Martina Thornhill

I discovered the work of Martina Thornhill via one of my favorite Instagram buds (an incredible artist and woodworker), Ariele Alasko. The moment I saw Martina's ceramic pieces, I fell in love with the playful freeform edges and hand-carved original designs found within her mugs and planters. There's an organic flow to her body of work that just feels like home to me, so of course I'm totally intrigued by her and asked her a million questions. Herewith, a Q&A with the artist about her work, home, and inspiration.

Photo by Kelsey Hammersley.

Photo by Kelsey Hammersley.

How did you get your start in ceramics?

MT: Until three years ago, I had only taken one ceramics course in my life. The first time was through a community college when I was 18 and I was unbelievably terrible at it! I was too impatient with the wheel, too haphazard in my designs, and too random in my glazing. I was prolific, but it was all just so ugly. I didn't even think about trying it again until we moved to the East Coast in 2011. My husband and I were living in a small town outside of Albany and there was a pottery studio offering classes just down the road from us. I was new in town, didn't know anyone, and had some extra time on my hands, so I gave it another shot. I wasn't any better at the wheel, but my sense of design had definitely improved and it felt really good to work with clay again. From that point on, I was hooked. All in all, I've only taken four ceramics classes because I've got this stubborn streak that drives me to learn everything on my own. I don't mind asking for help when I need it, but there's something about discovering my own way to make things, my own tricks and methods, and I really love that. This is the same reason I choose to hand build as well. I've always sewn as a hobby and when I started applying those methods to ceramics, something instantly clicked for me. I could treat the slabs of clay like fabric, cut them into pattern pieces, and fuse them together. It sounds basic, but it was such a huge realization for me.

Where is your workshop located?

MT: I currently work out of my home studio in Chapel Hill, NC. Our house is super tiny and there's no room for a kiln so I build everything in my studio, then fire at a community studio in Durham. I've been selling ceramics as a hobby for the last six months, and now that I'm transitioning into making art my full-time job, I'm hoping to move into a separate studio space with my own kiln within the next few months. 

Photo by Kelsey Hammersley.

Photo by Kelsey Hammersley.

When did you know you were destined to be an artist?

MT: To be honest, I've never really thought of myself as an artist. I was always a crafty kid and had vague childhood dreams of being a fashion designer, but I never felt what I made was special enough to make a career in art a viable option. I majored in Women's Studies in school, worked as a domestic violence counselor, taught dance classes, tended bar, and always treated my art as a hobby. I just couldn't visualize taking that leap of faith and fully putting myself out there, even though making art is what makes me feel the most fulfilled. It still seems surreal to me that I'm even trying it now, and there's no way I could have done it without the constant support and encouragement from my husband and friends. 

What people, places, and things most inspire your work?

MT: Lately I've been feeling really inspired by minimal abstract art like that of Louis Reith and Lygia Pape, as well as the sculpture work of Mari Andrews and Kay Sekimachi. I am continually drawn to images of muted desert colors, geometric shapes, and balanced negative space. I don't always manage to display that in my work as much as I'd like, but creating objects reminiscent of these inspirations is always my goal. This is a little cheesy, but my husband Drew Steadham is a constant source of inspiration to me. He has such a unique view of the world and the best sense proportion and balance, so I always value his opinion. My friend Meg Adamson is an amazing multi-disciplinary artist and her aesthetic has had a huge influence on my work.

Martina also specializes in handmade leather goods, jewelry, and more. Photo by Kelsey Hammersley.

Martina also specializes in handmade leather goods, jewelry, and more. Photo by Kelsey Hammersley.

You've lived in a few different states in the US in your lifetime. When someone asks you where your home is, what do you say?

MT: This is hard question for me as my family moved around a lot when I was young and I've continued this trend as an adult. I currently live in North Carolina so technically that's my home, but when it really comes down to it, my heart is in Portland, OR. I spent most of my twenties there and am still very affected by my many experiences in that town, and the amazing nature that surrounds it. 

Who are your idols in the arts and crafts movement?

MT: Ceramics-wise I love the work of Helen Levi and Ben Medansky. They are both so skilled at what they do, have a cohesive and balanced sense of aesthetic, and yet manage to retain a sense of humor that's visible in their work. I really appreciate when someone can be so talented but not take themselves too seriously. A couple others are Ariele Alasko and Jenn Goff of Takara Design. These ladies are two of the kindest makers I've ever had the pleasure of knowing, and their encouragement and support of my work really means a lot to me. Not to mention they both are amazing at their craft. I find their drive and vision truly inspiring. 

What's next for you?

MT: I'd like to spend the next six months building my line and adding more jewelry to the collection. My focus is definitely shifting more toward ceramics as I've been really enjoying working with clay, but I can see more weaving and maybe some lost wax casting making an appearance soon. I've always had a hard time sticking to just one medium and I can't see that changing anytime soon!

Here are a few photos I shot of Martina's pour-over coffee set in action. Since arriving in the mail, this mug barely leaves my hands.


For more...

web: » Instagram: @martinathornhill


I've written about the much-adored installation artist Mia Pearlman several times (you can find my first post from 2009 here), and she has easily become one of my favorite contemporary artists. Her work is ever-evolving, and it seems she has now crossed over as a bona fide public arts maven. Mia was recently commissioned by Liberty Mutual Insurance to make a permanent, site-specific, indoor-outdoor sculpture for their headquarters in Boston, MA.


The piece is made of water jet cut stainless steel and aluminum and stretches over 2,000 square feet. She's titled it "UPLIFT," and that it does...

For more information about Mia, check out her website here.


Karen Ann Myers

I've been lucky enough to be surrounded by a diverse pool of talented people throughout my life. As a child, my parents always encouraged creativity - whether it was putting my sister and I through private art classes after school from fourth grade on, or buying me multiple instruments until I found one that clicked. My sister is an unbelievably gifted artist, my mother a brilliant writer and teacher, and my father a landscape architect, builder, building inspector, and all-around fixer of broken stuff. During my schooling, I clung to creative types like myself, and always seemed to get the closest to those I admired most - as people, as artists, as innovators, as teachers, as individuals who made the world a brighter, more vibrant place to live in.

I'm so glad to still be connected to many of these people. Karen Ann Myers is one of the many unbridled talents I got to know during my years at Michigan State University. Towards the end of earning her BFA in Studio Art, we crossed paths and I can honestly say that her artwork is some of the first that impacted me as an adult. Her genius use of colors and textures, and her ability to create painstakingly intricate patterns boggled my mind back then, and almost ten years later, here I am, still absolutely engrossed in the progression of her work. Her portraits showcase her ability to effectively create an environment, a feeling, and a distinct depth within the canvas.

Back in 2006, Karen took part in a group show I curated at an alternative art space I once directed, (SCENE) Metrospace. The exhibit's theme was female body image and perception, titled Skin Deep. Many other friends and colleagues were a part of this show (the incredibly talented Suzanne Clements also comes to mind) and I still remember the effect these strong women and their unique perspectives had not only on me, but also on hundreds of others, both male and female, who viewed the exhibit.

She even did a large-scale portrait of me (back in the days of blond highlights...) that eventually graced the cover of Fem Magazine. The original piece was purchased by my mom, and hangs at our family home in Michigan.

Other than being a working studio artist, Karen also recently became assistant director at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston. She's definitely one to look out for and up to. To find out more about Karen and her incredible work, check out her website.

Sketchbook Project

I am happy to report that after a solid two years of slacking off on art-making, I've finally completed a major art project. This weekend, my sketchbook will open at the Brooklyn Art Library's Sketchbook Project exhibition! The Sketchbook Project Limited Edition Vol. 1 is a collaborative series of art books created by 5,000 artists from around the world, including yours truly. I dabbled in collage, paint, colored pencil, and even sewing for my book. My theme was "Time and the Way We Travel." Here's a glimpse...

The art opening is actually on the evening of my birthday, which is pretty cool, even if we can't physically be in NY for it. The experience of making art under a looming deadline was challenging, but it really lit a fire under my ass to prioritize getting creative again on a more normal basis. Sometimes it's difficult to keep up with personal artistic endeavors because my day-job is so hectic, but after this experience I'm going to make a real effort to change that! Whether I'm blogging here, dreaming up new recipes and baking my little heart out, sketching while I enjoy my weekend coffee, or curating a gallery, making time for my many creative outlets is so vital for a healthy, happy life.