Mark Warren and Chris Pence are childhood friends-turned-business partners who have converted a 120-year-old farmhouse in the hills of North Carolina into a ceramic studio called Haand where they create exquisite clay pieces under the Hackberry trees. They marry extensive research and quiet reverence for the traditional techniques/history of clay with clean, organic lines. This pairing results in a line of ceramics that is anything but old fashioned. Read on for a glimpse into this thoughtful team’s creative process and click here for more Haand. All photos by Taylor Ghost. — Ginny
1. Design*Sponge: What is in your toolbox?
Mark Warren: To design new pieces, I use my grandfather’s drafting tools. He took great care of his compass, protractor, and rulers. Both of my grandfathers were engineers for DuPont; I’m proud to use the drafting tools they passed down to me. My plaster tools are fairly simple, but I could not live without my Mud Tool rasps. I have a 6-inch ruler and 12-inch ruler that I sharpen across one side to work as a planer and straightedge for my plaster models. I use tool dip on everything. It is especially useful for covering mixer blades; it makes clean up easy, and you can also use the different colors to avoid confusing the plaster mixer for the porcelain mixer. It smells horrible, and you need to wear gloves when you use it, but make sure you buy the tube kind and make sure to keep the lid on. I also have a slight (my girlfriend, Hannah, might argue it is not that slight at all . . . ) obsession with really fancy spray guns and hose nozzles, especially ones that look like ’50s ray guns. I bought a water hose nozzle from Carriage House Paper Studio a few years ago. It was $50, but I will never need to buy another nozzle again. It was worth every penny and works like a dream.
2. Design*Sponge: Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel _____________.”
Read the full interview after the jump . . .
3. Design*Sponge: What is on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?
Mark Warren: Recently I have been reading about historic industrial ceramic production. I am having a great time piecing together how the Roman “industrial” pottery system worked, how they molded and designed consistent pieces across a huge geographic area. I just finished a biography of Josiah Wedgwood called Wedgwood: The First Tycoon by Brian Dolan. I am currently reading The Arcanum by Janet Gleeson, which is about the quest to produce porcelain in Europe during the 18th century. I am a huge nerd and read science fiction constantly; I find science fiction movies and books extremely inspiring. I realized recently that my whole ceramic career is really an attempt to imagine what kind of tableware the Atreides family would be eating on in the Dune series.
Mark Warren: I am not very organized at all. Luckily, my business partner, Chris, is incredibly organized. Working at Haand is so enjoyable because of our complementary personalities — we can easily divide tasks. Chris comes up with spreadsheets and lists of priorities. We work on them together or divide them up. He also handles the emailing and phone conversations necessary to keep money coming into the business. This lets me focus on working in the casting and plaster studios. If you are thinking about making objects professionally, seriously consider finding a partner whose skill-set complements your own. Being able to share responsibilities with Chris has been a huge step forward for me creatively; there are just not enough hours in a day to devote to everything that must be done to run a business and produce objects in an efficient manner.
5. Design*Sponge: If you could have one superhero (or magical) power, what would it be and why?
Mark Warren: I would be able to communicate effectively with animals. I would convince them to come hang out with me and help me in the studio. A raccoon would be so useful for detail work! We live in the woods, and I always want to know how the critters around me spend their days. I love the idea of getting together for a cocktail and debriefing our days.
Mark Warren: I can’t really think of any specific advice I have received, but I have been blessed with a series of mentors who were stubborn, smart people. I’ve noticed a common denominator in successful people: They work hard and examine themselves and their work with serious critical reflection. They hold themselves and those they work with to a very high standard. They also rarely gave advice, so I am hesitant to give any myself, but here goes:
Work hard, research all the time, and if a particular job or task seems too hard or takes too long, ask yourself: “Is there a smarter way to do this?” I find that 9 times out of 10, there is a smarter and easier way to do things if I take some time to think through the problems logically.
7. Design*Sponge: How do you combat creative blocks?
Mark Warren: I find it really helpful to be working on multiple projects at once. If I get stuck or frustrated, I switch gears quickly to another project. I had periods when I kept getting creative blocks, and I took that as an opportunity to learn about different mediums and expose myself to different ways of thinking about things. I guess, ultimately, just be like a shark and never stop moving or thinking. You’ll figure it out. You are smart, creative, and willing to spend your time doing something most people are too afraid to pursue professionally.
Also, stay positive! If you are having creative blocks, it means you are doing something CREATIVE. Being creative and making stuff is a joyful and affirmative way to interact with the world.
Mark Warren: I love museums, and especially museums with lots of Dutch still lifes and a good classics section. The North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh is great, and I go to the Met every time I go to New York. I mostly just sit in the Greek and Roman section and watch people looking at art. I also go to Chinatown and look through all the different homeware and kitchenware stores.
Mark Warren: Josiah Wedgwood, hands down. The tools and process have changed so little since the late 1700s, aside from my use of computers. I want to see what sort of jigs they used and what a pre-engine, pre-electric industrial production studio sounded like.
10. Design*Sponge: If you could make a master mix-tape of music that is inspiring you at the moment, what would it include?
Mark Warren: We LOVE music. When we need to get some serious work done quickly, we listen to Black Devil’s Disco Club album. Chris and I have very similar music tastes: Beach House, Grizzly Bear, Washed Out, Brian Eno, Yo La Tengo, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Paul Simon, Sade, lots and lots of Fleetwood Mac . . . But when we are working for a long time on monotonous tasks, Chris and I listen to podcasts: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, Radiolab, and books on tape like Neuromancer by William Gibson.