Laurel Begley in her vintage VW Beetle. All photos by Steve Terrebonne
With all of the natural inspiration to be found around Laurel Begley’s Sonoma County studio, you might be surprised to hear that she’s more inspired by personal history than she is by natural history. From the cookie jar she inherited from her Nana to the simple celebration of family dinners at the end of the day, her family life infuses her creative life with an air of authenticity. And as an independent maker, business owner, and mother, she maintains a pragmatic but laid-back outlook to help juggle it all.
While we weren’t able to visit Laurel’s Santa Rosa, CA studio in person, she opened her doors to us through a series of beautiful photos, giving us a snapshot of her routine and some insight into the inspiration behind designs like her Personalized Faux Bois Vase.
Laurel works on Personalized Faux Bois vases in her studio
What does a typical day in your studio look like?
There are no real “typical” days for me. Some days I teach ceramic classes, other days I’ll work on production, shipping, glazing, responding to emails, or cleaning up. I love that about my work. Every day is different enough from the last that I don’t get too bored, and I have enough flexibility in my schedule to work around my family’s needs.
Rolling out clay for a Faux Bois vase
What are your most essential tools?
My wheel, my rolling pin, and my hands!
Tools hanging from a repurposed rake head
Where do you draw inspiration (within your workspace or other sources)?
When my Nana died, I inherited some of the ceramics she had used to decorate her home. As a potter, I had a snobby attitude about factory-made ceramics, but I felt a deep connection to those objects that couldn’t be denied. The piggy cookie jar she kept filled with goodies for me, the little vase she would proudly display the tiny bouquets of flowers I brought her—they weren’t just mass produced pots, they were symbols of love and nurturing. That was a big moment for me. Now I try to find inspiration in those human interactions that take place around an object, rather than the objects themselves. So on one level, I’m making a vase that holds water and is the right size and shape to hold flowers. On the next level, I’m doing my best to make it beautiful. And lastly, I’m striving to make it an object where the couple will identify with the flowers and romance, even when it’s empty.
Hand-cutting letters for a Faux Bois vase
What was the most important lesson you learned as a young designer?
Don’t try to be anything you’re not. Do your best work, put it out there, and everything else will fall into place. When I first quit my day job, there was an enormous pressure to make a living at my craft, and I started thinking more about what would sell, and less about what fulfilled me as an artist. That didn’t work very well. The work didn’t serve me and it didn’t sell! Turns out, people are attracted to authenticity. Gimmicks and acts didn’t resonate with customers and were a big waste of time.
A Faux Bois relief in production
How do you set goals for yourself?
I used to sit down every day and make myself a to-do list. It would have about 20 goals ranging from “load the kiln” to “build a new studio,” and every night I would look at the list and feel like I had failed, because I gave myself more than I ever could have possibly finished. So now, I don’t set many goals, which might sound lazy, but I know that I work better when I allow myself to just take care of the deadlines at hand, and let inspiration come when it does. Maybe I’m less productive, but happier, and that’s a good trade for me.
Completed Personalized Faux Bois vase
How and when do you celebrate a victory?
Running a business and being a mom means I’m running pretty fast all the time, trying to keep up. So it feels like there aren’t too many instances where I say, “Great! That’s done! Let’s celebrate!” It’s more like: “great…that’s done…now on to the next 12 things that need doing.” Luckily, I have an amazing little family, and at the end of the day when we all sit down for dinner together, that feels like a satisfying celebration for getting through another day. A nice cold beer is good too!
What advice would you offer the you of five years ago?
Relax…it’s all going to be fine.