Liz Quan’s Intuitive Coral Sculptures

Photos by Rebecca Strumpf

Liz Quan‘s iconic coral sculptures came from an exploration in clay. Because of her method creating intuitive iterations of form, she worked on her sculptures until they spoke to her. A subconscious calling to the sea perhaps, she named her sculptures after coral as the porcelain closely resembles the organism. These sculptures are included in various functions from jewelry to lighting.

Liz works from her studio in Boulder, Colorado on the weekends while designing books during the week. She has built quite a following with her work as a ceramicist showing at galleries and hosting open studios. Here we talk with Liz about her creative process as well as where she gets her inspiration from.

How did you get into ceramics?
After working as an art director in publishing for many years, I missed working with my hands. I took many classes and explored multiple mediums such as leather, jewelry, and woodturning. They were all so fun and interesting, but clay was the medium that stuck.

You are a book designer during the week, does your aesthetic in both design and ceramics ever overlap or inspire one another?
No, they don’t inform each other, but I find them to be compliments. Graphic design is 2-dimensional and has a specific editorial message with set parameters for the project. Clay is 3-dimensional with no parameters. My time with clay is time to play and be free of any preconceived ideas. I tend to not be literal and place graphics on pieces but, instead, create lines in space.

You used to live in New York City, what prompted you to move to Boulder?
I moved to Colorado to do a postbaccalaureate in ceramics at CU Boulder.

Describe your creative process, how do you come up with your collections?
I work very organically. The process starts with a simple form. Then I explore by cutting, carving, and shaping until something speaks to me. The making and doing informs the next step. Often, I make multiples and then contemplate what becomes of them afterward.

Can you talk about your coral motif and the story behind it?
There was no preconceived notion. I started carving into clay and liked the forms and lines that came from it. So I kept going and made lots of them. The coral association came afterward.

How would you describe your work?
I like complex things that are paired down to a comprehensive form and create work that is simple in form but has complex implications.

How have you evolved as a potter?
As long as you keep working on something, you evolve. Skills improve but, also I find that sculptural work continues to be more meaningful to me.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned from pottery?
It’s so healing. You get in the zone. Thoughts expand and time passes.

Who and/or what inspires your work?
Clay, the medium inspires me with its flexible sculptural qualities. It can be formed into anything and is more forgiving than say wood or metal. The ability to add or take away material during the creation process offers tremendous freedom. Some other artists who inspire me are Maya Lin, Brancusi, Isamu Noguchi, Martin Puryear, Tara Donovan, and Alexander Calder.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m continuing to expand and improve the projects that I’ve already started by exploring scale and color.