Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Featured Artist Interview - Jill Burrow, Soil Stone Co.

Jill is actually the inspiration for this week's topic. I asked her to do an interview with me thinking that I would get the perspective of an artist and business owner who is also a new mom - her son Julian is only three weeks old - I expected we would talk about how motherhood, and that kind of happy-stress interacts with her art. While we did talk about how friggen cute Julian is, we ended up talking about quality, the nature of handmade objects, and finding inner creative peace.

A:How did you get started making jewelry?
J: I've never done ceramics. I was talking to my husband Kerry - 2, maybe 3 years ago - and I said I've been to Hobby Lobby and there's nothing for me there. I can't make anything with all this crap, and I really wanted to make stuff that's super unique and I couldn't find anything that ever worked.
He said, "well, what about ceramics?" I said, Kerry. I wouldn't know the first thing about doing ceramics, I've never done them. And he said, just go to Evans and see what they say. So I went there and talked to them and they said yeah, here's some clay and whatever you make we'll fire it and you can glaze it yourself. So I started from basically nothing, knowing nothing about ceramics - to learning bit by bit how to make my pieces.

A: So this isn't Sculpey you're using, this is legitimate clay from the actual ground.
J: It's actual clay. I don't know if you've ever handled polymer clay, but it's plastic. It has a very
 hollow feel. My jewelry is handmade with just a few tools and then I fire it, glaze it, and fire it again.
And that's what I try to stress to people, this is the real deal, it's not some crap that you can just pick up at Hobby Lobby and bake in your oven. That's why it's valuable. It's real clay and will break if you drop it. Learning how to glaze and how to work the clay has been a lot of trial and error. The first batch was just..Shit. It was awful. I didn't glaze it well- it was chipped and cracked - and it was all mangled looking. I've learned so, so much since the first time I sat down with it.

A: Why did you chose clay as a medium as opposed to any other?
J: I've been searching awhile for the perfect medium for me to create with. I got my degree in music and I like doing things with my hands. So looking for something that wasn't painting or sketching - because I'm terrible at that - but that was a way to make things with my hands. I love jewelry, and I love modern and minimal jewelry, but there wasn't anything out there that I like. Taking my love of that aesthetic, wanting to do something with my hands, and this need to create, made this whole world for me. I felt like this is what I was meant to do. This medium is how I am meant to create. This is what I'm supposed to be doing.

A:Do you still make music?
J: Music is my first love, and I like getting together and playing with other people. I am classically trained in music and while in school I was singing and learning piano and focused on this one aspect of my creativity. After I graduated music was something that was a bit harder for me to get into the mindset of. Writing music is an elusive expression of creativity, just due to the intangibility. Where as the very nature of clay is physical. You're working with your hands in the moment, whereas with music it's so much more in the mind. I feel with my jewelry that it's my total niche and it's specifically something that I'm talented at that comes naturally to me with out having to struggle for it. I have confidence in myself and in my jewelry - I have so many ideas when it comes to this stuff. Having this one thing that I'm great at that I know is for me, and that I'm meant to do - is so, so satisfying.

A: When you're making a piece how does the thought of someone owning it, wearing it, contribute to it being made?
J: Ceramics are very fragile so I emphasize taking care of my pieces. It's not super durable and you can't just throw it against a wall. It'll last a long time, like glass would, but it is still very precious. You have to take care of it - I am always, always, always terrified that if breaks that they're
going to think it's shit, so I put a lot of time into the quality aspect of it. When I'm pricing something I have to
remind myself if someone is buying something of mine, they're doing it because they believe in the handmade aspect of and understand the amount of time and care that goes into each piece. There's always a moment of self-consciousness where I have to remind myself that my products are priced very well because they aren't just something you can go out and buy. They're a part of myself and my aesthetic.

A: How do you explain to people who are used to Pinterest and the DIY culture that your pieces are something unique and not just another at home project?
J:When you have handmade and quality things in your life they contribute to a better lived life over all. There's more purpose and intention in the ownership as opposed to cookie cutter things that are disposable. My pieces are a reflection of that belief in the creative process and as an art form. There's a huge movement now towards quality objects, the hipster movement for better or worse has contributed to people appreciating handmade objects. People are starting to realize that it's way better to buy fewer and higher quality things. The problem is that with Pinterest projects is that they're not participating in the actual community of handmade objects and they're not finding their own niche. Or even participating in this whole circle of awesomeness of artist created objects.
Convincing people that my pieces are better than Forever 21 pieces that are mass produced isn't the hard part, it's showing them why it's better to buy from an artist - rather than make their own attempt at an approximation of an artist's work - that is really difficult. 

Or even getting them to let go of the instant gratification of places like Forever 21 in order to have a quality object. I'm obviously not rolling in the dough by any means, so it's something that I have to educate people on.

A: When you're talking about high level, one of kind pieces - which yours are - how do  you convey that to people?
J: At my show at Reverie I displayed my jewelry in frames on walls, which was just how they show things there. They don't do any little popups or anything like that so Kerry helped me make the frames for the pieces to hang on the walls and it ended up working out really well. As an artist you determine a person's attitude toward your product, so if I don't make the sale because the person thinks my product is outrageously priced, then okay, I need to explain to them what it took to make it and I have to respect myself and my work. I have spent a lot of time working on the skills necessary to produce my product which is not something that just anyone can say. I'm actually really thankful for the fact that my jewelry isn't easily reproduced and that there is an obvious quality difference. It's not a craft. In someways the DIY world has destroyed the appreciation for quality.

A: You've mentioned having confidence, self respect, and finding a sense of peace with you art. Can you describe what that is like mentally for you?
J: I think there's a lot of things that creating does for me. Working with your hands and being mindful are the most important things for me. Focusing on one thing and being present is really amazing for discipline. It's been a huge help for me to be super dedicated and finishing things. Like, I have to get up and do a few hours of this today. The biggest part of it that has helped me just feel better as a
human is the fact that I'm accomplishing something. Like, I have purpose in this project. Being able to return to that state whenever something in life is going wrong - it's like a muscle - it get's bigger as you practice being in that state. I've really been able to use that dedication and that focus to deal with other situations.

You can find all of Jill's current works this weekend, May 15th for the Haute Handmade Pop Up Market at The Monarch in Delano. Not able to make it out? Check out her website Soil Stone Co for more information on products and how to own one of her unique pieces, and follow her on Instagram @soilstoneco

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