Next up in our Holiday Maker Series is Petra Kaiser, a self-taught potter and the creative force behind Sandbox Ceramics. Ambitious and intuitive, Petra uses color and form to create stunning everyday objects in her Saint Helens studio. Her pieces are inspired by angular shapes, patterns in nature, and minimalism. And this season, we’ve partnered with Petra on a limited series of hand-sculpted holiday ornaments. Elegant yet playful, the Knotted Porcelain Ornaments are crafted individually from fine porcelain and explore the relationship between clean lines and organic shape. An inspiring and talented artist, we caught up with Petra to chat about her technique, growing business, and the process behind her pieces.
How did Sandbox Ceramics start? Tell us more about your background.
“I spent a lot of my early 20s exploring career possibilities by taking creative odd jobs and internships while also waiting tables to make ends meet. My grandmother was a potter, so I'd been around the craft quite a bit as a child. But, it wasn't until rediscovering it later in life that I fell in love. I finished working for a local graphic designer and dove headfirst into learning ceramics. I wanted to experience what a professional ceramics studio was like. So, I began reaching out to potters in Portland to see if they needed a helping hand in their studio. I was completely under-qualified. So, I heard a lot of ‘no's' at first.
Finally, I heard back from the owner of Notary Ceramics and was hired to help anywhere I could. I ended up becoming an assistant at Notary and worked there for three years. I couldn't be more grateful for that opportunity. Every day after work, I came home and continued to make my own pieces, posting them on Instagram. Eventually, people started asking how to buy my creations. From there, I started a website, and everything slowly grew. I reached a point where my shop needed my full attention. So, I quit my day job, which was terrifying. I've been full time in my studio for about nine months now!”
You’re a self-taught potter – that’s incredible! How did you stay motivated to learn and hone your craft?
“I was completely addicted the first time I threw a pot on the wheel. So, staying motivated wasn't a problem at all! I took one ‘Intro to Ceramics’ course at a local community college. Two weeks later, I bought a used wheel and converted our dining room into a makeshift studio where I spent most of my free time practicing. I got really into researching ceramics on the internet and watched countless YouTube videos – lots of practice and experimentation is the only way to improve at this craft! Working in a professional pottery studio was a huge factor in my growth as well.”
What does a typical day look like for you in the studio? What is your process when it comes to creating?
"My day starts with plenty of coffee while I answer emails. I've learned that letting my inbox get out of control is a sure-fire way to stress myself out. So, I make a point to stay very on top of that! I'll then wander downstairs to my studio to clean up a little from the previous day before I dive into production. There are so many processes involved in making ceramics, so some weeks look very different than others. Some days, I’ll throw and trim all day. Other days will be glazing days, photography days, or packing and shipping days. I'm a one-woman show over here, so time management and planning is very important. I love that ceramics requires so many different steps from start to finish. It keeps things interesting."
In a digital age that is often about speed and quantity over quality, what benefits do you see in making ceramics the traditional way?
"It's a really special experience to use handmade ceramics versus mass-produced products. I collect mugs from other potters, and each of them are so unique – their weights, texture, handles, etc. If I make a large batch of the same form, each piece will have slight differences. It makes each piece one-of-a-kind. I love that!"
How did you come up with the forms behind the Knotted Ornaments?
"I make a lot of porcelain squiggles and abstract wall hangings, so when approached by Schoolhouse to create an exclusive line of ornaments, I started in that direction. One little knot I sent caught the eye of the team, and we started playing with different shapes and twists. It was a true collaboration between myself and the awesome people on the Product Development Team at Schoolhouse."
What are some of the most rewarding parts of owning a ceramics studio and the most challenging aspects?
"It's so rewarding to be my own boss and make a living doing what I love. It's been especially satisfying to see how my work has evolved since going full time. There are plenty of hurdles that come with owning a small business though. One particular challenge has been finding time to create just for the sake of creating. I usually have a long list of work, but I've realized that taking time to play with new ideas is so important for my mind and creativity. Also, getting burnt out physically is a very real thing in ceramics. So, slowing down once in a while is a must!"
Studio Photos Courtesy of Sandbox Ceramics