Lately, we are simply swooning over the beautiful ceramic dishes from Paper & Clay. We love their simple aesthetic and warm colors. But they’re more than just pretty pieces of pottery—they are also functional and durable. Case in point: they are the dishes we reach for right now when we want to serve or photograph ice cream (we even featured Paper & Clay’s salt bowls and dipped trays in our Mother’s Day catalog, which you can find in scoop shops now). So it’s probably no surprise they are Jeni’s pick for a simple and special Mom’s Day gift this year.
Every vase, mug, tray, and planter at Paper & Clay is designed and made by hand by Memphis-based artist Brit McDaniel. We caught up with Brit to talk about how she got into ceramics, what inspires the clean look of her work, and her favorite pieces to give as gifts.
For those who be unfamiliar, can you share a little about yourself and the work that you do?
Sure! I’m the owner and artist at Paper & Clay, and I make modern functional ceramics in a little studio located in the Broad Avenue Arts District of Memphis, Tennessee. In my work, I aim to marry form and function, making my pieces practical and comfortable while maintaining high quality in both design and durability. Of course, no handmade piece is perfect and that’s part of what makes each piece a unique object.
I make each of my glazes from scratch and create each color formulation myself. I love the process of creating new glazes, and I love the control that comes with making them in-house. I create colors that work well together so that my pieces are easily mixed and matched based on each client’s taste.
I love the idea that pieces I’ve made leave to become a part of someone else’s life and routine—especially because dishes, mugs, and servingware play such a special role in our lives, aiding in nourishment, comfort, community. It’s a really wonderful feeling. My operation is quite small, just me and my part-time studio assistant Britynn who has made my life as a small business owner much, much more enjoyable. I’m lucky to have her! My pup Gracie comes to work with me every day and I’ll guiltily admit that I’m 100% a doting dog mom. She’s a rescue and a parvo survivor and also just adorable. She’s snoozing in a sun spot right beside me as I write this.
What made you fall in love with ceramics?
I love the material and the process for many reasons, but I think there’s just something almost magical about working with clay. In creating pottery or ceramics, you are actually bringing something into existence. This is true of all creative work of course, but more so with a material like clay. When you start, you’ve got nothing more than a pile of mud. Then you create your object which changes into an entirely new material when fired. When you add glaze and fire again, the material transforms again, resulting in a real, physical object that not only takes up space in the universe but actually has a use! It serves a function. There was a handful of mud and now there is a cup! That’s pretty powerful.
Your work has a very Scandinavian aesthetic. What attracts you to this minimalist style?
I’m a messy person by nature (though I’m always trying to be more organized!). My brain is messy, like 1,000 open tabs all the time. I think I’m attracted to minimalism because it taps into a simplicity and sense of control that I need in my life. It just makes sense to me. I think that Scandinavian design is different than a lot of minimal aesthetics though because, despite the clean lines and use of negative space, it has a warmth that is unmatched. The use of raw wood, warm, joyful colors and particularly the careful use of warm light are staples of Scandi design. The word has become a little over-popular recently but the hygge philosophy is very close to my heart. A simple definition would be to embrace the coziest moments in life fully. Reading in your favorite nook, filling your home with candlelight, savoring sweet treats are all favorite past-times of the hygge-minded. I like to think that I bring those same feelings of warmth and joy into my work.
What is currently inspiring you? And will we see that inspiration in any new pieces?
When I was 10 I moved out of my dad’s house and moved from Ohio to Illinois to live with my mom. Those years (10,11,12) seem to have been the most powerful in my childhood for growth and exploration, so I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the things that I connected with as a kid. I was always outside, always asking questions and learning, and my mom has always had horses in her life. I’m trying to tap into that spend-hours-in-the-woods-and-playing-in-creeks-mentality as an adult. It’s too easy to get caught up in our responsibilities and lose that ability to connect to things bigger than ourselves. What a privilege it was to be bored as a kid! That’s when our most creative adventures took shape, wasn’t it?!
My most recent glaze design, the Appaloosa Collection, is my first attempt to reconnect to those experiences through my work. It’s inspired by the lovely coloring of Appaloosa horses.
What are some of your favorite pieces to gift to someone special—like mom—for example?
I love gifting planters and vases with plants or fresh flowers, and I really like receiving fresh flowers as a gift, but I don’t love the often less-than-exciting glass containers that they come in. I prefer to save a little money by shopping for flowers at the farmer’s market and arranging them myself in a vessel that I know the recipient will love and re-use. When the flowers have gone in a week or two they will be left with a handmade ceramic piece that they can use as they wish! I’ve been known to use my pint-sized planters as ice cream sundae bowls, so…