An interview with Ceramics Maker, Lauren Natasha "From Tree To Sea"
" I can’t help but love everything handmade. A messy signature scrawled on the bottom of the wheel-thrown mug holding your morning coffee; a chunky hand-knit wool blanket in a basket beside the couch. Soft, uneven pastel brushstrokes framed above the kitchen table; an intricate macramé hanger suspending plants in a sunny window. The little quirks & nuances that let you know an object or image was created by a fellow human; someone who poured their time, energy and heart into nurturing their creative process. That’s what makes me happy."
As a full-time Recovery Biologist and Maker, Lauren has a lot to say about creativity and the many different forms to which it takes shape. Her passion for the environment and natural world translates greatly into her delicate, unique and earthy creations. I sat down with Lauren to learn more about her creative process and devotion to her ceramics craft. Lauren radiates dedication and warmth- and proves that being an "artist" does not necessarily mean creating 18 hours everyday. If you find yourself having difficulty balancing a career with your creative passion, I reccomend Lauren's story:
What does the creative process bring to your life? What does creativity mean to you?
"I love that creativity isn’t something tangible, it’s not something you can measure."
I feel like I would probably wither away if I didn’t have some sort of creative outlet to sustain me. That’s a bit dramatic, but honestly how I feel. I can’t think of a time where I wasn’t consistently creating in some way. Now that I’m saying it, it sounds pretty exhausting, but it keeps me moving and makes me excited! Growing up I was always painting and drawing (when I was a kid I was convinced I would become a cartoonist!), and loved sculpting things out of polymer clay. In university I made wire-wrapped jewelry and woodcut earrings while juggling classes and assignments, and trying to maintain some sort of social life. Last year I taught myself how to crochet/knit, and I haven’t stopped working with ceramics since my first pottery class in early 2015. Having the ability to create things that can be used, cared for and loved on a daily basis feels insanely fulfilling.
I love that creativity isn’t something tangible, it’s not something you can measure. Anyone can be creative! There are so many different ways of creatively expressing yourself, whether it be through fine art, cooking, accounting, ceramics, whatever. Being creative means thinking outside the box and leaving your comfort zone to explain to the world how you see things
You focus now on your business in ceramics. Was your end goal always to work in this field?
I’ve always been a bit of a creative dabbler – I like to try out different mediums and see if I enjoy them or are any good at them. If not, no biggie! Every time I started a new creative practice, I would feel totally alive and motivated at first, but would eventually grow bored of working with a certain material. When I started working with clay, I was ecstatic, as usual. But when my nightly pottery classes started coming to an end, something felt wrong – I wasn’t done yet! There was so much more I wanted to explore with clay, I had to find a way to keep working with it. Shortly after my classes ended, I moved to Thornhill to be closer to my day job. At first I figured I would just hand-build pieces at home, and find a place where I could pay to have my work fired (there was no way I could run a kiln in my 600 square foot apartment). I called, emailed and visited a ton of studios, but wasn’t having any luck finding what I wanted. It took a couple of months, but finally I found a studio that would fire my work, and bonus, I could use their pottery wheels as well! Long story short, the effort I went through to carry on working with clay signified to me that this was something I really loved and wanted to continue doing.
You have studied environmental conservation, correct? How did this role turn into a creative outlet for you?
That’s right! I have a Bachelor’s of Environmental Studies, and majored in Environment and Resource Studies with a diploma in Ecological Restoration and Rehabilitation; which led me to the full-time job I currently have as a Recovery Biologist focusing on species at risk in Canada. Studying in the environmental field encouraged me to develop a profound love for the great outdoors, and forced me to pay more attention to the incredible flora and fauna found across the globe. This deep appreciation for wildlife and landscapes now inspires my ceramic work as well as other creative practices.
When did you first begin working with clay?
My adventure with clay began in January 2015 (yes, I’m still a bit of a baby in the world of ceramics). During the previous December, I had written down a list of all the things I wanted to do or try in 2015, and taking a pottery class was pretty high up on the list. The only time I had played with clay before this was a few years prior at Ananda Fest, a yoga festival in Burlington Ontario - someone had brought several pottery wheels with them and everyone got a turn trying to create something that would later be glazed and put to good use. My attempt at a bowl turned out pretty sad, I feel kinda sorry for whoever got stuck with that one!
I found a local studio and signed up for the class session that started in early February. It was a freezing winter, yet I still found myself so excited to step out into -30°C to get to the studio every Monday night! Our teacher Kathleen was amazing, and taught us how to build pots and plates through coil, slab, and pinching techniques. But the wheel was my favourite. I was so slow (think an hour to make something kind of good), and pretty intimidated, but I enjoyed every minute of it.
Tell us a little more about your brand. Why “From Tree To Sea?” What does this signify?
I’ve actually had quite a few people ask me about this. “How would I know this is a ceramics business with that name?” they always wonder. The name partly stems from my tendency to use a lot of layered blues and greens that remind me of forests, oceans, mountains, fields, etc. I like that it’s a little vague. It captures my main interests, as well as the source of my creativity. Like many people I know, I am constantly captivated by the beauty of nature. From Tree To Sea is the short & sweet phrase that, to me, speaks to the idea of being inspired by all things wild and free.
Bonus – it also has a nice ring to it!
As a maker, what is your greatest struggle with creativity or artist block? And how do you go about tackling these obstacles?
Creative block is so incredibly frustrating. First things first, if you’re reading this and you’ve hit some sort of block, just know that you’re not alone – we’ve all been there and it’s terrible / can be completely numbing, but you can push through it!
the only way to break through a creative slump,
is to keep creating.."
Whenever I’m feeling uninspired or unmotivated, I’ll call up or message one of my fellow ‘maker friends’, just to talk it through. It’s nice to have a little reminder that this happens to everyone eventually and to be able to chat about why it might be happening or what other people are doing to deal with it. Another great resource for me is podcasts! Listening to other creatives speak candidly about their process and the challenges they face can be incredibly inspiring and also very grounding (the Have Company podcast is amazing, and one of my absolute favourites).
Sometimes the only way to break through a creative slump is to just keep creating – I’ve had days when I’m feeling so very meh, but I drag my butt to the studio anyway, wedge up a few balls of clay and see where it takes me. I’ve found that in a lot of cases I need to look at what my schedule has been like lately, and figure out whether I need to start saying “no” more often. I’ll also look at where I’ve been spending most of my time; have I spent any quality time outdoors in the last week? Month? I volunteer at a bird banding station on the weekends, and it’s so nice to spend some time completely unrelated to my ceramics practice - not making any time for yourself ultimately just leads to burnout. You can hustle as hard as you want but if you’re ending every day feeling totally exhausted and frustrated, you might want to stop and re-assess!
I would love to know more about your process. What goes into creating each hand-made piece? How does your creative process begin?
Most times, something will catch my eye – be it a colour, a form, a texture. I’ll start to develop an idea in my head of how it could potentially be applied to a ceramics piece. Occasionally, I’ll sketch my idea out on paper so it doesn’t run away (for example, if I think of it while I’m at my 9-5 or at my volunteer bird banding stint), but usually I can keep it in my head long enough to start working on it. Its kind of fun since the end result always ends up a little different than my original plan… Improvising forever, I guess!
What I do in the studio on any given day depends on whether I’m working on the wheel, or I’m hand-building. If I’m throwing that day, I’ll cut the clay with a wire tool, wedge it into balls (I usually wedge about 10-12 lbs of clay before I sit down to throw, unless I have a specific number of pieces in mind), and get my tools and water bowl ready. Every once in a while I’ll throw a Spotify playlist on and put my headphones in, but the ladies who run the studio are hilarious, so most of the time I’ll listen to them chat and get lost in the clay. Then I’ll sit down at the wheel and center the clay, open it up, compress the bottom and pull the clay walls up to the height and thickness that I want. Finally, I’ll cut the piece from the wheel and bring the entire bat over to another table to dry in front of a fan. This is only the first step! A few days later I’ll come back to the studio and the piece will have dried to the leather hard stage. I’ll trim it and smooth out any edges with a sponge, stamp it, and finally place it on the shelf to completely dry out for bisque firing.
If I’m hand-building, the process starts out the same (cutting and wedging the clay), and then I’ll use whatever method I think is best for the piece in mind. I mainly rely on pinch pots or slab building techniques. I really love the look of slab built mugs, but they can be so time intensive!
Many of us have to juggle with daily routines and can be asked to play various roles in our lives; which, at times, can be overwhelming. Has there been a difficult situation or obstacle you have had to overcome, in order to continue pursuing your passions?
"It’s easy to become unmotivated thinking about what you’ll have or be able to do ‘someday’.
However, I’ve learned that you can’t sit around waiting for someday – make the best of where you are in life right now."
I think I often struggle with the comparison game, especially on social media. As I currently work a full-time job and do a couple other volunteer stints, I only get to the studio twice a week if I’m lucky. I’ll have a million different ideas or designs I want to pursue, but won’t get to the studio until almost a week later in some cases. I’ll see others posting all the amazing things they’ve been working on day after day, and it can be difficult knowing that even though I’m spending as much of my “free time” as I can working on ceramics, I’m just not at a place where I can produce the amount of work that I want, or create the time to test out everything I want to try. It can definitely be frustrating at times, but I know I’m still incredibly lucky to be able to create part-time. It’s easy to become unmotivated thinking about what you’ll have or be able to do ‘someday’ (e.g., when I can afford a studio, when I live somewhere I can fit my own kiln, when I have more time on the weekends, etc.), but I’ve learned that you can’t sit around waiting for someday – make the best of where you are in life right now.
Growth can defiantly shine in so many forms. When starting your small business, was there a goal you set for yourself—which you’ve recently met?
Creating a somewhat dedicated space in our apartment for my ceramics work was something I finally accomplished (thanks to my partner for building those pretty shelves from Ikea!), and I recently sold my ceramics in person for the first time in July of this year! I was a vendor in the Launch Party + Pop-up hosted by Maker’s Movement and RAWspace in Toronto, Ontario (my work is also now stocked in the shop!). I’m also very excited that I’ve been accepted as a vendor in the upcoming online Handmade Pop-up, an online holiday market created by Maker’s Movement and CYLCollective- selling my creative work in places other than my little online shop has only been a dream till this year, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity!
As a fun aside, I’ve also set a goal for myself to create at least one thing that’s experimental in nature (whether it be testing new glaze combinations, creating different textures, etc.) in every batch that goes in the kiln. Most of the time I have no idea what it’ll turn out to be, but that’s a pretty exciting way to create.
Creativity takes shape in many forms for different people. Each process is unique, and each part of a routine is essential in different ways. What element of your process is most sacred for you, and why?
Part of me wants to say it’s throwing on the wheel, because I do enjoy that part immensely and it can meditative as heck. In all honesty though, the most sacred part of the process for me is cleaning up edges and smoothing things over with a sponge, right before I put the piece on the shelf to completely dry before bisque firing. I find this so relaxing. This is the stage where the perfectionist in me gets to take over and fill in any teeny tiny cracks and focus on little details. It’s also at the stage where the piece feels so precious – *almost* finished, but still raw and easily breakable.