SKT Ceramics is a well known and highly respected pottery studio based in Cincinnati. Owner, Susannah Tisue, and her team of talented artists create naturally inspired pieces. We interviewed Susannah to learn more about her thriving Ohio-made business. Our team is thrilled that SKT Ceramics is joining us for our 2018 Autumn Maker Mart at 21c Cincinnati!
Tell us about your local business.
SKT Ceramics is a porcelain pottery and illustration studio. Our Cincinnati studio creates handcrafted, high-fired tableware and gifts. Each piece is adorned with one my 87 original illustrations and detailed with hand painted glaze. Our pieces are fired in an atmospheric gas kiln using 1,000 year old celadon glaze formulas, which gives character to our sturdy, luminous pieces. I created the line in 2008 while living in New York as moments of calm in the chaos of the city, with quiet glaze colors and detailed nature illustrations.
What drew you to your craft?
I studied fine arts at New York University, with a focus on painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture. A series of cake sculptures led me to ceramics, with the need for a ceramic cake stand. The meditative practice of throwing pottery on the wheel and quiet simplicity of functional pieces drew me to the art form. I love that our pottery pieces are simple, humble works of art that become part of everyday routines. Within the format of my functional pieces, I employ the techniques and materials that I focused on while at NYU.
After college, I completed a 3 year artist residency at Greenwich House Pottery in Manhattan’s West Village. The pottery is part of a settlement house, founded in 1909 to teach immigrants marketable skills, Since its founding, it has played a pivotal role in the lives of many ceramicists. It was at Greenwich House that I first discovered porcelain as a material, as well our iron based celadon glaze recipes. Their 3 story ceramic school surrounded a tiny courtyard. In that courtyard, I realized how critical calming moments with nature and landscape are, and those quiet moments are something I hope to capture in my pieces.
What is your favorite thing you have ever made?
In my early ceramic career, I made a hand painted penguin cup for a lifelong friend who loves penguins. It is hard to remember at this point, but I think it was the first piece that utilized the unglazed porcelain “ground” on the base that all of our land animals stand on. I intended for it to be a one of a kind cup, but fell in love with the combination of image, glaze and clay body in that piece. In a lot of ways, it strongly influences all of the pieces that we make today. The penguin has long been one of our best sellers, and I think of my friend every time I hand one to a customer!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist and since preschool have been busy building worlds around concepts. I was really able to hone in on my concepts while at NYU, so I credit a lot of inspiration to that period of time, and functional pottery happened to be a perfect medium to translate those ideas into life.
What is your creative process?
My creative process is multi faceted. All of the illustrations begin as pen and ink drawings in my sketchbook. I typically draw at home where it’s quiet and I can have a nice mug of coffee on hand! For new illustrations, I add illustrations that would be in conversation with existing drawings in the SKT line, and I always take into account customer feedback and requests. Currently the llama and hummingbird are front runners!
All of the pieces are made from scratch in my studio by myself and a team of skilled artists. We use hand building, wheel throwing and ram pressing to make our forms, and screen print them with my drawings. They’re fired in an electric kiln for the first firing. The images are hand painted first with glaze, then wax resist before we dip them in our high fire celadon glazes.
Our pieces are fired in a gas kiln to 2,350 degrees and the composition of our particular glaze makes them dishwasher, microwave, and oven safe! Sales feed into my creative process. I launched into making and selling work full time in 2010 while at the Brooklyn Flea on both Saturdays and Sundays. Weekly customer feedback helped refine and expand my illustration and form offerings. I now have a year round booth in Cincinnati's Findlay Market and I love that the same thing is happening there. Whether it’s a reaction to the shape of the handle or the response to new illustrations, I gain so much valuable feedback from our community on a weekly basis.
What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?
Business ownership is not for the faint of heart. It’s a long, hard, road, but worth every minute!
Why is it important to support local artists & makers?
We have a year round space at Findlay Market, a local food and farmers market, so I see first hand the benefits of “shopping local” every weekend. Each purchase from a local artist/maker/farmer directly goes back into our community and provides jobs for our neighbors. These in-person exchanges build relationships within the community and as a general rule, I find that the quality of pieces made and purchased locally is so much higher.
Why do you love doing what you do?
I love that our pieces mean something to our customers. When they use our pieces, they’re reminded of a particular place, event, or the person that gifted them the piece. Through my illustrations, our pottery provides moments of connection.
What advice do you have for other people who want to start their own businesses?
Build your line from within. When you’re pulling from your own unique experience, people will respond to your story. You will never have to wonder where to go next and inspiration will come readily.
What is your favorite thing about exploring Ohio?
My pieces channel quiet moments with nature out of necessity. I’m a city dweller at heart and love the walkability and unlimited potential of exploring Ohio’s downtowns. I love the shops, cafes and restaurants, from old school spots to energized newcomers. On every street and every corner there is someone who is pursuing their passion.