As April begins we're very excited to launch our brand new #IslandLifeDistilled series - where we look forward to shining a light on the many makers, creators, artists and small businesses that make our beloved islands what they are - as we uncover some stories from North Uist, South Uist, Benbecula and beyond.
Kicking things off we sat down for a chat (with a Downpour Gin of course) with Louise Cook from Shoreline Stoneware, producers of beautiful individually handcrafted stoneware sculptures.
Tell me a bit about Shoreline Stoneware and what you do here….
I make hand-built stoneware sculptures, all themed around the sea. I’m inspired by the coastline around our island, and draw inspiration from the unique Hebridean environment. Water is never very far away, so there is always a shore to explore. Fresh water loch or coastal, there is always lots of inspiration. I use lots of natural sea fragments, to provide delicate textures on the surface on the clay. The majority of my work is stoneware fired. Eaval, North Uist’s highest hill, is featured quite a bit in my work too.
Within the gallery, its not just my own ceramic work, I also have work by 11 other artists. It’s a beautiful space to showcase the fabulous talent we have on the island.
How did you learn these skills?
I’m self-taught and spent a lot of time reading books, trying out ideas and sometimes (often!) making mistakes in the early days. It's so long ago it was before YouTube! My work has changed so much over the years, and no doubt will develop in the future too.
Have you passed these skills on to anyone else?
Yes, I love running pottery classes and hope to start them again this summer. Learning new skills is always fun and hand building with clay is so absorbing. Its easy to get the clay bug and want to keep going and continue learning!
What’s your favourite part of your job?
Ooh that’s easy, opening the kiln after a glaze firing is always fun. Hoping everything has fired well and that the kiln gods have been kind!
Talk me through what happens on an average day?
Oh my, is there ever an average day. So generally, my first visitors to the gallery arrive about 8.30 for breakfast, Mr Paws and sometimes Miss Cosmo, my friends fabulous cats! I must stress they have a very loving home, but they know a pushover when they see one, and breakfast with their adopted auntie is always a must! Coffee for me and a handful of crunch for them.
If I’ve planned a studio day, then I try to start early in preparing the clay so it can be worked through the day. My wee log fire goes on every day over the winter to keep the studio cosy. If I’m glazing work, then I might need to prepare glazes. I forget sometimes to look in the mirror after glazing and can end up looking a bit odd with iron glaze on my nose from pushing up my glasses – oh dear someday I’ll learn!
But talking to visitors to the gallery is always the best bit of my day. I’m very lucky to meet so many wonderful people and hearing about their lives, travels and creative ideas. Discovering a few years ago that you could travel from Falkland Islands to North Uist, in less time than my mother spent traveling from Locheport to Inverness as a child to attend secondary school, completely and utterly stopped me in my tracks! And the time I met wee Hamish, a cute Westie from California who had travelled Route 66 then sailed across the Atlantic in his own woof-woof cabin with his maser so they could travel to Uist for the summer! So many amazing people, with incredible stories.
What is the most important material or tool that you use?
Well the different clays I use are clearly important, but the tools I use the most are actually found objects and textures from natural materials, so things like whelk, sea urchin fragments, cowrie, old ropes and exotic finds like bamboo and coconut, are all used to add detail in my work. They are completely free and it’s the best excuse ever to spend time at the beaches around Uist. My two dogs love our beach hunt days, they have loads of fun and never believe me when I say I’m actually working!
What do you enjoy about living in Uist?
I love the strong sense of community in Uist, it’s always been something I love. I’m not sure I really have any disadvantages, I remember as a child though not always being able to get fresh milk and having to use UHT, shivers, it was awful!
Have you got a favourite drink?
Always Earl Grey tea in the morning and coffee the rest of the day, and Downpour Gin at the weekend, and with fizz if it’s a special occasion!
Is Gaelic and local heritage/culture important in your work?
Oh crumbs yes. Although I cant speak much Gaelic, other that what I was told as a child “An gabh thu cupa tì?” (Do you want a cup of tea?) and “Dùin an doras!” (shut the door!). But it’s the stories I love, how life was here as a child from my own memories, and mums experiences and then when my grandmother would tell stories about crofting life and how things have changed. It’s all really important to me.
Why do you do what you do?
Simple, I love it and it makes me happy. I will be forever grateful that I can share what I do with others and they can enjoy my work too.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Oh that’s actually quite difficult, I really believe life is a journey and we are always developing new skills and strengths to take us forward. But I’d probably tell myself to not give up, keep focused follow your dreams.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
“Then do it, make it happen” A very dear friend who is sadly no longer with us would always say that to me. All our creative conversations or talk of travels, or even ideas for some new seedlings in the polytunnel, it was always the same, “Then do it, make it happen” She was the most positive person I ever had the joy of knowing in my life. An obstacle was always an opportunity for creativity and never allowed to slow you down!