The Material World of Brave Matter

Words by Jennine Jacob
Photos by Simone Anne


The thing you notice when you look at Brave Matter is how refined the work is. Precise forms, sharp edges, and out-of-this-world glazes. You would think that for a brand that is only two years old that it would feel a bit more junior. No. Brave Matter has an accumulated ceramics production knowledge of some master ceramicists. Founded by Christina Zamora who does the ceramics and product development and Cathy Lo who does the graphics and brand identity Brave Matter has over fourteen years experience working in ceramics.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, if you’re going to school for industrial design, chances are you’re being positioned to work in technology. For one student, such a path seemed unappealing. Christina Zamora spoke with the head of her department when she first heard of an opportunity to intern at a ceramics factory. That factory was Heath Ceramics.

Heath Ceramics had just changed hands from the Heath family to Cathy Baily and Robin Petravic in 2004. They were both industrial designers and looked for talent with an industrial design background over someone with a ceramics background. When they saw Zamora’s work in glass they hired her as an intern because there is a lot of crossover between ceramic and glass production. She stayed for nine years, ultimately becoming the Design Manager.

Zamora knew that ceramics would be her path when she worked on her first project for Heath. A collaboration with a clothing brand Dosa, to create a set of simple cups. Here she discovered that at Heath, she could explore her creative path in any way she felt comfortable. From having a potter throw blank shapes so she could trim them to hand building the prototypes herself she had the control over the process that enabled her to find a method of working that suited her the most. “So being hands-on in this factory setting there would be a number of problems to solve,” Zamora says, “The glaze is blistering or we want to create this glaze and we need to make it stronger. There was always something fascinating about the material to learn. And in a very practical setting”

“Rather than go to a ceramics store and pick out a commercial glaze I’d rather read through books and find vintage glaze recipes that I would mix myself.”

Because Zamora had a very hands-on approach to producing ceramics, she had the opportunity to work with a number of departments at Heath. “I got a view into every window and so when I started my own practice and started my own studio the first thing I did was look at materials. What clay bodies do I want to work with? Rather than go to a ceramics store and pick out a commercial glaze I’d rather read through books and find vintage glaze recipes that I would mix myself. I would buy all the ingredients and test its and see if I could tweak this or that to get a different effect .”

Zamora’s design process doesn’t start in clay. She initially starts by sketching out her ideas. She has always been drawn to the way objects make us feel, so she ends up sketching emotional gestures. This process will continue until the shape with the perfect proportions appears. “I didn’t have to think about it, it just came naturally.” Then the sketch is scanned into a program like Illustrator where a computer rendered shape is refined.

“That’s really important to my creative process that there’s something. That if I’m pushing the boundary of something that I can overcome.”

Finally, she’ll have a metal template made with the shape and she uses that to create a form using a wood lathe that she turns machined wax cylinders into forms by hand.  “Maybe it’s because I came from an Industrial design background and went straight into a factory,” she says. These forms are used to make slip cast molds. Slip cast comes with its own set of challenges. Her current collection has many deep bevels and sharp points which are hard to capture in a slip cast mold. “That’s really important to my creative process that there’s something that if I’m pushing the boundary of something that I can overcome.”

The forms themselves are made quickly, however, the production process is never straightforward. She constantly runs into challenges like how to get the wood she uses for the vessel lids produced. Because she makes her own glazes from raw materials, often times from vintage recipes, she’ll run into issues with glaze. Each of those challenges adds to the creative process, always creating boundaries that she can push.

Product images courtesy of Brave Matter

Pushing boundaries is something that comes naturally to Zamora. Though her studio is set up around her ceramics practice, she constantly integrates other materials into her products, wood, metal, salt, glass. “Metal is always a natural component of a lot of materials. The juxtaposition of ceramic with other materials is fascinating to me” she says. Zamora is also making a return to glass, as she takes a class in pâte de verre, packing a glass paste into molds. She envisions her studio to be a place where she can work in a multitude of other materials as they relate to ceramics. For example, both glass and ceramics use kilns for production and some of the minerals that color glass also color ceramic glazes. “I think there’s a lot of room to take ceramics, the studio practice in ceramics, and take industrial design, being able to leverage technology and pairing the two without losing the emotional quality.”




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