One Green Leaf: the ceramicist inspired by the natural world around her

Jenny Wilson of One Green Leaf Ceramics made her first pot when she was at intermediate school. She’s tried dozens of crafts since then, but keeps coming back to clay. About 18 months ago Jenny bought a good second-hand kiln and set herself the goal of paying for it by selling her ceramic work. This prompted her to be brave, to ignore the little niggly voices that said “selling is too difficult” and “why would people want to buy my work?”, and to start finding out how to go about selling at markets and online. Jenny met her target, learned a whole lot of new skills in the process and found, to her surprise that she enjoyed it (especially the markets)!

Her home is set in a leafy green garden and has chooks, vegetables and fruit trees.


 

 
What do you make?
I make pottery and ceramic art. I enjoy making very small delicate pieces such as jewellery and larger sculptural pieces. If I make domestic ware I try and make it original in some way.

How did you get into your craft?
I was introduced to pottery while at intermediate school. I still have some of my first pots (thanks to Mum for saving them!). I have sporadically attended pottery clubs and classes over many years.

Do you have any formal training and qualifications?
In 2015 I took the plunge and enrolled part-time in a Diploma of Ceramic Arts through Otago Polytechnic. I had some pottery skills, but the Diploma course stretched me in terms of trying new processes and developing the artistic side of ceramics. I completed correspondence papers in glaze technology, drawing and art history, and had a local studio tutor, Tatyanna Meharry. Tatyanna assisted me to develop and clarify my artistic ideas and gave me confidence to express my original “voice”. She was very generous in sharing technical know-how and helped me develop an organised studio practice.

I graduated with a Diploma in Ceramic Arts just a couple of months ago. At my final assessment I participated in a group exhibition with classmates. With some trepidation I created and installed my first large scale sculptural work. It was so exciting to see the work in the gallery, I loved seeing the response of visitors to the exhibition!


 

 

 
Favourite materials, tools and processes?
I currently love soft slab work. I have a favourite rolling pin (very smooth and just the right size) and a favourite knife that has a smooth slim blade that is not too sharp.

I enjoy taking a single idea and trying many different variations in size, shape, colour and form. I can be very happy with the process of repetition if it is combined with ongoing development of a form or colour, for example.

I also love glazes that are the the colour of the sea, especially that mysterious colour which changes so that sometimes it is blue and sometimes green and you can’t decide what to call it.

Tell us about some of the techniques involved in producing one of your pieces
Slab work starts with a lump of firm clay, not too soft. I thump it with the rolling pin to flatten it out a bit, then roll it out like pastry. Once I’ve made a nice even slab it can be cut, printed, folded, joined, textured, stretched, smoothed… it has lots of possibilities.

My leaf dishes are an original design. A fresh leaf is pressed into the clay, leaving behind its texture. I then cut and join it with a bit of a twist. After the first bisque firing to 1000 degrees Celsius it gets dipped into a glaze that I make myself and then fired again to over 1200 degrees Celsius.


 

 

 
What inspires you?
I find inspiration in the natural world around me. I’m particularly influenced by the Banks Peninsula area where I spend a lot of time. I find the patterns and cycles of nature reassuring and a constant source of interest.

I have Chinese ancestry which ceramics has helped me reconnect with – it’s been a way to engage with some of my cultural heritage. My childhood interest in origami and other paper craft keeps reasserting itself when I work with sheets of clay. I love that “Ah-ha!” moment of surprise when 2D becomes 3D.

Actually I get interested in learning many new things and it is often hard to focus-in and edit so I can get a something resolved and completed!

“I enjoy taking a single idea and trying many different variations in size, shape, colour and form. I can be very happy with the process of repetition if it is combined with ongoing development of a form or colour, for example.”

Describe your creative process
I play and experiment with clay a lot. I also make drawings and use paint to capture ideas on paper. I have learned to allow substantial time for exploration and for themes to grow and develop. I often make many small models in paper or card prior to starting on larger projects. This is a fun creative activity that can be done indoors when the studio is too cold.


 

 

 
Describe your workspace
I work in our garage. I started with just a small corner but I am gradually spreading out – so the car often won’t fit any more! There have been heavy-duty negotiations with my partner to reduce the quantity of the recycled timber he stores, and take over more of that space. So far I have managed to use substantial quantities of recycled timber to build my workbench and a 2m x 3m bay of storage shelves. That’s one excellent way to reduce the wood store and keep the ceramics area expanding!

I try to use what have at hand. I store materials and glazes in recycled buckets. I reuse scrap clay, and reuse glaze material from wash water; so there are often buckets of sludge and goopy stuff about. I admire other people’s clean coordinated studios; mine is not like that but I can honestly say that not much is wasted.

The garage has several clear panels overhead for lovely daytime light. The sun comes in through the open garage door in the afternoon and evenings. It is a lovely place to work in summer, but rather bracing in winter.

“I find inspiration in the natural world around me. I’m particularly influenced by the Banks Peninsula area where I spend a lot of time. I find the patterns and cycles of nature reassuring and a constant source of interest.”

Five words that describe your mind:
Most of the time: busy, chattering.
When I’m making stuff: quiet, calm, focused.

What are you reading now?
I have had Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on my bedside table for the last 12 months and keep dipping into it. He discusses the conditions needed to intentionally add mindful challenge or “flow” into our activities which translates to deeper life satisfaction and enjoyment. Unsurprisingly the principles aren’t easy to put into practice. I’ve read this book a couple of times before. I keep coming back to it because the ideas are important and I need regular reminders to be disciplined and bypass passive fast-fix recreation like television, and internet browsing. Ceramics for me is a very satisfying “flow” activity.


 

 
Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
It’s one way an individual can make a difference in the frenetic consumerist system that we know is bad for the planet and for our psyche. Buying handmade means the maker can keep making, and the receiver has an item that has some soul to it.

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
I bought a two zipped coin purses from fellow Felt seller – In My Backyard – who had a market stall next to mine recently. I was attracted to the simple and engaging hand painted design and enjoyed meeting the person who made them. I gave the purses to teenage nieces, they were delighted with them.

What’s in store for 2019?
Definitely more ceramics. I’ve got some ideas for large sculptural pieces, plan to take part in the Christchurch Art Centre Mākete more often, and hopefully do a bit of teaching.

Prize draw!
Jenny has very kindly offered a wonderful prize for one lucky Felt reader of one leaf dish or brooch from her range – of your choice! If you would like a chance to win this lovely One Green Leaf prize, just leave a comment on the blog telling us what you like about Jenny’s story and her ceramic creations. The draw closes at 5pm on Monday 4 February and is open to New Zealand residents only.

9 thoughts on “One Green Leaf: the ceramicist inspired by the natural world around her

  1. I love your bravery and self belief!
    When you find something that you enjoy, are good at and people will pay you to do – you are made.
    Congratulations on your success!

  2. I also live on the edge of Banks Peninsula…I love the inspirational ‘drama’ of it’s climate and landscape, and uniqueness of its creative ingredients…go Jenny!

  3. I so enjoyed reading this article and was inspired by Jenny’s courage to follow her love of ceramics and her creativity in linking her beautiful designs with the local environment and nature. Loved her comments about the importance of finding “Flow” and limiting the easy, passive forms of entertainment in our busy lives.
    Thank you for this article

  4. This is a great article, very inspirational. I had not considered making the garage into my studio. We are trying to find a house, and we keep looking for one that will fit the studio inside the house.

    Most of all, I like the leaf dishes. I’ve seen other artists make things with leaf impressions, but I’ve never seen one that is cut and folded like that. Sheer genius!

  5. I love how you have taken the plunge to sell your beautiful creations, and the process of how you get to the final product. Especially love the leaf dishes. Very inspiring!

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