Talking With Troy Yoshimoto, Designer and Ceramicist
Industrial design and ceramics may seem different at first. One uses computer modeling, engineering, and industrial production to create objects, while the other uses ancient technology—the potter’s wheel—to create organic items from clay. But when you examine the work of Troy Yoshimoto—industrial designer and potter—you see that form and function dominate both fields, allowing his two preferred forms of expression to complement one another perfectly. Last week, O.N.S visited Troy’s workspace to check things out, gain perspective on his creations, and ask him how he got where here is now.
When did you start to pursue industrial design and what started your interest in creating? Was there anyone in your life who inspired you?
I’ve loved working with my hands for as long as I can remember. As a kid—and currently—I was always happiest when tinkering and building things. I would be so excited by an idea I was working on that I wouldn’t want to sleep. I had no idea industrial design was a thing until college, but when I discovered it and got deeper into the program, I knew it was what I’ve always wanted to do. In many projects there was that same feeling of being super excited to develop an idea. Although I think there were too many sleepless nights in design school… My Uncle Darren, who’s a graphic designer, introduced me to design and always had a unconventional way of thinking that I always admired.
What first interested you about pottery and ceramics?
I took a ceramic class while I was in design school and I fell in love with the ceramic process. There’s a relationship you have to have with your pieces as you work on it in different stages of drying that is so unique to clay. I also love that pottery is one of the oldest human art forms and tells a story about the person who made it.
Your 9-to-5 is industrial design, but you moonlight as a ceramist. How were you able to marry these two different occupations together?
I see myself more as a designer using ceramic as a medium to create than a ceramicist and potter. I think most designers need a creative outlet that’s truly theirs, and ceramics is that for me. At my ceramic studio I can choose what things I want to make. I love coffee, so a lot of my pieces revolve around coffee making or drinking because I’m constantly thinking about it.
What do you wish you could do with industrial design that you can’t do with ceramics? And what do you wish you could do with ceramics that you can’t do with industrial design?
In industrial design, computer modeling can be tough to use to make an organic shape. Sometimes I wish I could grab my CAD model and squish it around like clay. On the contrary, sometimes clay is too squishy and I wish I could get it more constrained like my computer software. Either way, its such a great feeling to go to the ceramic studio after a day of computer modeling and get my hands on clay.
How do you think being an industrial designer has helped you become a better ceramist?
Being an industrial designer requires you to constantly think about how something is going to be manufactured. Knowledge in molding and casting has definitely helped me with my slip casting pieces. I am able to design shapes in the computer, 3D print them in plastic, mold them in plaster, and cast them in ceramic.
You mentioned that you grew up fourth generation Japanese-American and that you’ve recently went to Japan. How does your upbringing and travel influence your work?
I’ve always been fascinated by the thoughtfulness and consideration the Japanese put into the most mundane of objects. Like the way a soy sauce dispenser pours a perfect, steady stream without dripping, or how a toothpick has a built-in stand on one end that you can break off. These well-thought-out everyday objects inspire me to put in that level of consideration into my work.
You’ve made some incredible pieces working with friends. Can you explain how these collaborations came about?
I’m lucky that I happen to be friends with extremely talented illustrators. It’s so cool seeing my friends’ illustrations fused onto pieces I’ve made, its like a piece of their personality on a whiskey cup. Shoutout to Chris Garver, Pilar Basa, Nathan Catlin, and Sandra Javera.
Recently, you made some pieces for Supply Unica. How was the process for creating that collection? Was this your first experience creating for e-commerce?
For Supply Unica, I wanted to do a series in the same form, but really play with the different effects I could get by mixing different clays together. I experimented quite a bit with mixing different densities of slip, which is liquid clay, at different speeds to see how I could achieve a marble pattern, gradient, or both. The process kind of looks like latte art that gets poured into a mold and captured. E-commerce for ceramics is usually very difficult since each piece will naturally have a slight variation to the next. However, Supply Unica is good at showcasing the individuality and detail of each piece so that the customer can choose a piece that speaks to them.
We had a great discussion about the usefulness of your pieces. Why is functionality so important to you?
I like designing objects for everyday moments like a morning coffee or after dinner tea. I think these moments are sacred and should be complemented by objects that work perfectly and are enjoyable to use. I was annoyed that I would burn my hands on a hot cup of tea so I wanted to make a cup that wouldn’t do that. The double walled cup is just as light as a normal cup and keeps your tea hot and your hands safe. Apart from being an aesthetic choice, I like to keep half or most of the outside surface as raw/rough clay, allowing you to maintain a grip on the cup when you’re washing it.
Are there any books, movies, or magazines that inspire you?
I can’t say there are any books, movies, or magazines that directly inspire my work. I do always have music on though. My playlist usually consists of Nas, The Internet, Blood Orange, and Chet Baker.
What do you have coming up in the future?
I’m super excited to start working on incense holders, coffee pour overs, bud vases, and planters.