I first met Jillian, the artist behind Lafayette Avenue Ceramics, at the AZ Share That You Care market earlier this year. I was immediately drawn to her gorgeous pottery and mission to create pieces for the kitchen that will last a lifetime. That day I purchased a kitchen sponge holder. I love having such a pretty piece to store our kitchen sponge. I’ve since added a squeeze mug to my collection and have my eye on her new dinnerware collection (more on that below). Today I’m excited to welcome Jillian to the next installment of my spotlight on local creatives and businesses here in Phoenix. And for you Phoenix locals, Jillian is co-hosting a dinner next Thursday, November 10th with Standard Wax. More details can be found here.
Me: What is your background? How did you get into pottery and ceramics?
Jillian: Art has always been part of my life. In grade school, I was never interested in sitting still so I gravitated towards the art room – I was especially interested in ceramics, woodworking and all the noise, smells and motion. In 2008, I moved from Philadelphia to Tempe to study ceramics at ASU. I fell in love with the endless possibilities of working with clay, as well as the weather and attitude of the southwest. After graduating, I apprenticed for a ceramic artist in Laguna Beach, CA. Seeing the life of an artist up close and learning how interesting and rewarding that lifestyle can be helped me make the decision to start my own business.
Me: Where do you find inspiration?
Jillian: For me, inspiration comes in the simple things. A thunderstorm, fresh produce, sunrise at the beach, a bright color. I love making things that don’t need to be explained. My products should speak for themselves – and my hope is that the user relates to them in his or her own way.
Me: Your products focus on the kitchen. Is cooking a passion for you? Do you have a favorite recipe?
Jillian: Speaking of inspiration…. Family connection, wholesome nutrition and sustainable living are the founding ideas of Lafayette Avenue Ceramics.
My line is designed to be practical and utilitarian while still being beautiful. They can be used to cook, prepare, and serve your favorite dishes. Since meal times and celebrations are such a big part of what brings family together, I wanted to make my work durable so it would last generations. I love the idea of passing a favorite mug or cherished berry bowl on to kids and grandkids. I have fond memories of cooking with my friends and family; my mother taught me about gardening and eating healthy – I really wanted that to shine through in my line of work.
I like to say “We cook with our hands and our hearts and that is exactly the way I make my pottery.”
My favorite recipe has to be my mothers pesto sauce. She used to make a big batch and put it on everything and it was delicious! I’m also obsessed with the Smitten Kitchen cookbook and love experimenting with baking.
Me: What is a typical day like for you?
Jillian: Everyday is different and that’s what makes my job so fun! I try to get up early and get a workout in. Then it’s usually off to the studio. I start by making a list of items I need completed and any deadlines. Then, I spend a few hours throwing items on the pottery wheel. For example – throwing 50 mugs or 100 spoon rests. While those dry, I do miscellaneous tasks like make glaze, organize inventory, check social media, Etsy and emails. In the afternoon, I alter the thrown forms and refine as needed. So, if I made mugs in the morning, I would attach handles before I left for the day. Sometimes, I spend all day glazing and firing kilns, or taking a trip to the ceramics supply store to pick up materials. In the evening, I research and brainstorm ideas for new product, new marketing ideas and look into current fashion and interior design trends. There’s no shortage of tasks to be done!
Me: What’s the biggest challenge in owning your own business?
Jillian: Finding the balance between life and work is a struggle. As a small business owner you are the manufacturer, the marketing director, the sales associate, the bookkeeper. You do the shipping and customer service. It’s hard to define the boundaries and it can be hard to set that aside and embrace each moment of life instead of constantly planning each next task to complete. It helps to take a day off each week to relax and connect with family and friends.
Me: You’ve mentioned your love of Arizona summers, which is opposite of a lot of people. How do you stay cool and find joy in the summer heat?
Jillian: Yup, I’m on my own with that! I love to swim so when the weather gets into the 100’s you can find me in the pool. I find that going on adventures in the evenings after the sun has gone down helps. Our city is so cool and there are so many fun bars and restaurants as well as stunning nature and scenic drives. Going out a little later is a fun way to stay active in the summer without overheating.
Me: Your photography is gorgeous and really complement your products. Do you take the photos yourself?
Jillian: What a compliment, thank you! I do not take my own photos, I work with an amazing Phoenix-based photographer and graphic designer. Her skill, style and eye for design has been critical to the success of my business – especially online and with social media.
Me: What’s next for Lafayette Avenue Ceramics?
Jillian: Look out for Lafayette Avenue Ceramics branching out to stores all over the southwest! My goal for the next 2 years is to have product in stores and restaurants all over California, Oregon, Colorado and beyond. I’m also planning a dinnerware collection and possibly a garden collection – so stay tuned for new products and colors.
Me: Where can we buy Lafayette Avenue products?
Jillian: Currently, I sell in 6 stores in the Phoenix area, including Vida Moulin and Practical Art; and Enchantment Resort in Sedona. You can find select items at the Uptown Farmers Market on Saturdays starting in September and Gilbert Art Walk Saturdays starting in October. You can visit my website for the full list.
Me: Last question…what’s your favorite vacation you’ve been on?
Jillian: A friend studied in Kenya for a year after college and I went to visit for 2 weeks. It was by far the most eye opening, incredible trip I have ever been on. We played with the village children, helped the local carpenters, milked cows and harvested sunflower seeds. Since she lived there, I really got to experience the normal daily life in the village and that made it so memorable.
Thank you so much Jillian!
All photos courtesy of Lafayette Avenue Ceramics