We love our members, so every month we feature one of them on the site and in the newsletter. This month, our featured member is Toronto ceramics artist Eleanor Stainsby of Stainsby Studios (@stainsbystudios), who gamely answered all our questions about her work and her life.
(P.S., not a member yet? What are you waiting for?)
Workshop: Describe your business in 10 words or less.
Eleanor Stainsby: I make modern and timeless handmade ceramics for a beautiful home.
W: What was the first product you sold?
ES: We used my ceramics when we hosted a small dinner party with a group of family and friends to celebrate my parents' 50th anniversary. I was serving coffee and tea after dinner, and my mom's best friend claimed her mug and said that when — not if — I started selling my pottery, this mug was going to be hers. And so when my ability to store my ceramics outstripped my making — really, we couldn't store anything anymore — that mug was my very first sale.
W: What’s your latest innovation?
ES: I was really thrilled when my ceramic match strikers were featured in Chatelaine magazine's 2021 made-in-Canada gift guide. My match strikers have really been my most popular item, and they feature a striking surface that's designed to be used with strike-anywhere matches.
Unfortunately, I started hearing from my customers that strike-anywhere matches have become very hard to find. So I sourced some match-striking paper, the kind you find on match boxes, and I designed and fit it to be applied to the base of my match strikers. Now they can be used with regular matches by striking the surface on the base.
W: What’s something you’ve done in the past year that you’re proud of?
ES: In January 2020, I introduced a new dimension to my business by making a donation to a local food bank for every item I sold. At the time, I had no idea that food banks would become so important as the pandemic struck, and people were having a harder and harder time making ends meet.
In 2020 I donated $1,500, in 2021 I donated $2,000, and I just made my first donation in 2022 to bring the total to over $3,750 since I started the program. It's really important to me to give back, especially in a city like Toronto where we have so much wealth. I strongly believe that no one should have an empty bowl.
W: What’s something new that you’ve learned lately?
ES: In July last year, I took a pretty in-depth course called Understanding Glazes. It had online lectures and meetings and also labs where you had to get all your own materials. We made glazes and tested different concepts that we learned in class by adding and subtracting materials and oxides that provide colour to see the results.
I've now made more than 100 different test tiles, and have enjoyed learning and understanding this critical component of my craft in depth. I make all my own glazes, and have had a hard time with chemistry. But the course really helped me.
It's unbelievable how long it takes. But it's so important to test your hypotheses. I'm actually trained as an engineer — that's my full-time job. So this course really scratched my science nerd itch.
The process of making glazes isn't necessarily so much fun. But there's nothing like the feeling of opening a glaze firing kiln, because you finally get to see the results of all your hard work.
W: What’s the most recent thing you’ve bought from another Canadian maker?
ES: There's actually a link to somebody you've featured previously, Karin Edhlund of Förtrollad Leather. We met at a market long ago. I bought a one-of-a-kind upcycled cable-knit sweater bag with leather trim from her. And I love it.
I also bought from another maker that I met through the same market. Her name is Kim McCallum and her business is called Lot8. I got a linen bread bag. It's so great to help keep bread fresh.
W: Describe your dream studio.
ES: My dream studio is not underground, like my current one, which is in my basement bathroom. Something that's above ground and has lots of natural light, and it's big enough to hold all the pottery equipment and glazes that I want.
It's funny. My studio is in my house, and I love it because pottery is all about timing, making sure that you're touching the clay at the time when it's ready to be touched. If it's too early, it deforms. And if it's too late, it cracks. So having something in my house is wonderful, but I would love more space and more light and more climate control.
W: What’s one book, movie, TV show, magazine, podcast or album that you’re loving right now?
ES: Have you seen Severance on Apple TV? It's terrific. The premise is that they inject workers with a switch where the work side of their personality is completely separate and independent from the home side of their brain. It's a really interesting show — it builds suspense really well.
I also love Lizzo and Harry Styles. I think a lot of my pottery has been made listening to Lizzo. I'm waiting for both of those artists to release their new albums.