A conversation with Laima

Maybe you can start with sharing a bit about yourself with us? 
My name is Laima, it means happiness in Latvian so when I wanted to create brand name for my pottery I didn't even have to think about the name at all, it was already there. As cheesy as it may sound I do want to share my happiness and love for the world though my work. I grew up on an agricultural farm in rural Latvia. I come from more math/economics and farming lineage so to study craft /art was actually never an option I considered. Through some inexplainable life decisions that felt like walking blindfolded I ended up studying contemporary crafts in the UK and that was really life changing time for me that gave me confidence that I can do and achieve anything I set my mind to. I believe that should be the true goal of all studies.

How would you decribe yourself?
Tanacious. I can set my mind to anything I want and not give up no matter what. Introvert that has learnt to play extrovert on demand (during the many tours and workshops I give in the pottery). Very emphatic-mostly towards animals though, just learning to like humans. Being vegetarian for 20 years and now vegan for 3 is a big part of my mindset and value system.
I have little compassion for human shortcoming. I have high expectation from everyone, especially myself. 

Daily rituals that are important to you, and also why?
Having local, seasonal, healthy, plant based, simple and home cooked meals is big part of my daily life. I don't live to eat but I believe it is the single most important way how individuals can shape the reality of this world.
Full sauna ritual once a week, including jumping in sometimes ice cold pond- is my weekly reset button.
Trying to do yoga and meditation every day, unless life sweeps me off my routine.
Spending at least 2hour outside with my herd of 5 horses. That is like a reality check on how my mind is doing as horses are extreme mirrors of us.

Apart from pottery what are your biggest passion?
Horses, horses, horses. Sometimes people feel pottery and horsemanship are two very different things, yet for me they have become almost synonyms- in both I strive for lightness and authenticity. Both are my way of sharing love with the outside world.

What are you especially grateful for?
I'm grateful for everyone and everything around me. So many people, especially my family and friends, but also all my customers for all the kind and encouraging feedback I receive daily.

What were the biggest lessons for you in the past year and what are your focus, wishes and goals for this one?   
Too many lessons really. Life seems so intense in  the last years...
My main focus has been self inquiry, trying to de-condition myself from many patterns. Like not responding to anger with anger. Recognising negative emotions as they begin to arrive and trying to deal with them in a constructive manner has been a big one.
Finding relaxation in movement. This has come both through my work with horses and yoga.
For my work - always looking for balance between quality and quantity. I'm proud of myself for finally asking for help and taking on an assistant to help with customer service, packing and mountains of emails.
My goals for this one is to continue this journey inwards- learning to take each challenging situation or "problem" with peace and positive attitude. 

Since i know you have experience with working with several types of materials, like clay, wood, metal and light, i am very interested to hear what it was that made you decide upon becoming a potter?
I wish I had a poetic connection with ceramics I could describe...To be honest I wanted to master them all and thought of starting with the easiest,  here I am 7 years later. I also think that pottery is something everyone uses and there was something about that intimacy between a cup and a person, it is like being able to have deeply personal conversions with thousands of people at the same time across the globe. 

What do you think is the most important thing you contribute to others and the earth through the work you do?
Actually through my social media I have come to recognise that maybe my biggest legacy is not the actual items I make but more the life I lead. It was never an intention of mine, but people seem to be quite moved and inspired by my way of living. 
And of course making handmade pottery is a sort of unspoken revolution, it is resistance and rebellion against all the cheap, mass manufactured rubbish filling the earth to the brim. It is so sad to hear budding makers and artists discouraged from creating their work for the simple notion of "there is already so much stuff". So I hope to inspire others to create, to share, to walk their own path, find their own truths!

I am deeply facinated by your light (self-) sculpture. Could you share about it?  (visit Laima's instagram stories titled Sculpture and you can see more of it).
In the media, we regularly hear apocalyptic statements by scientists about the overall environmental and climate crisis - the last report showed that 1 million species are going extinct because of us! I strive to minimize my ecological footprint in my daily work and work, but I am part of Western culture based on the idea of endless growth. Looking critically after what we are really striving for - it's not money, property or love – Sadhguru has said that we are all looking for an opportunity to expand. Every person wants to expand indefinitely. Everything about the pace of economic growth everywhere means that everyone has to buy more and work more and use more. We are in this mode of operation not by choice but in a compulsive way. The only real solution is the development of consciousness.

So for me this was a deeply personal need to make this figure as I have been battling with hatred towards human species since childhood, not being able to accept all the horrible things we have done and continue doing to the earth. Yet I remain optimistic about our species, there is light within us. So the figure was a very literal visualisation of that process of having to do that tedious, endless self inquiry necessary to remove all the false ideas about ourselves and become the light. I was so happy in my exhibition to hear people instantly understood and connected with this idea, which again gave me hope that we all want to realise this, but there is just so much work to be done internally for each and every one of us.

"Remember that the first potters had no teachers - only the mud beneath their feet, the magic of their hands, and the mystery of flame. They did well, and so will you." - M.Poupeney. 

A little while back i read this quote in one of your instagram posts and it has come up a lot in my mind these last days. Inspiring me and inviting for reflection. Among other things about my ability to trust, have faith and also the necessity of practicing patience.....slowing down. To let things take it's time....and about simplicity. Is it a specific quote that speaks to you these days? Or maybe one that you find yourself coming back to again and again?
Yes, this is one of my favourites in my book of quotes that I often come back to. In general for many years I keep having these glimpses of how the universe sorts things out for me, how everything just falls into such perfect harmony... It might be little things like accidently double booking 2 wedding parties for a workshop and then 1 turns up early, the other is running late and they manage to just swap so perfectly... I'm always left speechless and simply in gratitude after things "just work out" like that. My favourite word in English is Serendipity.
"I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world- present and in awe." Anne Lemont.

I have always been drawn to pottery and been dreaming (still do) of learning wheel throwing. Some years ago I attended a one-weekend ceramics course. My main wish for that course was actually not to learn how to make something pretty and/or even functional. My focus wasn't at all on the end result. Just a need to touch and intuitively shape the clay, not using the practical part of my brain at all. The reason why was that a year before, my dad had unexpectedly passed away and after a while i suddenly got this deep need to do something with my hands. For me it was very therapeutic, especially working with the roughest type of her clays. I can for example still clearly remember the feeling of how my breath immediately got deeper and calmer when I started working with the clay in my hands.
Do you have any experiences and/or thoughts about the healing benefits of creating with our hands?
Yes, I think all crafts are very therapeutic as they pull us out of our busy minds and really forces us to focus on the activity- it is like an active meditation made easy. I think anyone who has ever “tried to meditate” will be able to relate to the frustrating experience of not being able to calm the endless rush of thoughts. I feel that being focused on an activity like gardening or crafting helps a lot in this.
The learning never ends, now for example I am so skilled on the wheel I can think about million things and my hands will just do the work automatically. It is a handy skill when you have a commission of 1600 bowls, but now my challenge lies in returning to the simple thoughts of  -center-push-pull up-open up-define-clean up-cut of- without disappearing into the daydream.

A thing that i got introduced to, and got very interested and/facinated by, through the one-weekend course was glazing. I am sure it is a huge topic but could you please share a bit about your thoughts and experience with this in your work?
I feel the quality of the surface and of course the color play a major part in the work, and I have ruined so many good shapes by what in my opinion is “an ugly glaze”. I have had pots sitting in a glaze room for years before I decide what glaze to cover them in. Now I have enough glaze vocabulary to mostly know what I will do with the particular piece as I am making it, as I have acknowledged the importance of the surface.

Another thing that i am deeply fascinated by is raku and wood firing? Seeing your photos of the wood firing was so interesting. Can you share about this technique?(visit Laima's instagram stories titled Woodfired clay to see videos).
This type of woodfiring is still known as “pit fire” even though it might look like a brick tower. The design of the kiln is such that the fire goes in the bottom, then there are some arches to create correct flow of the flames, then a brick floor with holes on top of the fire chamber. The pots are free stacked from the top into “the pit” and the whole kiln works as a giant chimney. The type of pottery that is very popular in Latvia is called “black pottery” or “reduction fired pottery”. The firing takes about 13h with a very slow, gradual increase of temperature, aiming to reach around 1100 C. If earthenware is overfired then it can distort, brake and eventually melt, which all happen occasionally to all potters as despite all technological advancements of civilization I know none potters in Latvia that would use a thermostat or this kiln :D Theoretically we could, but I suppose everyone needs some risks in life :) The main clay we source in the Baltic states is red earthenware and it is perfectly suited for this kind of firing. If oxygen is present in the whole firing cycle the pots would turn brick-red so the most interesting part of the process is at the end, when we allow the kin to cool down a little, then cover the top of the kiln-chimney with a metal sheet, fill up the fire chamber with large pieces of wood (that will slowly burn out all oxygen throughout the night), then fire chamber entrance with bricks to seal the kiln completely hermetically and stop most oxygen from entering. This is the “reduction process” that changes the chemical structure of the clay turning it black (not just the surface but from 1mm to the whole thickness of the pot depending on the strength of reduction). The kiln is left to cool and crack open the next day, the pots cleaned with cloths, then dipped into melted beeswax and oil mix that seals the surface and makes it waterproof. It is a beautiful, smelly process full of opportunity for serendipity to take place. The results vary from dark brown, pure black, silver black, bronze black and if lucky- a flame pattern adorns a side of a pot.

From your essay about handmade:"Although today's public's understanding of crafts is still based on the concept that it is "production of useful objects", the focus of many craftsmen has changed from solving strictly utilitarian issues to providing for the emotional, psychological, intellectual and spiritual needs of people. Alison Brittone points out that contemporary ceramic artists continue the peaceful resistance to modernisation, standardisation, overproduction, mechanisation, mass marketing and other "advancements" that suppress the human spirit. What we can expect from good ceramics is similar to what we can expect from good friends - warmth, liveliness, sincerity and truthfulness". 

I so enjoy reading the parts from your essay that you share on Instagram. Can you share about this essay of yours?
The main reason I went to do a MA degree in Latvian Art Academy was for someone to force me with a deadline to contextualize my current practice and make me give words to feelings and notions about the importance of this work. When running a business it is oh so easy to be carried away with the “how much is this”, “how soon you can produce 100 pieces of that”, “can I have a discount” etc etc and to forget the ethos, the intention, the beauty, the philosophy, the dream, the hope- with which I began this pottery. Edmund de Waal has said: “Handmade tableware objects are like the Trojan Horse. Making tableware is a way of smuggling ‘dangerous’ objects into people’s lives without them noticing. They seem initially as unthreatening, familiar objects which one can get close to, hold and handle, yet they are dangerous because they can affect people and change them in ways they are unaware of and cannot control. ” This "danger" of ceramics arises on a cognitive, intellectual and emotional level - while thinking and contemplating such objects. It has been one of my favorite quotes for many years but only recently did it prove itself to me in another way- I have been wearing handmade clothes from natural fabrics for about 7 years, and only last year when I bought a pair of jeans did I finally notice the disharmony, the suffering, the  environmental and social injustice imbedded in this simple fast-fashion item. Without noticing I had become so sensitive to the clothes I had been wearing, just absorbing all the positivity emanating from them, I had not even noticed the effects. I think while we surround ourselves with objects made in such mindless ways, we will want to disassociate with them sooner or later. Once you truly feel the difference between an item made celebrating nature and celebrating human skill – you will never be able to settle for anything less.

Can you tell us about the concept of "ethical pot"?
The term "ethical pot" was coined by Oliver Watson and promised that "lovingly made in the correct way and with the correct attitude, would contain a spiritual and moral dimension." Yanagi said that a craft object "must be made by an anonymous craftsman or woman and therefore unsigned; it must be functional, simple, and have no excess ornamentation; it must be one of many similar pieces and must be inexpensive; it must be unsophisticated; it must reflect the region it was made in; and it must be made by hand."

For me, the ethical pot manifests the values and beliefs of the potter, honed through time, discipline and diligence. I think in this day and age the idea of “ethical pot” has changed, for example not having my name on the pot would not add humility to the piece, only would remove my responsibility from its future. I think it is important that people can trace the pot back to its making place. Although I don’t use excess decoration, I prefer working with high quality materials and making shapes that are timeless. Therefore I think for “ethical pots” can be quite different, what doesn’t change is that when you meet a potter and when you see their work- it is quite clear who they are and what they believe in.

Another part from your essay about handmade pottery: "What does handmade tableware bring to our life that an affordable factory made bowl could not? This issue is at the heart of the capitalist society, where comfort and uniformity are a goal. Fast food culture also requires fast-tableware. Yet a homemade meal is still perceived as the best and most healing food for our body and spirit. Does a homemade pot have the same potential? Objects in our lives manifest our values - as full members of the consumer society - we buy a lot and cheaply, but there is no aftertaste and we remain hungry. I think we are easy to be indifferent to mass produced items because of their impersonal origin and accessibility. Mass-produced goods symbolise completely opposite values as craftsmen's work. Making crafts define a rather specific lifestyle that embodies such values as authenticity and integrity, and as such symbolically resist the existing consumer fast culture."

Again, it is so meaningful and inspiring to read from your essay! There are so many things here, in what you write about, that I would have loved to talk more about with you. Picking out one of those things that these words of yours made me think about, as a closing of our interview. And that is the topic of pace and focus. How do you help yourself staying grounded, present in the moment and staying connected with yourself in a world that is fast paced and full of stimuli?
I tell you very honestly- it is a daily struggle of mine especially now as my business is flourishing faster than my mind can cope. I have gone in and out of routines, always trying to find the perfect fit. For the last months I have managed to start my day with lemon water, yoga practice, then life happens, then I spend the last few hours of the day with my herd of 5, then always finish the day with qigong and meditation. I find that having the qigong and yoga practices with no excuses sets my day up and finishes it with calm and balance. Habits I try hardest to avoid are – checking my phone in the morning and watching a movie before going to bed. Both make me restless and since I acknowledged this it became easier to resist. With the stimuli from the outside world I personally find that I could not do the work I do in a city. Countryside is ideal for setting up your environment with as little distraction as possible. I do wish I could muster the courage to turn off my phone for weeks and just work quietly away. Maybe one day I feel this is possible for me, right now I am very reachable, trying to post valuable content on IG every day. I see it as investment though and I have faith that in a few years I will have enough stability to take longer breaks from social media.