coloured and fade to white, leaving the “e” as a pure white piece with coral textures. There is change in our eco-system, we need to change, change is not irreversible, climate change is real. Many messages in one small word with a big meaning.

Another piece that speaks of our relationship to corals is my “Coral skull”. A pure white, coral-textured skull mask, roughly life sized. Collectively, we are contributing to the destruction of the reefs, but, without the oxygen-producing reefs, humanity itself could be in dire trouble.

When it comes to making a living from your art, what are the main struggles? And what would be your advice for starting artists?

It does, unfortunately, take a long time and a lot of work, to get to the stage that a living can be made from artwork alone. I am lucky to have the support of my husband.

Always create what you feel compelled to, don’t follow trends (unless it is something that truly moves you.) It takes a long time to be noticed. I’ve built up my followers on Instagram, and other social media platforms before, over a number of years. Everyone does it in different ways, but I joined a few challenges, such as #the100dayproject and #marchmeetthemaker and those got the ball rolling with regards to being noticed. There are lots of challenges on Instagram (and I’m sure on other platforms too) and it may be worth joining one, if it inspires you.

I post often, and also post work in progress photographs. There are even a few photos of my cats thrown in. I think people like to see the human side of a brand or artist.

Of course, there are many other ways of starting your career. There are many grants, awards and competitions that can be applied for, and it may be worth researching galleries and contacting those that you feel are a good fit for your work. I’m an introvert, so I preferred the slow, organic way of posting on Instagram, rather than contacting lots of people.

What do you prefer, single pieces or storytelling through a whole project? And what approach do you use in each case?

It’s a bit of both. I like to explore textures and forms, along a theme, so the pieces often work together as a collection, but I also make some one-off pieces, such as “change” and the skull. These have had more thought, rather than the meditative practice of forming and texturing the clay. They do take more planning though, and as the price point is higher, they take longer to sell. I do have plans to make some more in-depth pieces though.

Why do you use certain materials? What connects you with them, and makes you feel they are perfect for your art piece?

There is something quite free about clay, it can truly be anything! From functional pots, to otherworldly sculptures. I love the pure white and translucency of the porcelain clay and the underglaze and glaze colours really glow. The small amounts of melted glass I sometimes use give an added element that catches the eye.

On a practical level, I’ve switched from traditional porcelain to porcelain paper clay, which has added flax fibres, these strengthen the drying clay, reducing cracking, but burn off during the bisque firing to leave only the porcelain. This has enabled me to build larger and more extreme forms.

What does ART, in general, mean to you?

Art is a connection between the artist, the materials, and the viewer. Although art often conveys a message, I don’t feel that it has to, as long as it makes you feel something. Personally I feel that there is a huge crossover between art and craft, and you can really see when someone has connected with the materials they have used.

Although I see many artworks that can make me feel uncomfortable, or make me question the way I think, or the world around me, the emotion that I feel is most prevalent, is joy. Joy of texture, form, communication, the natural world, the people around us, the materials, colour. I often think, that to be an artist, is to feel compelled to create and to communicate.

In the noise around us, it is crucial to find a voice of positivity and social improvement. The voice that will lead us to do better things greater than today. To bring to light important global questions which we all participate in and have an impact on. Take a look at your everyday life, see where you can do better, and enrich your life with one more positive direction.

The FOURLINEdesign team would like to thank Lisa Stevens for sharing inspiring thoughts with our community.