Meet Jen Kuroki, the maker behind the brand Jen E Ceramics. Jen is an artist based in Los Angeles, California. She began her artistic career as a graphic designer. Then, certain events in her life, of which you will read more about in the interview below, turned her artist energy towards ceramics. She has been incredibly successful in both fields. When I first starting writing to Jen online, she was busy putting together a pop up shop featuring her ceramic pieces in West Elm. She also sells her products in stores all over the United States including California, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington. Read about how she got started below:
Tell us about your background.
I’ve been creative since a very young age, begging my parents to let me take after-school oil painting classes starting in the 5th grade. I continued to paint and draw throughout my childhood, even winning some awards. I eventually studied graphic design at UCLA. It wasn’t until my back went out from all the hours on the computer, that I turned to ceramics. I was convinced by a good friend to take a wheel throwing class with her at Barnsdall Art Park and the rest is history. Ceramics started off as physical therapy and continues to be a source of comfort and balance.
What made you take the leap and start your business?
The company I was working for asked if I would transfer from Los Angeles to Chicago. I love LA! I stayed, quit the job and started freelancing design and producing ceramics full time. When I first started devoting more time to ceramics, I didn’t see it as a business. It was more of a serious hobby. I actually spent more time landing design contracts than ceramics. Even after I was asked to work on a ceramics line with the Andaz Hotel’s Head Chef, I didn’t see ceramics as a viable business. It’s been a fun and bumpy ride.
Why is making and shopping handmade so important?
I feel like there is a big disconnect with consumers and what they consume. It’s said: imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but with large corporations ripping off designs from small makers, the compliment is lost. Buying directly from the artist starts a genuine dialogue between producer and consumer. An even exchange happens. Handmade work may be more expensive but in most cases, the quality is significantly higher and in the end, curbs excessive consumerism. Buyers are forced to be thoughtful about what they support. It’s a win win.
Tell us about your creative process.
I feel like I am a collector. So first and foremost, my creative process starts with gathering. I am always seeing, processing and collecting—ideas, smells, patterns, textures....I’m left to consume them in photos I take, memories I’ve written about, magazine cut outs, sketches, musings I’ve stored in my head. I have so many ideas! In the past few years, my problems stem more from keeping up with production than a lack of creative inspiration. For that, I consider myself very lucky.
One thing I make sure to do everyday is throw on the wheel. Not only is it imperative to stay on top of orders, but it’s crucial for my life stasis. Throwing is still relaxing, balancing and nurturing to me. I definitely have standard jen e shapes and forms, a lot have been dictated by production demands, but sometimes my hands crave new silhouettes and then a new piece is born.
Color has always been important to me. When I discovered under glazes, my work went into a new direction. I felt like I was able to create and express myself more fully. I almost always know what color I want to paint and what design I want to carve into a piece before I start throwing it. This is an idea that was driven into me when I studied ceramics in Japan. One of my senseis told me that there was a fine balance of letting a piece of clay become what it was meant to be and knowing beforehand what it would look like in final form. So I definitely have a process of making, but I leave a little window open to whimsy and aspirations of wabi-sabi, being open to three simple ideas: nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect. The control freak in me tries to mellow out.
What is your studio space like?
I’m lucky that my place has a detached bungalow in the backyard. It makes for a great studio. Every morning I get to walk past my beautiful fruit trees and throw ceramic pieces listening to birds chirping and singing. It sounds a little corny like Snow White but sometimes I do think it’s as perfect as a fairy tale. It’s small but it works, at least for now.
Who are your favorite makers and artists?
I have many inspirational creative heros. Ako Castuera, Toba Khedoori, Olle Eksell, Cody Hudson and Rinko Kawauchi, to name a few....I recently saw a Corita Kent show too. It was crystallizing and helped shapeless ideas in my head solidify. I live for those moments.
Jen, I can not thank you enough for sharing your story with us!