The Handmade Precision of Pawena Studio

 Words by Jennine Jacob
Photos by Nicki Sebastian

 

Sometimes the word “handmade” evokes images of organic forms and imperfections, however at Pawena Studio, “handmade” is no such thing. Bold, graphic forms grace minimalist cylindrical ceramics as if the handmade mimics digital prints. The attention to detail and perfection reminisces back to the old days before computers, where graphics were hand-drawn. Pawena Thimaporn, wheel throws, and hand paints every single piece with a precision. Yet, she leaves traces of imperfections like brush strokes or an ever so slight curvature of a cylinder. These imperfections remind you that the ceramic piece was indeed made by hand. Not machined and printed like so much of what you see on today’s market.

I like that emptiness that you have in nature, but [I do] not like to show it literally, I like to interpret abstract graphical way.”

Pawena Thimaporn was born in Thailand and grew up on her parent’s plantation. Without modern conveniences, she played outside in the forests and nature around. She made her own toys to play with which gave her the confidence to make things with her own hands. Upon choosing a college, Pawena saw the ceramics at KMITL in Bangkok and decided to major in Industrial Design and Ceramics. After graduating, she went to the United States to study Graphic Design at Art Center, Pasadena. There she was exposed to a multitude of talented people whose work was very different from her native Thailand.

She then worked for 15 years at Nokia as a visual designer. Feeling like she wanted to get back into ceramics to feel the sense of finishing a project, she took a class and fell back in love with the craft. Three years ago, the company closed their offices and Pawena decided that it was as good a time as any to try out Ceramics professionally, so she founded Pawena Studio.

Pawena’s creative process is rooted in her design training. As shapes and images appear in her head she gets them down on paper in a sketchbook. However, when it comes to drawing on the curved surface of pottery, her drawing takes a different form. It’s more intuitive. Like her upbringing, Pawena looks to nature for inspiration. She regularly goes on hikes with her two boys and loves the quiet of horizon. “I like that emptiness that you have in nature, but [I do] not like to show it literally, I like to interpret abstract graphical way.” You’ll see in her work the minimalist compositions, lots of curves and horizons which are soothing to the eye. 

“[Buddhism]’s something to help go through the day, to not worry about past and future. Pottery is a lot like that: stay in that moment.” 

On the surface, Pawena’s minimalistic approach doesn’t seem like it has roots in the embellished aesthetic of Thailand. She often pays homage to her homeland through her use of color. In Thailand, bright and warm colors are the norm. And in Pawena’s work, she isn’t afraid to use a bright color to accent a piece. Aside from her international education, her professional life at Nokia gave her the opportunity to work with Finish designers in Helsinki as well as designers in the UK. This exposure to Scandinavian, British and American design enabled her to translate her experience in an abstract graphical way instead of a more detailed decorative craft traditionally attributed to Thai aesthetic.

Many people expect handmade ceramics to cost comparable to mass market retailers. However the time it takes to ideate and hand paint every single piece of pottery…

Like many ceramicists, getting to the point of working full time on their pottery wasn’t so straightforward. Finding the balance between quality and price has also been a challenge. Many people expect handmade ceramics to cost comparable to mass market retailers. However the time it takes to ideate and hand paint every single piece of pottery makes it impossible to compete at those prices.  Pawena has faced the challenges that many small business people face in terms of pricing, getting enough exposure, how to grow a business, etc.

The first year she started working on Pawena Studio, she also worked as a freelance graphic designer. She gradually increased her pottery orders and decreased her graphic design work. This year she works full time on her pottery as she puts herself out there more with exhibiting at craft fairs like West Coast Craft as well as picking up more wholesale orders.

Pawena finds her Buddhist practice likens to her pottery practice she says,  “[Buddhism]’s something to help go through the day, to not worry about past and future. Pottery is a lot like that: stay in that moment.”