njoying a meal is a multi-sensory event. The visual aesthetics of a plate of food enhances the atmosphere of our dining experience, but it’s one that often gets overlooked due to the very nature of consumption.
What if we stopped for a moment to enjoy all elements, textures, and fixtures that go into a culinary experience? Grace Lee of eikcam Ceramics and Object Handmade (OH) Studio in Vancouver, British Columbia invites us to do just that.
This invitation also doubles as a call-to-action; one that encourages consumers and creators alike to act with intention and purpose. These reflections illustrate Grace’s wisdom that she has accumulated over the years through her employment as an art director and industrial designer. Grace uses the lessons she has learned to carve out new opportunities of collaboration, education, and curiosity through the instruments designed to enjoy food, and she reminds us of the importance of the vessels created to enhance our experiences.
There has been a global shift of our surroundings and the way people collaborate as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Creators, makers, and artists have had to reimagine the way they network, and have had to adapt to new technologies. Subsequently, Grace and I connected in her studio over Zoom. Her space is bright, and behind her are various works including her version of Daruma dolls—a symbol of perseverance and good luck in Japanese and Buddhist culture.
The Daruma dolls were a new design that she created during the beginning of the pandemic, and they quickly became a symbol of Grace’s willingness to adapt. This adaptability is perhaps an indicator of her ability to learn through exploring creation in all forms.
After speaking with Grace, there’s no doubt she is a lifelong student. At the age of five, her parents enrolled her in Arts Umbrella, a Granville Island school that encourages kids to foster their creativity and grow their interest within the arts. It was there she kicked off her love for painting, drawing, sculpture, and dance, eventually propelling her interest into an academic career at Emily Carr University where she studied industrial design. “I studied ceramics for three years and decided to switch my major to industrial design, which was completely different.” She adds, “I learned more engineering, ergonomics, and [an] approach to usability in design and graduated with an industrial design degree.” Having found a new skill set through her post-secondary education, she landed a job working as an art director and designer, while creating ceramics as a hobby. “I was on the production side [of creating ceramics], and designing for mass production. I would have to design a thousand products a year, I was basically a machine, just designing.” The added stressors of seeing how objects were produced overseas, combined with the physical demand of the job resulted in Grace resigning from her position after a six-year commitment.
“I made a big leap. I decided to just let everything go and start on my own.”
Almost 14 years later, she recounts the adversity she faced and how she started from scratch. “I had sold my house, I had to rent a tiny little apartment and I didn't have a steady income.” She attributes this experience as a defining moment in her career. “I had to really scramble and hustle.” Grace started selling her ceramics at local markets around the city as a means to get by and with perseverance, her network began to grow. There is an innate understanding of all mediums that radiates through her work, her attitude and her perspective: it can be felt as an intuitive awareness of trust, vulnerability, and an honest curiosity. And as Grace started to plant roots in the Vancouver creative scene, she began to explore the dynamics of an intentional practice, working to unify the bond of ceramics and the visual aesthetics of the culinary experience.
In 2006, she began hosting Object Handmade (OH), a curated show featuring local makers and creatives in East Vancouver. It wasn’t until 2018—after upgrading her 200 square foot studio space—that she launched OH Studio officially. It became a space for eikcam to merge into OH studio as an event production workspace. “I loved being behind the scenes and organizing, [and] for 10 years [I was working in a studio that] was the size of a closet. I moved into this beautiful space and I wanted to host workshops and long table dinners,” Grace says. A bigger studio space meant bigger opportunities. Since her initial launch, she has been producing community-based workshops that exist in tandem with local makers and restaurants, such as her ongoing Hanami Bento Box partnership with Kitsilano-based restaurant, Mak N Ming.“I wanted to encapsulate the celebration of creating with the earth—with clay and a communal meal—which is what I base a lot of my workshops around.
"I really find that enjoying a meal in the vessel that you've created brings so much joy, and why not do it with the fellow classmates that you've created with?”
Grace reminds us that there are few greater joys than to be able to share a meal through a dish that you’ve worked to create with a community.
Embracing the ebb and flow of the unpredictability of life, her designs incorporate a natural whimsy and candor with a food-focused outlook. Grace is able to create an aesthetic that enhances the sensory component of dining, connection, and camaraderie. There is an organic pairing between ceramics, the food that is enjoyed and the presentation that accompanies it. “Over the past few years I've found that showcasing your food was only limited to chefs or foodies. It wasn’t really taken seriously, but you can't get any more aligned than ceramics and food, clay and soil,” she says. “That has just been a really strong thread in my approach, I'm always thinking of how things will be presented, or how things will be held in your hand, what you'll be eating from your vessel… [it’s] a harmonious kind of marriage. It's even closer than marriage—it's not even two things, it's just one.”
Grace's viewpoint on design embraces the ordonnance of starting from scratch: beginning at the roots, growing, sharing, and beginning again.
She leaves us to reflect on the relationship of our day to day happenings to the process of building ceramics. "You’d think by now, I would understand how this glaze specifically will react with the clay, but it just surprises me every single time. That brings me back to the beginning again.” She adds, “You have to adapt, you have to just accept and not expect the same effect in the end. But, being a ceramic artist, you just accept change… there's nothing that's expected or static.