Wednesday, December 31, 2008

a true russian new year's eve

It's Dec. 31, and there is a blizzard outside my window. Providence has about 6 inches so far, in just three hours. The snow is gorgeous, and transports me to my childhood winters and New Year's Eves in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Since there were no religious holidays under the Soviet regime, I grew up celebrating New Year's Eve as Christmas is celebrated in the U.S. We had a New Year's tree, and Santa Claus came, but he was called Grandpa Frost. He also drove a sleigh, but Rudolph wasn't at the lead. Everyone got one present from Grandpa Frost. And it was incredibly special and magical. I usually got a yellow teddy bear. This is because I lost my yellow teddy bear every year. How did Grandpa Frost know that I lost mine again?

A few days before New Year's, my family gathered at my grandmother's house. She was born on December 24th, and it was a joint celebration of her birthday and the upcoming New Year. Here she is under the New Year's tree, a Russian princess.
And here is her legendary table setting for twenty two guests:
Since my family is technically Jewish, we have not had a tree since arriving in the U.S. I miss its piny aroma permeating the rooms, though I don't miss the dried up needles that ended up in everything for months long after the holidays.

Outside my window the view gets whiter and whiter. Happy New Year, grandma.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

a merry merry

Every year I celebrate Christmas at my friends' Matthew and Agnethe's house. It is my home away from home. This year Agnethe set the table with some of my ceramic pieces. The bowls for the soup (which I was supposed to make, but got stuck in traffic instead) and the white goblets which double up as vases looked beautiful on the festive tablecloth. It was an evening filled with delicious food, great conversation and inspiring company.

I ended up making the soup the following day, it is a Japanese sweet potato soup with mushrooms. I puree it so all the flavors truly get to know each other.

Asya's Japanese sweet potato with mushrooms soup:
3 large Japanese sweet potatoes (they are white, and not super sweet)
1 large onion, sliced
1 lb of crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 liters of veggie stock
2 cloves garlic, diced into small pieces
salt and pepper to taste

1. Saute the garlic in some olive oil in a large soup pot until the garlic is slightly brown. Add the onions and continue to saute until the onions are translucent and begin to brown.

2. Add the mushrooms, stir in with the onions, cover the pot and let cook until the mushrooms are soft.

3. Add the veggie stock and the potatoes, peeled and cut up into small pieces for faster cooking. Cook everything until the potatoes are soft.

4. Mash the potatoes slightly, then puree either with a hand blender or in a standing blender. Add salt and pepper to taste. I leave the soup a little bit chunky for texture. This soup is hearty and makes a great meal when served with bread. It is even tastier the second day. You can also freeze it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

things made by hand

I just read such a good story in the NYTimes. It is about a small print shop in Dumbo, Brooklyn. The 26-year-old printing company had won the bid to produce one million gold-and-black engraved invitations for the inauguration of Barack Obama. The 20 workers are working 20-hour days in two shifts to be able to deliver the invites on time. I love this quote from the owner: “This is a real economy,” Mr. Donnelly said of the printing business. “This is not that bogus economy of Wall Street. This country used to manufacture things.”

Saturday, December 20, 2008

gleena studio

My studio is located in an old warehouse which has been converted to artists' space. I love the feeling of history in this building with its huge windows, high ceilings and gorgeous (and very worn) wooden floors. My view is of the rooftops of Pawtucket, and on a snowy day like today, the north light comes in soft and fluffy.

My studio is broken up into different areas to accommodate my process.

Shown above is my slip casting area. The original shapes I either throw on a wheel or carve out of plaster. I then make 3-10 molds from the original. I pour porcelain slip into the molds, aiming at a delicate thickness.

This is where I glaze the pieces after they have been bisque fired. I mix my own glazes, it gives me greater control over finish and color. I would like to experiment with some new glaze formulas over the next few months. Mixing glaze is like following a baking recipe. You can follow the formulas, but then add a little here, or subtract a little there to make it "taste" better. With my glazes I aim for a soft finish, something that will feel great to hold, and juicy color.

I also have a little space for finished product where customers can come and browse. It's the very beginnings of a "store". But one has to start somewhere.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

doing my own thing

This is my second week of being freed from full-time employment at a corporation. It still feels amazing and liberating. Today was the perfect day. I got to my studio around 10am, poured a bunch of bowls for an order my friends Matthew and Agnethe requested, then did a little graphic design for a client.

Around 11am a woman I met at the RISD alumni sale stopped in with her mom to take a look at what pieces I have left after the sales. Her name is Marina and she is from Russia, too. It was pretty great speaking Russian with her and her mom, I don't get to do it that often. Marina walked away with two large organic bowls as well as requesting some custom items. Now that I am doing ceramics full time, I am able to fill custom orders quickly. Marina's will be ready next week.

I love selling my ceramics, which makes me feel that I should open a store some day. It's so satisfying when someone wants to purchase a piece I made. I love the wrapping up of the thing, and placing it in a bag, and putting a gleena sticker on the bag. Every part of the trasaction is highly enjoyable.

I also love talking to my customers, and asking them if they use the items they purchase from me. Many repeat customers say they use it every day, which makes me very happy. My ceramics looks fragile, but it's very durable. Porcelain is one of the strongest materials out there, really. In my home and studio I use my bowls and cups every day, and though I wash them in the dishwasher, they don't chip. How is that for a sales pitch?

Anyway, my dream is to open a ceramics and flower shop. There, it's out in the universe, let's see how long it takes me to realize it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I'm not a fan of chocolate, but I recently discovered Mast Brothers Chocolate, and became a chocolate convert. My friend Leslie made me taste their almond+sea salt 60% cacao bar, and it was incredible. From the beautiful, artist-designed outer wrapping paper, to the gold foil inside, the Mast Brothers Chocolate experience is pretty special.

Rick Mast comes from the culinary background while also being a musician. He plays the piano as well as the banjo (sigh). Michael Mast was a film maker and a traveler. The two brothers are planning on opening a retail store in their chocolate factory in Williamsburg, NY and an online store is also in the works. I can't wait. Check out their blog.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

despite the economy

I just finished with my rounds of holiday sales. I was expecting sales to be not so good, planning on worse case scenarios like moving in with my parents. Thankfully, those plans will have to wait. I sold enough of my work to carry me through for another month. In these uncertain times, another month is about all one can plan for.

I have to say that since quitting my full-time job, time has slowed way down. Weeks used to fly by at Body+Soul. We worked three months ahead, designing the Christmas Holiday issue in August, creating a wacky time-warp. By the time actual holidays would arrive, I felt like I celebrated them three months ago. I was never living in the present. I guess that's why time seems slower, now that I am dealing with real time events. I like it.

Overall the sales were a lot of fun. Lots of friends stopped by, and great friends helped me out. Claudia Middendorf was kind enough to lend a hand at the RISD Alumni sale. Claudia is a Renaissance woman: an incredible graphic designer, as well as an inspiring painter, drawer, collage maker, and fashionista. Here she is modeling my wares:

After packing up the RISD sale, bright and early on Sunday morning I headed to NYC, taking part in the Annual Holiday Craft Sale at Divine Studios. Talented style editors from Martha Stewart display their creations alongside many other local crafters. It is such an inspiring collection of work, and many Martha Stewart ex-pats as well as current employees stop by. It is a day filled with reunions and visits. Here is what my table looked like:

Deciding on some down time, I spent Monday browsing around NYC, looking for gifts. I received an email from Lotta Jansdotter's studio, inviting me to stop by her workspace. Everything was marked 50% off. Since I was in Brooklyn already, I drove to the Gawanus area to check out Lotta's studio and her work, which I have admired for years. Lotta herself was there, ever cheerful and friendly, and we compared notes on the sale at Divine Studios, where she was also selling. She was a bit disappointed with her sales that day, but it looked like she was making up for it. There was a tower of boxes being shipped out after a rain of online orders. I purchased a very pretty pillow, a gorgeous bag, and a baby bib and doggy. Overall it was an encouraging holiday sales season, despite the economy.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

off to a good start

It's been less than a week since I left my job, but it feels like it has been months. Working at Martha Stewart was all consuming. My job involved a lot of travel, I commuted to Boston every day, and once a week I took a train to New York City. When I got home at night, all I wanted to do was sit on my sofa and stare at the wall. I was that exhausted.

Since last Saturday I have been working 12-16 hour days in my studio, trying to make as much as possible for my crazy week of sales. I am sleep-deprived, but very happy. What a huge difference to be putting this much effort into something I love. I'm exhausted physically and at the same time energized emotionally. My body is complaining for different reasons. Being an art director involved a lot of sitting on my behind, ceramics is the opposite. I need to give myself time to adjust to being this active for hours at a time.

Having left my full-time job, I feel like I got my life back. I got myself back. I took yoga the other day, finally having time to attend my favorite class taught by Shannah Green at Eyes of the World in Providence. I almost cried at how good it felt.

Monday, December 8, 2008

jumping off a cliff

Last Friday I ended my job as the art director of Body+Soul, a Martha Stewart publication. I left this amazing position to pursue my ceramics. I could not have picked a worse time to enter the world of retail, the economy is crappy. Where did I get the courage to leave a full time job with good benefits to start my own business? From my parents, of course.

My first inspiration are my mom and my step father, Mark. They left well-established lives in Russia to bring me, my older brother, and my not yet born younger brother to the United States. They were not twenty-somethings right out of college, mom was almost 40 and Mark 50. They spoke a minimum amount of English. They came to a country where they knew almost no one. Talk about jumping off a cliff.

My second inspiration are my father and my step mom. Again, they both had good jobs in Russia, which they left for a very unknown future in the US. My step mom decided to change her career when she came here. Her job in Russia involved HVAC systems, when she arrived in Boston, she began to study physical therapy, her passion. With minimal language skills she finished college with honors and now runs her own business.

Having seen my parents achieve the seemingly impossible gives me courage and inspiration to pursue my dream. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

modernmart, wednesday, dec. 10th

This Wednesday, Dec. 10th, I will be taking part in a sale organized by Design Within Reach and Supermarket. Come visit me from 7-9pm.
DWR Tribeca Studio
124 Hudson St
New York City

click on the image below for participating artists