Photography by Andrew Musson
April 30 2015
First developed out of utilitarian necessity, pottery is one of the oldest known art forms. The methodology of working with ceramics has changed little over the millennia, with the basic principles that were invented thousands of years ago still being used today. It is an aged and beautiful craft that can be used for functional purposes or solely for visual enjoyment; pottery is a perfect example of artistry being incorporated into everyday life.
In South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, four friends share a studio space where they each combine a passion for the art of ceramics with an understanding of the ancient process. Though they have the medium in common, their respective approaches couldn’t vary more. In this studio visit, we explore how each ceramicist manipulates clay, turning a practical tradition into an artful one.
- Design process: I usually start with graph paper and a pencil. Most of my designs tend to be pretty geometric; straight lines are used to imply curves. I can then extrapolate dimensions from the drawings which I transfer to a physical model, either made out of clay or wood. The model making process always involves minor changes in the moment to make a piece feel right.
- City other than NYC I would live in: Tamarindo, Costa Rica. It’s slow and beautiful and you can surf year-round.
- Weekend ritual: 4 p.m. organ meditation at Grace Church
- Vintage or new: Lately, new
- Porcelain or earthenware: Stoneware
- Wheel-throwing or hand-building: Slip casting
- I’ve been a potter since: 2012
- Hidden talent: Untangling necklaces
- Recent nervous moment: I took an improv class. It was 8 weeks of being nervous.
- Bad habit: Playing with my hair
- I learned pottery from: My fellow studio mates
- Favorite thing to make: Small Eleanor Bowl
- Favorite thing to make that isn’t pottery: Welded steel furniture
- Last thing made to be a gift: I drew some flowers on a little piece of paper for a date.
- The pottery scene in Ghost is: The only thing most people know about pottery
- Something weird that happened recently: I found a raw chicken foot on the street.
- Favorite food: Sandwiches, in general
- Favorite quote: “Nothing is either good or bad, thinking makes it so.” –Shakespeare (probably paraphrased)
- Pottery is: Underrated
- It’s all worth it when: You hold it in your hands
- Design process: I start with a vague idea in my head of either a shape, a pattern, or a color. Then I usually sketch with the material. A lot of my ideas come out through the actual work and process of making.
- City other than NYC I would live in: I’ve been thinking about LA, but I’m not sure why, maybe the sun and the weather. This winter has been a little rough.
- Weekend ritual: Walk, coffee, studio, eat. Usually in that order.
- Vintage or new: In the past it would have been vintage, but New York puts me in that new state of mind.
- Porcelain or earthenware: Both are great. For now, I work in earthenware mostly.
- Wheel-throwing or hand-building: I like both. They are different ways of thinking, and I like to switch it up, but throwing is my favorite.
- I’ve been a potter since: I’ve been working with clay for a long time, but it hasn’t been my primary medium until fairly recently and even more recently would I introduce myself as a potter. I would say three years.
- Hidden talent: I make music too. It’s out there under the piles of music on the internet. I also make music for film when I get the opportunity.
- Recent nervous moment: I have mini nervous moments all the time, but I’m always a little nervous when I’m sharing my work with a new audience. It’s a good nervous though.
- Bad habit: I have a tendency to get sucked into the internet. The last rabbit hole was people covering Taylor Swift songs on YouTube.
- I learned pottery from: I learned the basics and a lot of the process through one of my professors in college. I ended up working for him for a bit. He studied with some of the great American potters, Paul Soldner and Peter Voulkos.
- Favorite thing to make: Right now I love throwing bowls. I like the subtleties that can be expressed in a simple form.
- Favorite thing to make that isn’t pottery: Music. It’s what I make when I’m not making pottery.
- Last thing made to be a gift: An ornament
- The pottery scene in Ghost is: I haven’t seen it. Should I?
- Something weird that happened recently: I’m gonna have to think about that one and get back to you. I hope that’s okay. (That’s my answer.)
- Favorite food: Mission Chinese (Chinese food) or pho
- Favorite quote: “There are two things that don’t have to mean anything, one is music and the other is laughter.” – Immanuel Kant as told by John Cage
- Pottery is: A way to spend your time
- It’s all worth it when: You see the work together and you watch people interact with it.
- Design process: Don’t stop making things.
- City other than NYC I would live in: It’s the people, not the place.
- Weekend ritual: More working
- Vintage or new: I only like old things if I am the one that made them old, unless it’s buildings. I love architecture.
- Porcelain or earthenware: Porcelain is sexy and high maintenance. It won’t let you get away with anything. It keeps you honest and it’s always a challenge.
- Wheel-throwing or hand-building: I would say I have better throwing skills, but I end up hand-building most things because I feel limited by the wheel.
- I’ve been a potter since: Fall 2002 at Elon University
- Hidden talent: I can juggle.
- Recent nervous moment: I’m secretly a nervous person, but right now I’m very nervous about doing my taxes.
- Bad habit: Juggling jobs. It feels like I’m always over committed and ignoring something.
- I learned pottery from: Mike Sanford, the best teacher I ever had. He’s also an amazingly talented artist, and a wonderful father, husband, and son.
- Favorite thing to make: Tile. Creating architectural features out of pieces of clay and cement will never get old.
- Favorite thing to make that isn’t pottery: I love fixing things, and I love how happy it makes other people when a problem is solved.
- Last thing made to be a gift: I made my girlfriend some blue and white marble porcelain slabs that we used as shelves in her spice cabinet.
- The pottery scene in Ghost is: To this day, I have never seen it. I intend to keep the streak alive. I don’t mind The Righteous Brothers though.
- Something weird that happened recently: Doing the photo shoot for this feature was very weird for me. I haven’t had my portrait taken since high school.
- Favorite food: Anything Italian
- Favorite quote: “Inspiration is for amateurs.” – Chuck Close
- Pottery is: A dirty word. I like “ceramic design” better.
- It’s all worth it when: I see people living with my work. When I see people love the things that I love to make it all seems to make sense.
- Design process: I generally like to let things brew in my imagination for a few weeks or even months. When the time is right, I’ll test a new design out by making a few samples. For example, the cup design for Need Supply came from an idea I started thinking about last summer. I wanted to make a very simple cup with a minimalist design. The color was always up in the air, but this collaboration helped me narrow the palette down.
- City other than NYC I would live in: Paris
- Weekend ritual: Grab a cup of coffee with my wife and head out for a long walk around Prospect Park with the dogs. Saturday mornings are the one time during the week when we can have unscheduled time to just hang out. Afterwards, I’m off to the studio.
- Vintage or new: Vintage done new
- Porcelain or earthenware: Porcelain is best when I want something really strong and tight. I really dig it, but when I want to get the job done quickly and without having to sell the farm to cover the bills, I go with earthenware.
- Wheel-throwing or hand-building: As a young guy, I was a wheel thrower 100%. But as my interests matured I started to see the wheel as another tool. I work with whatever the project requires.
- I’ve been a potter since: 10th Grade
- Hidden talent: I’m still looking for it.
- Recent nervous moment: I told a client today that their order will be ready in three weeks, and I still have a lot to do.
- Bad habit: Blaming things on my dogs
- I learned pottery from: A number of people. When I was really young, my folks took my brother and me to visit a studio on Deer Isle, ME. The potter there had his studio set up in a barn, overlooking an inlet. He made the simplest pieces. I still love to use his mugs whenever I visit my parents. That guy taught me pottery.
- Favorite thing to make: Big things. I don’t do it enough, but I love the feel of a huge jar after it’s dry.
- Favorite thing to make that isn’t pottery: I like to make people happy.
- Last thing made to be a gift: A Valentine’s Day flip book
- The pottery scene in Ghost is: So true
- Something weird that happened recently: I can’t talk about it.
- Favorite food: Tacos
- Favorite quote: “When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.” – Jacques-Yves Cousteau
- Pottery is: A lifestyle
- It’s all worth it when: I can take time off to travel