Founder and creator of Wisp Ceramics, Kat West was born in the Philippines and grew up in Brooklyn, NY. Her first encounter with ceramics was in 2014, and she credits the medium for the valuable lessons it has taught her. She notes that that clay has humbled her, teaching her patience, forgiveness, and most importantly how to move on. She marries an old craft with conscious creation, making pieces that reflect not only her values and style but also her culture. More recently, her ceramic works were listed in the April issue of Elle Decor as one of the eight things eco-minded fashion designer Maria Cornejo's 'cannot live without'. Praising Kat's ability to always come up with new shapes, Cornejo celebrates the ‘organic but modern’ quality of her ceramic bowls.
The Artling chats with Kat on her eco-conscious and meditative working process, challenges she encountered while working with clay, and her connection with her heritage as a third-culture identifier.
I was drawn to ceramics out of a need for a creative outlet. My family and I just moved from our hometown and found myself feeling lost. I was having difficulty being surrounded by newness and craved what I thought I was so ready to leave behind. My husband recognized my need to focus my energy on something creative and he gave me a gift certificate for a ceramic class at a community workshop - I was hooked. Initially, I was drawn to ceramics by the idea of making something with just my hands, a small pinched bowl was the first object I was tasked to make. I was enchanted by the idea of creating functional objects out of a ball of clay, basically mud or dirt. I loved the feeling of clay between my fingers and the tactile nature the medium presents. I think clay is available to anyone in whatever capacity they allow it to be. At the beginning of my ceramic practice, I mostly hand-built items and simply worked on my kitchen table with a few tools here and there. You certainly don’t need a fancy studio to have a fulfilling ceramic practice, though of course at some point, you would have to fire your clay object, but the ceramic community is so welcoming - there are so many public (or even private) studios that are willing to help out a fellow ceramicist.
Studio View, Image courtesy of Kat West
I have a background in fashion, where designing something, creating a pattern and going through the steps of sewing yielded a piece of clothing. The same concept of designing, creating a plan and then following through with it, doesn’t always yield a successful, finished ceramic piece. I expected the same results with the same amount of work and attention, it clearly was not the same thing. Ceramics taught me to slow down. It taught me that even though I do everything correctly; wedging the clay, compressing the clay, drying pieces slowly, carrying greenware around the studio carefully, successfully bisque firing the piece, and then glaze firing it - sometimes, will still not promise a successful piece. At every stage, something can go wrong and it took me a long time to even take note of what it was I was doing… “was I rushing? Did that shortcut benefit me in the long run? If I wedged that clay a little more, would I have found the air bubble trapped in the clay?” And so I have had hundreds of tiny lessons throughout the years that have really taught me so much patience, not only with my ceramic process but also with myself. I had to learn to be patient with myself and humble myself, it wasn’t about me - it was about the attention and intention I was giving into my practice. I needed to earn it. The moving on part was one of the hardest, I felt bad about ruining a piece and for the longest time would let it ruin the rest of my day. I basically had to buck up and face clay again and again to understand it better and better. And so now when I lose a piece, I just say to myself “oh well, it’s just dirt.”.
In any given clay practice there is always clay waste. I am trying to change the idea of how we approach consumerism by offering pre-ordered products. By doing so, this helps me pre-calculate production calculations and prevents me from having to ‘create stock’ only to satisfy ‘need now demands’. This also begs the consumer to question the worth of an item, thereby extending its longevity in seeing its true value.
In the studio, there are many different ways I try to absolve waste by reclaiming a lot of clay scraps. Reclaim is a process where dried clay is broken up into smaller pieces, then reconstituted with water to rehydrate the clay particles back to its original form, once it’s back to its similar original consistency, it’s wedged repeatedly until it’s ready to be reused. Sometimes I use clay slab (flat pie dough like sheets) scraps for tiles when I want to test glazes or surface decorations. Other times, I reuse clay scraps to make slip. In hand-building, slip is used as “mud glue” when joining clay coils or pieces together. Or I can also create a clay slip (and add colourants) to paint a ceramic piece.
Studio View, Image courtesy of Kat West
One of my personal challenges in working with clay is time. I have a home studio (situated in our garage) and I have very healthy boundaries in the time I spend working and time I spend with my family. Even though I have been playing and now, working, with clay for seven years - I still feel like there is so much to learn, so much to explore, there are so many things I want to try and I just don’t seem to have enough time in the day.
I try to work as efficiently as possible in the studio. On any given day, there are several projects at different stages. I tend to tackle wet projects first, for example, adding coils to wet bodies, this gives me time to let them air dry a little bit while I tackle another project - maybe glazing bisqued pieces. I can then toggle back and forth these two projects at different stages so that my time is not spent idling. My studio is pretty small and condensed, so I also do a lot of cleaning up along the way because it can get out of hand pretty quickly!
When I think back to my childhood, I always remember the matriarchs of our family - grandmothers, aunts, my mom - always connecting to loved ones through a form of service. “Have you eaten? Are you hungry? Are you tired? What can I get you?” And I think that creating bowls have always connected me back to those memories of service. They are vessels of offerings, kindness and compassion. The lattice designs that have recently manifested in my practice in the last year is deeply connected to my Filipino culture. The arches and patterns mimic Filipino basketry and even some old architectural detail in Filipino homes.
I wanted to create sentiment in the pieces I offer. Heritage Bowl, Kindred Bowl, these words and names for these objects remind me to think of where I am from, what my family has instilled in me and how important they are in my life. And as far as the Warrior Queen Baskets, these names are a nod to all of the strong women in my life and their commitment to exude love and kindness even through trials and tribulations.
As a third culture identifier, it has really taken me a long time to come to terms with my inner conflicts. I think that recognizing that it is there, is one of the biggest steps I can take to healing and reconnecting to my roots. Having conversations with other third culture identifiers about the adversaries of growing up in between cultures has also really helped me identify the loneliness that I feel. I crave culture, I crave the sense of belonging - and I want to artistically express these emotions through my practice. The commitment I have in accepting these afflictions are translated through meditative intent in my ceramic work.
Click here all of Kat West's available works.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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