We discovered Cym Warkov’s beautifully imperfect ceramics at Shoppe Object in NYC last summer, and we’ve barely been able to keep them in stock since. We caught up with her from her home in Minneapolis this week to chat about her work, her new forays into lighting design and the joys of falling in love with your failures.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Usually I have in my studio various projects in different degrees of stages. I have orders that I’m working on, finishing up, and then I try to do something personal every day. I have those personal projects and prototypes stacked up and covered up and in various degrees, and I’ll go in and decide what needs attention first. And some days I can’t look at my orders—I’ll have plenty of time, and I want nothing to do with them. And some days I’m like, I gotta get this done and that’s all I work on. Loading kilns, glazing, finishing things up, sketching. I try to do a lot of sketching.
Are you sketching prototypes or sketching for the sake of sketching?
I’m often sketching for the sake of sketching. I’m working on some different shapes. In the morning, sometimes I’ll get inspired by something, and I’ll just start sketching things. I have a degree in landscape architecture, so a lot of the way I work is informed by that. There’s a light prototype I’m sketching, it’s like a stacked totem. I kind of work the same way as I did in landscape, in a way.
What drew you to ceramics?
My parents were hippies, and they were both artists, so our house was always a studio. They were painters and photographers. And I went to hippie free schools, where basically all we did was arts and crafts—there was not a lot of learning going on. We spent time in the ceramics studio, the woodshop, painting, silk screening. All those fun things that can’t ever help you make a living (laughs).
So when I was pregnant with my son, a little bit before I got pregnant I started taking a ceramics class and just remembered how much I loved it. I was throwing on a wheel, and then I got too large to throw on a wheel anymore. And I started hand building, and I realized that I have more ideas when I’m hand building than I do when I’m throwing on a wheel.
Then I just got too busy and I went back to school, and I just kind of set it aside. I just picked it up again about two-and-half years ago.
It seems like your business has really exploded in just two-and-a-half years!
Yeah, I actually had the intention of doing lighting. The vases that I do now, a lot of them are prototypes for lights. My friend saw them and said, I’m going to do this show in New York, why don’t you make something and we’ll see if we get orders, so it just kind of took off.
I did the show again and my business grew five times in one year! it just went crazy. So I got a new studio, invested a lot of money in equipment. It just kind of happened. Now I’m using this down time to go back to working on lighting.
Why lighting? What is it that appeals to you about it?
I’ve just always loved it. I feel like you can in some ways, be a little more free with it and it’s a functional piece of art, which I like. I think I’m really more of a sculptor than a ceramic artist. This was sort of the best, most effective way to do what I wanted to do.
Do you already have the electrical background? Is it something you just know?
No! I’m just learning as I go. It’s not that hard to wire a lamp, but it’s very time-consuming figuring out every little part and making sure you’ve got them all together. I just really enjoy product design and that whole process of design. From architecture to clothing and furniture, everything.
Is architecture and furniture something you’re looking to expand into, or is clay and ceramics the medium that you’ll be working with?
It is right now. But my boyfriend’s an architect, and we’re going to start working on some furniture that incorporates ceramics. He had a furniture company called Blu Dot. I love working with ceramics, but I’m not a crazy potter. I tend to look more towards architecture and maybe fashion design for inspiration, and landscape than I do other ceramic artists. I think that’s always been my go-to, so it still is.
Can you tell me a little bit about your process, how a piece comes together for you?
Usually ideas just come to me in weird places, so I try to sketch them. It’ll start with a sketch and I think about what it’s going to be. And then I’ll go to my studio, and I start with moulds out of cardboard. There’s engineering involved. I look at it, and think, well, when do I take it out of the mould. When do I move it, how do I prop it up. It’s a bit of mould making and engineering and mistakes. And sometimes the mistakes are better than the thing that I wanted. I try to keep an open mind. And sometimes it’s exactly what I thought it was going to be, but I hate it. And sometimes it’s nothing like I thought it was going to be and I love it. It’s one of those things – you have to try a lot of trial and error.
But it almost always starts with a sketch. There’s something about moving my hand on the paper that really helps me.
That’s interesting, the idea of being open to failures. A lot of people aren’t—they don’t recognize that as part of the process, that failure can often be your success in the end.
Oh yeah, oh for sure. My favourite piece was a failure. It was a complete fail because when I fired it, it collapsed even more, and has these great cracks in it which I love. I’m starting to force more cracking in my pieces and stress marks, and not having them be as smooth and perfect as they used to be.
A lot of your work seems to celebrate the imperfect. But I think imperfect work can also often be a challenge too—you need to find balance, how it sits.
I wish I could quantify how you know, but I don’t know if I can. I had a lifetime of growing up with both of my parents constantly saying, look at this, look at that. My dad studied architecture at Columbia, and my mother’s father was an architectural draftsman. There was a lot of walking around and looking at architecture. So my mind just works that way. I’m always looking at things, and proportion. I just know, if a crack is ok or if it’s not ok. Sometimes something will crack, and I know, I can’t sell this. What’s the difference between this crack and that crack? Well that one’s good and that one makes it better. I think it’s maybe a feeling—I just know when it’s right.
You’ve talked about the idea of both stillness and movement in your work.
I’m sticking to this pleated, corrugated rhythm in my work, and I don’t seem to get tired of it. Everything is a variant of that type. And this thing I’m working out, I like the rhythm, and the familiarity juxtaposed with the cracks and the wobbliness. It’s this rhythm, but then it’s this unexpected thing. It’s not too perfect. Maybe it’s a meditation on impermanence or change or something, profound, but I don’t really have the words for it.
Can you tell me why you work with Provide?
I just love love love—I can’t tell you enough how much I love the way that his shop is curated. I love when anyone has a point of view, I just really respect that. But I also love everything in it. It’s easier to say someone has great taste, but he also just has this very clear vision and this point of view, and I’m sure if you walk in that store, it’s like I know exactly who you are. I just love that.
What’s next for you?
I’d like to incorporate some other materials. I think one of the first things that Charlie and I are going to do together is bookcases. They’ll be a wood element, a metal element and a ceramic element in those. Lighting, I’ll definitely incorporate—I’d like to incorporate some metal and wood into the lighting. That’s not going to happen as quickly as I’d like it to. I have lots of ideas, just never enough time. And I do like to work by myself. I know people say you should get an assistant. But I like working in isolation.
Well, now is the time for that.
Yeah, people are like, how are you holding up? Oh, this is my time! I love this. My life hasn’t changed that much. Introverts, it’s our time!