Sunday Maker's Session with Artist Frannie Wise

This week we talk to Edinburgh-based illustrator and ceramicist, Frannie Wise. Having grown up surrounded by countryside, she focuses on aspects from both rural and urban landscapes, often involving the juxtaposition of reality and imagination. Her disregard for realism aims to subvert the viewer’s opinions on what it is to make ‘good art’ and focuses more on the pieces being hand-made and personal. By rarely using straight lines or accurate renditions, Frannie’s work retains a childlike charm that softens and lifts everyday objects that we often overlook.

Hello Frannie, thank you for doing this week's Sunday Maker's Session! Please could you encompass your artwork in only three words?

Hi! I find it really hard to think of words that summarise my work as it’s often all over the place, but I think the common threads that pull it all together would be colour, nostalgia and honesty. I can’t remember the last time I did a full illustration or ceramic piece in greyscale because I just love seeing how colours interact and dissect, I always need to set myself a limited palette or I’d end up with a rainbow splodge every time. All my pieces involve motifs from imagination or some nostalgic memory, going back to childhood in the way I depict things with wobbly lines and odd proportions - I’ve never been able to use a ruler and I don’t intend to start now. I chose honesty because I create from the heart, the brain and the hands, so all of my pieces are true to me and whatever I’m feeling at the point of making. I never want my pieces to be anything other than what they are, to pretend that they’re part of some great enlightenment – they form themselves and if people like them then it’s a very lovely bonus.

We adore your ceramics, they are full of energy! Can you talk us through the process of creating say one of your plates from start to finish?

Thank you! I get a blob of earthenware clay and roll it out to a (hopefully) even thickness, a bit like you would pastry. I then place it over a plaster mould to draw out any moisture and press into all the little divots and creases with my fingertips to ensure the shape is defined. It’s then left to airdry until leather-hard and sliceable, at which point I can cut off any excess, shape and smooth down. The more it dries out, the more refined and delicate the shaping becomes. I either choose this point to paint on my designs using underglazes, or it goes into the kiln to be bisque fired first, coming out chalky and pale. The plate can then be glazed, either with glossy or matte transparent glaze which I discovered can behave in fun pearly ways when combined in certain areas. The final stage requires popping the plate back into the kiln for a final firing to make the colours pop and for the plate to be functional.

You've mentioned clay is another canvas for your illustrations, but in some sense your connection with the material is deepened having formed it by hand. Can you remember the feelings you experienced when you first created something with clay? And did this root what you hope will be an everlasting relationship with ceramics?

Having spent many summers with my grandparents on the Isle of Wight growing up, I’ve always found clay to be such a fascinating and practical material. I remember days at the beach, making little figures along the sea walls with family and collecting bags of it to build some questionable pots when I got home. Despite getting my wellies stuck in it a fair few times, I find clay so therapeutic and a wonderful way to connect to both the environment and the art itself. I only got serious with it over lockdown and was lucky enough to receive guidance and (when safe enough) studio space from the lovely and properceramicistClaudia Rankin. With everything going on, I’ve been endlessly grateful for clay’s ability to take on my stresses, whether that’s punching it into shape or squeezing it to form simple structures - it’s a coping mechanism. I find pleasure in transforming something so malleable and formless into a functional piece of art or tableware.

Many of your works convey messages through wording, much of which is semi-abstracted and can come across as nonsensical without knowing the background information and your own inspiration behind the design, we think this sparks the imagination and adds interest; is this something you aim to achieve?

I absolutely intend for my work to be seen and interpreted in the viewer’s own way. I’m often on the same journey as them, not necessarily knowing what my pieces mean or how they make me feel until they’re finished and I step back to look at them. Sometimes I think “ah yes, that’s what I meant” and other times I realise they’ve stemmed from some weird snippet of an old favourite song, overheard conversations or notes in the corners of my sketchbooks which all stir up different feelings and connections. I hope that people find something that similarly resonates with them in my pieces, in whatever ways they see fit.

Following on from your mention of inspiration perhaps deriving from 'a snippet of an old favourite song', it would make sense to talk about your Large Fish Platter (!) ..So what's the story behind this piece?

Well I used to listen to my parent’s music which comprised of a lot of Elbow albums, there’s a lyric somewhere that includes “the original miracle” which is a phrase that’s always stuck in my head. I like to think of it as a way of championing the everyday things, the actual original miracles in our lives. It's why a lot of my motifs centre around sunlight, food and landscapes so the fish is kind of an embodiment of that, a shared meal or celebration. It also draws inspiration from this big fish plate we had growing up which is  kind of ugly but was a big feature at occasional fancy meals, so you knew you’d be well-fed when the fish was brought out.

We know you're studying in Edinburgh, and would love to get a better insight into life as a current art student and how the pandemic has impacted your course?

It’s a bit of a nightmare! I’ve had three lovely years of going into a shared studio space overlooking the castle where all of my course mates are working around me, having late-night mid-semester panics and sharing meal deals. I’ve learned so much from my talented friends but now it’s very different, it’s rare if I leave my desk all day and even then it’s probably to make a sandwich. It’s hard to stay motivated when suddenly your crits and conversations are moved to a screen which lags most of the time with endless roadworks in the background. I also struggle with staring at the same four walls, not being able to bounce ideas around or break up the day with chats about new pencils or the price of printing etc. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, there’s a comfort in moving fluidly from bed with an idea in your head and being able to get it straight on to paper and my flatmates are always (hopefully) willing to be sounding boards for new ideas. Also, without the pressure of anyone looking over my shoulder, I’ve been able to be more experimental with my approaches without worrying what the outcome will be.

Other than the discovery of ceramics as a new way of expression and stress release, have you found any other creative outputs or forms of mindfulness that have benefited you during this time?

I love walking! I’ve always gone on walks and hikes growing up but over lockdown it became an absolute crux, especially walking the routes I normally just travel in a car or bus. I try and get out for a walk every day, long or short, rain or shine, just to get a change of scenery as I find new inspiration from the things I see. Though not particularly creative in itself, I focus on colours and movement which filter into my works. I tried running but have definitively concluded that it’s just not for me, whereas with walking I feel refreshed and see so much more than I would on a jog (at least that’s what I’m telling myself). I also love painting more than ever, for a long time I only used coloured pencils but I find paint more soothing and it makes my wrist ache less! I love seeing a blank page suddenly transformed by swathes of colour. Often there’s a composition in my head and I can’t rest until I get it on to paper, so there’s a certain level of satisfaction in that.

Finally, if you were able to step inside of and explore one of your own illustrations, which one would it be?

Ooh, that’s a tricky one. I’d be tempted to say one involving food or animals for obvious reasons, but I think I’d ideally step into one of my landscapes. The thought of countryside and big open fields is extremely tempting when you’re stuck in a flat in rainy Edinburgh - I’m very lucky to have two beautiful settings to reside in, but I think Northumberland has my heart. I’m happiest when strolling through some sunny woodland or hillside with sandwiches at hand - walks aren’t as good unless they end in a picnic or a pub.

Take a little look at Frannie's work!