Interview with Laura: pottery with your hands, heart and head

We’re very excited to kick off a new blog series of interviews with inspiring pioneers. Each of them has chosen to step away from the beaten path and blaze their own trail. In these talks, we’ll explore their unique insights on work and life, and how it ties in with the Primal Pioneers values.

For our first interview, Tanja chatted with her amazing teacher and pottery artist Laura van der Linde. Laura creates pottery through hands, heart and head, in her new Vancouver workspace called Boomslang Studio. Enjoy the conversation about pottery, life and art.

Laura, can you tell us something about yourself and how you started with pottery?

I’m originally from South Africa and have now lived in Vancouver Canada for 25 years. I first touched clay when I was 13. My neighbour was going to a pottery class and I jumped in the car and I joined him. When I touched the clay in the studio, I was immediately seduced by the medium and felt that that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Over thirty five years later I’m still working with clay. Every day when I work with it, I’m thankful and honoured that I get to do this. To make and to be with this incredible medium.

We are having this interview in your new studio space. Can you tell us something about it?

I’m so excited about the space. It’s in Strathcona (Vancouver) and about a thousand square foot. My intention for the space is to work, to teach and to have open studio time for people interested in working with clay. I want to create a community and eventually host workshops with other artists here and perhaps other mediums.

I painted the studio in the colour chartreuse. It’s sort of lime green. For me it represents the first sign of spring when those little buds pop out on the trees. It’s my favorite color! So much so that I drive a lime green car, got married in chartreuse and the wall in our living room is chartreuse. It’s just a colour that is so alive .

Something I wondered about: would you rather be called a ceramics artist, or a pottery artist, or what’s the correct term?

The term ceramics is a big umbrella word and it operates all clay mediums.

And then pottery is a word that has been used for generations in the functional medium of clay. It’s functional and also it’s more handwork. So I don’t know which one I prefer. I always say that I work in clay more than being a ceramic artist.

A debate that consistently happens in the art world is if clay is art or craft. The whole art and craft thing is a never ending kind of debate that we process all the time.

Something that’s come up a lot is that people’s attention span is getting shorter and shorter. Do you notice that when you’re teaching that people feel the need to grab their phone and distract themselves ? Or does working with clay help them being present?

I think that people’s attention spans have shortened thanks to social media and the gratification that they instantly need to feel to keep them going. So when we start a class I strongly encourage people to put their phones away and even turn them off. There’s usually some panic or resistance to it. But once people really acknowledge that they’re there for to enjoy themselves and relax, they can really understand it.

I do notice some people need a lot more time to relax, and want to respect and give people space for that. I want to give people the acknowledgement that they all come with their own loads of suitcase of information. And I just try to encourage them and catch them when I think that they’re losing concentration. Then we sort of come at it in a different way.

Clay is an old world medium to work with and I think a lot of societies now are really trying to go back to handwork and slowing down.

Something that I found very impressive when starting classes with you is that you don’t judge people’s creations. For example you’ll explain a technique and you’ll tell someone how they can improve the design but you never say something like “that’s too sloppy” or “that doesn’t look good”.

Well I have no right to be judgmental about somebody’s piece. Someone comes to class to learn, relax, play or just express. And everybody comes with some, or none, or a lot of, vocabulary in clay. I would like to encourage them to just express themselves. Technically I’d like to encourage people to use that vocabulary in the correct way so that they have something they can take home at the end of the session. But it’s really about expression. Judgment is a very negative thing. I don’t want to bring it into the realm of relaxing and creativity.

You also teach children. Do you find there is a big difference between the way children create and adults create.

There’s a huge difference. If kids choose to come and do pottery they don’t get wrapped around technique or what they should be making. They have very little expectation. And that really is what frees the kids to play, make, and be.

Children have very little expectation, which frees them to play, make, and be

Kids are boundless. I’m dealing with kids who now spend more and more time on their parents’ phone, or iPad, or in front of a screen. So when it comes to physically moving around and having to access their imaginations there is a little bit of a stop-start. But generally, giving them playtime, they usually easily dig deep. That’s amazing.

Laura, you told me you like to make functional pieces. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

I like making utilitarian ware that people get to use in their daily life. When you’re using something that’s been handmade there is an energy. There is a spirit. There is a force, something intentional in that piece which is then moved to the person that is using it.

And I think as human beings we are bombarded everyday with so much that is out of our control. Noise, things in the environment, plastics, sound, TV and all those kind of things. When we get to choose something that we can use in our personal space, like a mug, it’s really an intimate use. I mean you’re putting your lips to it and you’re drinking and allowing the liquids into your body. It’s so amazing to have items that are handmade with a good intention behind it.

Speaking of intention, you also tell your students to have an intention when they start creating a piece…

Intention is not expectation. We really have to notice the difference. What I think intention is, is the person wanting to be present and lock in their imagination. And then the intention towards a piece: it’s more about them letting go of expectations, or to really have something in mind before they start creating.

Intention is not expectation

If you have a piece of clay in front of you, before you start working with it, I would like the person to really have an idea of how and what they’re going to make. And then to work towards that concept with an open and honest way. To just be aware of what it feels like to touch the clay when it’s wet when it starts to dry. And when it’s harder. And then where that piece will fit in their lives later on.

Laura, letting go of this piece, because it only existed for our photos! <3
Working on the wheel is an exercise in mindfulness. Do you think of it as a form of meditation?

Absolutely! Initially when you’re learning the process and the skill, it is not meditation. It can be very tedious, tiring and really scary. But when you don’t have to consider the technique anymore, it is an incredible form of meditation.

When I’m working, I have no idea what time it is. I’m just there with the clay noticing and then not noticing. And when it’s finished it’s glorious. I’m very thankful for that.

One of our manifesto pieces with Primal Pioneers is that we believe in the simple joy of working with our hands. Would you consider working with clay being a part of that.

It’s definitely hand work. You need to have the coordination and feel comfortable with your hands muddy, dirty and crusty. And you have to be physically ready to be strong enough to deal with the clay. But the mind is also involved in the creation of it. It’s sort of like a dance between relaxing the mind and being present.

It’s really a combination of your hands, your heart and your head

What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned from your craft?

I learned quite a few things on a personal level. For one there’s perseverance in the road to being self-employed. There’s ups and downs. It’s both hard and easy. I’m very fortunate that I can be my own boss, which is very important for me.

And then going forward I think just being continuous in the wanting to go forward. I’m always trying to develop myself and I’m always trying to learn. Every year I take a course in a different medium. I want to take myself out of my comfort zone and force myself to become a student and shake it up.

So when you’re learning a new medium you really have to sort of sit up, watch and go through the process. I bounce a lot back with what it is to learn something new and to play with that whole word judgment, which is something we all have to deal with when we’re in an environment that makes us uncomfortable.

It’s always good to be challenged. You can challenge yourself in big gulps or in little nibbles, whichever is more more digestible. And I think us as human beings, we owe it to ourselves to continue to grow, develop, push boundaries, and learn.

Do you think every person is creative? Or are some person more creative than others?

I think everybody has some form of creativity, and creativity is directly linked to imagination. And to the freedom in imagination. In some families you sort of have that imagination beaten out of you when you’re young. And in other families it’s really encouraged. I think that’s where the birth of imagination is, which then allows the person to sort of investigate what it is to be creative.

When the imagination is not a safe place to visit, it can be really scary. And we back out of it. And then in other cases the imagination is so awesome, you were able to embrace it and go down that wonderful path.

I can imagine if someone takes one of your classes, that maybe initially they start out being rigid in their ideas but then being in a safe environment and getting to create things, that maybe more will come up after a while.

Everybody learns something for a different reason and not everybody comes to pottery and wants to really learn the whole expression and how wonderful clay is as a medium. But clay is one of these mediums that you cannot lie to.

How you’re feeling and who you are is directly related to how you touch the clay. If you’re feeling aggressive or sad (or another emotion), you squeeze the clay like you’re directly moving your emotion from yourself into that piece of clay. So in that way clay is glorious. It cannot lie to you, so it does keep you honest and very present.

How you’re feeling and who you are is directly related to how you touch the clay

But not everybody comes to learn clay with that need to be expressive or creative. Some people would like just to make something that they could use. Some people see a clay as a trendy way to make money or to make something that they’ve seen on social media. So you really just have to work through what the person’s intentions and expectations are in the beginning and then try and help them fulfill it

Thank you so much for this interview Laura! Check out the info below to learn more about her work and classes!


Inspiring articles, stories and interviews created by the Primal Pioneers team and guest authors.