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More tea with Liesel Trautman

A few weeks ago I posted about Liesel Trautman and her beautiful ceramics. I promised a follow up....

Please tell us a little about your background.... how did you find your niche in ceramics?
I studied textile design, learning about beautiful old things that are all around us just waiting to be noticed. Life drawing, botanical drawing and ornamentation were some of the subjects taught to us.
So when I started working with clay about five years ago learning about its qualities and thinking that I could make a vessel according to my own aesthetic values, completely functional and virtually indestructible (metal rusts, wood decays, but ceramic does not get broken down by any natural process) I became very excited. I went for lessons and read books on ceramics. The technique most suited to achieving the fine hand drawn quality that I use most is called "inlay."

I love the transformation that happens in the material. It completely changes from a soft malleable grey or brown to a hard white shiny functional, material. Like alchemy.
I realise it's a stock-standard question but could you share what inspires your work?
Everything and anything, I am an image junky, always on the look out. I am also a collector, love going to markets and antique shops. I work with anything I find beautiful. I allow it to inspire me, swirl it around inside of me and then see how it flows out. Sometimes even I am surprised.

You can look at things differently; squinting your eyes, blurring the lines and then drawing these new shapes. It's all about doing something that is particular to ones own sense of taste and style. This is what we as individuals own and should respect in ourselves and others.
Growing up in Holland has also played a role in what I find beautiful. One of my inspirations comes from this time, when as a child I used to do cross stitch - something I still enjoy today.
Do you ever feel stuck in a creative rut - if so, how do you overcome it?

In the past, I have sometimes knocked my head against the wall of what I thought creativity to be. Now I find that it's just about doing the right thing, for you - when this happens, there is a very special and gentle flow.
I believe that we are all creative even when we don't think so. Just let go of doing things that don't come naturally. We all have our own very special talents.
Yes, I have struggled to find what it is that I really should be doing, and at the moment everything just works out and I love it.
Since working with clay I have not really experienced a creative rut. There is so much still to do (a learning curve of 80 years!)

I'd love to know more about your process. How do you go about conceptualising a new design? What are the steps you take in making the objects that you do?
I walk in the forest for inspiration. The open spaces give me the place to think and the little paths allow me to weave my thinking process of how I will be making this new thing. Step by step, I go through it and solve the technical hitches I might experience, and then when I get to the studio, it seems easy.

Mistakes are another way of letting the process flow, new ways of how to work become evident just through doing. Clay has taught me to bounce back quickly when it goes wrong, as it so easily does.
My general process would be sourcing inspiration, drawing it and then making it.
Tell us a little more about the babies we've heard you are making?
The ceramic babies are a huge technical challenge and I have really enjoyed this aspect as I like doing difficult things. I love the little fat, rounded arms and fingers and toes. (What biological clock? I have hit the snooze.. )

And everybody has a story when they see one, about themselves or their mothers or their aunts. It brings back their childhood, but mine are the adult version. We are all just playing .

Do you have a most cherished piece that you've created?
I find it difficult to come up with one item. I am lucky to be working with everything I love, so I love what I make and hope this comes through in my work.

I notice you have a red, blue, black and grey range - can we expect any other colours?
The colours I work in are traditionally strong. I love blue and red together. My limited palette is also what keeps my work coherent. New colours... who knows... wait and see.

Finally, often creative people struggle to find balance between work and play (one can so often be the other) what do you do to be more balanced?
My work is play.
Balance - none what so ever. I do like to walk in the forest and would like to take up tight rope walking in the future.

I love the way that Liesel describes her work. I've always considered ceramics so delicate. When I heard they way she described them as virtually indestructible it brought back a childhood memory of discovering different patterned shards of broken ceramic at the bottom of our garden. Aside from being in pieces they were the most beautifully preserved objects that I would save as my precious treasures. I'm sure you'll agree that it has been lovely to find out more about a talent behind these particular precious treasures. Thank you, Liesel - and good luck with the tight rope!

You can contact Liesel on +27732759494 or visit her studio/shop at 114 Lower Main Road, Observatory, Cape Town.

Comments for this entry


Thanks for posting this... her work looks beautiful. I hope to make a trip to her studio next time I am in Cape Town. Gorgeous!

Freshly Found

Lovely interview. So good to get some background to her lovely work.


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