Nicky Ross of Nstarstudio makes pottery that you would think too perfect to be hand made. Which isn’t to say its without a unique and lovable character that you won’t find in your box store ceramics. Bright, crisp colors and intricate detailing make these modern pieces stand out. Her aesthetic effortlessly carries over to her fabric and embroidery work; a beautiful interpretation of modern quilting for every room of the house (check her website to see her quilts). We’re so glad to see her pieces shining on our shelves!
1| How do you describe your work to people who don’t know anything about crafting/art?
Fortunately, most people are familiar with ceramics growing up with dishes in the cupboard and plants around the house. Mostly I emphasize the fact that every piece I make is made by hand, one at a time. With a lot of mass produced ceramics, people are often surprised that I throw, trim and glaze each piece individually.
2| Why do you make things?
I make because I always have. Because it is a force and motivation within me. Because I love it. I have always loved the beautiful nuance of handmade things and gravitated towards crafts as opposed to painting and drawing. I’m actually terrible at drawing and way more successful with 3-D design. Once I started to create with clay, it clicked. Not to say that it was easy in the beginning, it took a long time to be able to make what I was envisioning, but I loved the process and that drove me to practice the craft. There is a long history of ceramics in culture and craftsmanship. As I learned more about this connectedness between art and necessity, it made me appreciate how dishware is an elegant balance of design and function. I strive to add my own happy imprint to simple and needed objects.
3| How do you work, and where?
I work out of a small studio about 1/2 mile from my house. After working in many studio throughout the years, It’s truly a dream to have my own private workspace. I generally go into the studio several times a week to make, finish, glaze and fire. Usually anywhere between 1-8 hours depending on what needs to be done and how it coordinates with my teaching schedule. Because my schedule is all over the place and varies from week to week, I try and make the most of the time I have at the studio. It also helps that based my my production background, I’m usually pretty efficient by nature.
4| Was being a working artist always your plan or was there an “aha” moment?
I’m not sure that being an artist was ever my plan. I’ve just never stopped making or being curious about crafts in general. I guess you could say that I never grew and in always pursuing my heart, I’ve had a fortunate path so far. I had a ceramics minor in college and decided to move to Madison, WI after I finished. I started working at a community ceramics studio shortly after I got here and learned the real ins and outs of running a studio. It’s a lot of work and I wore a lots of hats, but it taught me everything I would need to know to have my own studio now. The 10 years I spent designing and decorating for a local pottery company gave me the opportunity to hone my production skills and fall in love with the influence of design on everyday things. I also teach at several studios in town and I love being able to share these skills and inspire others.
5| What do you love about your job?
I designed and decorated for another local pottery for 10 years, so I love that I can now concentrate my creative efforts on my own line of pottery! I love that I can try out new ideas. I love that I have flexibility in my schedule. I love that I get to create things that serve a purpose in other people’s lives. I love the personal connection I have with my customers. I’m so fortunate that I get to do what I love and I don’t take that for granted!
6| I love how your work is modern, yet fun and almost whimsical. Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I would say that my inspiration comes from all kinds of places, the shapes of japanese functional forms, scandinavian simplicity, traditional folk art quilts, Art Nouveau illustrated posters, modern art paintings, wall paper patterns. And, of course the gorgeous work of so many makers, new and old. I just wish that I had more time to experience more influences on a regular basis. It can be a tough balance between being inspired and trying out new ideas!
7| You work with textiles as well, creating bags, quilts and more. What brings the two processes together for you?
I started sewing when I was about 10, basic things to start, then really getting into the concept of making things that I needed. Simple skirts, tote bags, and eventually quilts. I guess the same idea of functional design drew me to textiles as it did with clay. And my love of color and pattern tie the two mediums together even though they are very different to work with. I have aways been drawn to graphic quality of textiles (probably because I’m terrible at drawing!) and find it fascinating how the scale of a pattern can have a huge impact on the finished item. I try to incorporate that graphic element in my pottery and make sure all the colors get a little love.
8| If you could swap lives with another artist, who would that person be?
Tough call! Either Eva Zeisel or e.e.cummings. Eva was an industrial designer who worked in ceramics as well as other mediums. She brought a sense of sensuality to common dishes and elevated them with stylized beauty while maintaining their everyday function. e.e. cummings is my favorite poet and would have loved to see the world through his eyes and heart. He was able to capture the beauty in the overlooked tiny moments of life and not only put them on paper, but make his poems visual artworks as well.
9| What makes a handmade object valuable?
Most simply that it’s made by hand, not mass produced, but made with love and intention by someone. Sentiment and stories can of course enrich the value of a handmade object, perhaps something made from someone who is no longer with us or something made especially for us. Choosing to make and using the knowledge and skills you have available at the time plus the intent to share that something with others make a handmade object very special.
10| Using that definition, what’s the most valuable object you own?
Anything that I have that was made by someone I know holds a soft spot in my heart. And all of the handwritten notes, letters and cards from my love, Rob are priceless.
11| Tell us one true thing about yourself that people don’t believe when you tell them.
I was a poet. I went to school for creative writing. I spent many years writing poetry, edited several poetry journals and used to perform at poetry slams. Since focusing on ceramics, it’s fallen by the wayside, but I always think about getting back into it.
12| Give us three more non-crafting-related details about you or your life.
-I’m terribly uncoordinated. I got kicked off my t-ball team when I was little because I couldn’t hit the ball!
-I don’t like bacon or avocadoes. (I know, crazy!)
-I love to travel. If I had more money, I’d spend it seeing the world. I’ve traveled to 12 countries and can’t wait to experience more!
13| Any new product lines on the horizon? Plans for 2017?
I had a couple of studio moves between 2015 and 2016, so I’m actually really excited to have a more permanent place to be able to experiment with new ideas. Business-wise, I’d like to try out a few new shows and grow the business now that I have a stable studio. Creatively, I would love to play around with some new colors and develop new patterns to keep those timeless functional pieces fresh.