STUDIO: Natacha Nay - Natacha Nay Ceramics

When I came across photos of Natacha Nay's beautiful, light, geometric necklaces and planters, I was instantly drawn in. Her energy is just as bright and beautiful, as I learned when she welcomed me into her sun-filled Berkeley studio. We had a lovely little chat while sipping tea from her handmade mugs, sitting in her handmade chairs. 

Ana: Thanks for sitting down for a chat with me! This is so great! So tell me a little bit about your background as it relates to your art.

Natacha: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I studied architecture, I just finished my masters degree last June. I went into architecture because I've always been creative in some way and always wanted to create and design something but I also really liked math and to be really detail oriented. So I went into architecture because of that, but I've always loved paintings and makings things - I always made my own jewelry. When I was a kid, I remember selling bead bracelets to my neighbors. Always thinking, I can make this for that amount and then sell it for that amount and make a small profit and use that to buy more beads.

A: So you were an entrepreneur from a young age!

N: Yeah, well you know, some people have lemonade stands and others have bead bracelets. Haha. And then when I was in high school, I started making - I used to buy these little plastic toys, I used to make necklaces, earrings...play around with that. Then in college I didn't have that much time because architecture was hard but I continued during the summer. Every time I came back to San Francisco, I would make Shrinkydink jewelry - I would either glue them together, or make different shapes, try to create necklaces with different layers and things like that. And I actually used to sell them at Dolores Park for a little while, that's how I got started.

A: Oh, how fun!

N: Yeah. That’s when I realized that I really enjoyed making jewelry and working with whatever material I had and trying to create something with it - proportions, layers - trying to do something with the body. And my mother is a ceramist, she’s been doing that for 20 years, and I never really touched porcelain or clay or anything but I used to sometimes help her. Three years ago, I started playing around with it and I really liked it and realized I could make things that I was not able to do before…it gave me more opportunities to do things and certain shapes - because there's glazes, there's different clays that you can work with and all that. I always found that the clay jewelry that I saw was very chunky, very big and although I do like it - there are so many ceramists that do jewelry that I love - I never found jewelry that was very light and thin, you know? Delicate looking. So I set out to do that and one of my first necklaces was like a rolled porcelain piece that looked very thin, like a paper that was shredded and glued together. It was a very delicate piece, but at the same time it’s clay so it’s pretty hard. I really like the combination of those two. I went on from that and started creating different things and working with different porcelain and trying out different glazes and ultimately I found gold luster thanks to my mom. She was like, “You should try different things” and I tried gold luster and really liked the way it looked on my jewelry because it added that extra touch to it. I’ve been now working with that a lot. So it’s been pretty interesting so far. Every day I create something new and test it out and it’s fun! I really like it.

A: That’s awesome. Do you think your background in architecture comes into what you do here or is it pretty separate for you?

N: You know, it’s funny, because sometimes I think it definitely plays a big part just because through architecture, I learned so much about spaces and shapes and proportions. I think that helps me when I’m creating something because I can visualize if it looks good - I can see, “Okay, this doesn’t look good because of that, because it’s not the right proportion.” So my education in architecture helps me when I’m creating - helps me see what works and what doesn’t work as far as proportions and shapes compared to the human body. Also working very thinly - I work with gold luster but I don’t work with a brush, I work with a small pen and it has to be very precise and detailed. I think because I spent so many hours making drawings by hand at school, it definitely helps me with that, I don’t think I would be able to do it otherwise. Yeah, the hand building process too - I don’t throw on the wheel, I hand build everything and to me it’s just like making models. That was my favorite part in architecture school and still now, so that’s what also attracts me - that I can build things. I always try to find new materials but clay is really awesome because I can really hand build a lot of things in different ways and now that I’m making vases and I’m starting to really build big vases - I’m always learning new ways to hand build and figuring out, "How can I do it?" It’s been interesting because I’ve been looking at YouTube and sometimes there aren’t really techniques out there so you have to create your own ways of doing things. So that’s really cool and is kind of like making models. You’re always like, “Can i do this? Can I put this piece here? How can i work it out?” 

A: Yeah, I can definitely see what you mean about the detailing and the thin lines.

N: Yeah, it’s like going on a straight line all across and doing the same thing at a steady pace. The other day I was doing it and I was like, “Woah, I feel like I’m in architecture school first year again.” But it’s nice, it definitely prepared me for that.

A: That's great! So you mentioned you’ve been making this work for a few years, right? How has it progressed?

N: Yeah, probably three or four years. It was always kind of a hobby, it was never something that i saw as a business. But I started selling at Accident & Artifact in San Francisco and it was really nice because it really put me out there and encouraged me to do more and I would get feedback also. I used to just give it to friends or family and it’s always like, “Oh, I love it!” Of course, you know? You love me too, so of course you do. Haha. But actually selling it somewhere where strangers buy it and give me feedback about it, it’s great.

A: Makes you feel the value it really holds.

N: Exactly. So then I was like, "Oh, maybe I could do it,” and I started making more but then I was back at school so it was a little bit hard. But since summer, I’ve been throwing myself 100% into it and really wanting to make it something, growing with it. 

A: Wonderful! So what are your goals for it? Do you see this as a full-time thing at some point or remaining as one part of your overall work?

N: You know, I do want to make it maybe a part-time job or - I don’t wanna call it a job because it isn’t really...

A: Because it doesn’t feel like one? But that’s good! Who says we’re not supposed to like our jobs, right? Haha.

N: Exactly. But I do also - I love architecture and I would never stop doing that. So for me it’s hard right now to picture it, because I do want it to grow but ideally, I want to run it as a part time place where I can have some help, an assistant or someone else so that the other hours I can be away and do something else. I think in the ten year run, my idea is probably to do it full-time, but right now it’s just my passion, trying out different things... and it’s also spending time with my mother doing ceramics.

A: That's so lovely!

N: We’re doing the Renegade Craft Fair together. 

A: Awesome! So you mentioned earlier that your mom’s style is pretty different from yours and you said she gets you to try some new things - do you see any ways that you guys influence each other with your art?

N: Well I am really influenced by her - I mean she’s been doing it for 20 years and she’s great at it and has built up her own techniques so she’s definitely the master. She introduced me to ceramics and she taught me a lot of different things, but I think we influence each other because I work very thinly and she always worked pretty thickly and since I started working with her and being around her, she’s been starting to work also - like her cups and bowls are getting really thin and lighter. So it’s nice to see.

A: That's a great exchange.

N: We unconsciously influence each other in the way we work. So yeah, it’s interesting, she learns every day new techniques and it’s fun to have something in common that we can exchange about. She’s definitely more earthy and more organic with her shapes and she does the wheel, so it’s also a completely different process, but it’s interesting to see her use a different process and technique but also trying to work kind of thinly. And I also try to take what she does and make it with the hand building. So yeah, we definitely exchange and it’s great to share that with my mom. 

A: So great! 

A: What other hobbies do you have outside of ceramics?

N: I did a lot of painting when I was in school, I love knitting and any textile art, I love sewing - I did this tablecloth, those chairs. I always look for new things to try out just to see how I can transform it and use it in ceramics, for example. Or how can I use all of that and create something. I also love the idea of creating an object made of everything - so like, how can I include painting, textile art, ceramics, and make an object. Also, when we moved into this apartment, we really wanted everything to be either handmade or made by someone we know. So we made the chairs, we made the table, the pillows were made by my cousin, the paintings by my brother…we want to surround ourselves with things that are handmade, so whatever we were not able to get from someone, we made it. It’s interesting to learn other techniques and learn how other crafts and arts are really hard to do but also really interesting.

A: Right. So it sounds like you have a pretty strong community of artistic people around you.

N: Yeah, you know, my mother is a ceramist and my brother is in graphic design but has been doing a lot of painting and my boyfriend is a musician. We both like a certain aesthetic and we're both very visual people, so yeah, we like to surround ourselves with creative people and here in the Bay Area it’s pretty easy to have friends that are creative. It’s good because they also push you to be more creative and be out there and since I moved here, I’ve met so many different people. Making ceramics and being in a creative industry is great because I get to meet so many people. Before, I didn’t have that many friends outside of architecture but here I get to meet people from different fields and collaborate. People are really willing to collaborate here.

A: That's great!

N: And I love that. I did some tumblers for Accident & Artifact and they’re gonna make candles for them. It’s always fun to collaborate with people because then you get to make new things and they give you input on your design that you wouldn’t have thought of and it’s great. 

A: Yeah! Maybe we can do some ceramics and metal pieces. Haha. There could be a future there.

N: Yeah! Exactly. I’m always looking to meet people and see what they want to do and their ideas. In school, we were always taught to work in groups and always work with different ideas and it was great because when you’re in a group of even two or three people there are so many more ideas that come out of it. It’s great doing it alone too but I love meeting people and collaborating because then you get to really grow whatever idea you originally had and make it something really nice.

A: Definitely. That’s great.
So I love hearing about people’s successes and showcasing them, but I think it’s important for us makers to talk about challenges too. It can be so easy to look at somebody else as far removed from you and think, "Oh, they must be doing so well” and at least personally, I sometimes start feeling badly about myself. So what are some of the challenges you’ve faced so far? Getting your name out there, or reaching people, or business stuff, anything?

N: Yeah. Well, talking about putting your name out there - I’ve been trying to do that for the last like four months intensely. I’ve been going to stores, been on Facebook, Instagram.

A: Which is how I found you, so you’re doing a good job! Haha.

N: Yeah, I was really excited that you found me, I was like, “Wow, first one! Awesome!”
You know, with stores, you send tons of emails and they never really respond to you.

A: Yeah, that's hard.

N: I probably sent emails to 20 stores across the Bay Area and didn’t receive any answers at all. I think it’s - when we start out, of course you love what you do so you’re like, “Oh, this is awesome, of course I’m going to be successful, everyone’s gonna love my designs.” All of your friends and family are like, “Oh my gosh, it’s beautiful, of course I’m gonna buy one, everyone's gonna love it." You start out thinking that and you go to stores and you try to put your name out there and you realize, “Oh, maybe not,” and start questioning yourself. I was like that at one point because I was also looking for a job over here so it was to the point where it was like, “Alright, do I wanna spend full time working somewhere? Or do I wanna start doing this? Could this be a business venture?” That was when I really started putting myself out there and I realized that it’s not that easy, but you gotta keep in mind that it takes a while. When you look at businesses that are flourishing and are making it, sometimes it took them five years to make it to that point. Now I definitely get that, so right now, it’s about doing what I can: being present on Instagram and sharing pictures of what I do constantly and just figuring out what I can do to have my name out there. Now I understand that maybe sending emails to stores is not the only way, maybe it's about going to fairs and having the stores come to you and they like you and maybe you’ll get something out of that. 

Financially it’s also a challenge. I mean, this isn’t my full time thing and I’m glad it isn’t because it would be really hard right now. Especially living in the Bay Area - even being successful doesn’t mean making it financially.

A: Yeah, there's a big disparity here from the rest of the country with the wealth levels and rent prices, for sure.

N: Definitely. Just renting a studio, having materials and supplies is really expensive so I’m really lucky to be able to share the studio with my mom. And she has two kilns so I’m able to do all that for free pretty much. If I didn’t have my mom and the studio, I don’t think I would be making it so I do realize how lucky I am for that. I think that's a big question for a lot of artists who don’t have free access and have to pay for all of that. Then it becomes more of a business where it’s like, “I definitely do have to sell this just so that I can make money to pay my rent.”

You know, it’s a lot of fails in order to reach success and it's okay - just taking your time. Now I’m more like, “Okay, I have Renegade Craft Fair in a month and then if that works I’ll do a second one,” so I’m slowing it down.

A: One step at a time.

N: Exactly. And if I’m not in that store, well, whatever, I'll let them come to me. 

A: That’s a good way of looking at that, that’s awesome. 

I think it’s important to think about that chain of how you’re going to help by just buying a small clay necklace, you know? It’s really about the bigger idea rather than the item itself. I think that’s beautiful.

A: So, of course my whole project here is a focus on makers and clearly you appreciate handmade goods - as I’m sitting in this very lovely chair - but for someone who might be reading this and may not consider shopping handmade in the same light, why would you say that shopping handmade is important?

N: Good question. I believe that handmade is good for supporting local artists and supporting artistry and craftsmanship in general. It’s really important and we’re slowly going back to that because we’re realizing quality over pricing - a lot of people are realizing what it means to buy handmade, you’re not only supporting artists but you’re buying really good quality products, something that will last longer. You're supporting artistry - the true art of making something that comes from something local. So the clay is from a quarry, so you’re supporting the workers that work in this quarry and supporting the local business that sells that clay and supporting the artist that is making that piece and you’re becoming part of this whole community and helping in some ways a lot of people with different jobs. I think it’s important to think about that chain of how you’re going to help by just buying a small clay necklace, you know? It’s really about the bigger idea rather than the item itself. I think that’s beautiful.

A: I definitely agree with that. That’s a very good way of putting it - it’s about the bigger picture.

So, what kind of music do you like? What do you listen to?

N: All kinds of music. My boyfriend and I listen to a lot of electro, chill music. We like cooking a lot, so whenever we cook we put on that chill station and listen to that. But when I make my ceramics, I listen to more folky songs - string guitars, very calming music. When I work with my mother, sometimes we’ll put on different radio stations and depending on the type of music, what you’re doing will end up different. So sometimes when it’s too harsh of music, you get easily frustrated with whatever you’re making… so we’ve been listening to a lot of zen, classical music - it really helps when you’re doing something delicate. 

A: Haha. That's so cool, makes sense.

N: I don’t know if it’s the same with everyone. Music definitely plays a big a part whenever I make something.

A: Yeah, especially because with clay, you really leave a physical mark on the piece so however you feel physically, it’s gonna show.

N: Yeah, if you’re tense with your hands, you’re definitely gonna hold it a different way.

A: Do you have any advice for somebody who might be reading this and thinking, “Oh, I have this craft that I love to do too...” and maybe considering trying to make it something more than just a hobby?

N: I’m big on encouragement - I definitely think, "Do it. Try it." I do believe that you just have to try. Even if you fail, at least you tried and you’re not sitting there thinking, “What if?” Definitely try it out, put yourself out there and if it doesn’t work, maybe you just need to tweak a little something. Maybe it’s not the right texture of your textile or - you know, sometimes it can be such a small thing that can change the whole thing. So it’s really to go out there, try it, fail, try it again.

A: Don’t get too discouraged in the process.

N: Exactly. If you have an idea and it fails, you’re gonna have another idea because you’re gonna be creative about it and find something new, so it's alright. Another thing - sometimes you’ll do things and because now we have access to all the social media sites and everything you’ll maybe sometimes meet someone that does kind of the same thing you do and you think, “Oh, maybe I’m not that original” but the thing is, you are in your own way. Maybe you think it’s similar to another artist, but it’s not the same. And if you got to that point you’re creative enough to be inspired by something new too. 

A: And you add your own touch to it that sets it apart.

N: Yeah. Also, don’t compare yourself to other people or what you see on social media because whatever that person’s success looks like on there, it probably took them 5 to 10 years to get to that point and it’s not gonna happen in a few months, you know? You gotta take your time and never compare yourself to others and just try it out.

A: For sure. I like that you bring up social media because clearly it’s a good tool, as it was able to connect us but at the same time, it’s good to point out what you’re saying about the fact that it’s really easy to look at other people on there and turn it into a negative for yourself. So I like that you point that out. 

N: Yeah, it's easy to look and it's like anything else - people’s lives on Facebook look like, “Oh my god, they must have a wonderful life.” But it's just images.

A: Yeah.

N: I can take an image of me smiling and it won’t be really like that, so think of outside of the image. Think of how long that person took to get there and what did she do and how did she get there? I think that’s the most important thing to look at rather than just the beautiful image of their success. 

A: Definitely. Okay, so you’re doing Renegade - when is that? 

N: Yeah, the Renegade Craft Fair in L.A., the 11th and 12th of July. This will be my first Renegade Craft Fair so I’m pretty excited about it, I hope it goes well. And if it really goes well, I’m probably gonna do some more this winter as well. Probably see you there! 

A: Yeah!

N: I like going to those events and meeting people too and seeing how other artists are doing, what they’re doing and how long they’ve been doing it. 

A: Yeah, it's nice to share those stories for sure. 

N: Since people there are also kind of starting out and trying to make it, everyone is so nice and open about it. I haven’t met anyone who’s like, “No, I’m not gonna help you.” Everyone is like, “Of course, let me know if you need any info!” or “We could collaborate.” Everyone is kind of at the same point and we all want to make it and we're all helping each other. I think that's what's really nice about this whole creative community around here - that everyone's helping each other in some way. 

A: Very true, we're all in it together. 

Further exploration:

Renegade L.A. is this weekend (The 11th & 12th of July)! If you're in the area, head over to Natacha's booth and pick up a little something for yourself, your home, or as a gift for someone you love! See the link above for more information about the fair.