Looking to explore her creative side, Bisila Noha serendipitously stumbled upon her talent for ceramics. Now at a collective London studio, she creates unique handmade marbled ceramics that beautifully evoke nature and landscapes.
Hi Bisila, we love your beautiful ceramic pieces - what first inspired the idea of setting up your business, and how did you then develop it?
To be honest, it all happened very naturally without me realising much about it. I had gone on a break to study ceramics a bit more and the moment I put my work out there I started getting orders, so I had to start making full-time.
How would you describe your work?
My pieces are a mix between pottery and painting, since I make forms that I then use as a canvas to make ‘ceramic paintings’. I use simple forms and powerful decorations that make each piece totally unique.
What is your background?
I studied translation and interpreting and also international relations, and right before setting up my business I worked as an account manager at an advertising agency that specialised in adapting or translating ads and marketing materials.
Do you have an ethos behind your business, or values that you focus on?
I believe that as a society we should change the way we consume: we should ‘buy less and buy better’. We should buy local products as much as possible and keep an eye on the carbon footprint of the products we use. Therefore, I make pieces that are durable, made with local raw materials and I mostly sell in London and avoid shipping.
How would you describe your creative style?
It’s very much inspired by nature - storms, skies, the sea, mainly - and Japanese sumi-e paintings.
Describe your work process?
At the moment, I have a signature technique - marbling - thanks to which people recognise my work, which is great. I’ve been using this technique for a while now, so I am constantly looking for new shapes I can use to explore and tweak the possibilities of marbling, as well as better express myself through it.
I use UK raw materials and I am always trying to find ways to minimise the range of materials I use while making the most of them. I also love collaborating with people in order to come up with new ideas and projects.
What kind of space do you work in?
It’s a collective studio in East London called Turning Earth In Production. We are now about 12 people making very diverse work - sculpture, functional pots of all kinds. We have just been moved to a new space, so we are going to try to build a stronger community. Everyone’s dream is to have their own space, but working next to other people can be great too. We learn a lot from each other and there is a nice atmosphere.
Do you have a design background, or are you self-taught?
Art-wise - I’ve mostly learnt all I know while working at Lon-art, an arts and education organisation I run (my other passion along with ceramics). Design-wise, I think it all comes kind of intuitively and also thanks to my sister who is an interior designer and design and trend forecaster. And when it comes to pottery, I have been studying and practising for the last six years, so I would say that while I’ve done different pottery courses and residencies, I am mainly self-taught.
Has your work evolved over time and taken you on a creative journey?
Definitely! I started off making very naive, small pieces. Also, I’ve realised that at the beginning I was heavily influenced by a rather capitalist approach to life, constrained by societal ideas of productivity and functionality. Therefore I struggled to create ‘only’ decorative pieces, and so all my first pieces had multiple functions. It was a bit too much!
As I like to say - these first pots were a metaphor of us, human beings, becoming ‘human doers’. I am now being much more zen about it and embracing ‘the being’. I’m not scared of making things, I just enjoy making - this may not be straightforwardly functional, but I like to think that art and decorative pieces also have a very valid function - that of visual delight and aesthetic pleasure.
How do you juggle producing handmade works, with engaging in the online world?
I used to be way more worried about Instagram and all that, posting a lot, etc. It is true that it is a great tool to sell and show what one does, and I do sell via Instagram. However, now I am more focused on promoting myself offline, contacting people, galleries, etc. And the followers will come… hopefully!
How valuable is the online community to your business?
When making new work it is super useful to see how people react to it. And it can be very encouraging. There’s also a good bunch of makers that explain how they do things, which is great to learn. And I also use it for research.
Where do you find creative inspiration?
In nature. Since the very beginning I have been making and decorating pieces with landscapes in mind.
What do you find are the joys of being an independent maker, and what are the challenges you face?
I do enjoy it a lot. I am very driven so I can get lots done, I’m not scared of asking for things or contacting people, so being on my own is great to do anything I want. However, I must also say that it can be very lonely. Moreover, a creative path is one where there aren’t many rules as to how to progress etc, so this DIY aspect of it can be a bit scary or discouraging. I sometimes don’t know if I’m doing things right, and because it’s a very personal journey, it can be tricky to know where to get good advice from. My biggest challenge is to deal with myself. I have been very demanding and a tad harsh with myself, so I’m now trying to be a bit more chilled.
Which pieces do you most enjoy making?
My favourites are my large decorative wall pieces. They are about 45cm diameter and the marbling on those is very powerful.
How did you discover your love for what you do?
Just by chance. When I moved to London six years ago I knew I wanted to explore my creativity - a friend suggested pottery, and here I am.
What does a typical working day look like?
My days are often very varied, but I like going early to the studio and work for about six hours, and then have time to go for a swim, work on other projects, or also teach - which I do regularly in the evenings.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
My marketing is via Instagram and my newsletter, and for PR I am now thinking how to do it, to get the right people to see my work. Every so often I have a day where I crazily email people, shops and galleries that I have been following for a while - and see if anyone replies. But I think it is high time I got a real strategy!
What have been your working highlights so far?
My number one highlight undoubtedly is the London Art Fair, where I exhibited in January this year with Thrown, the gallery I have been working with for the last year. And then the trip I did to Armenia a year ago, where I was invited to teach a 3-week workshop on ceramics and embroidery at Tumo Studios in Yerevan. It was the best, as I could travel thanks to my work, teach, meet people and have an amazing time!
Where do you sell your work?
In London, I sell at Heal’s in Tottenham Court Road, at the gallery Thrown in Highgate, Not Just Another Store in Shoreditch, and Living Earth - the brand new shop by Turning Earth. I also do a couple of markets each year, plus I sell in Madrid, at Bureau Mad and Planthae.
What does the rest of the year hold for you?
For the Londoners, I would recommend they to pop by Living Earth. If in Cornwall, I will be exhibiting my work at Porthminster Gallery in St Ives for their September Festival Show (August 31st - October 5th), which is very exciting! I also have a couple of other things in the making, so 91 readers can follow me or subscribe to my newsletter to be in the loop.
Do you have time for creative pastimes or hobbies?
I love analogue photography - I used to translate for Lomography years ago, and since then I am super into it! But my hobbies generally are more exercise oriented, like swimming and yoga.
Any advice for makers just starting out?
Don't be too worried about what other people do, do your own thing and believe in it. Also - be gentle to yourself, and from time-to-time, dedicate some time to assess your achievements and somehow celebrate them.
Describe your work in three words?
Poetic, dynamic, mesmerising.
What are your making rituals?
My current ritual is listening to either Andrew Bird, Agnes Obel or Haley Heynderickx while throwing. And Laura Marling while trimming!
Tea or coffee?
Mountains or sea?
Mountains - Panticosa being my favourite place on Earth!
Night owl or early bird?
100 per cent early bird.
I wish someone had told me…
How important procrastinating and leisure time actually are when running a creative business.
Photographs courtesy of Bisila Noha, Ida Riveros and TUMO Studios