Creativity runs in Lisa Mueller’s family. Her father who is now in his 90s, was a commercial artist and he is still actively creating. It didn’t make any difference what the medium was, Lisa worked with collages, she was a woodworker and a painter. This St. Charles native is a “maker” in the purist sense of the word, which is why it is odd she took a one-semester college class for credit in pottery and then quit.
But fast forward 50 years with the specter of retirement looming, and the thought of doing pottery again seemed like one avenue to spend her remaining days having fun.
“I picked it up and it all came back again,” she said.
Lisa likes the tactile nature of pottery, which is why she loves to garden as well.
“Anything I can get my hands dirty with, I like it,” she says, laughing. As far as pottery is concerned, “I’m not sure which I love best—throwing it on the wheel or the glazing [process].”
It’s the glazing process that she feels separates her work from other potters. She likes a palette of earth tones and blues from nature. It wasn’t always so, saying she used a lot of vibrant colors initially, until she learned to appreciate subtlety.
“It was pretty and there were a lot of people that liked it, saying, ‘You see so much brown,’” she explained. “They were right, but with mid-fired pottery, you get all these pretty effects.”
She says a glaze is pulverized glass that includes a flux, so it adheres to the clay. It also includes oxides and colorants.
“I don’t make my own glazes (exclusively),” she starts. “I buy them (liquid, as opposed to powder), but mix my bought glazes with my own glaze.”
She makes mugs for Espresso Laine, throwing the pieces first (i.e. forming the mug with her hands while it spins on a wheel) and then setting the piece aside until it is “bone dry.” Then you do a “bisque firing,” at 2200 degrees F. which gets any remaining moisture out of the clay. This process is followed by glazing, painting the glass onto the mug, which is then fired at 1900 degrees F., melting the glass onto the clay. In a kiln that is filled with pieces, it takes eight hours to fire and ten hours to cool down.
“Some glazes drip and some change color—they have their own characteristics,” she said.
She also uses digital vector images and silk screens for specific designs, such logo designs. She lays the silkscreen design over the cup before the bisque firing and paints the design. She then paints a liquid wax over the image and glazes the piece before it goes into the kiln for the final firing that melts the glaze.
Any designer will tell you, when making useful things people use, like cups, human behavior, scale and ergonomics can come into play. The piece might be esthetically pleasing, but fail for other reasons.
“When I first started out, I made cups that were wide at the bottom and really narrow at the top,” she shared. “Then I realized when I used them, that you can’t get your hand in there to wash them.”
With a cup, the handle is another consideration.
“I make big handles and little handles, because people say, ‘I’ve got a big hand, I need a bigger handle,’” she said. “But I’ve learned you can’t please everybody.”
She is her own critic, discarding pieces in a big box that don’t meet her expectations. She’ll just roll up her sleeves and do it again, whether it is a coffee mug, espresso cups, a berry bowl or a luminary.
“Every time I open up the kiln, it’s like Christmas,” she says. “Even though I know what I’ve done, it doesn’t mean it’s going to look like what I wanted it to look like.”
Lisa’s glazing looks similar to the swirls you might recognize in Van Gogh’s artwork. She likes “happy surprises.”
“I’m not a production potter,” she states. “If everything was just alike, I don’t think I would like it.”