Liz Willoughby has been working in clay since 1972. She began by taking part-time classes in Toronto, and in Oxford, England. During this time she was married, raising two children and working part-time as a Registered Nurse. In 1982, Liz retired from nursing to devote more time to working in the studio. “I took many workshops to further my knowledge, and found that learning from potters was about as good as it gets. I took a design course with Ron Roy that changed the way I looked at pots and made pots.” After moving to the country in 1995, Liz got a Bailey gas kiln, and discovered a carbon trap shino glaze on a Malcolm Davis pot. She was hooked. “Malcolm gave me encouragement and support in my quest for that “fickle” glaze. A few years ago I participated in a wood kiln-building workshop at Monica Johnson’s, taught by Mark Peters. I’m now able to wood fire with women who share the same passion for wood-fired work.”
Making pots for daily use, especially teapots, has always been a main focus for Liz. She has been the recipients of many awards, taught workshops and adult classes, juried shows and written articles for ceramic journals. She has also contributed to the ceramic community by serving on the board of several ceramic art organizations. Currently Liz is a collective member of the Colborne Art Gallery, Fusion: The Ontario Clay and Glass Association, and NCECA.
Why are you an artist?
I feel more comfortable using the word “potter,” because that is how I think of myself. I was 5 years old when I made my first piece (a piggy bank) in a park in San Antonio, Texas. Much later, I was told that Harding Black was the teacher there at the time. Later, when my children were young, I would take them with me on walks visiting craft stores in Toronto. I would pick up and caress the pots, feeling connected, feeling that “tug” to work in clay. I finally had the time and opportunity to satisfy that thirst for getting my hands in clay in 1972, and started taking classes at Three Schools in Toronto, a school that employed artists to teach.
Describe your first experience with clay.
The best way to describe my first experience with clay is to compare it with falling in love. I still remember how it felt the first time I sat a wheel with a wedged ball of clay which I centered and then threw…a cylinder! It was thrilling; hard to breathe, and at night there was still that excitement going through my body. It was on my mind constantly, and I could hardly wait for the next class.
How separate are you from your art?
It is always there. It is impossible to be separate from your art.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made?
I have made so many mistakes in my work, that I cannot just choose one. I think I have learned more from my mistakes than from any teacher, because once made their lesson to not repeat them.
Where do your ideas come from? What is your creative process?
I live in the country, so nature is all around me, and I am sure that it does have an influence on my work, however not directly. This is always a difficult question for me to answer. I make functional work that I hope has some elements of creativity. The teapot is the form that I most enjoy making. I think that if a person works with a particular form for many years, it just evolves from within, from studying the form, and trying to balance everything in that form to create a piece that is interesting to look at, comfortable to hold and that actually pours without a drip. I work mainly on the wheel, and also combine hand-built and wheel work to create a piece. My work is fired to cone 10 or 11 reduction, using propane or wood as fuel.
If you were conducting this interview, what question, other than the above, would you to want ask?
How important is “craftsmanship” in your work? Craftsmanship, along with form and attention to detail are primary concerns when I make vessels out of clay. Making pots for use requires that attention be made to the weight, decoration and embellishment of a piece. Smooth edges, handles that are comfortable to hold, spouts that pour, lids that fit, volume of the form to give the piece life and balance, especially if appendages are added. It also means selecting a glaze that enhances the form, is durable, and does not leach harmful oxides. All of these elements are very important to me as I make pots for use. Well-crafted pottery with an element of creativity that people will get pleasure from while using is what I strive for.