Ceramic artist Toni De Lisa creates an amazing portfolio of raku pottery. She shares her insights from many years of experience, and how she sells her one-of-a-kind pieces.
ABI: Please share the fascinating process of making your work.
TD: I use a combination of wheel throwing and slabs to make my pieces. I love texture and contrast. I use all kinds of things to make texture from kids toys, kitchen tools, to custom made rollers and pre made press molds. I’m not too hung up on what I use as it’s just an added element and not the main focus. I don’t think too about what I am doing, I just do it. That allows flow. I love fingerprints and cracks and whatever else happens which is why I love the Raku firing process. Wabi Sabi is the Japanese aesthetic of things imperfect. Imperfection is ultimately more interest to me.
Once the pieces have gone through the normal firing and glazing process the fun begins. I fire each piece individually. Once the kiln has reached between 1700 and 1800 degrees depending on which glaze I use, I open the kiln and pull the piece out by hand and place it into either a pit or a trash can, depending on the size, which are lined with sawdust and newspaper and seal it, cutting of the oxygen supply. This affects my glazes and turns the unglazed clay black.
I let them smoke for 20 minutes while I am loading the next piece into the kiln. When it is time, I take it out and thermal shock them with water. This seals my color and allows me to play with my crackle glazes. This is the best part, as I never really know exactly what anything will look like until I pull it from the pit and scrub the soot off. That is what has kept me interested for 30 years.
ABI: How do you manage and work with your studio apprentices?
TD: Right now I have one apprentice. Mike began as my student, but within a few weeks I saw that he was exceptionally talented, a natural on the wheel and has passion for clay. I was to a place where I needed help in the studio, so I offered him an apprenticeship. In exchange for teaching him everything I know he helps me keep my production flowing. He does everything from changing the studio door locks to loading clay in. He’s a quick learner and very jazzed about the whole experience. I keep him busy even when he’s not in the studio, reading books, watching videos and hand building parts for some of my assemblages.
ABI: You don’t accept commissions. Why not? How do you sell your work?
TD: Raku is unpredictable. Everything I make is one of a kind. I tell people, “If you like it, get it now because I can’t reproduce it.” Taking commissions under those circumstances is difficult unless the collector really understands this. I prefer to sell through galleries or from my studio.
ABI: What do you feel is the most important thing artists need to know?
TD: Here’s my list:
– Being an artist is not for faint of heart.
– Never give up, never give in.
– Be sure you are only putting your very best out there.
– The starving artist is a myth. Don’t buy it. We only get what we ask for.
– We are necessary. We bring beauty into the world which makes people happy. Happy people have higher vibrations which in turn raises the vibrations of everything they come in contact with. We make the world a better place for everyone.