A prickly affair

A prickly affair


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Ceramic artist Bonnie Hislop combines man's best friend with a love of nature

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Brisbane-based ceramist Bonnie Hislop.

Brisbane-based ceramist Bonnie Hislop.

TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF

My name is Bonnie Hislop and I’m 26 years old. I grew up in Ipswich but attended West Moreton Anglican College, near Amberley. It’s a beautiful school and was really the first major interaction I had with agriculture.

I grew up in the city and my family would go on bushwalking adventures occasionally, but it was so eyeopening to go to a school friend’s home and, even though it was only 20 minutes out of the city, it was incredible to be in the open space and part of such a different culture.

For a brief period, when I was 18, I tried to be a farm girl to impress a boy, but it didn’t last long and I put the Akubra aside. At the moment, I’m a full-time sales co-ordinator. I make small ceramic sculptures in the form of cat and dog-shaped planter pots. I also dabble in all sorts of creative media including illustration and leather.

WHAT INFLUENCED YOU TO START WORKING WITH CLAY?

My mother is a ceramic artist and, when my sister and I were children, she saw a program on the local news advertising ceramics classes. From there she set up her own business and, once I had the basics down pat, she really let me have free reign to develop my own visual aesthetic and creative voice. She trusts me not to blow up her kiln, which is nice. Before this, the last time I had worked with clay pots was in year 9 ... I feel like my strength is in painting rather than constructing.

It’s also quite therapeutic and rewarding to know you have made something in it’s entirety all from a lump of dirt. I’ve been working on small sculpture for the past 10 or so years. My first attempt was a complete failure and I don’t like to sit down and do something if it’s not going to work out – so I was lucky that the second attempt was a success and I’ve been teaching myself along the way. It’s time consuming but it’s satisfying to know each piece is a one-of-a-kind and special, and I think people like that.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT WORKING WITH CLAY?

I don’t have a lot of opportunity in my life to get dirty or messy or connect with the earth and, when I create art, I love getting clay and paint on me by accident. I guess it’s a way to connect to the piece. I love starting out with nothing and seeing it become something but also not having a clear picture of what it will be until it’s completed. I don’t feel like I have complete control over the end product. I feel like these little characters decide who they’re going to be as the process goes on.

The challenges are always trying to get a consistent effect and to work around the challenge of my tiny thumbs and working in a small space as well. I don’t have a proper studio and so I just work with what I’ve got, whether that’s my balcony or garage, I fashion a studio out of what I have. I always say to people who are creative friends of mine or talk about wanting to start a project to ‘just start!’ If you quit now, you’ll be right back to where you started a year ago ... I’ve worked with media that didn’t mesh with me and I feel like now I’m on to something with this, but it’s taken exploring all different avenues to find something that’s clicked.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO CREATE EACH UNIQUE CAT POT?

Each pot needs to be sculpted and then they take a couple of days to dry out, at which point I sand them and paint them and then they go through two firings at very high temperatures. That whole process alone takes about a week. Porcelain is fired to such high temperatures that, even without glazing and adding the shine, they’re vitrified and non-porous. Which means it’s a great medium to work with for the purpose of putting plants in, because the entirety of the pot is glazed except for the base, to allow them to sit on an indoor or outdoor surface more sturdily.

They really work well in any environment you want to display them in. The weather plays quite big role in the amount of time too – if it’s raining they’ll take longer to dry out and that was a big problem with the last batch because I was working on quite a tight schedule, and so I tried all different things to help.

I even had the hair-dryer out! Sometimes you’ve just got to cross your fingers and hope for the best, but every now and then there’ll be a casualty.

WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?

I’m working on continuing my line of ‘CAcTus’ and ‘Pup plant’ pots and also preparing to offer commissioned pet portraits for cats and pug dogs. Hopefully this will expand into other breeds as time goes on, but at the moment I’m loving the detail of pug dogs – they’re so sad. As I’m painting them I’m seeing their little emotional faces emerge, and it gives me a giggle – they’re so full of expression. I also make accessories including Sasscat necklaces. I’d like to continue developing my skill and products and see where the wind takes me, as they say. I have no idea when the next, crazy thing will pop into my head but I look forward to it.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU?

For some reason, cats have featured quite a bit in my work over the years, even though I don’t consider myself a ‘cat person’. I also tend to kill plants, ironically. With these materials, I’ve been able to connect with people and an audience in a different way than with my previous work. They can contribute to the piece as a changing artwork by putting their own plant in it and watching it grow and styling it as they wish. My artistic eye is always on too – walking around and in everyday life.

I can be quite conscious of the pallet around me and can pinpoint or collect different colours to use later. I get distracted a lot and it can be exhausting. I think that’s why I don’t like to plan the pieces because I find the end product becomes less organic and has less personality.

For more information visit www.bonniehislop.com

  • This article first appeared in Queensland Smart Farmer March 2015.
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