This column, Meet the Tastemakers, is a new series of interviews with creative businesspeople and entrepreneurs on starting their business, how they discovered their passions, and why they love what they do. I'll be posting one each week this month, so stay tuned! See last week's interview with photographer and blogger Katie Meek here.
Kari Kinder is a ceramicist and owner of Kairos Ceramics. Originally from Franklin, KY she started her ceramics business in the Tampa Bay Area. Kari's work focuses on functional pottery and everyday items. You can find and purchase her work on her website, her facebook or her instagram.
How and when did you know you wanted to be a ceramicist?
I grew up in a family of creative people, always making whether it be a new recipe, painting, song or wood project. With that said, making things and exploring materials with my hands has been ingrained into my bones - it’s inescapable! While studying architecture in school the curriculum became digital heavy very quickly leading me to find an outlet for hand building, alas intro to ceramics! It was love at first .. touch? I found that any and all information regarding clay and how you work with it just seeped into my brain unlike anything I’ve ever learned. Once I sat down at the wheel and got the hang of throwing I knew ceramics would always be in my life forever in one way or another. But my future/career in ceramics was loosely determined while sitting in a lecture, sketching out my dream hybrid coffee shop + ceramic studio + pizza kitchen.
Were you ever bad at ceramics or did it come naturally for you?
I was certainly bad in the beginning, and still have my bad days when I’m mentally off center. It’s cool though because it helps you see where your mind is whether it’s running mad or focused and content. I’m a feeler and a Scorpio (water sign, go with the flow ya know?), and I think that allowed clay to come naturally to me. My intuition and muscle memory has allowed me to develop a harmonious relationship to clay.
What is the artist community like in Tampa?
The artist community in Tampa is rather diverse, and as a functional potter it’s fun to ride the line of art and craft or maker! I often identify my work with the makers, but I do have insight into fine artists too through my sister whom of which recently achieved her Master of Fine Arts.
But nonetheless it’s such a supportive group of people, constantly fueling one another creatively! Creatives in my community (which I consider everyone to be a creative if they really try) are always looking to one another to collaborate bringing forces together to keep creating and dreaming. At the moment I think the number of collaborations are exceeding the number of personal works in my studio!
What kind of ceramics do you focus on and what product do you sell a lot?
I focus primarily on functional pottery, things that people can interact with and engage with day to day. My mission is to create objects (mostly cups) that encourage intention and presentness and that can be integrated into a routine or used ceremoniously. I also want to bring fun textures and patterns into these moments too! Pottery evokes the child within me (I mean, playing in mud was a dream when I was 8, and is still my dream), so I hope I can bring that to others!
“Kairos” means "a propitious moment for decision or action” - it also means weather, like the perfect combination of atmospheric conditions to create a certain weather. Personally I’d like to embrace every moment as kairos - in the present and with intention. The outcome of a ceramic piece depends on a lot of these organic variables too!
Tell me a bit about your studio?
My studio is a shared space, full a variety of wonderful people and artists! Everyone has a “cubby” space as I call them, with no doors so it’s open and airy and full of potential to share and see what’s going on! The age range varies widely and classes occur frequently, it’s inspiring to walk in and never really know what you’ll get for the session and the energy is always buzzing. Depending on what I need to accomplish, I’ll either flow with the crowd or put my ear buds in to focus and hunker down.
Where do you gather inspiration for your work?
Although I can’t define the direct relation to the ceramic outcome, my number one source of inspiration is nature. Similar to my relationship with clay, I can’t stay away from exploring the outdoors. Without getting outside from time to time, I get cranky and creatively blocked.
Otherwise, I find inspiration in playful and geometric forms, childhood memories and fun patterns and colors. When I find anything that sparks the child within, I follow that trail and see what from that spark I can translate into my work. I look to painters, astronomers, musicians, interior designers, graphic designers, architects for inspiration - anyone exploring the world and universe really. And most certainly my local community drives much of my vision.
I think life can be taken very seriously, and lightly simultaneously. On that note I try to express and share intention of momentary presence and playfulness and freedom of being in every angle, pattern and color used. I want to encourage others (and myself) to embrace the funk!
Who are some role models that have inspired you?
There are so many beautiful and inspiring people in my life - by default I can’t include everyone. My community/family is beyond supportive, everyone encourages others to expand themselves and constantly grow!
First of all, my mom. She and my dad taught me how to observe nature and all of it’s natural wonder and beauty - to just slow down and exist among the trees, dirt, rain, whatever it was. My mom taught me how to love unconditionally and to care for the world around me. She persisted, always saying “You gotta keep on keepin’ on” and always exhibiting this in her actions, never giving up. She just trusts, it’s awesome! Ugh, she’s the best.
My sister, Kate Kinder, has always encouraged exploration of self and the world, she’s electrically creative and honest. Her open mindedness has helped me see beyond my own blocks many a time. Watching Kate explore her passion of fine art has been a HUGE inspiration in finding my flow with creating - I like to call her a visual philosopher.
And of course, my partner Marti Martin. It’s going to be difficult to not sound corny as hell while writing about her; she is pure shining bright white light! Marti inspires well being and trust in others, and has literally since the day I met her helped widen my perspective and beliefs of myself and of the world. That girl is a B-O-S-S.
And to top it off, 3 badass digital role models I have found but don’t know personally ;)
Have you considered switching to being a ceramicist full time?
I have already attempted this, but it wasn’t quite the right timing in my life in order to sustain longevity of a business. I will give myself kudos because it did work short term and it was damn exciting! The cocktail of my creative being providing for my well being caused a lot of stress, and I also yearned for an opportunity to learn more about architectural + design. When you are in that position, you rely on yourself for many things outside of money - mental stimulation, social interactions, time management, etc and I just wasn’t prepared. I definitely wouldn’t take that experience back though, I learned a shit ton.
With that said! I certainly plan to be a full time ceramicist again at a point in the nearish future. I’m really leaning into my resources now (the role models, professional settings, making a secure income) to learn and gain experience for preparation for the bright future ahead. This is an appropriate time to say, you don’t know what you don’t know.
What's your favorite thing about being a ceramicist?
I get to play in mud! Getting messy, trying new things and exploring your thoughts and ideas through a natural material. Another best thing is opening the kiln after your final firing - it’s like Christmas! And another best thing is to connect with others whether it’s a fellow artist over techniques or a customer sharing that my cup they use every morning brightens their day!
What's the most challenging thing about being a ceramicist?
When your idea doesn’t work, or a kiln malfunctions, or when you knock a pot off the table, or any of the many variables involved goes wrong. Every action in the ceramic process is pretty fragile, so trusting what happens and letting go of failure or mishaps is the most challenging. It’s so humbling too, I still love it all.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to work with clay or start a ceramics business?
Never give up and always learn as much as you can from those around you! There are SO many variables in clay, it’s like life : trial and error. But also, listen to the clay let it speak to you, young grasshopper. But for real, the only way you’ll learn is through feeling the clay out yourself and getting to know its tendencies.
Also, learn how to run your business before signing up for an LLC and having to pay taxes! I’m telling you this from personal experience - there’s that trial and error I mentioned.