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

Fire Escape Farms

I took up an interest in urban gardening after I moved to Florida, since I haven't had the space for an actual yard garden while living here. I researched what crops could survive in this insane heat, bought a book called Grow Great Grub, and began to utilize our small porch to grow tomatoes, bell peppers, herbs, and other veggies. I wish a place like Fire Escape Farms, a new pop-up shop in San Francisco's Mission District, would have been around to help get me started out right. Spacial limitations like mine are common in city living, and even more extreme in densely populated cities like San Francisco where the only suitable location for a garden to grow MIGHT be your fire escape. Maybe you don't have the space or money for a raised bed, but all you really need is a window sill, a rooftop, a fire escape, or a porch. Fire Escape Farms can fix you up with everything you need to transform your urban space into a lush and thriving garden. The shop offers local organic soil, adorable eco-friendly garden accessories, and even carries their own line of carefully purveyed seeds. They also offer delivery via bio-diesel wagon for all San Francisco orders!


Fire Escape Farms is the brainchild of the lovely and multifaceted Naya Peterson Fross, a San Francisco native who fell in love with gardening while living in Napa a few years ago. Also an uber-talented barista, Naya worked with my sister to help open the Oxbow Market location of Ritual Coffee Roasters. After moving back to the city, she began considering ways to make her country fantasies a reality while remaining in the city and came up with the pop-up shop concept.


Fire Escape Farms will be open at its current location (3041 24th St. in San Francisco) through August. After that, the website and Facebook page will remain active resources as Naya considers locations for her next pop-up shop, most likely in the Mission. If you're thousands of miles away from California like I am, get your fix at the online shop!

[All photos courtesy of Daniel Dent]

Artsy Fartsy Coffee

I'm a big believer that you can express your artistic side and bring creativity to whatever career or field you end up in. My big sisty, Jen, has been a barista for years. From The Coffee Plant in downtown Portland, Or., to the primary branch of Ritual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco’s Mission District, to her latest venture - a new location of Ritual that she manages in Napa, CA's Oxbow Farmers Market, I've always noticed that she uses her profession as an artistic outlet. Jen is an amazing artist to begin with, but she can also make some seriously impressive espresso dranks. She and her talented barista friends have made me some pretty darn beautiful lattes over the years. Sadly [massive fail on my part], I have never taken any photos of said lattes, so sisty directed me to some flickr sites of coffee nerds we know - photos below...


PhotoCred: Steve Ford @





PhotoCred for last four: Chris Baca @


I miss the West Coast for many reasons, but the quality coffee shops and roasters top the list.


Check out my three favorites: