During a year when many were relying on nature for socially distanced downtime, artist Lauren Strybos helped bring this sentiment indoors. With her small-batch clay goods brand From Tree To Sea, the Chinese-Jamaican creative plays with flora and fauna motifs that help you, as the artist says when describing her time in nature, "look at the bigger picture and see everything outside of yourself."
Though the 30-year-old started forging her ceramics business in 2016, and began pursuing it full-time in early 2020, wildlife has always been in her orbit. As a child growing up in Oakville, Ontario, she wanted to go to art school, but due to familial pressure to make money, ended up pursuing environmental studies and becoming a species-at-risk biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service.
Wanting more hands-on work and less time in an office, Strybos decided to quit her job in 2017 and travel around Canada for eight months. Planning to settle in British Columbia, the craftswoman ended up in Calgary instead and has been there ever since. "I ended up staying here because of the studio that I was originally in … It was just such a cool collective of artists, and everybody was so welcoming and supportive," Strybos explains, adding that Calgary is also ripe with Mother Nature-made muses.
So, how did the biologist find her medium in clay? Although she was always making art and loved clay as a child, Strybos didn't take her first pottery class until around 2014, when she was still working as a biologist.
"I tried it and fell in love with it," she says. "I searched high and low for a space where I could rent studio time and found this cute studio run by two Jewish grandmothers in North York. They taught me … And then I just knew it was something I wanted to pursue."
Once she built up a collection of work, Strybos began selling her wares at Toronto pop-up shops and on Etsy. After moving to Calgary, the artist was worried she wouldn't find the same kind of friends and connections, but settled in nicely once she started working part-time at Plant, an aptly named plant shop. While there, Strybos was able to schedule in enough studio time to keep her workflow going.
The craftswoman has since become part of the artist-run collective Nvrlnd. There, she has her own studio space filled with happy green plants, bits and bobbles of inspiration, and natural light wood and white furniture topped with a collection of ceramics in varying stages along with well-loved tools of the trade.
In terms of the utensils she requires, the artist rarely sketches out her ideas beforehand. "Usually, I just picture it in my head and immediately try to make it," she explains, adding that she gives herself room to change her pieces at any stage in the process. This is part of the reason why Strybos loves this medium. "The practice is really never-ending … and sometimes it's not even in your hands because you're throwing on the wheel, something happens, and it turns into something else."
Though she likes to construct familiar work she knows her customers will love, the artist also aims to challenge herself to try out new designs because "at the end of the day, the practice is more important than the money." Hear, hear!
Of course, Strybos is inspired by the nature that surrounds her (she often takes walks by the river with fellow ceramicist Rima Sobh), but her recent show was also guided by her Chinese and Jamaican heritage.
Called "Out of Many, One People," after the motto of Jamaica, the artist's first solo show highlighted Chinese-inspired, hand-built pottery made of white clay with blue glazing and Jamaican-inspired pieces including a fruit bowl head wearing a flower crown. There was even a set of dominoes influenced by the cut throat-style game Strybos played with the Jamaican side of her family while growing up.
Another avenue of expression for Strybos is YouTube, where she chronicles her journey as a clay creator. "I've always loved documenting things because I have a really bad memory," she reveals. "I was [also] watching a lot of YouTube and felt like I hadn't seen my style of videos." Specifically, the artist wants to film both educational and vlog-style videos that allow her to connect with others who have similar interests. It has been especially helpful during the past isolating year.
It's that special feeling of connection that Strybos also wants her customers to feel whenever they hold one of her pieces. "I just want the person receiving a piece to feel butterflies," she says. "I have work from other ceramicists and that's how I feel about it. I go pick up my mug in the morning for coffee and I think of the person [who made it] when I take it off the shelf."
If you'd like to experience this for yourself, you can follow From Tree To Sea on Instagram for shop updates. Though, be warned: The shop sells out at the speed of light. Strybos also hosts Pot Party and Cup Club, two subscription services that allow participants to receive one plant pot and cup, respectively, every quarter. As of right now, the ceramicist is planning to continue with Cup Club in 2022, so keep an eye out and get ready to sip from some seriously cute cups.
Anna is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who covers lifestyle and design content for Hunker. She's written for Apartment Therapy, the L.A. Times, Forge, and more. She previously worked as the lifestyle editor at HelloGiggles and deputy editor at So Yummy. Her email: firstname.lastname@example.org