The Thrill of Throwing

The Thrill of Throwing

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Vessel, 2009; porcelain; 6 x 6 in. dia.

"The most fabulous thing I've ever done!" Kim Westad is describing her ecstatic first response to working with clay. A full-time designer and maker of functional ceramics since 2004, the exuberant artist came to the field after pursuing a career in graphic design. (She has a BFA from the University of Connecticut.) But sitting at a computer all day began to lose its appeal, and when she was unexpectedly laid off, she cast around for an alternative that would more directly engage her creative energies. A friend suggested she take a pottery class, and the connection with clay was instantaneous.

After being laid off, Westad worked as a freelance designer for a little less than a year; during that time, she enrolled in a class at the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, where she and her husband were living at the time. There she learned basic pottery skills and worked out a deal: She recalls happily washing the studio floor to barter for extra hours at the wheel. "I loved throwing so much I found myself dreaming about it," she says.

After a move to Brooklyn in 2002, Westad found a job as a studio assistant at a pottery shop, where she had free wheel time. "That's when I started to develop more of my own voice," she explains. Not long after, she went to work for a production potter in Manhattan, an experience she credits with educating her in what it takes to be self-supporting. In 2004, she set up her own studio in a former bakery space, selling her first cups and bowls at a Brooklyn street fair. Within a year, though, her husband's job forced a move and brought the couple to the Bronx. Westad set up a new studio in her home where she now single-handedly produces a line of wares - cups, vases, bowls, and ornaments - exclusively in porcelain.

"I needed a white body," she says, "because I was so much about color." Westad typically applies a range of vivid glazes - celery, cranberry, orange - only to the vessel's interior, leaving the outside a creamy white. She creates surface texture through grooving or slip-dot "pebbling," techniques that provide visual interest as well as tactile appeal. Particularly seductive are her plump, pebbled Sweet Pea bowls, "a little gang of characters," as Westad calls them, "each having their own personality."

Her passion for design is evident in her abstract Egg Chair vessels, which pay homage to designer Arne Jacobsen's iconic '50s ovoid chair of the same name. Organic yet restrained, her vases might be cylindrical, slender-waisted, or, like the Crocus, subtly voluptuous, tapering to a budlike opening. All her pieces are handthrown forms, some altered or reconstructed; many are stackable, some with sculptural elements artfully incorporated. To make her clever Whirl serving platter - a best-seller - she throws a shallow bowl, then "breaks" the rim, drawing it in to form a swirl with a cup at the center.

Now 36, Westad was among the first flush of young craftspeople to discover Etsy and Supermarket, highly effective craft marketing websites. Those and her third online shop, via Big Cartel, today account for about 75 percent of her sales. "It's opened up a whole new world," she says. "It's made my web presence so much more visible." (Check out this video of Westad making Sweet Peas.) She also uses Flickr to post images of new designs (grooved planters, for example, introduced this spring) and keep in touch with customers and the craft community.

On her own website, she joyfully blogs about her life and studio work. In one euphoric post, under a picture of luscious rose-colored vases from a recent firing, she reports: "I actually did a happy dance when I saw that they all came out OK!"

Andrea DiNoto is a New York-based writer on arts and design.