INTERVIEW WITH ESME — ARTIST & CO-FOUNDER OF COMMON GOODS STUDIO
1. During this unconventional time, what does a day in your life look like?
I don’t constrain myself to a 9 to 5 work schedule, so my mornings are pretty layback. I’ll make myself a cup of coffee at around 9am, catch up on some news while my partner, Fan, and I make brunch together. This is also when we would turn the heat on in our garage studio, and remove the plastic cover on any pots that I might have made the previous day, so they can start drying up and be ready to be worked on later in the day. We’ll brainstorm new project ideas, go over any new orders/emails while we eat. But sometimes when neither of us feel like diving straight into work, we allow ourselves some time to just talk about anything else but work, or watch a few episode of shows, and procrastinate together. As a member of a society that values success and efficiency above anything else, we’ve been conditioned to be allergic to the idea of not working out enough, not eating healthy enough, not reading enough books, not working hard enough. But I think during this uncertain time, it’s especially important to listen to our inner voice, and be kind to ourselves, and not focus solely on productivity. In the beginning of the 1st lock down, I tried to fill my days with work and new hobbies. But now I find that allowing myself to do nothing and just reflect, or even just be blank for a few hours can be a great way to cleanse my mental palate.
When I’m mentally and physically ready to work, I will start by cleaning my work area while I listen to podcasts or an audiobook, and prepare any clay I might need on that day, then start throwing. Part of my job is also to manage our Instagram account where we share not only our final products, but also the process of making. So after warming up my hands, I would set up the camera and record myself working from different angles. I will take as much, or as little time I need to finish the tasks I give myself that day. On some days, I throw for 5-6 hours; on others I trim for 3 hours and attach handles on mugs for another 2; or I could spend only 3-4 hours on glazing, and call it a day. I try to edit and upload the videos or photos I take for instagram that day by dinner time. If there’s a shop update coming up, we could spend 4-5 15hr work days to take and edit photos, write product description and update the site. After dinner, at around 8pm, I either get to completely relax and become a couch potato for the next few hours, or go right back to work. I would do one last studio check right before bed to cover anything that needs to be dry on a controlled schedule.
2. How has the pandemic affected Common Goods Studio and your practice of creating, overall?
One of my favourite ways to sell pre-pandamic was in person markets. Handmade product costs more than manufactured goods, even with the growing collective consciousness of wanting to support small and local business, many shoppers are still reluctant to pay that extra amount. Being able to touch the products and have a personal conversation with the makers can turn a casual browser who appreciate your art from a distance, to a paying customer who spread their love for your brand to all their friends. In-person markets and events provide that tactile experience and the chance for me to form a personal bond with the people I meet, which really helps develop a more loyal customer base. Selling in person, with all its benefits, is actually a very draining task. We had the pressure to create new pieces to fill our market tables on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Now that we don’t have to prepare for markets, my production cycle became much longer. Instead of having to turn around small batches of one-off pieces every 7-14 days, I’m able to take on much bigger orders that take up to 8 weeks to complete. So nowadays I find myself working on more and more wholesale orders from other small businesses. I still miss seeing people’s face at markets when they hold my ceramic pieces for the first time. But it’s also great being able to do what I love on a larger scale, and get paid up front. So I’m very grateful for that.
Esme in her Petite Form Necklace
3. Where are you finding creative inspiration at the moment?
My works are heavily influenced by the arts and philosophy of the Song dynasty, forms and textures found in nature, and ancient artifacts made with clay or bronze. But not every day is about creating art, there are days where I don’t feel inspired at all. One of my favourite illustrators, Christopher Niemann said: “It’s just about showing up and getting started. All that matters is you have to sit at your desk and draw, and hope for the best.” On those days, It’s more about the tactile relationship I have with my material. I just need to listen to the clay and let the process guide me.
4. Name one thing upcoming that you're excited for, personally or professionally
After the pandemic, I’m hoping to go back to Jingdezhen, China, the city where I learned pottery, to set up a studio. It’s a city rich in history and resources when it come to pottery. By having a second studio space there, I can experiment with different techniques and materials. The goal is to be able to spend half of our time in China, and the other half in Canada. This way I could take full advantage of what Jingdezhen has to offer whenever I’m there. The thought of being able to work on the same land as so many master potters, and even potentially learning from them is giving me joy.
5. What rituals or activities keeping you grounded & clear-minded right now?
If I feel restless and purposeless, I would turn to sewing or rug tufting. But if I’m already in a relatively relaxed mood, or I’m just physically exhausted from working all day, mixing myself a cocktail usually does the trick. I’ve been getting into mixology, and being able to pour colourful liquid into my vintage glasses feels much more ceremonial than just cracking open a tall can. Doing Gua Sha on my face and body, and reading a book before bed also helps stop my mind from racing.
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