As an artist, Rachel Saunders has taken a multidisciplinary approach over the years. At present, she is using clay as a medium to express herself, through simple and functional design. Opting to use natural materials, she constructs pieces that are both wheel-thrown and hand-built. Currently working and residing on Vancouver Island, we spoke to Rachel about what led her to ceramics, what it's like to be a self-taught artist and her favourite creations.
Did you always want to be a functional artist? Or was there a different creative path that lead you to ceramics?
I’ve always been a very creative being but also afraid to get too close to the term“artist”. Having been raised by a hardworking independent mother I was taught to be resourceful and purposeful with what and how I contribute to the world. I’ve always thought that if I’m making something, it’s got to be useful. I’m starting to let go of that limiting belief in the new world I’ve found myself in. I always knew I’d end up having a career with some artistic aspect to it, but the wide spectrum of possibilities clay allows for, has been the perfect fit for me. It keeps my short attention span constantly engaged as well as satisfies my need to make something useful and beautiful.
Where do you draw inspiration from for the direction of your pieces?
I draw it from the past, but mostly on how I want the future to be. I spend a lot of time dreaming up what I like my life to look like, and sometimes objects just appear to me and then I make them! My designs are informed by the foods that I like to eat, the music I listen to, and so many of the talented and passionate people who share their beautiful lives with me in some way.
Do you have a preference in technique, either hand-built or wheel thrown?
That’s a great question and very relevant for me right now. I started out strictly working on the wheel, but now some of my most popular pieces are hand built, and my work is about 50/50. I feel like hand building appeals to the left side of my brain because it often requires math and engineering, and is more structural and geometric. I like it because it involves hard lines and is highly satisfying to cut out and assemble the little pieces that make up my work. Sometimes it feels like building a little house.
Wheel throwing caters to my right brain with its’ allowance for more organic and soft, creative shapes. There is something so soothing about the spinning of the wheel that sends you into a trance-like state. It really helps me stay engaged to switch back and forth between the two techniques while working on big orders, so both are better than one!
Over the years you have held workshops, do you find it hard to teach ceramics with such an individual style?
I just like to teach the basics in my workshops and let the students come up with their own individual style. I try not to inform them too strongly with my own aesthetics. It blows my mind to see what comes to life from new eyes and hands. It’s so refreshing and inspiring to me.
Being self-taught do you find that your approach has more freedom?
Maybe! I tend to do things my own way in life (for better or for worse) regardless of being self taught of not, but I think freedom is definitely what drives that. I find there are a lot of “rules” in pottery that I constantly break, but it’s more fun that way. Also I find a lot of times in life the information that depicted the rules we known can be very outdated. I do end up with the odd disaster on my hands because of this system I’ve lived by since birth. But I’m always learning in the way that suits me the best and I think that’s the best way to live.
Although all art is created with equal love, do you have a favourite piece that you have
I currently appreciate my Curve Vase the most, because it came to me in a dream and I think it’s my most authentic piece. Thing is, it’s a bitch to make and is constantly screwing me over with all the little and big cracks that can appear in every step of the process… My Woman Vases never screw me over and are very soothing to sculpt, so I like those too.
What does your typical day look like?
I’m trying to convert myself into an ‘earlier’ bird, which can be quite challenging when you love sleep and make your own schedule. I need to spend a lot of time in the morning setting myself up for a successful and productive day, because if I don’t take the time to do that, I’ll often waste it feeling distracted and scattered. I wake up around 7am and try to read or write a little bit before grabbing my very tempting notification-dense phone. I’m trying to implement more strategies for optimising creativity and general well-being in my life, and that one seems to really work for me. My boyfriend makes amazing pour over coffee every morning, and I make a healthy little breakfast for us and we sit and have some stillness before the day begins. I head to my studio in Chinatown around 10am. I have my own studio in a larger space that I share with my boyfriend and 3 other friends called Upside Studios. From there I make a concise list of everything I need to do in the day, which ranges from sketching new designs, throwing pieces on the wheel, glazing, loading the kiln, teaching a class, or packing up and shipping out an order (or 10). I currently do everything myself and things are pretty nuts. I try and spend a good 8 hours a day in my beautiful light filled space, luckily it’s usually not too difficult!
Did you ever think that ceramics would allow you to be self-employed?
I think that was one of the main draws to me about it at first, honestly. I wanted something that I could healthily dedicate every aspect of my life to. I think I have found that.
Where did you grow up? Do you think where you grew up has influenced your art?
I grew up on a farm on a little island on the West Coast of Canada. It’s influenced my work immensely in colour and shape and texture. Most importantly, it’s influenced the lifestyle in which I am able to do what I do. I’m so privileged to have such a high quality of life here that I can focus on something as peaceful as making pottery for a living. I don’t take it for granted.
What is your long term goal with your art?
Make the world better. Nothing more, nothing less. I want to share the process with people and allow them to experience the therapeutic qualities of the craft, too. I want to become the best version of myself so I can give back in every way I can. Pottery teaches me so many lessons daily and I try my best to listen and remember and apply. I want to continue to connect with people all over the world on a deeper level than I’d have the chance to without my art as the catalyst. It’s pretty crazy to me how much it’s done for me already and I’m so excited to see where else it takes me.
Featuring Rachel Saunders - View her website here and her Instagram page here.
Rachel wears the Capture The Castle L/S Blouse and Camus Mini Dress - Shop new arrivals here.
Photography - Berkley Vopnfjörð.