Now Featuring MONDAYS
MONDAYS is three friends and artists, Signe Yberg, Jennifer Fiore and Nina Lalli. Their ceramics brand, handmade in Brooklyn, unifies and amplifies their separate creative voices. The result is eclectic juxtapositions of style jolting energy into their comfortable, homey collections. From petite, hand-thrown cups to exotic, slumpy vessels, MONDAYS is equal parts function and play. Their recent series of coffee sets is an exclusive line for Little Paper Planes, available now at LPP on Valencia Street in San Francisco. We talked process, the individual styles and how they came to form MONDAYS.
**All studio shots are by Youngna Park.
MH: How did MONDAYS start?
SY: Jennifer and I have known each other since we were part of a Math Olympiads after-school thing when were 11-years-old. We were best friends all through junior high school and high school. We kept in touch during and after college, but it wasn’t until I started taking a ceramics class and posting pictures of my progress on Facebook that we really reconnected. I encouraged J to join my Monday night class and was over the moon when she finally found time in her schedule.
JF: Signe and I have been friends since 7th grade. When she started posting pictures from her Monday night ceramics class on Facebook, I was a relatively new mom with a languishing MFA, envious of her obvious excitement and regular studio time. After a year of hemming-and-hawing I finally signed up for the class and was instantly hooked. Nina had been taking the same Monday night class, and after a short time we realized that the three of us clicked as a team. We decided to see what would happen if we launched a collection/business, and moved from the class to a new studio and gathered momentum pretty quickly.
NL: I met Signe and Jennifer in my second ceramics class at Choplet in Williamsburg. We became an art gang, excited about each other’s experiments, brainstorming and geeking out all over the place every week. We stayed in that class together for another year, with our beloved teacher Bobby Croze, before we launched our website and moved into a bigger studio with 24-hour access last July.
MH: There’s something about functional ceramics that’s generous feeling, maybe because it’s so often used for tableware, and eating is so much about sharing and giving. But unlike a craft like blowing glass, ceramics can be done solo pretty easily. What was the impetus to work collaboratively? And how do you compromise with each other as collaborators?
SY: Our work is not collaborative, but our practice is, and it happened organically. At our previous group studio (where we took classes), we found ourselves staying late and bouncing ideas off of each other at the communal hand-building table, often with a bottle of wine. There was something really nice about the “family” we built. It felt supportive and inspiring, and when we decided to make a business out of ceramics, we knew instinctively that there is strength in numbers and we were excited about doing it as a team. There was no hesitation or fear because we were in it together. Plus, on a very basic level, it is more fun to create in an environment shared with other creative people.
JF: Although MONDAYS is a collective, we have always worked on our own individual pieces. We inspire and influence each other, but I think we would make each other insane if we actually worked on the same physical pieces. The objects we are making for LPP will mark the first time we each put our hands on the same work, but even then we are each making individual components of a many piece set, with each set glazed by one of the three of us. It will be a good lesson in letting go, but also informative — our thought and production processes are so different — we see our work so differently; I think we will each learn from the choices the others make.
All of our other collaborating has been on the brand itself, and that has all happened surprisingly easily. (i.e. picking a name, designing a logo and website, setting up displays). We all still have day jobs, so a lot of the decision making happens by email or text, it’s not ideal, but other than our Monday nights in the studio, our work times don’t often coincide.
NL: Ceramics is known as a craft with a very generous community, in terms of sharing glaze recipes and tips and techniques. There’s so much room for experimenting and so many ways to fail with firing and glazing clay—it lends itself to endless, obsessive shop-talk, and we’ve found that to be very true and wonderful among the three of us and in our many new friendships with other potters in our studio, like Jennie Jieun Lee, and in Brooklyn generally, like Clair Catillaz of Clamlab. It’s a technical craft that’s inhabited by fantastic, adventurous weirdos.
MH: How does it feel to have a collective body of creative work?
NL: It’s like what you want a potluck to be but it never is: things compliment each other and I feel like my work is boosted by the company. We don’t plan our collections and don’t ask each other to use specific colors or make specific forms, but the longer we work together and grow together, the more cohesive our very different styles are becoming, naturally. It’s curating itself, and when things click into place like that and I see the threads that run through our work, it’s very cool and very satisfying.
SY: Actually, what has excited us about the LPP project is the chance to work differently. The opportunity to collaborate on a group specifically meant to be used together is new for us. We never do that! We talk about our inspirations, processes, and techniques… and for our partnership with Blue Hill at Stone Barns, we made sure our work looked great together on the dining table, but the LPP project is the first time we have considered how our individual pieces will fit together as a set. We’re also glazing each other’s work so the project is even more collaborative. It’s all very exciting for us and feels like a jolt of energy has come in to inspire a new way of considering our practice.
JF: We’ll let you know when we finish our Coffee sets!
MH: The three of you come from your own professional and creative backgrounds. How do these feed into your work with MONDAYS?
JF: I have an undergraduate degree in art history with a concentration in fine arts (painting and photo), and an MFA in photography; I’ve never made functional things before and love having a concrete goal and an objective way of determining whether or not a piece works. I never expected to enjoy that so much, but it is so liberating!
NL: My day-job, and the source of my original interest in functional ceramics, is assisting prop stylists on photo shoots, mostly for food magazines. I spend a lot of time looking at vintage and antique ceramics, as well as contemporary handmade things. I’ve found that the pieces that look well-loved and maybe even chipped or discolored over time, or imperfectly formed, are the ones that grab me. Some objects you can connect to, and some you just don’t. A bowl can be an intimate part of your life, or it can be an IKEA thing you just leave at your boyfriend’s house when you break up because who cares. As I grow up I’m realizing that caring about the setting you’re in and the things you touch all the time is not about trying to be fancy.
SY: I’ve been a wardrobe stylist for well over a decade, and my eye is trained to look at color, pattern, texture, and proportion. Sometimes, my ideas start with specific forms I want to throw and how I want those forms to relate to one another as a group, and other times, I see glazing first and how I want the colors, patterns, and textures to tell a story. I like simple shapes that are a little bit wonky, so you can see my hand in the work. I’m attracted to interesting juxtapositions and will often leave part of my pieces unglazed so the natural color and texture of the clay can be seen and felt next to the glazed parts. It’s like clothing to me — what I choose to cover up and what I choose to expose, and how I combine decorative elements to give each piece its own personality.
MH: We at LPP love clay… Kelly is super into handbuilding and I can’t wait to find time to get back to the wheel. What are each of your favorite parts of your working process?
JF: Before I started that Monday night class my only previous experience with clay was a coil pot I made in 4th grade. I really enjoy my current liminal state of knowing just enough about how the materials work to create the basic forms that I have in mind, while still feeling slightly out of control and open to experimentation. If only the glazing part of this process were a little less heartbreaking…
SY: When I first started working with clay, I only did hand-building with slabs of clay. It felt the most natural to me because I approached each slab like a piece of fabric that I could drape over (or fit inside of) a form, or attach to another slab of clay and “sew” the pieces together by scoring and slipping. I tried throwing on the wheel, but was not immediately good at it and — because I’m impatient — I abandoned it. After about a year, I sat down at the wheel again, determined to “get it.”
I struggled through the frustration of uncentered clay, walls that were thick and uneven, my inability to maintain a constant speed with the foot pedal, vessels collapsing on the wheel… you name it, I’ve been there. One day, the process finally “clicked,” and I’ve been throwing exclusively since then. When we moved from a teaching studio with limited hours to a space with 24-hour access, my practice really took off. As a beginning thrower, I liked working alone in the studio late at night. Solitude gave me the freedom to make mistakes in private and learn from them, which was key to my growth. I was very shy about my technique. Now, I’m more confident about my practice and can throw with other potters next to me (and learn from their techniques, which is the great thing about a communal studio), but I still crave being alone. I lose myself in what I am doing: sitting at the wheel, my hands on wet clay, tuning out everything else and focusing on my breath and the movement of my hands on the clay and my foot on the pedal. It’s very meditative, which appeals to me. It’s interesting — whatever is going on in my head, comes out on the wheel. If I’m feeling rushed or anxious, the forms I throw show it. When I have an “off” day, I won’t center properly or my pieces will collapse. Throwing requires me to be present, focused, and calm. It’s therapeutic. And it’s magical to me that I can start with a lump of clay and watch it morph into a delicate teacup within two minutes. If I’m patient, I can make bigger, more complicated shapes — like bottles, which seemed like mysteries of physics when I first started working with clay. Actually, the entire process feels alchemical to me. It can fail at so many steps along the way, so when a finished piece makes it out of the final firing and into someone’s hands for use, it’s nothing short of a miracle.
NL: This changes for me depending on what I’m making, but the most fun is usually somewhere in the middle when you see the thing take shape. Literally take shape or design-wise. Maybe it’s in the decorating stage, like a splash of underglaze that falls like it knew where to go, or maybe it’s the wonky shape you cut out that is somehow perfectly balanced in its wonkiness. You make something you have been picturing and it actually just works for once. There’s a moment, if things go well, when you see something emerge that has its own personality and you are actually interacting with it. And then you stop fucking with it if you have learned anything about clay.
MH: While we were getting this interview organized, Jennifer made a comment that so many artists with multiple projects will understand: “The fun stuff always suffers.” What are the parts of your MONDAYS work, or your individual practices, that you dream of putting more time into?
NL: We are blessed to have lots of orders! But I think we all miss having more time to play and mess around with new ideas. I am starting to see that kind of time as a reward for crossing a set of custom plates off my to do list. Production work is like exercise (not that I exercise), it sharpens you and keeps you in shape and warms you up maybe to do something else. Sometimes you feel like you’re churning out plates, but along the way you get an idea from one part of that process that leads to a whole new form you wouldn’t have made just from thinking about it. The annoying thing about clay is how long it takes to see if the finished, twice-fired, glazed thing is even interesting anymore. Even an experiment tests your commitment level.
SY: I’d like to experiment with some non-functional pieces… pieces that are not tableware. I’m thinking of masks and other types of wall hangings. As much as I love the intimacy of making vessels that are held in people’s hands and brought up to their mouths, I want to get into objects that exist only to be looked at. It will also free me up to use glazes that are not food safe: metallics and crawls and who knows what!
JF: I dream of having more time to be bored in the studio. Balancing a day-job and a family and this business means that my studio time is limited and precious and often more focused than what I consider ideal. All my work is hand-built so I like to start the studio day by rolling slabs to fill all the various molds I use for orders, I love the repetitive process and find that I get excited by the odds and ends and scraps of clay that build up on the side. Unfortunately I don’t always have as much time to experiment with these scraps as I would like. Our business grew faster than any of us expected and I miss being able to take days off to go to museums or just wander around the city with my husband and son or even build things out of Legos. It’s a good problem to have—I just want more time in the studio in general!