Clay Buddies: Nicole Lissenden

Clay Buddies: Nicole Lissenden

So I know that you were doing freelance work for East Fork long before you started full time. Can you tell us how that started and the kind of things you were doing for the company at the beginning?

Yes! When East Fork was first getting started, I did some print and design projects for Connie and Alex. During the design process of our first project, a letterpress kiln sale announcement, they invited me to a wine bar and we looked at paper samples together. This was long before we were all doing East Fork expense reports, so when they put the tab “on East Fork” it felt very fancy and official. We did lots of things after that - postcards, thank you notes with Alex's slip trailing (pictured below), and the first iteration of the East Fork logo which was made from letterpress metal type that Alex used to stamp his early pots. They were always wonderful to work with and I am so appreciative of the work they gave me when I was just starting out as a designer and letterpress printer.

Thank you card made by Nicole for East Fork!

How did you get started in the arts? Did you ever get really into ceramics?

Art was just always happening in our house, and our parents loved it and encouraged it. My big brother, (and yours) Erik, is a prolific, incredible artist. I watched him intently as a small child and wanted to be able to draw, too. I never had the thing where I could sit down and draw things from my head like he could, so I usually had to look at a picture (typically from Dad's National Geographic collection) or set up a still life to learn how to draw it. Because of that, I think I gravitated toward realism and most of the art I’ve made in my life has been representational.

I never got but so into ceramics, but I did take a couple of classes in high school and college. I told my high school ceramics teacher, Mrs. Showers, that I didn’t like to throw. She told me I didn’t like it because I wasn’t good at it right off the bat, and that I’m not used to the feeling of making art that I’m not good at. I think about that a lot when I try something new, and I try to sit in the discomfort and the freedom that comes with being bad at something. I never became a potter, but I did learn to enjoy throwing pots.

Toward the end of college I met my now husband, who was apprenticing with Matt Jones in Sandy Mush at the time. During our early days together, Alex would often make pots and I would do underglaze paintings on them or carve them with moths or cicadas or things like that. I loved helping him with firing wood kilns in those days, at Matt’s kiln or the Guilford kiln, then later the East Fork wood kiln.

How long did it take you to learn to use a letterpress? Did you teach yourself or did you learn from someone else? Are there any art-making techniques you'd like to learn/develop now or in the future?

I did a six month apprenticeship at a letterpress shop, Blue Barnhouse. I was printing on a Vandercook by the end of my first day there, but it took months to learn how to set it up on my own (proper impression, ink amount and distribution, registration, etc.). They had a Vandercook and a couple of Chandler and Price presses when I was there. The one big C&P was very big and very fast, and I found it really hard to find a rhythm. But they were beautiful machines and I learned how to print, take care of the presses, make photopolymer plates, and trim and finish prints during my time there. After I finished up there I bought my first press, a 1918 Chandler and Price. I later bought a Heidelberg Windmill from a guy who delivered it to me and taught me the basics over the course of a few days, but it took a couple of years of experimenting and reading the manual over and over before I felt like I really knew the machine. There are still a lot of features left for me to discover.

So many things I’d like to learn to do! Mostly in the craft realm, like get really good at sewing and embroidery. Since quarantine started, I've been obsessively sewing and hand-painting a robe. I imagine a time when I’m old and can be in my studio all the time and really develop a true art style of my own.

You have two kids. They're precious. Do you think either of them have caught the art bug? 

They totally have. Asher gets super fixated on things and then draws and draws and draws those things. He’s a documentarian and scientific draftsman. He made a book about the Titanic being built, sailing, sinking, then the wreck being discovered. It was ALL about the Titanic for a while there. Isla is an abstract visionary.

What are your five favorite things?

Heidelberg Windmill

Gah, I love this machine. It has a blower that separates each sheet in a stack of paper with air, a suction bar that picks up one sheet at a time, an ink fountain that can be set to release ink at the intervals that you choose, and a bar that allows me to set the registration with hairline accuracy. It is covered in dials and cranks and levers, each one with a specific purpose. It makes the most beautiful, consistent prints. Before my time at East Fork, I made wedding invitations and other contract print jobs full time. I now use it for personal work and the occasional East Fork print project.

Plate Wall

When Alex and I got our first apartment together above a plumbing store in Swannanoa, we started a little autobiographical plate wall. It included a plate with a fish carving that I made for him when I was in college, a plate from his apprentice days with Matt. Over the years, we’ve added plates from places we’ve traveled, from our grandmothers’ china collections, from friends. We have one that Alex Matisse made as his end of a work trade to commemorate Asher’s birth (it was broken during our move and we super glued it back together - sorry Alex! Still love it just as much!), along with another wood fired East Fork plate. Matt made one to commemorate Isla’s birth. An East Fork plate in poinsettia to represent my time here! We usually add one or two per year. I like thinking about the story it will tell at the end of our lives of the work we’ve done, the places we’ve been, and the people we’ve loved.

Plate wall and cookbook, 2 of Nicole's favorite things.


This is a cookbook my mom made for me. It’s filled with family recipes alongside photos and stories that go along with the recipes. I’m just amazed when I look at it at all of the love and care and attention that went into it. It probably took her a year, but she’d say “oh it’s just thrown together”. My favorite is her famous chocolate chip cookie recipe accompanied by pictures of her baking them with us when we were little. During our quarantine “science class” last week, she baked these cookies with me and my kids over FaceTime.

Aquamarine Necklace

When I got married, my dad gave me this aquamarine necklace as my “something blue,” and told me that I had found that aquamarine when I was a little girl. It was one of many gemstones I found that he kept, but this one was especially nice. I grew up in mines and on fields belonging to farmers that my dad befriended. We were always hunting for something. Arrowheads were of particular significance to us, but geodes and gemstones were good, too. My dad saved the raw aquamarine that I found for a couple of decades, then went back to that same mine to have the owner cut it into a necklace for me. The owner was so touched and loved my dad so much that he cut and set it on the house.

 A necklace and charm made by Nicole's child

Heart Charm

This is a charm that Asher made out of clay when he was in preschool. I love the mom gifts my kids make. I’ve always had this one hanging from my rear view mirror, and liked to think it kept us safe while driving. A bear tore the rear view mirror off with this charm still attached, but that’s a story for another day. It now lives in a new van.

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