Clay, collaboration and the female form: an interview with artists Liv & Dom
Identical twins, ceramicists and illustrators, Liv and Dom are the creative duo from West Sussex not to be trifled with. Using pottery and paint, they forge a blissful paradise where thick clay women and bold hues of pink and brown are aplenty. Since the launch of their online store in 2015, they have sold over hundreds of works and collaborated with brands such as Slowdown Studio and luxury hotel Casa Mãe. We chatted to Liv and Dom about their aspirations, how they aim to portray the female form, and the struggles – and successes – they face as self-employed artists running a business.
You’re known for your clay incense holders of women in quirky poses. How did these came about?
Liv: The incense holder is definitely our bestseller! By now, we must have made hundreds of them. Dom is convinced she just woke up one day with the idea. At the time, we were at university working on our final projects which were on the themes of British seaside town tackiness, and beach undress and nudity. We were also exploring what it was like to create art objects that had functions. We came up with a lot of ideas during that time, and the incense holders was one of them.
I find that every creative has a moment in life when they know they want to create. When was that moment for you?
Dom: For us, that moment probably happened in our last years of high school. We were very creative children, always drawing and doing little projects together. We used to make dresses and books for our toys, and often worked solidly on art projects for weeks or months at a time. We used to make these Fimo bunny characters! Now that I come to think of it, they were like the kid’s versions of what we do now – they were all in different colours and funny poses. I can't remember a time when we weren't creating. In our last years of high school, we took a combination of arts and academic subjects – that was when it became obvious that we wanted to become artists. We enjoyed the relaxed creative environment of our arts classes so much that it was a drag to leave the room after the class was over. We'd found our place and our people. From then on, we knew we wanted to keep creating – not just as hobbies but as careers.
A lot of us have siblings we love, but it would be a struggle to work with them professionally. How do you navigate that?
Liv: I think the way we ‘keep it professional’ is to not be professional at all! We don't have different ways of interacting with each other as siblings and best friends, or as business partners. Life is already serious enough so we try to make sure we take a light-hearted approach whenever possible. Having the bond that comes with being identical twins is quite special; there’s never any hostility or jealousy between us. It's a very peaceful, understanding and forgiving relationship which is perfect for spending lots of time working on projects together. Weirdly, when we do have disagreements, we sound like an old married couple!
Did you always know that you wanted to launch a business together?
Liv: It definitely wasn’t planned, and the idea only really took shape in our last year of university. We were setting out to start our final projects and we were looking on Instagram – which we didn’t have at that point. We saw so many carefully considered pieces and brands from artists and illustrators, and it appealed to both of us so much. It seemed like something we could do because of our history of completing successful art projects together. Initially, we were encouraged to work separately but we chose to follow our intuition and it’s worked out pretty well! Perhaps we’ve always had a sneaky suspicion that one day we would work together in some capacity. We just make such a great team and I can’t imagine doing anything else now.
What advice do you wish you were given when you were starting out?
Liv: Definitely to get our ‘businesswoman’ hats on, and plan our finances and goals well from the start. Getting to grips with the business side of things is a constant learning process for us – it’s something that still surprises us every now and again. Sorting out expenses, taxes and books from the start sounds like common sense to most people, but we went straight into launching our brand right after university. We certainly weren't drawing up business plans, or fine tuning our overheads, or doing all that really ‘fun’ stuff that comes with running a small business. We ended up with huge fines and a whole two years worth of logging expenses to do in a very short space of time. However, we try not to have too many regrets. I'm sure we'll find soon find something else we should have been doing from the beginning, and we’ll probably kick ourselves for not having done it earlier, but that's all just part of the learning process.
Designing, moulding, painting – there’s definitely a meticulous process behind each piece you create. Do you ever grow attached to your pieces and become apprehensive to sell them?
Liv: We make so many these days that I think we've removed ourselves from the process emotionally. We don't get overly sentimental over the business – we save all that for our personal lives. So if there are over 50 little clay figures in front of us, it’s hard to get attached to every single one. Now and then, we’ll make a new piece which is really exciting. When that happens, we might get a bit attached to the prototype just because it's the only one of its kind. Other times, we’ll fall in love with some custom portraits we’ve made, but obviously these have to be sent off to new homes. Ultimately though, we're glad to see our pieces go to happy buyers.
How has having an online presence influenced your careers?
Dom: We’re constantly hyping up Instagram to any up-and-coming creative who’ll listen! Even though it can be saturated with ‘trendy’ work that all kind of looks the same, it’s still an invaluable tool for today’s artist, particularly if you sell your work online. The free publicity you’re able to get on the platform is second to none. When we first started out – back when we could count our followers on one hand – we had little to no connections in the art world. Being a part of a thriving creative network, even if it’s online, is encouraging. You see people make their livings by creating amazing things. It inspires you to keep doing what you’re doing.
As artists working today, we have a social responsibility. What would you say is the social responsibility of the modern artist in particular?
Liv: Artists working today need to be aware of representation and the diversity of their audience. When we first started making our clay figures, we had pink one and brown ones. The figures of darker ladies would always be the last ones left on our online shop and at markets, which slightly discouraged us from making both colours in equal quantities. We immediately had to check ourselves! It would have been downright irresponsible of us, as women of colour, to not have ourselves and other women of colour represented [equally] in our work. We also found that the more we created darker-skinned figures, the more people got excited about them, and in turn we gained a larger following of people of colour. As artists, we definitely have a responsibility to be aware of representation and act upon it.
What inspires you?
Liv: Two things: the first may sound strange coming from artists but what drives us is financial security and independence. The second thing that inspires us – which is more typically linked to creativity – is beauty. Perhaps pursuing art wasn't the best route for financial security but the more we work, the more it becomes apparent that it can be achieved. I don't think we overvalue money but if you don't come from a great deal of it like us, this obviously influences your perception of it. So financial security is something we think about a lot when we set our work goals. However, our appreciation and pursuit of beauty is our main inspiration. We are typical Taureans so we want every aspect of our life to be beautiful. We’re far too cynical to actually believe in astrology but I guess it's just a nice thing to say. We love making the spaces around us beautiful and wearing beautiful things. It’s really natural for us to want to create pieces that we hope make the world more beautiful.
As women, we are so often the objects of artistic pieces, yet we rarely control the lens through which we are portrayed. How do you think the portrayal of the female form is different when mediated by women?
Liv: When you take away the male gaze in the creation of female nudes, it’s freeing. There’s a relaxed and natural feeling to the work; the naked body is appreciated and explored in a casual, celebratory way, rather than in a way that fetishises it. Most of our customers identify as women and we enjoy hearing what they think, and how it makes them feel to be around our work. The women we sculpt and paint are just having fun and hanging out; they are removed from sexual connotations for the male gaze. Think woman chilling in her room naked, reading a book as opposed to swimsuit modelling. Maybe it takes a female-identifying artist to get across this sort of 'feminist' nudity; maybe it's the sort of work that can only truly, comfortably be made by women.
Join Liv and Dom for a clay workshop on Thursday 22 August in London and learn how to make your own nude incense holder.