Musing with Ceramicist Lilah Shepherd
A version of this interview appeared in Issue #02. Grab a copy here.
When I first met Lilah at Catchtilly, a female-run headshop in Austin, I instantly became a fan. Her creative experience reads like an art school catalog: 35mm photography, knitting, painting, printing, dyeing, drawing, jewelry. Ceramics is her latest and current love.
The Houston native came to the area by way of San Antonio and the South of France, where she lived ages 14-19. At 31, Shepherd works prolifically from her home studio. She sells the iconic pipes and sculptures for which she is known online and through stockists in Austin, Dallas, and Los Angeles.
Here, the acclaimed artist opens up to us about self-doubt, her process, and living your best life.
Why did your family move to France?
My mom wanted us all to have a world perspective rather than [an] ‘America is the center of the world’ perspective. I don’t think she really liked American consumerism and [that] ‘Keeping Up with the Jonses’ feel. We lived in kind of a yuppie part of San Antonio and she really struggled with that.
When did you first get into art?
I started pursuing it, intentionally, the summer I turned 21. It was the summer I started living on my own. I’d go listen to bands—most of which were hippie jam bands—and draw with a calligraphy pen and India ink.
Would you say that ceramics is an accessible or inaccessible art form?
I would say inaccessible because [many] don’t have access to kilns. A lot of people are into polymer clay; it’s an oil-based clay that you cook in a toaster oven. You can do that at home. New kilns are like $1500 dollars and you have to get an electrician to hook it up to your electrical box because the plugs don’t fit into any kind of normal [outlet]. You have to get one made for wherever you live. A lot of people rent and can’t alter that.
Where are you living now?
We live in a garage apartment in the country, northeast of Longview, Texas. I don’t know that a lot of people where I live would appreciate [my art]. Especially the whole making pipes aspect; that would be very looked down upon.
So, what’s your advice to people who don’t live in a metropolitan area and are pushing the boundaries in their medium?
I’ve gotten a lot of support through Instagram. Posting my process, posting what I’ve recently made, or am currently working on. Having stuff available online—I have a Tictail website and an Etsy store. I know Etsy is kind of ‘cracking down’ on what they’re allowing people to sell—I still feel like people do find you there and that helps, but don’t let that be the only thing you do.
So, you don’t have to live in [a] metropolitan place, but I’d say, if you want to have a presence, it’s helpful to at least visit places or find places that have opportunities for you.
Why did you start making pipes?
I started making them for fun, to use. I led a very sheltered upbringing, so I didn’t really smoke before the summer I turned 21. I like to smoke; I don’t like to smoke a lot and that’s the whole idea behind the chillum—you can toke once or just a few times and not get blazed. I really don’t like the idea of smoking so that you’re just a couch potato and you do nothing. I hold a lot of weight with productivity [and] movement in life.
Do you have any advice for those want to get into ceramics but are kind of overwhelmed by the idea?
Take a class a local community college, university, or art center. If you’re in a country town, look for the nearest paint-a-mug place and they’ll rent space in their kiln for you, or an entire kiln. It might be $50-75 to rent out, but you can [complete] a lot of work and fire it all at once.
Who are some of your current influences?
Brâncuși, a sculptor in 1930’s Paris. There are some really cool videos that you can find on YouTube about him, working in his studio space.
I really like Rand Renfrow, a local Austin illustrator [and] printmaker. My best friend Adrienne Butler, I love her art so much. Emily Counts. Cecily Brown. Jessica Hans. And the whole Australian ceramics movement.
Tell us about your work flow.
When I work from home, I have a table that’s wooden and it sits on [a sawhorse]. So, I can take it outside easily, if the temperature and weather is permitting. I feel like light is really important when I’m working. I think I’d always prefer to be working outside rather than inside.
As far as music, I really like music that is more atmospheric and instrumental when I’m working. I probably listen to Explosions in the Sky, ROM, or Youth Lagoon. Or I’ll binge watch Netflix.
Do you ever struggle to get motivated?
No, not to create really. I struggle with resting. I know that [it] is good, but I struggle with this anxiety inside me when I try to rest—like it’s wrong, like I’m wasting my life. My husband is always trying to remind me, “You need days of rest! Be still!”
But I think this feeling of needing to be productive really stems from feeling like I didn’t do a whole lot in my teenage years or 20s. I feel like I spent a lot of time just watching tv. Lots and lots of tv and movies, reading, and creating—not intentional, just kind of frivolous in a way. Hobby creating.
Do you feel like you have to play catch-up?
Yes. That’s very true. I also feel like because I didn’t have a normal upbringing—I wasn’t told go to school, so once I got tired of school, I just stopped going. I feel like I’ve kind of already failed at life. I’m trying to catch up from that feeling.
Life is fleeting and there’s only a finite amount that we get to live. Everyday is precious and I finally know what I enjoy doing with my life, and I want to do that for the rest of it. ▲
Cover image and product photos via Lilah Shepherd. B&W photography by Magdalena Antuña.