Monday, April 5, 2010

HOUSE CALLS: Whitney Smith Pottery

"Beautifully functional handmade pottery" is how Whitney Smith describes her work, and it really is just that, plus it is REALLY pretty. There is a clean-lined simplicity in her pieces, often detailed with just little elements such as a bird or flowers. I have coveted one of her cupcake stands for as long as I have been a fan of Etsy. In the meantime, I wanted to know more about Whitney and her work, and she happily obliged!

Introducing, Whitney Smith...

Whitney at work.

Can you tell us a little about you and your work? "I'm a ceramic artist living in Oakland, California, which is located in the San Francisco Bay Area. I refer to this area as "the bubble". I make functional ceramics, meaning I make stuff like bowls, plates, and vases that people can use. But my work is also very organic and sculptural in nature, so my pottery often does double-duty as items that can just sit around and look beautiful, too."

What was the career/education path that took you to this point? "The path that got me to running a full-time ceramic studio was a bit meandering and didn't follow a neat, conventional track. I always wanted to be an artist, but had no interest in going to art school because I thought art school would pretty much cure me of wanting to pursue art as a career. Call it a hunch. So I moved myself to California from the East Coast when I was 18, enrolled in the local community college as soon as I became a California resident so I could get that cheap tuition that used to exist, and took as many art classes as possible from some really amazing teachers. I eventually worked my way over to the Ceramics department and fell crazy in love with ceramics. Within a year I had a job with a successful ceramic artist and that's where I learned how I could pursue art as a career. I ended up going to University of California for Anthropology because I love to study people, but I just wanted that degree in something I was interested in more than I wanted any kind of career in Anthropology. I graduated from college in 1996 and have been basically making a living at the clay thing for the past 12 years."

Bird Sugar and Creamer Set

Where do you get your inspirations? "I'm primarily inspired by nature as far as my designs go. My creative process is simple-- I come up with an idea, and I make it. Sometimes it's awesome and I can congratulate myself for being a brilliant artist. Sometimes it sucks and needs to be thrown away. Most of the time whatever I made was the seed of an idea that needs to be developed and refined. To me, development equals quiet time in the studio, making stuff, and I try not to over think it. It's just part of my every day work and getting to caught up in "process" is a big, fat, buzz kill."

Dogwood Flower Bowl

Where do you create your work? "I create my work in my sweet little dolls house of a studio. It's an old store front in a residential neighbourhood, so I have a kind of retail space set up in front to make the most of the windows."

"I have a production area where all the making goes on, and a glazing area where the finishing work happens, with a couple of kilns."

"I would like to have another 600 square feet, but I've been in my studio for 11 years now and I can't bear to think of moving my space. Plus, my apartment is 50 feet away and I've gotten so lazy I can't imagine having to take time to get to work. My studio space reflects my personal aesthetic of neatness-- everything in its place-- with a certain junky vintage style thrown in to keep it interesting."

Dessert Plate with Cherry Blossoms

Would you share a few of the artists whose work you admire ? "I have a mad art crush on Peter Callesen and I fantasize that some day he will do a trade with me. I'm too shy to ask him, but our paths will cross one day, he will fall in love with me-- I mean with my work-- and he will have to have something I made. I have also recently discovered an artist named Magda Trzaski who makes these sculptures and creates little shadowboxes with them. I just love to look at her blog and see what she is up to. I also really love Re:Design Technologies, they make the most beautiful... things. I suppose they are like chandeliers, but they are produced out of paper clips, and they are so beautifully delicate and smart. I love smart art."

"Alive, But Dead" 2006 Large Framed Papercut by Peter Callesen

"Vulnerable Heart" Shadowbox by Magda Trzaski

"Operetta" Paper Clip Chandelier by Re:Design Technologies

Where can we find your work? "I primarily sell my work through my website, etsy, and out the door from my studio. I also sell at a bunch of stores around the nation and increasingly, around the globe. I prefer to sell direct though, I love connecting with people who buy my work."

Branches and Flowers Cake Stand

What/who are the things you love most in your life? "The things and people that I love beside pottery are my husband and my family and my friends. I don't know how I wound up getting the best of everything as far as people go, but that's how it is. I love cooking for my people, doing yoga, riding my bike, drinking fancy cocktails, travelling, writing, and hanging around sunlit decks with a few pals, a bottle of wine, and great food. Also, I love getting a good tarot card reading."

Five Nesting Lotus Bowls

What would you do "in your wildest dreams" if there were no restrictions (like money or responsibilities)? "In my wildest dreams I would do what I'm already doing in a nicer house with neighbours at least 500 feet away. With a massage therapist on call every day. And I wouldn't mind having a nice little apartment in New York City, perhaps in the East Village, where I could go work when the Bay Area bubble was getting to me. And a country villa in Tuscany in Italy. Most of my wildest dreams involve travel, great wine and fabulous food."

Dandelion Seed Cheese Plate and Cover

What would you consider to be your greatest professional achievement? "To date, my greatest professional achievement is having a business that supports me and all of my habits."

Do you have a motto for life? My personal motto is something along the lines of "Less talk, more doing." Talking about your dreams and ideas is great, and necessary, but doing them is way more satisfying.

That is such great advice, and a motto that I firmly believe in, and should really stand by! Whitney's blog is a great read and gives you so much more of a feel for the girl and her work, well worth a visit. Thanks Whitney for taking time out to give us such a detailed insight into your gorgeous creations! I am so jealous of your gorgeous studio/shop front. I love the idea of you being able to create your work in there and also use it as a showcase for it at the same time. Looks cute too!

Now, I really do need one of those cupcake stands, don't I?


  1. Hi Sarah,
    Thank you for featuring me on your blog, I look great!
    And yes, you do need cupcake stands.

  2. Thanks Whitney, I think you are right! Will need to work on that one. So great to get into your studio for a wee while thru this interview.

  3. Great post! I am so happy to learn about this wonderful artist and her beautiful work.

  4. So glad you dropped by Renee. Isn't whitney's work gorgeous?

  5. i love those stands. i bookmarked her some time ago and definitely need several of her things. adorable!

  6. Lou you have excellent taste! :)

  7. hui thank you. but you, too! we're so alike sometimes :-))

  8. We are new fans of Whitney Smith over here! Including one of her vases in our Summer issue, even! Excellent work she does and this post was a great glimpse into her creative process.


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