Editor’s note: Join us in our mission to support diversity, equity, and inclusion by honoring crafters of color during Black History Month. We celebrate our talented black creators by using our platform to elevate their works and amplify their voices in our industry today, and every day.
If you’ve considered digging deep to chase a dream, take note of these inspiring Black ceramicists. All six of them have day jobs. All six chose to create anyway, following remarkably similar journeys to claim their time and make their art.
Camille Beckles of Camille at the Wheel likes to make things that are useful and beautiful, with neutral, mild colors that let the form speak for itself.
Camille at the Wheel
New York City
“First and foremost I like for things to feel good when they’re being used,” says Camille Beckles of Camille at the Wheel. “I try to make things that are useful and beautiful, with neutral, mild colors that let the form speak for itself.” Gazing at the image above, we’d say she succeeds.
Five years ago, Beckles pushed past procrastination to find an opening in a local pottery class. She loved how grounded she felt with her hands in the mud and appreciated the physical and tactile work. “Once I started, I couldn’t stop,” she says. “I never get bored.”
For Beckles, ceramics is a doorway to inspiration and a flow state. “It’s also one of the only times, for me, where I lose complete track of time,” she says. “That sense of complete absorption and that sense of calm and peace.”
Beckles is coming off an intense production period and is excited to slow down and experiment again. She prefers producing small, regular batches but moved to a made-to-order model during the pandemic. You can find Beckles’ work in a “small but mighty collection” on West Elm. Her larger, more complicated pieces are available via her website.
Website – www.camilleatthewheel.com
Instagram – @camilleatthewheel
Kyle Scott Lee of Ceramic Meltdown uses bright, primary color palettes, controlled lines and patterns mixed with irreverent strokes in his work.
Brooklyn, New York City
Kyle Scott Lee’s ceramic work is inspired by renowned painter and graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died a young man in 1988. Conjure a digital gallery of Basquiat’s work, and you’ll quickly see its echoes in Lee’s hand painted ceramics. Bright, primary palettes, structural black lines, and controlled patterns mix with irreverent strokes.
Lee pursued ceramic art in 2003 to escape the stress of his Wall Street IT job. That led to a third job teaching pottery at the Educational Alliance Art School in Manhattan. “I love teaching,” Lee says. “It’s rewarding for both them and myself, you know? Because you’re contributing to their growth” Still, juggling three commitments takes dedication. “I love to create,” says Lee. “I love the process. That’s what’s kept me going.”
It’s going well. As we spoke, Lee was preparing to sign the lease on a new studio. He partially credits the pandemic. “Since everyone is at home and wants to elevate their home to some degree, my business is really taking off,” says Lee. “Ceramics at home have been important for me too,” he continues. “I’ve been creating all through the quarantine.”
Lee sells most of his pottery, which is still completely handmade, through his website. He also partners with West Elm and has work in the new Paul Smith store in SoHo. He’s moving into wholesale and has prototyped several pieces for production work.
Website – www.ceramicmeltdown.com
Instagram – @ceramicmeltdown
Sherród Faulks of DEEP BLACK gravitates toward simple and clean forms and colors in his ceramic work.
“I like simple. I like clean,” Sherród Faulks says of his work. “I don’t do a lot of layering. I like seeing the form and the glaze working together.” Faulks was interested in ceramics for years before he made time for it. Touching the clay felt natural. “I really loved seeing this lump of clay turn into something beautiful,” he says. “It’s like a communion with the universe. That connection from brain to hand is amplified.”
He launched DEEP BLACK amidst the chaos of the pandemic despite having a full-time job as a software designer. “I love seeing my things in people’s homes,” Faulks says. “That really drives me. Plus, I have to say, I am a sucker for beauty. I am always chasing the next most beautiful thing I can make.”
The difference between working in software design and in ceramics is stark.“I’ve had to open up and loosen up and get used to failure,” he says. “It disabuses you of your ego immediately.’” Faulks has a large new collection debuting in March and a little something special coming out in February. “You, know, keep your eyes peeled on the Instagram,” he says.
Website – www.deepblack.design
Instagram – @deepblack.design
Makeda Smith of Sio Ceramics intertwines intriguing shapes and surprising details into her work.
Brookland Art Walk, Washington DC
Makeda Smith’s ceramics feature irresistible palates, intriguing shapes and surprising details. She first took a ceramics class in college and fell in love. After teaching for years and earning a Master’s in education, she missed her spark. She took another class, then an artist residency, and launched Sio Ceramics last year.
It’s hard starting a second career, but the process keeps Smith motivated. “The work is really meditative,” Smith says, and then she gets to share it. “That people share stories about finding joy out of something I create is really, really satisfying,” she says.
Smith just picked up the keys to her first retail and studio space. While she’s moving in, sales will still run through her retail partners (like Salt and Sundry and Shopmade in DC,) and her self-made website. The pandemic served as a catalyst, helping her pull it all together, but she’s not hustling. She’s savorying the process. “If it’s not sparking joy like Marie Kondo,” she says, “it’s gotta go.”
Website – www.sioceramics.com
Instagram – @sioceramics
Smith recommends – @khaoscreates
Kristina Batiste of Juniper Clay strives for functional, minimal pots.
Kristina Batiste strives for functional, minimal pots. “Take stuff away until you have only what’s essential,” she says. “That’s the type of pottery I like to make.” Batiste took her first pottery class five years ago. Hooked, she bought a wheel.
Batiste works from home as a librarian, granting her flexibility. “Everything we do is just very labor intensive,” she says of ceramicists. “The most important thing is to carve out that time for yourself.” She doesn’t find it challenging to maintain motivation. “There is very little I’d rather be doing than being in my studio and making pots,” she says.
Currently, Batiste sells her pottery through Salt Stone Ceramics, though she is between production cycles at the moment. “If I want to have an online store and an online presence, that’s just me. It’s daunting.” Batiste doesn’t enjoy administrating. She likes making. “The hard part is not being able to execute your vision,” she says. “The fun part is that you can try again.”
Website – www.juniper-clay.com
Instagram – @juniperclay
Tasha Renee of Tasha Throws Raw likes to have fun and get weird with her designs.
Tasha Throws Raw
“I’m continuously discovering new things that kinda bring a smile to my face when it comes to ceramics,” says Tasha Renee. Their Instagram page, @tashathrowsraw, is proof that the results make others smile too.
Renee works in administration and took a night class in pottery when she felt something was missing. It took three classes and an exceptional teacher for pottery to click. Then she got a wheel. Now, when Renee sees something inspiring, she can’t sleep.
“I’ll ruminate, ruminate, ruminate and, eventually, I will go into the studio and make the form, and then apply whatever [decorations] I was ruminating on,” she explains. “Aesthetically I like looking at pieces that are a little odd and a bit more contemporary.” But Renee often finds it challenging to push past the boundaries of the forms she was taught.
She started selling pottery accidentally, by sharing planters on Instagram. Requests started trickling in, making Renee nervous. She finds it hard to throw more than 25 pounds of clay in a day. While certain ceramics will sell really well, she wants time to have fun and get weird.
Then there’s Instagram itself, where gratification tempts us to chase compliments and stay safe. “It’s interesting, figuring out the balance of that external feedback and also the internal creativity,” she says. “Because social media is an integral part of having a small business these days.”
Website – Coming Soon – tashathrowsraw.com
Instagram – @tashathrowsraw
Clark Tate is a freelance writer and lifelong knitter. After graduating from never-ending scarves to more complex projects, Clark also graduated with a Master’s in Environmental Science. She then worked as a restoration ecologist for six years, before moving on to an obsession with braided hats and writing articles about people and the environments they live in. She’s written for Hakai Magazine, Summit Daily News, Salt Lake City Weekly, and GearLab.com. You can find further examples of her work at lclarktate.com.