Presented by TIX on the Square
Leo Lemke might be new to his art career, but he’s wise in his understanding of belonging. His sense of community, admiration for peers, and excitement for a lifetime of doing what he loves is truly inspiring. So too is his work—a thoughtful collection of handcrafted ceramics, featuring motifs that connect him to the land he is from. Self-aware and eager to keep learning, he’s already discovered what some never do: the importance of loving what you do and knowing you’ll always find a way to do it. Meet this week’s maker, Leo Lemke.
TIX: Tell us about your first experience with ceramics. What drew you to it?
L.L.: My first proper experience with ceramics was in a high school class, and I absolutely fell in love with it. I didn’t realize how much room there was for creativity, and I was constantly amazed by the ability to create a physical piece of artwork, beyond what I had expected out of sculpture. Every spare minute I had was spent trying to soak up as much information as I possibly could about this new art form, and I finally felt like I had a place.
TIX: You’ve said that the name of your brand, “Wild Woods,” is a tribute to nature’s unbound beauty and the magic that one can only find beyond the trees. In what ways does that tribute show up in your work?
L.L.: I’ve always found the beauty of nature very breathtaking, there’s nothing quite like a good hike, and growing up camping in Alberta certainly gave me a deep appreciation for the mountains. One of my favourite designs to do is a ring of mountains across the bottom of a mug, sometimes paired with an animal that you might find in the great wilderness. I love featuring animals, and when I get to thinking about how vast the forest really is, I can’t help but think of cryptids as well. I find it very enchanting, the idea that there are great creatures and beasts out there that perhaps aren’t ready to be known.
TIX: As a recent graduate from Victoria School of Performing and Visual Arts, what’s your transition been like from student to working artist?
L.L.: I must admit, finishing high school in the midst of a pandemic was pretty off-putting, to say the least. It’s a little bit weird for me now too, to never have been to a physical market and have so little face-to-face interaction with other artists—it feels a little bit like I’m just floating until I can finally find my footing. I absolutely love spending my days in my studio, working on what I love, but I really look forward to the days when I can really immerse myself in a sense of community and get to know some of the people I’ve been admiring from afar.
TIX: What have you learned about yourself through your work?
L.L.: Probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned is just how much of a perfectionist I am. I struggle a lot with ‘imposter syndrome,’ feeling like my work is never good enough and comparing myself to other artists, but something I’m learning too is that I’m not the only one! I’ve been really surprised to read that really popular and successful artists feel the same way I do. It’s a reassurance in some ways, and a reminder that I need to be kinder to myself, and allow myself to make mistakes sometimes because it’s impossible to be perfect.
TIX: Your work motifs are all things you could find in the “Wild Woods.” If you were to invent your own cryptid, what would it be like?
L.L.: I love this question! The first thing that comes to mind is house cats with bat-like wings and curling horns, ranging from cat size to around the size of a wolf. I don’t think they’d be dangerous, but they’d stare straight into your soul, not unlike your average house cat.
TIX: What’s the best career advice you’ve been given, and who gave it to you?
L.L.: I think the most valuable advice I’ve received is from picking up on what I’ve heard other artists say, and that’s that there will always be a way to do what you love. I’ve learned a lot from my dad, as well, who runs his own business, and watching how much he genuinely loves what he does. I know that even if things don’t work out how I expect, there will be other paths I can take in pottery, or other ways to include it in my life. I think overall, learning to be flexible and let things play out sometimes is very useful.
TIX: What’s something you’d like people to know about you that they won’t find on your website?
L.L.: Something that I don’t talk about a ton is that I’m a pretty big nerd. I’m a huge fan of Dungeons & Dragons, in particular, and other fantasy. I listen to podcasts of people playing D&D while I work, and I’ve had some ideas of mugs with fantastical creatures for a while, but I haven’t been able to find the time to test them out yet.
TIX: What are you working towards right now?
L.L.: Right now I have a ton of goals for both my personal and work life. I’m still working towards a place where ceramics can be a stable income for me, and I would really like to be able to save up enough for my partner and I to move into our own place. I’m also constantly looking for ways to get more involved in Edmonton’s art community. Most importantly, one goal of mine that will remain constant throughout my career is self-improvement and always seeing what there is to be done to bring things to the next level.