Q+A With Vivian Shao Chen Ceramics
I first found American ceramicist and immediately knew that I needed to reach out to her to learn more. I asked her for a little interview and some photos from her studio in Brooklyn and she happily agreed and so we set up a chat. Please follow along below for a little Friday inspiration that will hopefully take you into the weekend feeling good.
What made you get into ceramics?
I come from an architecture / design background, which is often more cerebral than it is about making. Though materiality is very important to architects, we are always one step removed from it since we aren’t the ones who actually build our designs. Making objects with clay is a totally different design process than I was used to. My favorite pieces are those that happen while I'm throwing on the wheel, intuitively. What I like is finding the subtle nuances in shape and detail that are results of physical gestures. Those are what make a piece interesting and beautiful. These are things I could never design on my own with pencil and paper, because it results from the process itself. I guess that is what got me into ceramics. I think people are drawn to ceramics and pottery because it has a quality that makes them slow down, to feel the weight and texture, see the depth in the glaze. I love the freedom of thought that clay allows me, and I work to make that clarity translated into the final products you see and hold.
How did you learn your craft?
Through practice and failure. You can take classes and learn from others for sure, but in the end, I learn the best from actually making. Ceramics is a very humble and humbling craft. Mistakes and accidents are always happening, even when I think I did everything 'right'. I try to think of failing as a learning experience (after a good cry if it was a particularly epic fail of course).
Who inspires you in the world of ceramics?
So many people!! I’m inspired particularly by those that dig up up wild clay or find ways to use found, natural elements in their work. Sarah Jerath, Mitch Iburg, Mark Rose and Maya Santoso of Magnolia Mountain, Melissa Weiss, just to name a small few.
What do you love about your space?
I love the windows in the space and the light they let in. Most of all, I love that it is a space that is just my own. I feel much more in control of my work environment now, and it makes me more efficient.
Is your space at home or in a separate location?
It is in my home. It’s quite useful to be able to check on a pot just before going to bed to make sure they are keeping their moisture level. They really are my pot babies.
What are some challenges with working as a small business?
One challenge is time- there never seems to be enough. There are so many ideas I want to try, and so many skills I want to develop. Another challenge is outreach and exposure. I’m working on being more confident and trusting myself and my work. It doesn’t come naturally to me, and I’m always inspired when I meet self-assured small business owners.
Where do you sell your work?
Mostly through Instagram currently. I used to sell through my previous shared studio, which was great because I met many of the people that bought my work. I miss those interactions and am considering some holiday markets. I’m also working on getting an online shop up and running. I’ll be announcing the opening through an email newsletter, for which you can sign up on my website.
What are some goals you have for your small business?
On the making side, short-term goals include fine-tuning my plate and bowl designs and production techniques, refining my glaze palette, while still giving myself time to experiment and play with materials. On the business side, I would like to get the webshop going and be able to convey a really clear sense of what my work is about.
Long-term goals would be to learn more about natural and wild clays and to rely a little less on what is commercially available. It can feel overwhelming when I think of what I want to accomplish, but I can’t help but feel grateful when I think to myself, “Remember when you wanted what you currently have.”
What would you like to buy for your studio that you can’t yet afford and why do you need it?
I don’t have a kiln, and it would make the biggest difference in my studio. Having my own kiln would allow me to mix all my own glazes (I mix some and buy others currently) and my lead time for production would become much shorter. I’d also love to have a large slab roller to make handbuilding a faster process.
What are your favorite mediums other than ceramics?
I love to cook, bake and sew. I think the functional aspect of all those mediums motivates me.
What do you listen to when you are working, who is on your playlist?
I usually listen to nothing when I’m working. I love having silence, only interrupted by the wind or rain.
Thank you Vivian for being a guest here today with us on cattledogs. I loved learning about your process and also, your passion for making and enjoyed seeing glimpses of your restful studio space as well as learning about some of the challenges you have as a small business owner. Thank you for openly sharing a part of your world with all of us.