Jennifer Fujimoto is a ceramics artist in Seattle. With her gift of creation and business savvy, Fujimoto’s work has graced storefronts, festivals and beyond with her character-filled works of art. Here’s her interview with Lonely Arts Club:
Welcome to Lonely Arts Club! Have you always wanted to be an artist or did your artistic life happen gradually/spontaneously?
Kind of both, actually! I have always been creative and was very fortunate to have supportive parents who always encouraged my many and varied artistic pursuits. But, like so many others, I fell victim to the starving artist myth and chose the more practical career of graphic designer. I worked for a number of small design firms up through the dot-com bust. Then through opportunities over the next 15 years, I gradually transitioned to what is called a UX, or user-experience, designer and worked at a series of large tech companies in the area.
While my choices turned out to be very practical, I was extremely dissatisfied with the type of work I was doing and the environment I was in. I knew I needed a change, but no idea what that could look like. I was always still pursuing creative hobbies on the side, usually involving textiles or printmaking, but didn’t see a career path for myself there.
About five years ago, my boyfriend and I signed up for an introduction to pottery class. Just for fun – kind of a date night thing. A couple of quarters in, I took a class focused on surface decoration and discovered that I could take these bits of graphic and pattern inspiration that I had from my other hobbies and apply them to ceramics. Around the same time I had begun experimenting with my kokeshi-inspired jar forms.
That was the beginning of my current artistic path!
What is an interesting or unexpected thing you have found in working with Japanese folk art patterns?
I didn’t expect to enjoy using the same patterns over and over as much as I do! You’d think I would be bored of putting seigaiha (wave) and asanoha (hemp leaf) on everything by now, but there is something a bit meditative about the repetition that I enjoy.
I also find it desirable to have a basic understanding of the symbolism behind the patterns before I use them. I feel that having that context is important, but I don’t necessarily let that limit my application. I find it exciting that something traditional can continue to evolve and remain fresh and relevant.
What are you most proud of so far with your art?
I’m just proud that I’m putting myself out there and doing it. Making art, marketing it, pursuing opportunities, and staying motivated is the hardest but most satisfying work I’ve ever done.
What is your favorite thing(s) that you have made to date? What is the creation you think about the most?
This is totally random, but right now my favorite piece is a giant toe I made in a class at Pottery Northwest last winter. Part of the reason I love it is that it’s a reminder that I have to keep taking chances and experimenting to grow. I was trying a new technique and using more clay than was wise for something I hadn’t done before. Surprise, surprise, things went south pretty fast. I fully expected that I would trash the piece and start over, but I decided to keep working on it to see what would happen. I got to play and let the clay tell me where to go, and somehow it became this amazing, giant toe. It was definitely NOT what I set out to make and I still have no idea what I’m going to do with it!
The creation I probably think about the most is my tea dolls. They have a strainer (the head and neck) that fits down inside a cup (the body) that you can put loose-leaf tea and hot water in, and then a lid (the hair) that fits on top to keep it warm while the tea is steeping. Once you’ve finished steeping, you can flip the lid upside-down to use it as a rest for the strainer piece.
They’re super fun and popular, but since there are three-pieces that need to fit together, they are also complicated to make and have a high failure rate. I could take the time to develop my own molds so that I can do some small-batch slip casting. I also think about maybe trying to have them manufactured or licensing the design. It could make them more affordable and accessible but would remove the one-of-a-kind, handmade quality so I go back and forth about this a lot.
You have a lot of beautiful ceramic work in multiple places. What is the most time-consuming process about your craft? Do you have different tricks to create your art more efficiently? Do you have assistants?
Well, thank you for that! My decorating process is definitely the most time-consuming part of my work. While I use the same patterns and motifs repeatedly, everything is hand decorated and one-of-a-kind. I have designed paper stencils for some of the patterns that are incorporated into my work and I use a Cricut® to cut them out for me. That’s the closest thing I have to a trick 🙂 I’m always trying to find ways to be more efficient, but as soon as I do, I seem to find a way to make things more complicated again!
I wish I had an assistant! My studio is a 130 sq ft tiny house on a trailer so there really isn’t room for more than one person to work. I do often think about which tasks I would be comfortable having another person do, so maybe down the road when I have more space I could explore that idea further.
Who or what inspires you and why? (artists, family, nature etc.)
What doesn’t inspire me might be an easier question to answer! In regards to my current work, I’m primarily inspired by folk art and textiles. Japanese, of course, but also mid-century and Scandinavian. Bold colors, playful patterns, a bit of nostalgia – this is what I’m drawn to.
The work and life of Toshiko Takaezu was an early and ongoing inspiration for my ceramics practice. Her work has incredible impact – emotionally moving yet accessible. The idea to throw the closed forms that became the heads of my dolls (and the bead of clay inside) came from learning about her.
What are you dreaming up next?
I keep dreaming about going big. I’m planning more entryway or garden-sized pieces for next year, but if we’re talking about dreaming, then it’s making some sort of a public art or installation piece – something REALLY big!
Jennifer Fujimoto is a multidisciplinary artist who pulls from her background in graphic design and interest in Japanese folk art and textiles to create decorative & functional ceramic objects for the home. Her work is characterized by delightfully expressive faces and simple line art with bold splashes of color. Her work can be seen on her website.
Interview by Sarah E. Miller