Maker Stories

Udon Noodles and Buddha Bowls

September 30, 2011

Our first ever Uncommon Ceramics Design Challenge is underway! You can enter your unique creations by Oct. 31 for a chance to win $500 and a vendor contract with UncommonGoods.

Since we’re so excited to see all of your entries, we couldn’t wait to start talking ceramics! Copywriter Nina Mozes got the conversation going with Élan McPherson to learn more about how the designer develops her sleek, functional pieces.

It’s immediately apparent to anyone who encounters Élan McPherson that she is an inspired artist who looks at lemons and sees lemonade. And if you’ve ever held one of her bowls and felt how perfectly it fits in your hands, you know that Élan’s artistic goal is to take ordinary objects and bring out the beauty and utility in them.

The most exciting part of interviewing Ms. McPherson is seeing her take what others would consider obstacles and treat them as opportunities. It comes from a resourceful and entrepreneurial drive she has had since she was a child. Describing her youth, she says, “In the summer months, I painted rocks and made rock men and would then sell them on the most rural road you can imagine. My parents would pay the neighbors to come buy from me. You name it I would dream it.”

And today she thinks, “How can I take this ordinary boring everyday item and make it fun and different?” in describing her thought process for creating the Hot Seat stool out of a brazier cooking pot. The Udon Noodle Bowl was the first ceramic piece Élan sold in multiples, and was designed so that she’d have a place to put her chopsticks when she curled up to eat on the couch. The Buddha Bowl was inspired by her grandmother’s needs; having arthritis, she couldn’t hold chopsticks, so Élan designed a smaller, easy-to-hold bowl for her that could be used every for tea, ice cream, cereal, soups, etc.

And it’s not just her designs that she finds where no one else does, she also comes up with ideas on the road. “I frequently drive from Vancouver to Seattle not only for a few of my favorite stores but also to think.” Interestingly enough, the idea for her ceramics line developed from a career journey in itself. “I have a degree in Communications. My formal background is in Public Relations and hands on Creative Consultation.” But coming from a very creative family, including an art-teaching father who would borrow supplies for his children to experiment with, Élan couldn’t stay away from making her own art for long.

In 1999, she started ceramics as a hobby, doing custom work and restaurant design work. Following her passion, she began a line of furniture. “At the same time I didn’t have much capital behind me and I had started taking ceramic courses and joined a pottery guild on Vancouver Island.” It was then that Élan saw that compared to furniture, sourcing materials and shipping costs for ceramics was a productive path to take.

In 2004, her son (now 7) was born, and Élan decided to make the full-time commitment to making potteryware. In describing the busy life of being a working single mom, Élan still sees only the benefits: “I have many ideas but no time to get them developed. And that’s ok, it has helped me to grow my business gradually.”

And it is that intimate, measured approach to her business that has helped Élan produce unique, well-made pieces, and explains that strong relationship Élan has with UncommonGoods. Élan comments, “I love UncommonGoods. I have been thrilled to work with them for many years. When we meet at shows it’s like seeing old friends, even family. I wait with baited breath for their catalog,” ready to dog ear things she wants and see the work of her fellow artisans and friends.

“UncommonGoods is like a specialty store, art show, world market combined. We are a good fit together because my products are made in North America, with ethical foundations. Now more than ever, it is critical that we source and support locally made products.” Élan’s ceramics are handmade “slipcast with handwork” in Vancouver, Washington and California. While they are made in molds (“imagine kind of like large chocolate molds”), she explains that there is still a great amount of handwork involved, from embellishments, mixing and pouring to glazing and touch-ups. “Each piece is still ever so slightly different, even the glaze color.”

We’re thrilled to have Élan’s ceramics at UncommonGoods. She shares our passion for art, local artists, and quality products we can’t live without. As for what we can expect to see from Élan next, she is working on a new bowl. As for future ideas and inspirations?

“I guess I better plan a road trip.”

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