top of page

12 Questions: Jill Birschbach


Jill has a BFA from University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and an MFA from the University of Nebraska.

She exhibits her work nationally and has been included in shows at Rockford Art Museum, Dubuque Museum of Art, Elmhurst Art Museum, AKAR Gallery, Red Lodge Clay Center, The Clay Studio, Contemporary Craft, Morean Center for Clay, Baltimore Clayworks among others.

Jill is a senior research editor for Getty Images in Chicago and has her studio at the Midwest Clay Guild in Skokie, IL (

She lives with her husband and two cats in South Evanston where she realized her childhood dream of having a spiral staircase.


I have been constructing sculptures with holes punched through in regular, mechanical intervals. These forms have been iconic shapes, hollow with nothing inside.

As I was working through this series I thought it could be intriguing to show the viewer inside the sculpture and reveal something unexpected or unsettling.

I started creating archetypal forms with part of the exterior skin removed, revealing the inner space.

These interiors are not safe. They look unstable, rickety, and sometimes repulsive.

I use glaze to add an emotional element to the work.

The texture and colors are chosen to contrast the simpler exteriors and reference the body or something unknown, either off-putting or seductive. We all want to know what is going on inside, but we might not like what we see.

1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life?

As a kid I went to the library every day in the summer and spent hours reading and looking at the illustrations at all the books in the kids section. I was super into Dr Seuss books- the illustrations really got my imagination going. I loved all the strange dwellings and creatures, the places were wonky and odd - I wanted to put myself in those places.

2. What are you currently working on?

I am working on sculptures with simple forms- some house shapes and some curved forms. I have been leaving openings on the exteriors of the sculptures to give a view of the interior scaffolding. I want to push this further and show more and more of the interior skeleton with more of the exterior skin removed.

3. How has failure set you up for later success?

What was your favorite failure? Ceramics gives you so many opportunities to fail. There are several steps in the process and pieces can fail at any one of them. It can crack when it’s drying, it can crack or blow up in the first firing, your glaze can not go right in the second firing. I don’t know if this is technically a failure but when I went to grad school for photography I also wanted to take ceramics hours. The ceramics professor refused to work with me because I didn’t have enough hours from undergrad. I told myself I would return to ceramics at some point- and did that about 5 years after grad school. I felt vindicated when I applied to a juried show with a ceramic sculpture and it was juried in (in a blind jury) by that same professor who refused to work with me in grad school.

4. What is your most unusual habit?

Listening to true crime podcasts while I work in the studio even though I’m working alone and late at night. Sometimes I’ll run to my car when I leave because I’ve scared myself!

5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?

Edward Hopper. His sense of detachment, loneliness and melancholy strikes a chord with me,

6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? What is your studio like? Could you share an image?

We have awesome handbuilding tables on casters with Hardie board work surfaces. They are less dusty than tables with canvas work surfaces. The other item is a texture mat that I use to press holes into my slabs before I construct my sculptures. I work in a private ceramics co-op with 24/7 access. There are 16 of us sharing the space and equipment. We each get a large shelving unit and some off shelf storage for all our tools and works in process.

7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself? Sometimes I’ll switch things up if sculpture is not flowing. I’ll spend some time making some functional pieces like planters or cups. Or I’ll make tiny little pieces for jewelry to give myself a break and keep making things. I think the key is to just keep making.

8. Who/What influences your work?

I love Martin Puryear’s sculpture. His forms seem so elemental and simple but his handling of materials and scale is compelling. Several years ago I saw an exhibition of Sterling Ruby’s ceramics and the scale, glaze application and chunky forms were inspiring. There are several contemporary ceramic sculptors whose glazing inspires and pushes me: Nick Weddell, Lauren Mabry, Shiyuan Yu, Linda Sormin, Takuro Kuwata.

9. Do you collect anything?

I do have a ceramics collection- I have been lucky enough to be able to pick up pieces from some sculptors and functional ceramicists I admire. I have a collection of various Japanese cat figures- some vinyl toys and others made out of wood, glass and ceramic. Also-I think you could call my shoes a collection. Last count I had close to 80 pair.

10. What words of advice would you give to your younger self?

I would tell myself to try to not worry so much. Also that emotion you might be feeling now won’t last forever.

11. In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?

I realized that I need to make something and be in the studio to help relieve some of my anxiety and keep myself feeling more positive. Treating art making as a requirement (and not optional) for well-being has re-organized my priorities.

12.Share an inspiring image.

Jill Birschbach is a part of our current group exhibition: New Beginnings at our MKE location and on ARTSY

James May Gallery | 2201 N Farwell, Milwaukee, WI | 262-753-3130

Please continue to support us by visiting us in person at our new location: 2201 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee or check out our Artsy page.

Feel free to contact us: 262-753-3130


bottom of page