Meet the Maker: Sissy Moon Ceramics

Posted on Mar 4, 2019

Choosing new pottery is half the fun of getting a new plant, if you ask us. The right pot can make all the difference, highlighting a plant’s natural beauty the same way your favorite sweater highlights yours! Each year, we scour catalogs, search the internet, and follow local tips to find the most beautiful, finely crafted pottery for our shop.

One of our all-time favorites is Sissy Moon Ceramics, the work of Portland artist Sinda Karklina. Sinda’s pots are elegant yet playful, beautiful yet practical, and come in a signature two-tone pattern that seems to flatter all foliage, bringing out the unique charm and incomparable glow of life in any plant. Be sure to follow along with her latest work on her website and Instagram.

Sissy Moon Ceramics - Pistils Nursery

Pistils Nursery: Our plants look so beautiful paired with Sissy Moon pottery, with its distinctive rich red terra cotta and crisp white glaze. Refined yet playful, your planters seem like the perfect accompaniment to a zany cactus, pilea, or other architectural plant. Have you always loved plants? Or is this a new world you’ve discovered since you began making pottery?

Sinda Karklina: I’ve always loved plants! Houseplants have been a relatively new thing for me but I have a bunch of previous experience with growing food and flowers at Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm, as well as pursuing a horticulture education some years back at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York. I used to imagine being able to “paint” outdoor spaces with the colors and textures of different plants through landscape design.

PN: Sissy Moon planters are beautiful but also practical; you’ve included the elusive drainage hole (something we always recommend for optimum plant health). Was that your own idea or something people asked for? What have you learned about plants since you started making pottery?

SK: I’m really not sure why all ceramic planters don’t come with drainage holes. My guess is that the person making them wants to leave open the option to use the vessel to hold other things besides plants. I’ve included drainage holes from the very beginning. That’s the detail that makes it a planter and not an ambiguous vessel, in my work. I’ve learned a lot about different plants through keeping them as photo models for my planters. For example, I used to love using all types of ferns but they just weren’t doing well living in my studio where the temperatures fluctuate a lot and there’s a lot of air circulation from open windows in the summer or the heaters in the winter. All my ferns have been retired to my home bathroom and I now stick to cacti and succulents in the studio. They seem pretty happy on the windowsills.

PN: Do you have any plants in your home or studio of whom you’re particularly fond?

SK: I love silly and expressive cacti like different opuntias in my studio although sometimes they’re tricky to work with because they can be a bit fragile. At home my favorite plants right now are a Boston fern and a blue star fern. I also moved my pilea from my studio to my home where it has really taken off! I think it didn’t like being cold at night, which is relatable.

PN: Where did you learn your craft, and what are a few outside influences that have shaped your journey as an artist?

SK: I learned how to be a potter at Oregon College of Art and Craft through their certificate program. Sadly, the school is actually closing this year. I feel very lucky to have gone there — the head of the ceramics department, Dylan Beck, as well as teachers Paige Wright and Amy Santoferraro were always very supportive of me trying to find my own style that would eventually become a business. Traditional ceramics education was taught but I wasn’t boxed into it which was awesome, considering the first things I made there and sold were mugs with funny Drake lyrics on them. Music is a huge influence for me. I especially admire artists who are trying to make music that is accessible or danceable or catchy but also pushes us out of our comfort zone by trying to create a new sound or style. I try to keep that in mind when making work as well.

PN: When did you first know you wanted to become a ceramicist? Why did you choose ceramics as your medium?

SK: Ceramics for me was a good medium to go into because it can function simultaneously as art and a utilitarian vessel. It’s basically a very accessible form of art. I have a general education in studio art so I basically wanted to apply all of those foundations I’ve learned to one specific medium. I think it was during my first summer in Portland, in 2015, while working as a landscaper that I decided it was time to get back to making art, indoors, with less daily sun exposure after years of working outdoors. I’m pretty white so I’m just trying to not get skin cancer, tbh.

PN: What first brought you to Portland? And what are a few of your favorite things about the city?

SK: I had a couple friends who were living in the area and also I am definitely one of those terrible people that found out about Portland through Portlandia. I’m sorry, everyone from Portland. But it was also a matter of needing to leave my hometown because Brooklyn is so expensive and I was tired of the crowds and wanted to get a dog. I like the small size of Portland and that it’s pretty easy to get to different river spots for dog play time. It’s also been a pretty supportive place to start an art business. I don’t know if I could’ve done it without the community of shops and customers who have bought my stuff even when it was… not my most mature work yet.

PN: How has your style evolved since you started Sissy Moon Ceramics in 2016? And how did you land on your signature materials and designs?

SK: When I first started making pots I was making a lot of the usual stuff that people make these days, like mugs with cats and fruit on them. My goal has been to develop a style that is both loose and classy at the same time and always well made with intense attention to detail. I like to go back and forth between geometric, linear forms, and more playful decoration or illustration. I love working with terra-cotta and maiolica glaze because it lets me do all of those things. It’s a very versatile clay and glaze combo and it can be carved through, shaped along edges, or painted on like watercolor on paper. I love it! I started out using porcelain because I was looking for a white surface to work on but it felt too white. I love red clay because it feels more cozy somehow.

PN: One of the defining features of your work and Sissy Moon in general is the playfulness. That playfulness feels quite deliberate. Why is playfulness so important?

SK: Playfulness is important because life is crazy. Seriousness is bland at best and suffocating at worst. There’s a lot of heaviness in our lives. Humor and fun help us breathe.

PN: Can you describe your process with Sissy Moon a little bit? What’s your favorite part? What gets old?

SK: I usually start my day with breakfast and an hour of outdoor playtime with my dog Teddy. But as far as my work process goes, I throw pots one day, trim them the next, then bisque fire them in my electric kiln and usually get started on some other stuff in the meantime because it takes 48 hours for that first batch to be ready to unload. Then the pots are dipped in glaze that I make in-studio and cleaned up or decorated. Then they are fired in a glaze firing in the kiln and are usually ready to unload 24-36 hours later. The last step is sanding every piece to make sure it’s buttery smooth, especially on the bottoms so they don’t scratch up your coffee table. My favorite is throwing with a new batch of clay when it’s at its freshest and softest. What gets old is having my hands constantly dried out from working with clay and glaze materials.

PN: What does it feel like to send your pieces out into the world where they might be treasured for decades or even generations?

SK: It is super weird! Sometimes I think that my stuff is all probably accidentally broken and in a garbage dump somewhere. I really don’t know. I love seeing photos of people using my stuff and always want to see more. I know I have personal relationships with my own pots that I use, so I bet people have that with my pots out in the world too. It’s just that I’m not involved anymore at all. It’s a weird thing to think about.

PN: Who are a few of your favorite artists?

SK: That is a really hard question so I’m just going to say Tyler, The Creator.

PN: Any new projects or ideas you’re excited about, inside or outside Sissy Moon? How often do you get to experiment and explore new possibilities?

SK: I’m very excited about a new collection of work about basketball that will be coming out this year. This will include planters as well. I’m also working on perfecting a hanging planter design that has integrated drainage so you never have to take it off the hook to water it. Experimentation usually happens around this time of year when business is slower. It’s a nice time.

PN: Based on your own experience, is there any advice can you pass along to other artists and makers?

SK: Make high quality work and make it from your own heart.

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