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Artist Spotlight: Whimsical Works of a Chicago-based Ceramist

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

Sometimes it’s a good thing to have an admiration for something. For the past few years, I’ve had to handle tableware and pottery more since I started becoming a plant mom in late 2019. Talks with co-workers over our own 200 resolutions included the usual health, small business, and creative goals. A lot of us were encouraging each other up to take painting, drawing, and pottery classes together after clocking out of our 9-to-5s. Once we were ready to take the plunge? The world shut down.

But not for Erinn Fong, a ceramist born and raised in Chicago. Much of Erinn’s work incorporates beautiful pastel-esque colors, which you can read more about below. And her inspiration for what she creates? Creating things that she enjoys, something we at Our Friend the Artist speak to and strive to do, as well.

I was eager to ask Erinn -- out of all the different mediums of art out there in the world, how did she choose ceramics? Through her journey, Erinn has “worked with several art mediums before, but the one that stuck was ceramics, whether it’s throwing, slip casting or handbuilding with clay.” She mentioned how she dabbled in ceramics as a child and during college, she took a couple classes as well. What’s incredible is the engaging and encouraging community space that Erinn found within Gnarware Workshop in Chicago, her local ceramics studio that encouraged her “to keep playing with clay”!

As you can see above, the designs and colors in Erinn’s work are B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L, agreed? Agreed. Each of us has our own take on things. Where am I getting to with this? Well, I wanted to know the “whys” behind the choice of shapes and the color palette that are evident in much of Erinn’s work. Erinn mentioned, “I create something I would want to see exist in my own home and that could bring me joy.” If you’re not going to love it, is it worth making? When she’s out and about trying to find a certain piece for her home, instead of settling on an item to purchase, she often makes it herself.

Her vision has given her the “privilege/materials/ability to make it come to life”. The ‘it’ she’s referring to is whatever custom piece she feels is missing in her space, for example. Along with creating the shape of the piece, there’s also the design that’s painted. I was curious about her dreamy color palette and she responded, “These are colors that genuinely make me feel good! To me, the use of pastels evoke openness and relaxation. Oftentimes, I would even describe it as non-confrontational, and these are qualities I welcome when I am trying to decompress in my home!” Once Erinn mentioned why she used pastels, I felt like my heart was suddenly open and ready to take in as many pastel objects in my home as possible.

Curiosity got the best of me because I feel like even those that don’t consider themselves creative also go through creative ruts. So I asked Erinn about it. For Erinn, she loves change. She mentioned that it “feels good to grow from a routine, even after it serves me well.” As someone who has gone through creative ruts from past projects I’ve worked on, it’s not a place I like to be in. Sometimes I like to think “I wonder what inspiration will come to me”. Instead of just thinking about inspiration, I would take a solo trip to another city or disrupt my daily routine by doing something spontaneous.

For many of us around the world, 2021 was a tough year. The ups and downs and the lifestyle changes during the pandemic differ from person to person. For Erinn, she continued creating by adjusting to a work from home setup since “many artists’ ability to go into shared studio spaces” was put on hold. She also went through the hardship of losing her mother, which taught her about grief. This loss would affect how she viewed art. She said that, “I almost felt like I did not deserve to allocate extra space in my mind for art or creativity.” She mentioned that this was something she had to balance in her life.

The power of utilizing art as an outlet helped Erinn. She remembers that she too deserves to allow herself time for well-deserved growth and healing when times get tough.

The AAPI community went through and is still going through periods of hate. The pandemic has brought more attention to this situation due to its presence in the media. Since I identify as a part of the Asian-American community, I asked Erinn if she felt she faced any hardships as an Asian-American small business owner. She brought up that she often thinks about what it means to be “‘authentically ourselves as Asian-American artists, and making sure whatever we create can fight against the historical stigma.” In the context of Asian-American creators, Erinn said, “we finally have the power to create our own narrative, so I think this generation is really special!” How empowering is that?

2022 is looking up for Erinn. We can look forward to the launch of her website where supporters will be able to shop a selection of her small batch ceramics. Also, she’s working on another project right now that’s inspired by her Chinatown, Chicago roots. This project will be another extension of who Erin is and as she said, “I cannot wait to share more of myself with the world.”

Edited by: Ariana Jenkins

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