I once sat under these desert blooms in Joshua Tree in that dry, constant desert wind with Adelaide and the dog, our feet in the dirt, waiting for Ellen to pick up some barbecue. We returned to our campsite in the dry lake bed down the road and ate ribs on a dusty blanket on the cracked earth and drank cheap boxed wine and watched the sun turn the sky more colors than we could count. We wandered over to meet a bunch of girls traveling in a van and they fell in love with our daughter and I took their photo together, where they were using seats from the van as an outdoor couch, and on our way home for the night I picked up a broken piece of dry desert brush, prickly and pointed, and set it on our dash.
I can't do it all, I murmured, face deep in a linen clad pillow. I sat up in bed and stared at the wall, blank and patched, from where my desk once hung. I said it again.
I can't do it all.
Grabbing a fistful of sheet, I spoke clearly, without shame that I was speaking to the walls like Willie Nelson: and I don't want to.
I haven't written in months. Really written. Or taken a photograph that wasn't for social media or our business. We've pulled out the guitar and the cajon and our scribbled lyrics and chords only twice, and have felt guilt each time we've sung instead of built. I've missed just being, warm Saturday mornings once spent porch sittin', thick ceramic mugs of steaming coffee in hand, our daughter and the dog at our feet.
I have ambition and drive, but that doesn't mean that I want to only work. When the business I started with my wife - renovating Airstreams - happened so organically, it wasn't without hard work. The past three years of renovation culminated to the moment where it was time. We were ready to see if our idea had any merit or steam. We put the word out, slowly at first, and there it was. A three-year-dream, a three-year "what if" became real. Suddenly, I was racing to keep up, taking meetings and responding to emails and finishing our own Airstream on weekends and blogging and creating a podcast and drafting contracts and and and.
I was feeling my sole design work here at Birch & Pine fall by the wayside, yet that too was a very natural subsiding. I knew that with the renovation business, I would still be designing spaces - and I'd get to work with the person I work with best: my wife. My best friend. My business partner. The one who could take my design and help me create it and bring it to life. I didn't feel sadness, I simply felt relieved. I was getting to do everything I wanted to do in one neat package.
It's certainly difficult to summarize everything that has culminated in the last two-and-a-half months, yet gratitude is the word most continually in my vocabulary when describing how I feel, followed by stress and then exhaustion. I'm most certainly stressed, and the work is constant, I rise early to collapse into bed late, and my eyes feel burnt out from long hours at the computer screen and my hands are cut from hours spent finalizing our own Airstream build. Our daughter's extracurricular schedule changes slip my mind, we eat out far more than we cook at home, our house is so continually dirty I am hiring a cleaning service, I've not run in weeks, our social life has dwindled to zero, and I'm probably the worst friend/daughter/sister (insert role here) because it's taken me days (at one point, weeks) to remember to call or text someone back. I take solace in knowing this isn't forever, that this is what it takes to start a business and fulfill a dream, yet I know that I am only one person and I cannot do it all and don't want to. And that is okay. I would rather have time for people in my life and the things that make my heart feel joy and make me come alive.
The way I see it, I'm getting everything I want and everything I've worked for. It's okay that I'm not running a design business and the renovation business, because I'm the designer for the renovation business. It's okay that I'm not a lifestyle blogger and a photographer and whatever other professional title I once needed to slap on myself to feel grander, because that doesn't mean I'm not a writer and an artist/photographer, simply because I don't have the titles on a business card. I don't need to claim everything I can possibly claim to be proud of myself and the work I have done and the work I do.
Having this realization didn't necessarily lessen the workload, but it certainly lessened the guilt weighing on my heart. Knowing that it's okay to just write...to write, or to create music with my wife or to photograph something beautiful without feeling the need to share any of it, or share all of it, is incredibly freeing. I don't have to create a business out of everything I love to do. I don't have to make money off of something simply because I'm good at it. I don't need to run myself ragged to prove anything anymore. I want to know that at the end of my life, I can look back and say that I loved, and I lived, and I worked hard, and not for acclaim, but because it all fulfilled my soul.
When I started this blog, I knew that I wanted to work with artists and makers from all over, sharing about their process to end product, who they are, and why they do what they do. These posts tend to take quite a bit of work for everyone involved, so they are much fewer and more far-between than I'd like - but on the plus side, it gives me time to seek out really incredible people and work closely with them - really diving in and getting to know them and their work.
Today I'm talking with Brooklyn-based artists Andrea Juda and Kristin Mueller, who together make up Slip Clayware, who are producing ceramics that at once feel modern, earthy, and perhaps something you'd find in an art professor's home in 1970. Each piece is structured, yet organic and fluid, and even when meant to match, the subtle differences in each dish is unique. I chose two white hummock mugs and a glaze match in the sugar and creamer set in white - which have received so many compliments from friends already, and they only arrived a few weeks ago. Check out the interview with the artists below!
"in ceramics, slip is clay in its most fluid state - capable of taking on any form. Slip Clayware pushes the bounds of traditional notions of form, functionality, and materiality in the art of ceramics. Here you'll find a home for your morning coffee but also pockets for your wall. We're ever expanding the scope of the needs our pieces can address, with many designs incorporating a range of materials..."
Tell me a bit about yourselves individually and how you know one another. What made you two decide to go into business together?
Kristin: We’re pretty different people, actually, and I think that in an odd way that’s part of what makes it work. By day, I’m an architect. I love experimenting with ways that a functional problem can be solved with a unique form, and love building models and working with my hands. I met Andrea at the architecture firm I used to work at, and was probably more inclined toward the friendship just because she did something totally different than me.
Andrea: It’s true. I work in marketing so I’m into figuring out what people like and how what we do meshes with what they need. The business was really just the next step in what started out as a hobby with a coworker. When we realized how our different skills made for a balancing of focus in the pieces and production, it made sense to see if people might be interested in buying what we loved making.
Tell me a bit about your favorite pieces, why you love them, and how you comprise your collection. Do you have any new pieces or ventures you are excited about and would like to share?
Our favorite pieces are ones that are a new take on traditional ceramic techniques, forms, or functions. For instance, our Dune Mug uses the act of glazing the piece (which is essentially dunking it into a bucket of liquid glaze) to inform the pattern on the piece: we simply dunk it at an angle, creating the unique diagonal line between glazed and exposed clay portions. An example of traditional function informing our pieces would be the Whorl Mug, which gets its diagonal handle form from the natural placement of your hand when holding a mug. It’s a unique and fluid form that has functional roots, and that’s sort of our ultimate goal some combination of all those aspects.
When it comes to curating what makes it into our collection (because, let’s be real, a good design process is 90% “learning moment” failures) we try to ensure clusters of pieces work well together aesthetically and have supplementary functions. Even the process of naming the piece helps us get at what we love about it and how it fits in with the others. Dunes, Hummocks, Pebbles, Plumes these all have geologic undertones that relate to the forms of the pieces and their essential earthborne nature. Lately we’ve been experimenting a bit with nonfood functions everyday objects such as lamps or clocks that serve needs away from the dinner table. It’s a very different process beginning to incorporate other materials but also exciting because of this.
I think the readers would be interested in knowing the process behind the creation of your products. Would you pick one you love and lead us through the making?
Our Dimple Tumbler is probably one of the most fun pieces to make. This one can put you out of your comfort zone in its final stage because after throwing a perfectly symmetrical form, we “ruin” it by holding it as you would when it’s solid, but while it’s still wet and malleable.
To break it down from stage one though, first we take a clump of clay that weighs about 1.5 pounds and “wedge” it, which is a repetitive kneading process that removes air bubbles and actually aligns the molecules in an optimal arrangement for the wheel. Then comes the throwing process, which, when you’ve made a piece several times can be accomplished pretty efficiently your hands start to gain muscle memory of how best to make the piece quickly.
For the Dimple Tumblers, once we have a perfectly tapered cup, we pinch the sides of it to deform it into a shape that is comfortable, natural to hold, and unique between all. The piece then dries for a bit before it’s cleaned up, stamped, and sent to the bisque kiln. After firing for two days, it’s ready to be glazed. We dunk our Dimple Tumblers ¾ of the way into the glaze bucket, leaving some exposed clay at the base. It goes through another round of firing and is ready for our customers!
Tell me about a typical day for you both – at Slip Clayware and daily life, from the mundane to the creative!
Behind all the curated Instagrams is a lot of mud. It’s true most of it is a messy, muddy process that requires some cleanup, but who isn’t up for that (well, the first part) after a day at the office?
Where is your studio located? Tell me a bit about your surroundings and what you love about it. Do your surroundings inspire your work in any way?
We work out of a communal studio in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn which means we share the space with a lot of other great ceramic artists doing a range of work. There’s always some great new piece out of the kiln that we can ask each other about and learn different techniques and combinations through less trial and error personally, which is great a true studio environment.
Where do you gather inspiration? Travel, your city, other experiences? Share a bit about how you take that inspiration and translate it to ceramics.
We actually mesh well as travel partners too, so we’ve been to a few places recently with some really interesting geologic histories and soil textures and colors. Iceland was full of amazing volcanic formations and a deep, rich soil. On our trip to Oman we could witness the contrast of the sandy dunes with the cavernous, layered canyons in all their colors. In the end, what we produce is made out of those same essential elements taking some of those qualities we love and letting them find their way back into the pieces is always a fun challenge.
Relationships can be pretty tough – we’re all human, after all, with pretty crazy emotions at times. Do you two have any rules or rituals between you two to keep things running smoothly in business?
Generally, we just talk it out it. It helps to be friends first in certain ways. We try to be reasonable about our expectations when it comes to production, but maintain a healthy balance of experimentation. It can cause some friction at times, but it’s never been anything we can’t work out and learn from.
Is there anything that has you especially excited these days – a new music discovery, finding a fantastic artist, side projects you’re working on, personal triumphs or endeavors?
Summer in New York is always exciting, and a chance to try out some new pot shapes for the container garden!
Do you have a storefront, online store, or a place where people can find your offerings?
I cannot wait to order a few more pieces and incorporate them into our home - the care that goes into these pieces is clear to the receiver, and we've truly enjoyed using them in the last few weeks for coffee, tea, and even a homemade salad dressing I whipped up and served in the creamer dish. I love having pieces like this in our home - these entirely multi-functional art forms that look lovely on display and in use.
Support the work of Brooklyn based ceramic maker Slip Clayware by visiting the site here and ordering a few of these gorgeous pieces for your home or collection.