Ever since I was a kid I’ve had an obsession with the desert. The way the sun can feel like your best friend and worst enemy at the same time. The smell of wet dirt rising during Monsoon season. The spotlight quality the moon plays, bouncing from cactus to rock to illuminate your path each night. These were all things I thought of when seeing the ceramic work of Jenifer Lake. Her use of natural materials, earth tones, and simple geometric shapes made me feel like I was wrapped in the center of the desert again. Jenifer is also a lover of nature and finds inspiration in many of the same ways - unplugging from the world and finding solace in the outskirts. I talked to Jenifer about starting a ceramic practice, staying motivated, and using art to enact societal change.
KC: How long have you been interested in ceramics, and at what point did you turn your love of clay into a small business?
JL: I’ve been a clay enthusiast since first being introduced to the medium in junior high. I’ve taken classes on and off in all sorts of settings since then. My BFA emphasis was in ceramics and screenprinting. I’ve sold my work since college at boardwalk beach art sales, early Renegade Craft Fairs, and other ensuing handmade movement shows. A few years back I refocused my business, re-branded to just my name, and now sell mostly ceramic based pieces, although my work is always evolving.
KC: You work full-time as a kindergarten teacher in San Francisco and create for your own small business in your free time - how do you find the energy and time to remain creative?
JL: I actually teach full time at a private, French, Catholic school downtown to not just kindergarteners but also all the way through those lucky middle school years, thus I teach a broad range of students and ages. Being able to be creative with them is partly where some of the energy springs (and drains!) from. Often when I’m teaching my students to come up with a completely different idea of where their project might go, this will spark ideas personally too. Teaching is an exhausting profession because you give so much of oneself to your charges.
I make a huge point of being an active art viewer as well - not just for my own art education and enjoyment, but also for keeping my imagination brewing, seeing what’s new in the gallery scene, and visiting the tried and true favorites of the art canon at local museums or during travel. I value my alone/creative time immensely and try to cultivate as much of that precious commodity as possible on weekends and days off.
KC: I’m someone who very much values things that are handmade - the little imperfections in each piece are what brings character and feeling into inanimate objects. Do you ever have happy accidents in the creation process?
JL: For sure, that definitely happens - especially because even with hundreds and hundreds of firings under my belt, I still am sometimes surprised when I crack open a kiln and see what’s in store for me! The magic of those happy accidents (and sometimes dreadful accidents - let’s be real) are still super exciting to me. I think part of the process of being a creator for me is being able to tap into the fluidity of when a happy accident might happen and being open to where that might take you.
KC: So many people don’t recognize art as a method of creating societal change, but I believe it has the ability to bring aesthetic function as well as awareness. You donate a portion of your sales to non-profits like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society - What role does art play for you in these important topics?
JL: As an art educator I could talk about the importance of art as a change maker for a long time! I’ve loved seeing the public/social change movement in the arts get larger, and I bring those ideas into my classroom all the time. Personally, I think artists have a role in society to give back and figure out how to solve problems. Naturally, I think a lot of artists are scrappy, resourceful, DIY people that know the value of extending a hand when needed and will often step up first to do just that. For me, the natural world is a huge source of inspiration, comfort, balm, and a needed nourisher to being alive. So, being able to give a small portion of my makings back to a rad society doing tough work advocating for our oceans and marine life is incredibly important to me. The ocean, in particular, has been a long love for me. At one point in my life, I went down the marine biology/oceanographer possibility and my love for the sea springs from being a coastal dweller for most of my life. I need the expanse of the ocean and therefore need to be able to have a small hand in keeping them viable!
KC: A good portion of your work feels very nature based - with odes to the ocean and moon making numerous appearances. Why are you drawn to these concepts?
JL: I like to joke that I’m really just a big ole California hippie at heart but I know that I cannot function long without being able to take my natural world breaks and draw from this stunning earth we live in to keep my inner being sustained. I love living in the city of San Francisco with the hustle and bustle of working downtown but I also need to get out in our beloved VW van(s) to camp, stare at the stars, soak in the hot springs, and hear the silence of the desert to keep me going. I actively derive a lot of my ideas from the natural world and the endless amounts of inspirations that lie within these areas.
KC: You use materials that are derived from nature as well - clay, driftwood, and leather. In what ways do you stay close to nature in your personal life? Are these experiences the driving force for your creative practice?
JL: My husband and I have several VW camper vans that are like members of our family! We try to get out in them as much as possible and have spent several months at a time over many years living and camping from them. One of the joys of a teaching schedule is being able to truly unplug for 2 months over the summer and fill the inspiration well with adventuring in nature or traveling internationally. I would say being in nature is absolutely a top priority to my art practice and definitely one of the most important, however, I also gain tremendous amounts of inspiration from traveling and having new ideas spark from all that bumping up against foreign and unknown experiences. Sometimes I equal parts long to be silent in the desert just much as I want to troll a cacophonous farmers market or navigate the public transportation system in another new city abroad!
KC: Do you have any plans to expand your line in the future, or work on any exciting projects?
JL: Absolutely! My one hindrance is time. I have so many ideas in my sketchbooks of things I wish to try and I have visions of an entire wall installation filled with hangings and new pieces. I also have a show coming up in September where I’ve collaborated with a good friend for an exhibition.
You can find several of Jenifer's ceramic wall hangings at Rare Device Divisadero.