Interview with Julia Ballenger

Julia and I talked using your hands when you can’t trust your eyes, the women in her work and the people that inspire her.


Julia Ballenger is a ceramics artist living in San Francisco. She teaches her craft along with the personal work she makes.

Where are you from?

I am originally from Boise, Idaho but live and work in San Francisco.

Why did you decide to move and how has environment affected your art?
I moved here for college when I was 18 and have since spent all of my adult life here. I think San Francisco is a difficult place to be an artist because of the cost of living, but because of that the art community here is very close and very supportive.

28081512_10155274189336918_846648433_o.jpgHow did you begin working in clay? Do you/have you worked in other mediums?

I began doing Ceramics when I was about 14. At that time I suffered from pretty debilitating migraines which would effect my sight for sometimes weeks at a time. I decided to take a Ceramics elective in high school initially because it looked fun and interesting. But it became something of an obsession and a therapy for me at that time. On days where I couldn’t trust my eyes to perceive the world correctly I could trust my hands to be my translator and life line. I learned to throw mostly with my eyes closed. Even now, with my migraines mostly under control, I often find myself closing my eyes to allow the sensation in my hands to guide my process.  I have definitely worked in other mediums – I love painting and drawing – but I find clay to be a wonderful culmination of everything. You get to draw, sculpt and paint all wrapped up in one wonderful medium. Sketching is a huge part of my process and most of my pieces are the 3D articulation of my paintings and drawings.


I noticed that you create work with specifically women, is this intentional?

Yeah it is definitely intentional. All of my work is extremely personal—sort of like a visual diary. For example the bathing piece started with an attempt to chronicle my experience with Chronic pain and to make an image for an experience I had trouble finding the words to articulate. It’s since changed and developed but at its core all of my work is about my experience as a woman in my own body. I’m also really interested in making empowering images of women because I want to contribute to a more empowering and diverse visual representation of women in the arts.


How do your personal relationships affect you and your art? Do you have any close friends or family that inspire you?

My father is a huge source of inspiration. He is a writer and told me since I was a kid that being an artist is one of the most meaningful things you can do with your life. Both my parents encouraged me to follow passions and to create a career in the arts, of which I am aware is incredibly rare and I am extremely grateful.  I am also lucky to have an amazing group of friends who are also working in the arts and/or running their own business. @zsegre , @munbeibi @alexsteele @makerandmineral to name only a few. I really look up to them for their hustle and creativity. We all met through doing craft fairs in San Francisco and since have been supporting and rooting for each other. Making work can be a pretty solitary thing (bustling away in your studio listening to audio books) so it’s nice to have a sounding board and people to connect with.


Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In ten years I see myself teaching and still making Ceramics. I’d like to move away from production and make bigger pieces. I also fantasize about a bright studio attached to my house and a garden where I can drink coffee in the morning. That’s the dream!

Julia’s work can be found on or on her Instagram @Julia_Ballenger

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