a talk with sarah van raden from notary ceramics

maybe it's because of the internet and the screens we stare at all day, but ceramics seem to be getting increasingly popular. if making an object with your hands can be therapeutic, it is certainly a noble pursuit! to learn more about pottery, we reached out to someone who made this craft their own - despite a rough start at the wheel. here is our q&a with sarah van raden from notary ceramics.

firstly, how has your day been?

it has been a long day but a productive one. i am working on getting my new studio ready while still trying to fulfill wholesale orders from my home studio. i stopped working at 3pm and spent the rest of the afternoon making fairy potions with my two young daughters.

do you have a morning ritual – what do you do when you wake up?

yes, my youngest usually crawls in bed with me very early and my husband crawls out of bed to make us coffee. he brings me coffee in bed and i attempt to send a few emails or simply snuggle and wrestle with my girls.

we’ve read that you had a rough start with ceramics. can you tell us more about your beginnings?

yes, it wasn't very accessible the first time i tried it. it was in a college class and i really didn't enjoy the professor or his teaching habits. i ended up feeling uninspired and never really thought i would go back to try it again.

what made you go back to the wheel?

my uncle is a lifelong potter. i approached him about 7 years ago to start a small side project with me that we would call notary. basically i helped design the pieces and he created them. i did all of the marketing and photography and it took off pretty quickly. unfortunately he decided that it was time for him to retire from ceramics right as our business was really taking off. i always thought in the back of my mind that one day i would hire another potter or two to throw for me and i would get it going again. i even kept paying for the domain name in those years when nothing was happening with the line.

long story short, i started taking a weekly evening class at a local ceramics studio and fell head over heels in love with everything about creating with clay. the studio was over an hour from my house and that made it impossible to get there more than once a week. decided the only way I would ever get better was if i had my own wheel and could work from home. i bought a cheap $300 wheel on craigslist that came with a very old kiln. the wheel was an old shimpo from the 70's. it worked ok but it was so loud and the only way to stop it from spinning was to unplug it.

you now have your own studio, in your basement. what is it like to work on your craft from home?

i have loved working from home these past two years but i have definitely outgrown my basement studio. the best part about working from home is that i get to pop up and see my kids throughout the day, and the hardest part about working from home is that my kids come down and visit me every hour or so. it is very difficult to stay focused when your toddlers are picking up the wet pottery you just made. :)

where do you find inspiration? can you walk us through your process when beginning a new piece?

inspiration is everywhere. it is the same as when i was working as a photo stylist. i love colors, and design and texture in all of its forms. i also love waking up in the morning with new ideas. i keep a pen and journal next to my bed to sketch things down as soon as i open my eyes.

as we browsed through your collection, we couldn’t help but notice the ikebana bowl. it’s pure genius! how did you get the idea?

thank you! i love that piece and i love making it. i have been very drawn to japanese minimalism within ceramics and definitely drew inspiration for this piece from some ancient shallow bowls i have seen. i decided to cement the frog in place so that the frog wouldn't shift or tilt from the weight of the flower stems.

ceramics seem to be gaining popularity in the recent years. any thoughts about why people go back to manual work?

i can only really speak from personal experience. i crave working with tactile materials in a world that is focused so largely on screen based work. it is so refreshing to make something with your hands and to see it through to the finished product. pottery is fairly immediate work which is very satisfying.

what keeps you focused while you’re working – what’s your mood music?

i don't listen to much music while i work, i prefer podcasts and books on tape. i love anna farris is unqualified, this american life, adio lab, tell me something i don't know, modern love....

when you’re not working, what do you like to do?

love playing with my girls, spending one on one time with my husband, getting a drink with friends, sitting by the river and watching all of the boats, escaping to my families cabin on the mountain and napping. i think i could pretty much fall asleep anywhere, anytime.

any favorite spots in portland we should check out?

love gino's in sellwood- feels like old portland and the food is to die for. i also love shopping at alder and co., shop boswell, spartan, orn hansen, goodwill on grand ave, and the antique shops in sellwood.

notary ceramics