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River + Sky Muse: 

Jess Burbridge

Every River+Sky piece is made by creative souls, for creative souls—and there’s nothing that inspires us more than the visionary women who wear our clothes. 

That’s why we’re starting a new series spotlighting the artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and changemakers within our community. We hope they spark something within you, just like they do with us! 

Meet Jess: the photographer, ceramicist, and boho style icon inspiring us now. Read on for a look into her creative journey, the evolution of her personal style, and the inspiration behind her mesmerizing ceramic art.

How would you describe your personal style - and how has it evolved over the years?

When I’m working in the studio, it’s anything goes - as whatever I’m wearing will eventually be covered in wet clay and ceramic dust! When I’m putting in a little effort to go out, it’s definitely an upscale boho chic look that I love. When I was a teenager, it was all Birkenstocks and Baha hoodies. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become a little more boho glam. I love to dress up my River + Sky dresses with nice jewelry and boots to elevate my boho look.

Tell us about your work as a photographer and ceramicist.

My undergraduate degree is in Photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Although I fell in love with ceramics back in high school, SCAD didn’t offer it as a major while I was there, so I chose to focus on photography and my passion for Great Ape conservation. I spent my twenties and early thirties working in Field Communications for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and Gorilla Doctors in Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda. I deeply loved my work in gorilla conservation, but decided to take a break from the field work after my son Nigel was born and I began the intense work of an international adoption to bring our daughter Kavi home from India.

Fast forward a few years and I found myself falling back in love with ceramic art. During the 2020 pandemic lockdown, I ordered a 25 pound block of stoneware clay on a whim to create with my (then 6 year old) son while my daughter napped. Nigel and I sat at the kitchen table for hours playing and sculpting and the ceramics bug bit me again, hard! Within the year, I had taken over our small kitchen with my ceramic work and we moved to a new house so that I could have a dedicated studio space.

I love the tactile nature of ceramic art, I love making with my hands… it’s truly therapeutic for me and I am able to easily slip into a flow state working in my studio. I love the quiet of my studio, I love the smell of clay all around me, of sitting surrounded by my tools with ideas percolating in my mind. I am very grateful to be able to do this kind of work.

How would you describe your point of view as an artist - is your creative perspective the same across different mediums or does it vary?

My work in photography was almost exclusively focused on Great Ape conservation, while my work in ceramics is inspired by the ocean. I started working in ceramics again shortly after we moved from Atlanta to South Florida (Boca Raton). The move to Boca ignited a total lifestyle shift for us. My husband and I spent so much time at the beach, we became certified to scuba dive and I fell completely in love with being in the ocean and learning about corals and other marine life. So it makes sense that my work in ceramics has been largely inspired by the sea and all of it’s inhabitants. I feel very proud that my current body of work is on exhibit at The Hale Gallery in Islamorada and next week, the gallery is hosting Coral Restoration Foundation, a nonprofit that I regularly support. I will be donating 100% of the proceeds of any of my pieces that sell that evening to CRF and their incredible work to save coral species from extinction.

Where do you look for creative inspiration?

I look for creative inspiration in so many places. I walk my neighborhood every morning and find inspiration in different plants, flowers, birds, trees, seeds, nuts, butterflies, sunlight and shadows. My eyes are always open to glimmers of joy I get from the natural world. I’m also inspired by other artists I follow on Instagram like Adam Russell of Key West Pottery, ceramic artists Eva Zethraeus, Zizipho Powsa, Jennifer McCurdy, Juliette Clovis, (and many others) and I appreciate how many share their creative process and artist’s life online. I’ve curated my Instagram feed to see almost exclusively other artists’ content interspersed with underwater photography and videography.

Lately, I’ve been trying to make a more concerted effort to fill up my cup with experiences that ignite inspiration and joy. It can be easy to lose yourself in the day-to-day work of motherhood and generally being the CEO of your family. Last year, I took the time to travel to Mexico for a free diving retreat. I met some amazing and like-minded women from all around the world and we learned to free dive together and shared the incredible experience of swimming with whale sharks. I came home from that trip feeling so alive and inspired, and I knew I wanted to make time for experiences like that as regularly as I could. In early December, I turn 40 and I have a trip planned to Bimini to scuba dive with Hammerhead sharks!

What’s the next big project on your radar?  

At the moment, I’m still letting my mind explore options and opportunities for next year. My goal and dream is to create a large scale ceramic wall installation for a collector and I hope I can make that a reality in 2024! I’m not sure whether that installation will be in a collector’s home or a place of business. I’m excited to see how it manifests!

What advice do you have for women who want to bring a creative passion to life?

My advice would be to start today. Don’t consider creative pursuits to be self indulgent. I believe that everyone has an innate creativity that can and should be nurtured. You just have to find the medium that resonates with you. Time passes by so fast and while you’re busy considering finding a creative outlet, months or years could pass by that you could have nurtured your inner artist and brought so much joy and fulfillment to your life and others. Plug into your creative community and sign up for classes at your local art center to try out different mediums and see which one(s) speak to you. You might even find a penchant for blending mediums and techniques in a new way.

Also, I would recommend reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic to both aspiring and seasoned artists. It’s a book that I listen to on Audible while I work in the studio (who knows how many times I’ve listened to it now!) and Liz presents an excellent argument for why it’s imperative that you silence the inner critic in your head and why you should make the work. Other great reads are The War of Art and the Artists Journey by Steven Pressfield.

Jess's Style Edit

I love everything by River + Sky, but what speaks to me the most are the pieces dyed in beautiful blues and greens, probably because they remind me of the sea. I have the Brooklyn Dress in several colors and I love to wear them - they’re beautiful, comfortable, effortlessly chic and I get compliments every time I wear them. I also love the Downtown Tee, the Excursion dress (it has pockets!), the Cabo romper and Ines jumpsuit. All in the beautiful deep blues and greens of course!

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