Interview || Pigeon Toe Ceramics

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

So the thesis is nearly done so I said I would share some of the amazing interviews I was lucky to get with some great crafters and designers for it.

I'll start with Lisa Jones, The designer and maker of the beautiful range Pigeon Toe Ceramics. I was lucky enough to work with her when I lived in Portland ,Oregon in the summer and she has some great insight into the world of craft and the handmade.

Tell me about you line of work and how it came about for you?
I design and produce (with several lovely artisan assistants) modern, heirloom porcelain vessels for home and life. My designs fall into several categories - lighting, garden ware, traditional tabletop/dinnerware, home decor. I try to reinvent and redefine what's possible with ceramics and incorporate wood, leather, cloth, etc. We produce our work by hand in a very traditional way - I love that we're using a modern version of one of the oldest art-making processes in the world.
I was working full time as a graphic designer, which can be very analytical at times, and longed to work with my hands, shut my brain off a bit and just create. So I paid for a little shelf in a community studio and starting throwing for the first time since 4th grade. I was hooked, and a month later I had a collection and a new business to launch.

How long have you been doing this?
I decided to become an artist when I was in first grade -- so 6 or 7 years old, but have only being doing Ceramics professionally since late 2008. I went to art college but mostly worked in graphics, photography and video. Prior to that I was oil painting. I spent time managing a retail store and learning the ropes of wholesaling via a clothing designer. I briefly had my own graphic design studio specializing in work for creatives and small businesses.You could say I'm a dabbler, but found my real calling in product design (wheelthrowing to me is more a byproduct of design for me rather than the main event, if that makes sense). All of these past experiences make it possible for me to have aesthetic control over the entire business -- the website was designed by me, the collateral marketing materials, many of the photos, etc.

How did you come across sites like ETSY and how has selling on them helped your line of work?
I can't even tell you how I first discovered Etsy. I've read design blogs for years and I imagine that's where I first heard about it. Etsy has been huge for Pigeon Toe in terms of exposure -- to a core group of customers who appreciate handmade goods and are willing to pay for it, to magazine editors at Sunset and Martha Stewart looking for new and unique content, to other artists and designers we are now friends with or work with. It's more than just a sales force, it's a community, a network.

Do you feel the Internet is an important part of promoting your work and why?
Very --- design blogs and social networks are the backbone of the small designer/small business owner. I've connected with people from Australia to Switzerland and everywhere in between who love what I'm doing and want my work in their lives. They find me through blogs, or on Etsy, or Twitter, etc. We're so much more connected now, it's far easier to share you vision with people all over the world. The internet leveled the playing field for artists as well -- you don't have to live in New York and have a friend working at a major publication to be noticed anymore.

Have you seen any negative outcomes from this kind of market?
Well, with the rise of Etsy and the speed at which we consume information now that the internet is part of our daily lives, I see a lot more copying out there. I think it's great that people feel empowered to create but it can be at the expense of innovative artists trying to make money at their craft. I hear a lot of 'oh I'll just make this myself, it'll be cheaper' -- sometimes people don't respect the design process and the intellectual property rights of the designer. But on the other hand I suppose it could be said that everything at this point is derivative and the best we can do it to continue to innovate and stay true to quality.

Do you think the recent popularity of the handmade aesthetic and handmade philosophy has power to last or just another passing trend?
Oh, I think both. This DIY handmade frenzy we're currently experiencing will probably quiet down much like the whole green movement, but left behind will be fundamental changes in the way we consume, as a result of how popular it's been. We're all sick of hearing about how such-and-such company is eco-friendly and here's how, but corn-based coffee and togo containers are now standard issue, and many countries have outlawed the plastic bag. Baby steps, but real change in the end. I think the recession redefined what people deem important, and with the internet consumers are more educated about where their good come from and how they are produced. People want stories, they want their possessions to be special.

Is there a sense of community between you and other makers creating in the same way?
Yes, it's fantastic to spend time with other markers at trade shows, holiday sales, collaborations or just over drinks. We all get how hard we work, how we want to stay true to our values in HOW we create while making a decent living, and in the end produce something beautiful and useful. I've never felt so much a part of something as I do now. We really are on the forefront on a small but mighty consumer revolution.

Are you trying to make a statement through your work? Obvious or otherwise?
The statement is more in the way we produce, on a small scale and individually made by hand by a person, in the US, for a fair wage, than in the work itself. With my work I am simply expressing my aesthetic, and filling what I perceive to be voids in the market. There are a lot of  'why doesn't this exist already?' moments when I'm designing. It's kind of amazing to me how so many people manage to create something new and different every day despite all the years of design our world already has behind us.

Where do you feel your work will go in the future?
I'm expanding my reach into textiles this spring, and hopefully glass is next; I started incorporating wood last season. Ceramics will always be my core focus, but my interest as a designer goes beyond that. I hope the company continues to grow so I can spend more time designing and less on the day to day production.  Recent interest from much larger companies that we're used to selling to may redefine how we create, but I will never sacrifice quality or ethics to make my goods.

You can find more of Lisa's great work on

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