Meet Louise Crookenden-Johnson
Louise Crookenden-Johnson is a ceramic artist who makes happy pottery – creating colourful, characterful animals, birds and flowers from her studio down a garden path in Kettering. Here she talks to fellow Folksy seller Anna Cross from Anna and the Willow about growing up surrounded by creativity, the joys and frustration of working with clay, and the generosity of the maker community.
To celebrate being our featured maker Louise is offering 10% off all her work with code FEATUREDMAKER
Hi Louise. Could you introduce yourself and your work?
I’m Louise a potter from Kettering in beautiful, rather undiscovered, Northamptonshire, and I make little pottery characters – birds, animals, pet portraits and hand formed wall art like budgies and cockatoos, from small slabs of clay. I’m delighted to be Folksy’s featured maker. There have been some awesome makers, so what a privilege.
What age did you start creating? Did you study art or ceramics?
I’m lucky to come from a family who celebrated creativity – my dad was a very talented bird artist – so I grew up with painting and drawing as a natural part of every day. I was about 13 when I discovered ceramics after spending a day with a local potter across the valley from the village where I lived. Everything about it is so evocative still: the light and shade in the pottery, the lovely smell, the warm damp.
With gentle encouragement, I fell in love with pottery and was determined to get better, to understand the clay and then, when it came time to decide what to do after secondary school, I was supremely fortunate to get a place at Loughborough College of Art and Design (now part of Loughborough University). There was real diversity in the work produced by my year group (1987-90). We all grew so much in the three years and, when I reflect back on it, there were things I learned from everyone there. I’m not sure I would have had the confidence or maturity to say that at the time.
Which artist inspires you the most?
My father was a lovely, generous man who painted beautiful landscapes, cameos of captured corners of the country that he loved and, of course, lots of bird illustrations that reflected his ornithological interest (he was an active birder). I’m not sure I ever drew or painted a bird when he was alive, though!
If I had to choose the one artist who has been the most influential on me, I’d pick John Piper. The textures of some of his paintings, the rawness and also, I guess, the bold colours and often black sketched lines really draw me in. They’re very different from my work but I think in some ways related.
Sum up your work in three words.
Playful. Happy. Hopeful.
What do you like most about the material you work with?
Like many artist’s mediums, clay needs to be understood. I so enjoy learning alongside new potters when they are just getting their hands into the material – it reminds me that successful pieces are often about choosing the right time in the process to act. You have to be patient and wait for the right conditions to be able to move to the next stage. It’s both something I love and enormously frustrating at times, particularly when cracks appear in a work or you lose something in a firing that you desperately need for a customer deadline!
What’s your favourite piece to make?
It’s really difficult to choose one piece but I do really enjoy making the robins. They have that full rounded shape, the combination of colours – red, fawn, grey and black is good – and the way the brushstrokes go on as I paint them has a lovely rhythm while I create the impression of the plumage, the combination of spots and strokes. It’s very satisfying.
What’s the most complicated piece to make?
I enjoy making the three little fishes. They are decorated on both sides and have a little hook that can be added to a macramé sisal rope, once they have been through two firings. They are complicated because they have so many parts that need to come together but that also makes it fun.
They remind me of my childhood. Every time I make the macramé strings it’s like being back on my grandma’s doorstep when I was aged nine or 10, learning how the knots make the satisfying twist. It’s lovely to think that in my 50s I’ve drawn together my skills as a potter with something I learned so early in my life.
If you could go back 10 years, would you change anything about your creative journey?
Ten years ago I was working full time as a manager in children’s services, no clay in sight and my own children were in their early teens. It’s difficult to have creative energy at that stage when, as parents, we are pulled in all directions. If I could wave a magic wand I would have been dedicating much more time to my creativity than I was able to at that point. But I think everything you do in your life adds to your creative journey, builds your resilience, helps you the next time you encounter it, and the skills you gain are never altogether lost.
If someone wanted to start a creative business, what advice would you give them?
I would encourage anyone wanting to start a creative business to make something they absolutely love. I find the things I enjoy making most are the things that sell, and that reinforces my joy in making them. I realise this is not the case for everyone but, for me, it is a motivator. There is so much advice out there for makers, and I’ve learned to filter for the bits of advice that feel authentic to me. The main thing, for me, is to find folk with generosity of spirit – there are many of those in the creative community. I feed off that and I find it helps me with my patience to wait for things to happen and in my conversations with customers. Some things just take a while.
What’s been your biggest achievement to date?
It was a great achievement to finally have the pottery of my dreams just down my garden path. I was made redundant from my managerial job a few years ago and invested that money into creating a light, bright, airy, calm and wonderful space, where I can enjoy inviting people to come and learn the craft that I love. It is surrounded by my garden – another joy – and I can see birds and plants on every side.
What’s the most enjoyable part of your creative process?
The creative process is straight into the clay with me. There is very little drawing in advance – I was always really poor at coming up with lovely sketchbooks or preparation drawings, and found the original idea somehow unwound itself through that process. So I’ve pretty much cut that out all together now and I work directly on to the clay. Any paintings I do, I do straight into the clay. This works really well for me.
I enjoy all parts of creative process, from coming up with new ideas, making, drying, firing, photographing and then marketing the pieces. I would probably like a little bit more time proportionately with the clay than with the computer, but these bits are all necessary for any small business.
Use code FEATUREDMAKER for 10% off all pieces by Louise Crookenden-Johnson – valid until Sunday 1 August 2021
Shop Louise Crookenden-Johnson on Folksy
Meet the Interviewer
The maker asking the questions this time is willow artist Anna Cross from Anna and the Willow.
Shop Anna and the Willow on Folksy https://folksy.com/shops/AnnaandtheWillow.