Chicago-based Leah Ball stumbled on the second half of her business almost by accident. After apprenticing at a bronze foundry and then starting her own jewelry business, she began dabbling with ceramics as a way to display her stunning bronze pieces that look like relics preserved for thousands of years. Only then did Ball discovered her love and talent for working with clay.
Ball says that, while she has always been a maker, it took some time—and one particular occasion—to realize that she could create pretty things for a living. “I was out seeing some friends play a live improvisational jazz set at a small dive bar and kind of had an epiphany: all the musicians were so skilled, and that only comes from living and breathing it. I saw myself needing to be more dedicated to my craft. I needed to go all in and feel the hunger. Once I took the leap my work quickly got better and the orders and press started rolling in,” Ball tells CH.
As her jewelry line gained momentum, Ball also began experimenting with porcelain. Now, her offerings include planters, mugs, bowls, plates and various little vessels—all treated with her trademark marbling effect. “It is a many layered labor of love!” she says of the process. “I start like a baker and make colored slips from scratch, then I layer them over stark white porcelain. Then I work with those layers to create different patterns and affects. I use various slump and hump molds to get my various shapes that I hand build. Lastly I glaze with just a clear glaze to seal the surface and allow the marbling to show through.” The result is something that looks beautifully organic—despite the hours and hours of work that goes into them. This seemingly natural appearance is due in some part to Ball’s great love of the ocean. Having grown up in Carlsbad, California, Ball says her aesthetics are based upon the patterns and rhythms of the Pacific coast, and her ceramic work has a distinctly oceanic vibe—a feel seen most evidently in her preferred colors and line work.
As Ball continues honing her skills, she’s becoming more curious about making different products. She tells CH that she’s not satisfied with staying still and is already working on lamps and larger planters. “I want to go BIG! Also I am playing with some new colors for fall and some new shapes. I’d like to offer more items in the kitchenware department. And I want to find a way to incorporate my bronze work into some tea kettles, etc.”
While living proof that one can start small and truly grow as an artist, Ball says she sometimes still has doubts, “I still don’t really know if it is feasible; making a living as an artist is hard work—but I do know that it is worth the work.”
Ball’s ceramic wares are available from her webstore, with prices starting at $40.
Images courtesy of Leah Ball