Profile: Sara Paloma

SoCal born, Emeryville-based ceramic artist Sara Paloma works hard–seriously hard–but you get the sense she’s living the life she wants to live, and that’s a powerful, inspiring thing.

She creates beauty for her living and for her life. Her iconic work (exquisite white matte bottles with almost impossibly delicate, long necks) has been featured in design magazines and stores for several years. (And she sells through her own store on Etsy.)

Work and life seem flawlessly integrated: she works at home (kilns tucked into a corner of her very cool vintagey/mid-century living room) with kids Miles and Clara (who at 3 1/2 is exploring her own creative tendencies – ceramics included!) trailing through her day.

Her workroom, a warmly cluttered, very personal space, is cozy, and glows with incandescent light. The walls and worksurfaces are covered with sketches and drawings of projects and whimsical inspirations from nature.  The room also houses work from throughout her career (serious breadth) and inspiration from fellow artists and sculptors. (It also houses a pile of audiobooks, which keep her company, often late into the night while she works. She says she alternates between “awful gossipy stuff” and books by F. Scott Fitzgerald or AS Byatt.)

She makes a living from her art (no mean feat), and you get the sense that when she puts her mind to something, it happens (she’s an Aries)….not in a bullheaded, aggressive way, but gently, groundedly, determinedly.

Plus, she manages to look so enviably cool and fresh and boho-glamorous in work overalls and boots. Damn.

We interviewed her as she hand carved the wings of a small clay bird to get ready for an upcoming show at Gumps in San Francisco.

How do you make it all work? How did you find your rhythm? It took me a good 3 years to learn to work on my own. I think a lot of people think it’s cool to do this, but it’s a lot harder than it looks. It’s all about integrating the business side with the art. I do everything: make, pack, market, sell, ship, invoice….it’s a one person show, and it’s a lot of hours. But I do like working on my own. Managing a bunch of other people would be hard.

The work you’re known for so far is so spare, and yet you’re carving this intricate little bird…what’s that about? I do like sculpting little forms…having gotten my work so simple, I’m dying for a little carving. Not to say that I don’t enjoy the throwing, too. But I do love to design…I like to draw pots almost as much as I like to make them.

Where do your design ideas come from? From lots of things….from nature….sometimes just from spaces. I think about a space and think about what I’d like to see there. Sometimes ideas come from the throwing process itself: I like the way something feels to make, even if I wouldn’t have originally conceived it at the start and I may not even love the look entirely. And I take inspiration from the usual mix of things: design blogs/magazines, buildings, weird industrial parts. I’m also inspired by the work of Lucie Rie and Eva Hild, who does larger sculptural work (I’d love to do some too).

People really get into collecting your pieces…not just buying ones and two’s but buying whole sets (not that we blame them). What are your collectors like? Some people definitely start with one or two, then come back and buy a set. But in terms of “collecting”…my work really seems to resonate with who people tend to be in their 30’s to 50’s who are into collecting modern craft. They read the design blogs, collect other ceramicists…. I also have young couples who put me on their wedding registry and save up for a series of bottles. That’s great. I love that my work is part of people’s every day lives and I like to make things that people appreciate. I especially love when people reach out and tell me what they like about their pieces.

You’re working on a show for Gumps: how’s that going? It’s more of an artistic endeavor, and that’s nice because it gives me a little freedom and is a lot of fun. Plus there’s a deadline, which I always find helpful. But believe me, it’s a lot of work. [As we sat and talked with Sara, she diligently and meticulously carved away at her little clay birds for the Gumps show. You could very much sense the work/life rhythm she has developed over the years. We love a hardworking, powerful, (successfully) multitasking woman!]

So, what defines you? (Eye rolling here) I wish I could think of something different to say….I feel like it’s been the same things for a while….but the artifacts of nature (dried leaves, deer); portraits of women (in the kids’ room); and big logs (we didn’t explore that too much.)

And what about that sign hanging above your desk: “It’s not what’s in your head”? (Smile) It’s not….it’s a reminder to use your other senses…and something I have to remind myself of all the time.


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3 Responses to Profile: Sara Paloma

  1. Jesse Lu says:

    What a great series! I love Paloma’s work… I bought a couple pieces (seconds) at the last sf renegade fair. They are among my most prized possessions.

  2. Regina says:

    Jesse, many thanks! And what a gorgeous, inspiring blog you have: we’d love it if you could contribute to our What Defines You project!