For Sara Ekua Todd, it began with a Groupon to a ceramics class at a studio near her home in Long Beach, California. A friend initially decided to take the one-time class, just for fun, and Todd joined them. She began throwing on the wheel that evening and never stopped.
While she wasn't always an artist herself, Todd grew up surrounded by creatives in Belgium where she was born and raised. Her mother is a writer and poet, while her father was a musician. Before he passed away in 2001, Todd's father played with quite a few artists, including two famous South African musicians, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. Todd's dad was considered a multi-instrumentalist, but typically played guitar on stage and even wrote a few original songs. Growing up in a household that embraced freedom of expression gave Todd the space to foster her own creativity.
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Todd dabbled in videography and photography long before getting into ceramics, but dropped out of school twice when she decided college just wasn't for her. She has been living in California since 2012 and worked part-time jobs, like managing a home goods shop, before making the switch to ceramics full-time beginning in 2020. She creates functional pieces like mugs, cups, and bowls, and now shares a studio space with her husband who is a painter. Her work exhibits standout shapes like this arch vase, and bright colors as seen in this set of cups that displays two primary colors paired with a soft pink.
Todd begins by writing out her ideas when inspiration strikes. Not much of a sketcher, she writes as much detail down as possible to get her ideas across before heading to the studio to create a prototype.
"I try to write down what I mean, or what I see," Todd tells Hunker. "And then I go back to it and work on it with clay. I make a prototype and if I like it, I'll usually keep it and if it doesn't make any sense, it goes into a box I'll never look at again. That's kind of my process."
Todd builds with her hands when creating these prototypes, but prefers to use the wheel when forming actual pieces. Sitting at the wheel feels meditative for Todd and brings her joy in ways that hand-building does not.
Growing up in a multicultural household has inspired the life and color in Todd's work. While the ceramicist grew up in Belgium, she is not Belgian by blood. Her mother is German and her father is half Ghanian and half British. With such diversity, Todd described her household as being very colorful, in both the sense of physical color and all the different types of people who entered. That type of individuality is an important part of who Todd is, and can be seen in both her work and personal life.
"With the world we're in now, everybody looks the same," says Todd. "I mean, just go on Instagram or any social media platform. Everyone just wants to look like the Kardashians or some other famous person. We just kind of lost this individuality that people have. I strive to stay individual and I strive to surround myself with people who are like that. I don't need to be the same as everyone else. What's the point?"
In the sense of her art, Todd sometimes struggles with maintaining individuality within a medium where everything has been done before, so she focuses on the colors in order to stand out from the crowd.
"I really love colors," explains Todd. "I spend a lot of time researching colors. When I bring out a new color, it's usually in threes. I don't know why, I just like that. For example, in my latest collection, I started with this very faint light blue, and then I tried to figure out what other colors would work with it. So I searched, and then did tests. I grouped them together to see what worked best."
Next up, Todd is working on making ceramic furniture, with a project currently in the works. She'd like to continue working in wholesale, but hopes to dial it back over time in order to focus more on other projects.
"I want to work on ceramic furniture, lighting, and other things for your home that you use every day, but also that you don't drink coffee out of," says Todd. "I don't know how I fell into it. It was very random, but I fell in love with it."