HCwBB Presents: Bonnie Hislop

HCwBB Presents is a monthly feature that aims to provide us with more information about the women who inspire us and their work. Each long form piece will focus on one woman and her career within her chosen field. It will not only showcase the existing work of the individual, but also delve further into their methods, mediums, and motives.

This month, we’re in conversation with Brisbane-based creative and ceramicist, Bonnie Hislop.

Please can you start by telling me a bit about who you are and what you do?

Hi, I’m Bonnie! I spend most of my time making cute ceramics while listening to true crime  podcasts. At this stage ceramics is almost a full time gig; I still have an office admin job two days a week, but for the last few months at least, outside of that I’ve been working on my art pretty much non stop.

I’ve never really made art for myself and I rarely feel the need to keep pieces. I attribute this in part to the fact that in my family home growing up, there was very little of our own creative work on display, mostly the work of artists we admired.

Thus I’ve never felt a strong sense of ownership of my art. The satisfaction for me comes from taking an idea and making it into a physical object. I’m quite a restless person, and creating with my hands allows me to free my brain over and over again as needed.

When I was working full time a few years ago, not having the time to execute ideas and the subsequent constant barrage of inspiration was extremely overwhelming.

I love listening to podcasts while I work, and am always looking for more. The Dollop has been a fave for a while, and I’m giggling through Season 3 of My Dad Wrote a Porno currently.

How did you first get into ceramics? If I remember correctly, when we met at Vieille Branche towards the end of last year, you mentioned that your mother helped you learn some aspects of your craft. Can you tell me more about that, and what it was like working together?

My little sister Sarah had just started school when we discovered a ceramic painting school nearby, and mum took us along. It then sparked her interest and she started going to a weekly class herself in between drop offs and pickups. From there, she started teaching classes at that ceramic school and then eventually established her own small business. We are quite similar is some ways, in that we both have an illustrative style and work mostly with underglazes.

She has definitely influenced me in this way, and I owe my understanding of underglazes to her. She really is my partner in crime, and any time I’ve wanted to try a new approach, or work with new materials, she has helped me bring my vision to reality.

Her work has mostly existed in a commission-based capacity though whereas I’ve been more interested in creating original collections. Mum is also primarily a slip caster and works on forms made from moulds.

From a young age I became interested in creating my own forms. I have always been, and still am, frustrated by the limitations or established rules and boundaries that surround me.

As a kid I remember being unconvinced that there could be only 4 swimming strokes, that there were only a few different ways I could swing across a set of monkey bars, and that mould poured forms represented the extent of ceramics.

In my teens and early 20s I developed a small range of hand cut and moulded ceramic pendants, but it’s only been in the last 3 years that I’ve been hand building on a larger scale. Mum has helped me through this entire period, especially with the technical side of things, making sure kiln settings are correct and materials are compatible etc. My whole immediate family are incredibly supportive, and always on board for helping out with markets and events. My dad and I recently completed a roadtrip to Melbourne with an entire carload of ceramics.

Making and selling art is a difficult avenue to pursue without a support network, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have such love around me .

What motivates you as an artist? 

There’s an element of searching for that one big thing, the very best idea. It both excites and frustrates me to feel like I’ve barely even started.

I guess I’m motivated to keep going to see what comes next and to find out what I didn’t know that I didn’t know before.

Can you describe your process, and how it varies according to the projects you pursue?

I work with clay slabs a lot, so in those cases I’ll develop a template for the piece I’m making. With others the process is more freeform.

I don’t usually sketch out my ideas in great detail, but I have pockets full of scribbles on post-it notes that I rarely look at again. The act of getting it down on paper is enough to make it stick in my brain.

Also, I don’t really plan colour schemes. I let the pieces decide. That sounds a little crazy, but I often feel like the vehicle rather than the creator of the work. I’m not a cat person, my personal style is a little different to my work, but I’ve always created in a cute, colourful style.

What challenges have you faced in your career to date that you’ve had to overcome, and how have these helped shape the way you work today? What’s given you the greatest sense of achievement to date, and how does that continue to motivate you today? 

The biggest challenge has been, and still is, time. I have far more of it to dedicate to my art than ever before, and yet there never seems to be enough hours in the day.

My pieces are very time heavy, so I’m constantly trying to find ways to work smarter and faster without compromising the quality. I make each one with my hands, and most pieces take between 2-3 hours to paint.

Sometimes I regret not choosing a more minimalist aesthetic when it’s 11 at night and I’ve been painting all day, but for me a piece doesn’t feel finished or satisfying if it isn’t adorned with bright colours and intricate line work. 

Can you describe in what ways your new work is similar, and in what ways it is different, to your old work? What’s it like working under pressure? Do you thrive in that environment, or do you prefer to take your time?

My pieces are ever evolving. I tend to tweak the cat vessels in particular, every time I create a new batch.

Self driving is not an issue for me, and I can work under pressure, but at the same time I don’t like to feel rushed.

In order to focus properly I need to be able to set aside an 8 hour period at least to smash out several pieces, making sure I’m spending ample time on each one and using my time most effectively.


Answers by Bonnie Hislop

Images by Rachael Baskerville

Featured Image by Anna Apuli (Crapuli)

Questions and Edits by Emma Kate Lewis

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