Meet Artwork Archive Artist Liz Crain. This painter-turned ceramics artist has made a name for herself creating vintage canisters. From beer cans to spice tins to cans of Whup Ass, the artist uses her passion for surface design and deft clay skills to create containers so real that people can’t believe their eyes. Liz shares how she stays focused and stays fresh while working within a consistent theme.
“I didn’t start out trying to be unique. What has worked for me is being authentic. Beyond the form is the love of things that are falling apart. Of entropy. Things that are not perfect. I followed my truth and it led me here. “
Want to see more of Liz's work? Visit her Public Profile Page on Artwork Archive!
YOUR CERAMICS WORK IS VERY FOCUSED ON VINTAGE TINS AND CANS? HOW DID THAT GET STARTED?
I come from a 2D painting and drawing background. I had some great mentors in ceramics that taught me everything I know about form. I like the idea of a vessel, but I’ve always been too much of a perfectionist to just create a vessel.
In 2010, I worked with Cabrillo College Ceramics to create a gigantic rock sculpture out of clay, using underglazes and other techniques to create a granite texture. The sculpture, called The Portal, was so large you could walk under its arched gateway like a magic portal. The piece was very well received— it even toured a bit.
I don’t usually do things that are so big, but I craved more of the surface design experience. That was the part that really connected with me— I was craving the painter in me.
One day, I was in an antiques flea market and I stumbled upon an old, red metal gas can that reminded me of one my father has in the garage. Then I had what I call the artistic WHAT IF? What if I made the whole thing out of clay? Including the handles and wires.
So, I tried… And I did it! I made this awesome thing and I couldn’t believe it. The extent that people try to use the handle is great. I have to use hang tags that say, "Hi, I'm not a real handle."
AS YOU CONTINUE TO WORK WITH VINTAGE CONTAINERS, HOW DO YOU KEEP THE WORK FRESH AND INTERESTING?
Most thing grow organically, evolve. My husband is a home brewer and encouraged me to make beer cans so that’s how that got started. Then I found the cone top beer cans they made in the 30’s - 50’s and wound up making my version of them. I’ve explored old slogans and vintage brands. Now, I am making up whole new brands. Next, I want to make a series of beer cans based on dive bars.
I’ve tried a whole bunch of things over time. I keep poking around, looking for meaning in the studio. I am a meaning person in that I enjoy a personal connection to both the form and the content of my work.
I’m also curious and continue to learn. Right now, I am studying package and graphic design and sheet metal fabrication. That’s how I stay juicy. Stay vital. Stay curious. This has led me to places that I never expected.
IS THERE ANYTHING UNIQUE ABOUT YOUR STUDIO OR CREATIVE PROCESS?
Being creative is hard. One thing I do to overcome the trepidation and risk of creating (putting something out there) is to keep things in the studio that make me want to be in there.
I love my studio. It’s small and bright red. The walls are lined with funny sayings and affirmations. I love this creative process poster. There’s also a shelf with my muses, including Wonder Woman and Isadora Duncan and a Lammily Doll—because she’s a real woman. I also keep mementos from my longest-term mentor who passed away, such as her apron. My studio is awesome. It calls to me.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES OF BEING AN INTROVERT AS A PROFESSIONAL ARTIST? DO YOU HAVE SOME TIPS FOR OTHER INTROVERTS?
I didn’t always understand what it meant to be an introvert. After all, I’m not shy or socially awkward! I took a Myers-Briggs test (a few years ago) and discovered I am an INTJ (introversion, intuition, thinking, judgment). That’s a rare personality type for women. I recognize that my battery gets run down by human exchange. That’s why I can be in the studio for days or weeks on end. I understand myself better now and see it as a strength.
I joined a few groups for people like me, including a group that’s geared towards solo women entrepreneurs who are introverted. I found a tribe. I found other people to talk to about it. I am not struggling alone as an introvert.
I think it’s important that we don’t just label ourselves. Be the best version of yourself. Understand it. For me, introversion is just a descriptor not a driver.
IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, YOUR WORK HAS BEEN VERY FOCUSED BOTH IN TERMS OF MEDIUM AND THEME. DO YOU THINK THAT FOCUS HAS HELPED YOU GAIN REGIONAL RECOGNITION?
The short answer is absolutely, yes! At shows, I’m called the Can Lady. I have a ceramic tribe.
Working with vintage canisters has allowed me to connect with people in a unique way. People will share pictures of spice tins or bring me old cans that they’ve found on walks in the woods. So, I have a whole collection of metal tins. People want to help and give me resources. I treasure them. I’m inspired by them.
I didn’t start out trying to be unique. What has worked for me is being authentic. Beyond the form is the love of things that are falling apart. Of entropy. Things that are not perfect. I followed my truth and it led me here.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR OTHER PROFESSIONAL ARTISTS?
It’s important to figure out what’s enough as far as money and recognition. I worked hard on creating a profitable business and I’m proud of that. But, while I make money, I don’t make a living. I am fortunate to say my husband is my primary patron in life. Without my patron, my focus would be on more functional pottery.
Always keep in mind now how far you want to go and on what terms. I know I’m a meaning person, not a production person. I decided I didn’t want to have a big studio so I work from home. One room—my son’s old bedroom—is for making, another is for photography and shipping supplies, and the garage is where we keep my kilns instead of cars.
After a lot of hard work, I was able to establish a local name, then a regional name. In fact, I recently had my very first solo show open in Oakland. But, I also know I am not necessarily looking for national or international attention. I mean if it happens, I wouldn’t say no.
I don’t have a specific design on what comes next, I am just enjoying growing into the next thing—whatever it is.
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