Friday Featured Artist: Kara Miller

Today’s feature is an interview with ceramic artist Kara Miller of Kara no Te. She talks about her inspiration, her process and her advice for new Etsy sellers.

p&c: Kara no Te.  Tell us where your shop name comes from, and why you chose it.

km: Kara no Te means “Kara’s Hands” or “Empty Hands” in Japanese. Since early childhood I have had a deep love for Japanese culture and its aesthetic. My way of life and my work is heavily influenced by this connection to Japan. Conveying this aspect of my pottery and myself was really important to me as I chose a name and designed a logo.

p&c: How did you become interested in ceramics, and when did you know it was the material for you?

km: Pots are my weakness. I have cupboards full of them! 

My love of pottery and ceramics started early. I remember a set of bowls that my parents had. They purchased the bowls when they lived in Japan before I was born. To me, the bowls were shaped and colored differently than I had ever seen. They had tall, straight sides and were decorated with rough brushstrokes in indigo blue and dark brown. They were unique; they were not plastic; they were precious. When it was my turn to set the table, I almost always set those bowls out, even if the meal didn’t require them—I would find something to serve in them! Every time I used those bowls was a special occasion. That’s what I really love about handmade ceramics. I believe pots have the ability to turn something ordinary into a special occasion.

It wasn’t until I went to Japan as an adult that the desire to make pottery really set in. For nearly seven years I lived and worked in Kyoto. I wanted to study ceramics, but time and resources didn’t allow for it. Instead, I studied another passion of mine, Chinese Ink Painting, and absorbed as much ceramic culture as I could. After all, scrolls were much easier than pots to transport overseas when the time came for me to pack up and return to the USA.

Finally, in 2008, after years of looking at and using amazing pots from around the world, I took a ceramics class that started me on my journey with clay. I haven’t looked back, and it has become obvious that clay is my medium of choice. Clay allows me to combine my passions for functionality with surface design, food with form, and art with everyday life.   

p&c: Talk a little bit about your sources of inspiration.  Are there other artists that you draw ideas from?

km: More than particular artists, any hand-built pots—those built with coils, by pinching or with slabs—inspire me. I really love pots that are big, chunky, ancient, unique, and organic in form. When I’m at a museum, you’ll find me in the pottery collection.

p&c: Describe your firing process: gas or electric? What temp?

km: I fire an electric kiln to cone 6, approximately 2165 degrees F.

p&c: Music while you work? If so, who do you listen to? :)

km: I love a good mix! If I’m not listening to NPR or a This American Life podcast, you’ll probably find me dancing around the studio with a ball of clay in my hands listening to Japanese pop from the 90’s, Italian love songs, Jill Stevenson or salsa. However, I also really enjoy working in silence.

p&c: One thing that really drew me to your shop, other than your amazing pieces, was the fact that you have really great photographs of your work.  Describe your documenting process.

km: My vision for my photos has been pretty consistent from the start.

I want to show my pots outside, in nature, in natural light, and preferably, in use. I want my pottery to be warm and comfortable, organic and unique, and I want my photographs to be the same.

My documenting process is an ongoing, collaborative effort between my husband and I; he’s the real photographer and I’m the snapshot-taking perfectionist, constantly saying, “I like this. Can we try it this way?” Over the past three years, we’ve worked together to photograph my pots, all the while creating and tweaking the vision I just described.

 When new pots come out of the kiln, we pack them up, grab the camera, make a picnic, and head out to a beautiful spot in one of NY’s state parks. Once we’re set up on location, we have a short window of “dreamy light” before dark begins to fall and we must pack up all over again. It makes for a long day, but it is worth it.

p&c: If you could give one piece of advice to a new Etsy seller, what would it be?

km: Become part of the Etsy community! See what else is out there, join circles and teams and try to be an active member. Even if you’re not listing new items frequently, active looking and liking is important.

p&c: Do you use a sketchbook or other means to document your ideas?

km: I do make sketches, but normally not in a book. My sketches are often on little bits of paper. They get hung on corkboards, put in my date book (I still prefer the old-fashioned, paper kind) or otherwise placed around my workspace. Very rarely do they last for long. Usually they end up clay-stained and ready for recycling.

p&c: Talk a little bit about your studio environment.  Do you have a studio at home or do you work in a shared space? If at home, describe your studio. If in a community setting, describe what it’s like to work around other artists.

 km: Until May of this year I was sharing a studio with about 15 other potters. I really enjoyed it. We all had our own workspaces and shared equipment and materials. Most of all, I enjoyed being around the creative energy. Everyone was creating, making different work! Ideas and advice flowed freely. Plus, some of the potters I got to work with had been making pots for over 40 years. Talk about a wealth of knowledge and experience!

 I moved to upstate NY in late May, and now I am trying to figure out my new studio situation. I am dreaming up a plan for a home studio, although I don’t have one yet. Currently, I can’t accommodate custom orders, but I will continue to post new work on Etsy.* 

Thanks for your great response Kara! Please visit the Kara no Te etsy shop here:

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