This month we sent word up the East Coast seeking stories of cooler weather and heady atlantic vibes. We caught up with our friend Daniel Nelson, a ceramist from Vermont, who crafts the most beautiful porcelain rigs painted in wonderful detail. His rigs are heady enough for a tea time sesh at Buckingham Palace. We asked him to send maple syrup but all we got was this interview and some shots of his work. Enjoy this conversation with our favorite ceramist and check out more of his amazing styles online.
Tell us about your childhood?
I had an excellent childhood. My parents always pushed me to make art for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate to also attend public schools which happened to have great art programs. I am very lucky because without that, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I grew up around cannabis, the first time I saw it was around 8 years old.
How do you benefit from using cannabis?
I currently use it for relief from anxiety, pain, and general happiness. I consider cannabis to be a miracle plant and I love to make artwork that I feel supports that belief.
How were you first exposed to ceramics?
High school. I took my first class my first semester as a senior and it feels like I’ve barely gone a day without touching clay ever since. I have always had very supportive teachers.
How did you decide to make porcelain smoking rigs?
I’ve been a cannabis user for a long time and I have always loved pipes and head shops. After I graduated college, I was really into the glass pipe scene especially because many artists had began to surface on Instagram and it was easy to see their work. I decided to try to make a few pieces, starting small and soon progressing into more complicated forms, often inspired by the contemporary glass pipe designs I had been following at the time. Once I started making them and sold a few, I felt like I couldn’t stop.
How do you start the art design on each piece?
Depends. All my floral work is done using vintage decals which involves a lot of cutting and quite tedious work using a sponge. To completely cover a piece takes me around 1215 hours. All of my other work is done using underglazes, such as the Greek amphorae and the stripe designs. Those all start by painting them while they are directly on the wheel and any designs are then mapped/ freehanded onto the piece by carving and repainting details.
Is it freehand or do you make sketches first?
I get my decals from distributors across the country and overseas. The Greek Amphorae are inspired by Greek pottery from thousands of years ago. I use a reference for the imagery and then freehand all of the rest of the design. The stripes are done freehand directly on the wheel while it’s spinning.
What are the biggest influences in your art?
I’ve been inspired by glass pipes for 10+ years so I would say that’s my biggest influence. I’m also inspired by ceramic forms throughout many parts of history as well as many contemporary artists and teachers that I looked up to at the beginning of my art making. Also nature and love, among many other things.
What is a typical day like in your workshop?
Very slow. I’ve learned over time that for me personally to make quality things that I’m going to be happy with, I need to take my time and be as deliberate as possible. Carelessness leads to tragedy in ceramics.
What are some of the challenges of working with ceramics?
Learning to be patient. A lot of it can be about timing and knowing when exactly is best to do a certain step in your process in correlation with how dry the clay is. Also, a big challenge is learning to move on and not dwell on something breaking. My mindset is that none of the time spent on my craft is wasted time.
Are there similarities to glassblowing and ceramic design?
Definitely. As far as spinning and shaping I find them to be quite similar. The wheel is sort of like a lathe, only working vertically.
What is your biggest influence?
I would say classical/English pottery. The goal is to make them look like something you’d see in a china cabinet.
How long does one rig take to complete?
Florals are the most popular and take around 20 hours total. A Greek piece takes 50+, sometimes even upwards of 75 hours. A striped piece I can complete in 10 or under depending on the design complexity.
Where can people find your work?
I’m mostly known on Instagram where there’s a link to my site where I have things available at times. I will (hopefully) soon be launching a line of products that will be more affordable to the average user within the next month or two. When I have them available orders will be able to be placed directly through Instagram @dcnporcelain or through my site dcnporcelain.com. The price range is generally anywhere from $400 – $1500.
Have you sold any rigs to cute older ladies?
I have. Not many, but some for sure. I would say the average age of my collectors tends to be around 20-30.
What’s Vermont like in the fall? What’s your favorite local product?
Beautiful, my favorite time of year. I’m a huge fan of Cabot cheese. Heady topper (everyone knows). GYO in VT!
What are your hopes for our national cannabis community in the future?
My hopes are that the plant is respected and not destroyed by people who see it as purely profits. Ever since I started using it, I have been a believer that it should be legalized across the board and that it should never have been made illegal to begin with. However, with legalization there are many downsides, as we all know. I love what I do and hope whoever out there comes across it does too!
Daniel Nelson is a modest and heady fellow through and through. Pottery, beer, cheese, and never in a hurry. I can appreciate this guy’s style. Big thanks to Daniel for sharing a little bit about himself and his work! Keep an eye out to see what designs he comes out with next. The best place to view and order Daniel’s work is on Instagram @dcnporcelain.
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