“50 things that make me feel alive”

Ceramics artist and entrepreneur Morgan Williamson on creating beautiful things in dark times, the joys of getting her hands in mud, and Ms. Lopez (the best kindergarten teacher ever)

Inspiration Fuel: Morgan Williamson

by Adam Poor

In our Inspiration Fuel series, we interview writers, artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, and everyday heroes to learn how they manage the ebbs and flows of motivation and inspiration in the pursuit of their life’s callings.

Tucked away in the historic Germantown neighborhood just a few blocks from the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tennessee, sits Handmade Studio TN, a light-filled atelier where Morgan Williamson and her team of artists design and create ceramics that exhibit a particular kind of handcrafted elegance, an aesthetic Morgan calls “perfectly imperfect.”

At Jot, we love Morgan’s work so much that we recently partnered with Handmade Studio TN to create a limited-edition mug, and in honor of our collaboration, we asked Morgan to share how she gets inspired and what keeps her creative energies flowing.

The work you do out of Handmade Studio TN is incredible. For our readers who may not have come across you or your creations yet, how would you introduce yourself and describe the kind of work that you do?

Thank you for your kind words! I’m a lifelong artist with a drive to bring beautiful things into the world. I’m also a mama of 3, entrepreneur, and clay workshop host.

My goal is to elevate everyday moments and bring beauty and thoughtfulness to life. Handmade Studio TN does that through perfectly imperfect ceramics that remind us of the beauty within us and around us.

What are some all-time favorite projects that you’ve worked on or specific pieces that you’ve created?

The Jot bunny mugs are a spin on a mug design that holds such a special place in my heart.

I literally go to sleep excited for my coffee in the morning, so as you can imagine I have very strong opinions about the mug I choose to drink from in the morning. This mug design is the perfect size to enjoy a cup of hot coffee in one sitting, and its proportions feel so satisfying, with an exaggerated handle that feels just right to hold.

The style was designed and released during 2020 quarantine when the world turned upside down and I had no idea how or if Handmade Studio TN could survive a pandemic. We called them “quarantine cups” and released and sold so many of them that we decided to continue to offer limited-edition mugs in this same shape throughout the year.

Our community responded so well, and mugs went all over the country bringing joy and gifts of hope in an uncertain season.

These mugs literally helped keep our business afloat through the pandemic and kept me motivated to continue creating beautiful things through a very dark time.

How did you first get into art and pottery? Was there a specific moment when you realized that this work might become a calling for you?

I trace my original calling back to kindergarten. I have distinct memories of my sweet kindergarten teacher, Ms. Lopez, giving me extra art projects and encouragement to pursue my gift. It’s crazy to me that she called that out in me at such a young age, and that I still remember her kindness and intentionality as an adult.

I’m also the daughter (and granddaughter and great-granddaughter) of artists, so maybe I was just destined to do something in the arts.

For most of us who are not in creative professions, it’s our creative hobbies that help us recover and revive — the “play” that balances the “work”. But with a creative career, how do you balance the two? How do you “play”?

I was honestly scared to start a business making ceramics because I didn’t want it to lose its luster. I try to spend quiet pockets of time in the studio with no business agenda, just time to create and enjoy the process of working with clay. It grounds me every single time.

Of course, I can get overcome with all it takes to run a business, but getting my hands in the mud brings me back to the joy of the process.

I feel so grateful that this is literally my job. It’s fun 90% of the time. The other 10% is sales tax and scheduling and all the details that are just part of adulting.

Some artists describe their best moments of creativity as flow states, while others say even good sessions feel like hard work. For you, what counts as a “good” creative session and what does it feel like?

For me, good creative sessions happen in and out of the studio. In the studio, it feels like my hands in the clay, my blood pressure dropping, and formless mud in front of me taking shape into something unexpected and delightful.

I also love a good creative business session, where I dream up plans for the year, like what we’ll make in our clay workshops, and new designs we will release in mugs, dinnerware, and holiday gifts.

The writer Anne Lamott has often said that “inspiration” doesn’t mean much to her. Instead, she (half) jokes that the only truly effective motivations are debt, mental illness, and the desire for revenge. Do you believe in inspiration? What role does it play in your process?

That is hilarious. In that sense, I definitely think I’m “inspired” because I have three babies to care for and support.

But also, I seek out inspiration and wonder in the world around me. I remember starting a list of “50 things that make me feel alive” in high school. It turned into a running list and I ended up filling pages and pages with simple joys.

I still look for those things in my day-to-day life, which is especially needed because life is also full of heavy, hard seasons. It’s relieving to embrace the small simple moments that spark joy or bring us comfort, so I bring that mentality to my ceramics work as well. I want someone to pick up their mug, or reach for their breakfast plate, or unwrap their Christmas ornament and think “this makes me feel alive!”

Can passion/motivation/inspiration (or whatever you call the drive to be creatively productive) be manufactured? If so, how do you do it? And, if not, where do you think it comes from?

Sometimes the hardest part for me is the vulnerability of starting something – the first step towards a new product or event. After I move through the discomfort of starting, I often find that inspiration and motivation start to flow.

I’m honestly the type of person that needs a reminder that it’s okay to not constantly be productive. I have so much I want to execute that I struggle to feel like I’m ever doing enough.

My inner work feels more like embracing the joy of ceramics while also being able to step away and know that it’s okay to rest.

There are lots of us who struggle to maintain enthusiasm for the work or projects that we love, even if we feel a calling to pursue them. What advice would you give for dealing with dark days when there’s just no motivation to be found?

I like to narrow my focus when I’m feeling overwhelmed or flooded (and since I’m a newly postpartum mom of 3, this happens quite often).

Instead of thinking of the vastness of my “artistic calling” and the entire future of my business, I try to think about the next right thing. I attempt to focus on the one next step I can take to better my business, invest in my team or re-engage with the joy of my work.

Just taking one small step can make all the difference on the hard days.

Also yoga. Also kickboxing.

For more of Morgan’s thoughts on entrepreneurship, ceramics, and coffee, check out the full interview on The Hopper.

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Jot makes the purest, most concentrated form of liquid coffee in the world. Check it out at jot.co.

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Jot Coffee

Jot Coffee

Jot makes the purest, most concentrated form of liquid coffee in the world. Check it out at jot.co.

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