It’s a widely held belief that regular communion with nature promotes peace of mind. Yet with our time-poor, constantly connected urban lives it can be decidedly difficult to get outside. So what do you do? Well if Mohammed won’t go to the mountain…
This is where Sophia Kim happily steps in. The talented local ceramist brings nature into the home with her simple, elegant creations. Educated at Vancouver’s Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Sophia discovered Navajo Wheel clay during her second year there and fell in love with the clay’s smooth texture, rich earthy colour, and flexible, forgiving nature. Two years after graduating, Sophia developed her current signature style, which she calls Rusty Birch. “I studied painting before ceramics,” says the South Korean-born Kim, “and surface treatment and texture were my main interests when I was painting.” She soon realized that by similarly experimenting with carving and scratching the clay, she could get results that appealed to her.
In regards to the distinct birch-bark look of her designs, Sophia says “I’ve always been enthusiastic about the barks of trees, especially of birch. Bark seems to speak to me as if it has a story to tell. I never set out to create designs based on barks; rather, they seem to have come to me instinctively.” Indeed, etched and marked and washed in a matte white slip over rich red clay, her vessels have the burnished texture of birch bark. “I have a long history with my ceramics teacher in Korea,” Kim says of her guru. “I call him Kang. When I was at Emily Carr, I’d go back to South Korea to see my family every summer. I didn’t want to waste my time not doing anything in Korea, so I searched for his studio there to learn more. Kang already had a reputation for large scale pottery throwing.
“When we first met, we didn’t really like each other. For him, I was a bit of a nuisance as I was left handed and the way I was throwing was the opposite of what they were doing in Korea. He didn’t want to teach me at first so I had to beg him, letting him know how badly I wanted to learn his skill.
“He told me I’d have to abandon the two years of habits and knowledge from my school in Canada and follow his rules only. So… I started all over again, which was a challenge.
“After two months of intensive training from Kang, I was able to throw up to 5 kilograms of clay at a time, but he still hadn’t let me fire anything. I had to throw the same cylinder shape over and over, breaking down what I’d made in between. Every summer, I returned to train under him and I’m happy to say we’re really good friends now!”
Your creative process involves? My work is pretty labour intensive. When I get to the studio, I start wedging my clay and then sit down and work for at least three hours nonstop. I even forget to drink water. I can’t really stop once I’m doing it.
Do you ever experience creative blocks? With painting: yes. With ceramics: no. That’s why I enjoy doing ceramics—it’s hard to stop once you start.
Do you use many of your own ceramics at home? All my bowls and cups at home are my own. I drink my coffee out of my favourite birch mug.
Artists you look up to or whose work you admire? Ceramic artist Kathy Jefferson.