“I hope to inspire other young women of color like me to know that they can make under any circumstances, and that art can thrive in constraints as well.”
“I primarily make functional ceramics like mugs because I love the way that handcrafted goods can make mundane moments into rituals, and bring awareness into everyday tasks like a morning cup of tea.” Functional ceramics have always been a staple of the ceramics industry that allow artists to express their artistic talents while providing a quintessential part of their viewer’s routine. Kathy Flores is a Latina potter who is tackling functional ceramics with a sense of spontaneity and fun to bring gorgeous pieces to the industry that bring joy to the lucky individuals who both see and use her work. Flores explained, “My favorite kind of art is always both goofy and refined. I take a lot of joy in making work that shows skill in its concept and construction, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. I love being able to play with color and form. With each new carved design I create, I try to balance precision and spontaneity; most often, I try to bring precision in shapes, and spontaneity in the carving. I love making ceramics that look yummy, that invite you to touch it and elicit a feeling. I want my art to help people feel joy, feel comfort, feel the delicious yumminess that is color”.
Flores explained that she first encountered ceramics in high school and she, “immediately fell in love”. It become an important part of her life, and the freedom she was afforded during her high school classes allowed her to explore all of her ideas; “I found ceramics in high school, and took it for 3 of my 4 years. When I was choosing a university, a huge part of my choosing UC Santa Cruz was the fact that they had a student run ceramics co-op. So my only “mentor” in my ceramics career so far has been my high school teacher. And she was very hands-off with her advanced students. She had her hands full giving projects and guidance to her beginner classes, so the advanced classes consisted pretty much of us doing our own independent study, coming up with concepts and researching and designing and executing them on our own. It was pretty great, because for the most part I would just investigate what I wanted to, and touch back with her about my ideas and she would offer guidance when I had a complicated idea I didn’t know how to manifest”. Her pieces have a sense of unbridled enthusiasm as her work plays with color, carving, and her own abstract interpretation of her many inspirations. Flores explained, “Color is central in my work. I am always in search of how I can elevate color and celebrate color. Nature is also at the center of my work, whether overt or not. My carved mountain sunsets are clearly inspired by my time in nature, but also my more abstracted carved pieces. Many of my seemingly abstract painted and carved pieces are deconstructed nature objects, like narrow eucalyptus leaves that fall into my studio space on my patio, coral and seaweed from the sea, animal patterns, etc, made colorful on my pots”. Flores said that her travels and her family’s cultural heritage heavily inspired her bold use of color which make her exquisite pieces pop; “I am inspired by linocut prints, and their use of negative and positive space in my carving work. I also spent a few months in India and collected many pieces of folk art that inspire me. I love the bright and bold color from Peruvian folk art as well, where my father is from (as I am Peruvian-Dominican)”.
Her high school ceramics teacher played an important role in Flores’s artistic journey and helped to push her to see her ideas through no matter how challenging they were; “The best challenge that she presented with me was simply holding me to my own expectations. As a super young potter at the time, there were obviously many times where I bit off more than I could chew when I was designing a new idea. But she always pushed me to actually see them through, and if they had problems, it became a memorable learning moment instead of a theoretical “what to do” and “what not to do” laundry list”. Her passion for creation and learning combined with her willingness to try unexplored techniques is a driving force behind Flores’s work and her “childlike curiosity” shines through in the wonder and imagination of her incredible pieces. Flores explained that, “Something I really value about my journey in ceramics is that I didn’t face any pressure to develop my “voice” or a coherent “style” till I had been making for several years. It’s only in the latest two-ish years of my now seven years doing ceramics that I have developed this sort-of coherent style. When I first started ceramics in high school, I was constantly trying every new technique I could find. From week to week, my work was inspired by potters from all over the world and all throughout time. Now, looking at my style, I don’t know if it would ever be obvious that I was really into Shoji Hamada and Japanese pottery, but I think it is invaluable for any artisan to maintain a childlike curiosity when pursuing a new craft and really not box yourself in too early”. Flores also credits her mother and the following she has established during her artistic career as some of her largest inspirations; “My mom and my customers/followers are some of my biggest inspirations to create and grow as an artist. Whenever I show my mama my newest pieces, she is always overcome with pride and joy. She constantly talks about how proud if me she is and how her dreams are manifested in me—she talks about how she has always wanted to be an artist and how happy it makes her to see me thriving. And I love hearing from my followers—it constantly inspires me to always grow and develop. It is so moving to hear how my work inspires non-potters and potters alike, and it helps me to reaffirm my trust in my own artistic intuition”.
The road to success while following her passions hasn’t always been easy though, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Flores revealed that the pandemic had become a major hurdle for her artistically when her student run ceramics co-op had to shut down; “When COVID shut down my university co-op and I had to start up my own home studio it was a significant challenge for me. I was lucky to receive some start up funds for a wheel from crowdfunding, but I drastically underestimated the amount of funds it actually took to start a full home studio. The biggest loss, however, was losing the community around studio life. It was very difficult to have no one to bounce ideas off of, or troubleshoot with when things went wrong. And this was around the time I decided to start it as my full time business as well. So I was managing starting my online presence, marketing, creating, and just about everything. There were many times when I felt like I was fighting something I couldn’t win”. However, through tenacity and the same determination to follow her passions, Flores has found a way to overcome the obstacles in her place, and is finding ways to make the road a little easier; “I made friends with other ceramicists online and other small business owners and creatives, and started to feel like I was forging a new community. I feel so grateful for their help and kindness, and it did a lot to help me feel like this was manageable and comfortable”. Flores revealed that while artistic success comes in many forms including monetary compensation, this has at times been it’s own hurdle, but the support of her followers reminds her that experimentation and creativity is what they love from her, and it’s why she fell in love with ceramics in the first place; ”Now that I sell my work, my artistic intuition can sometimes be held hostage by businesslike prudishness—maybe I should only make more of what has sold, only rely on classic styles, not try new things that aren’t financially feasible to sell, etc. Hearing how my followers value my new work, my little tests and experiments, helps to fight back imposter syndrome and remember that I’ve spent all this time honing my artistic intuition and might as well use it”.
Flores hopes that her own journey can be an inspiration to other artists, and particularly women of color like her; “I hope to inspire other young women of color like me to know that they can make under any circumstances, and that art can thrive in constraints as well. During the pandemic I had to move back home and lost access to my university ceramic studio. I want to inspire new artists to know that they can make art in their house, and they need so little to do it. I have constantly felt jealous and small on Instagram amidst potters with beautiful studios and plenty of space to design. But I want to inspire people to know that while all the bells and whistles are nice, all you need are your hands and some clay. I have made some of my favorite pieces when I had the least to work with, because it forces you to think in a new way”. She also hopes to pass on her own “childlike creativity” to other artists and would advise them to, “play as much as possible. Never spend too long making pieces only to sell them or show them. Always try to make one piece in a batch that is just for play, just to do something different. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find a technique or design that works beautifully in your body of work, but the most important part is giving yourself time to play”.
Flores understands the important of perseverance; the idea may not always go according to plan, but it can be an opportunity to make something even better. Flores said, “Advice I would give would be to know when to give up on a piece, and when to push the limits and turn a mistake into a new direction. When a form isn’t inspiring you, change it. When a mistake ruins your plans, experiment. If you sell your work, take the time to make something that you never intend to sell, never intend to share—something for you, that speaks to your heart and inspires you. I have made some of my favorite pieces by divorcing myself entirely from expectations, and by just committing to a conversation solely between myself and my piece”. Functional pottery is a craft of it’s own breed, taking time to perfect and determination to master, so Flores challenges other emerging artists to, “make a new form that they don’t make much of—a new mug, teapot, bowls—and make it until they’re happy with it. For some people that will be 20 or more times, for some that’ll be three or four. Each time inspect the form and see what you want to change, and don’t settle for less than what feels perfect to you”. Ceramics is an art form that anyone can enjoy, but only artists like Kathy Flores who persevere through obstacles, hang on to their artistic ingenuity, and boldly create their own pottery playground ever truly master it. Her pieces are exquisite, but more importantly, they make the viewer remember the wonder and imagination that truly can exist within the world when viewed through the eyes of an true artist.
Educational/Personal Growth Opportunity
“You should play as much as possible. Never spend too long making pieces only to sell them or show them. Always try to make one piece in a batch that is just for play, just to do something different. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find a technique or design that works beautifully in your body of work, but the most important part is giving yourself time to play. Advice I would give would be to know when to give up on a piece, and when to push the limits and turn a mistake into a new direction. When a form isn’t inspiring you, change it. When a mistake ruins your plans, experiment. If you sell your work, take the time to make something that you never inted to sell, never inted to share – something for you, that speaks to your heart and inspires you.”
“I would challenge artists to make a new form that they don’t make much of – a new mug, teapot, bowls – and make it until they’re happy with it. For some people that will be 20 or more time, for some that’ll be three or four. Each time inspect the form and see what you want to change, and don’t settle for less than what feels perfect to you.”