South Korean-born ceramicist Jess Choi of Eun Ceramics has her pottery wheel tucked in an undercover sliver down the side of her house in Ascot Vale, Melbourne. In this tiny little area, barely the width of an arm span, Jess has been crafting her elegant, minimal ceramic wares since 2016. ‘Pottery has taken over every inch of my living space, from the dining room to back yard’, she admits.
After taking up a casual class at a community pottery studio five years ago with the hopes of making a few plates for the house, Jess discovered a passion she never knew she had. ‘It’s funny because I make everything except plates now…’, she says. Her practice has rapidly grown since that first class in 2016, and she’s constantly dreaming of the next piece.
We chatted with Jess how she did what most of us only daydream of – turning her side hustle into a full-time gig!
Hey Jess! Can you tell us a little about your background? What has been your creative journey so far?
Originally born in South Korea, I moved to Perth when I was 12 years old and came to Melbourne just after I turned 21. I became interested in ceramics when I started working from home and needed a hobby to get me out of the house. I was recently married, so I was researching a lot about homewares and decors. I thought it’d be great to learn pottery and make some cute plates for the house. I booked a class at a community studio and I just never stopped making.
As I was getting more serious about pottery I came across videos of Korean pottery masters and found it fascinating that their traditional techniques were being admired and praised by people from all over the world, especially because I felt like it was something that was never valued growing up in Korea. I think I subconsciously saw it as a way for me to reconnect with my heritage, which is a fire in me to do really well, and use it as a tool to represent who I am.
Is this what you do full-time? If not, what else do you do?
I’ve been working as a production manager for TV commercials for 6 years but I’ve always worked from home with very unconventional working hours. It allowed me to navigate my time to be able to also work as a ceramicist. I’d split my time between the two jobs by working on the film job early in the morning and at night, so I can have the day free to work on pottery.
However, pottery has become my main job and the film job has turned into more of a side job as of this year which is exciting!
How did you arrive at your current style? Was there lots of trial and error involved in getting to the distinct look, shape and feel of your pieces?
I used to go to a community pottery studio and I found it really hard to find my own style for a while, because I would easily get distracted by what others were doing and lose focus on my original ideas. It helped me become more versatile in my skills and techniques but it wasn’t until when I started working alone I had the time to reflect on my work and what I wanted my pieces to represent.
I had to think back to when I first became interested in ceramics, and the type of style I was drawn to which was always minimalistic. I wanted my work to have a subtle beauty to it, something approachable yet captivating. So I decided to keep my colour palette predominantly neutral, and worked on creating unique forms and textures with a contemporary feel, which are also warm and inviting.
what do you love about what you do?
I’m a daydreamer. I love being able to imagine something and recreate it whenever I want. I used to lay in bed imagining what sort of vases I was going to make the next day and get really excited. It’s the best feeling when a piece comes out exactly as you imagined!
I also love working for myself, being able to stick to my own judgments and taking responsibility for my actions makes me feel more passionate about what I’m doing.
Do you have any key references or inspirations?
Something I always think about when making my pieces is the feeling I got when I went to an art gallery a few years back. There were artworks I’d just pass by, but certain artworks were so captivating in an unexplainable way. I could stare at them for hours and put my face as close as I could to see every brush stroke and imagine the story behind them. I aspire for my work to carry that kind of depth, and intrigue others, to allow each piece to tell its own story.
How have the upheavals and isolation of 2020 affected your work?
It actually helped me to focus on my business and push myself to make my own opportunities.
One of the reasons I held off from selling my work for so long is because I was scared of what other people might think of me and my work. I was also constantly being told how hard it is to make a living as an artist/maker, but being in isolation made me persevere and push those fears away. And I realised there are so many opportunities to be seized if you put yourself out there.
People are busy with their own problems to care too much about what you’re doing so just go out and do it!
Check out more of Jess’s fab ceramics here!