Viviana Matsuda on Ceramics as Therapy and Launching Her Business

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Somewhere in between rubbing our eyes to feel awake and getting ready to start the workday, many of us reach for a mug in our cabinet. And while any mug will do, we've learned that there's a whole world of handmade gems out there that have turned the kitchen staple into a statement piece. And, besides, isn't it much more fun to pour your hot drink of choice into a gorgeous vessel? The right mug can also make you feel energized. And for many makers, the medium of ceramics is a way to marry artistic expression and functionality.

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Just ask Viviana Matsuda, also known as Mud Witch. A little after her father passed away in 2014, she took to ceramics as a sort of therapy. Her dad was also a ceramicist, so Matsuda put his glazes and tools to use. Soon, she was fully immersed in the craft. During her final semester of community college, the San Francisco maker made so many ceramics that her partner suggested she sell them.

As she continued focusing on the craft, Matsuda decided to also apply for a scholarship through West Coast Craft Fair, a marketplace event that features close to 100 vendors in both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"I was like, I don't think I'm going to get this," Matsuda tells Hunker. "But if you don't buy a ticket, you can't win the lottery."

Matsuda set up a booth at the event and was promoted through the fair's channels — a big step in her journey to turn her passion for ceramics into a business. As a kid, she dreamed of becoming an artist or art teacher, but didn't pursue either right away. Both careers, she learned, came with financial risks.

But once she started her business, things took off quickly. Matsuda's earlier pieces use neutral tones and curvy shapes to pay homage to the body, which she noticed customers quickly connected with.

"When I first learned how to throw, I was also learning about the body positive movement on Instagram," Matsuda says. "As a fat person ... it was just really groundbreaking to see pictures of people with rolls, talking about fatphobia. While I was learning ceramics, I was learning all about that stuff, so both of those things kind of combined into one."

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The pieces mimicked nude figures, like the Venus of Willdendorf, a limestone figure dating back to more than 20,000 years ago. It's often referenced as one of the most ancient artworks to be catalogued.

Matsuda created these "clay bodies" to "resemble different ranges of skin tones."

"I thought they looked so beautiful, just like, plain naked," Matsuda says. "You could see their freckles. It was just so pretty. But eventually I was like, 'I'm a very colorful person.'"

Today, a Mud Witch item — she now creates mugs but also planters, vases, and bowls — uses everything from checkered patterns to paint splatters to ombré effects in a celebration of hue. You can find soothing pastels but also vibrant primary colors. There are, of course, still some earthy tones that call back to Matsuda's earlier designs. Take, for instance, her collaboration with Our Place, a pair of mugs in a dark brown hue with a rainbow pattern inside created in honor of Pride Month.

"I definitely have two very distinct sides of myself," Matsuda says. "One is a little more minimal and very Japanese, earthenware [objects]. And then there's my more vibrant side [that] just loves color and loves bright things ... We all have those polarizing aspects to ourselves because we're all just very fluid people. I don't think everyone's colorful all the time."

Matsuda also challenged herself to envision a number of different mug handles that go beyond the standard one you might see in stores. A flower, squiggle, and knot handle are just a few of the shapes that now adorn the pieces.

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When she's not making something, Matsuda takes inspiration from shows like the floral artistry competition Full Bloom and the nature around her. She concepts each photo shoot, often making a point to include Asian and Mexican foods as a nod to her identity. With plans to open an IRL workshop space, Matsuda wants to teach BIPOC and queer folks how to make their own objects, too (especially since, as she shares, the ceramics worlds can be inaccessible and unwelcoming to these groups).

In the meantime, each morning, she takes the chance to decompress over a mug of coffee (often espresso) before starting her creative practice.

"I've been making my coffee at home lately and it's been so nice," Matsuda says. "Usually in the morning I feel very anxious to get my day started. So I used to just like shoot out of bed and go and get coffee. But now that I make it at home, it kind of slows me down a bit. I'm like, 'No, you can enjoy your morning.'"

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Eva is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers trends, news, and makers for Hunker. Her writing has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Bustle, KCET and more. She is a proud bookworm and organizes her books by color.