Doctor Samantha Tan hates glazing with a passion, while educator Megan Miao detests wheel-throwing. When their pottery teacher introduced them to each other, stars aligned – heck, stars probably heard their collective sighs of relief from way down on Earth – and Eastfield Ceramics was born.
Today, the duo run Eastfield Ceramics, a young local ceramics outfit that produces small-batch functional artworks that are, more often than not, inspired in some way by whatever food Sam is currently obsessed with. Needless to say, Sam creates all the ceramic forms that require the pottery wheel, while Megan is in charge of glazing everything.
And they do this entirely during their free time outside of their respective full-time jobs. How, and perhaps more importantly, why? We chat with them to find out.
So, Sam, what is it about wheel throwing that you enjoy?
Samantha Tan (ST): I really like the precision of throwing. Whether it’s to make something more even or more uniform or particular shape or weight – I feel like the goals are more objective or that there’s something you can work towards. That’s why I did not particularly enjoy glazing.
Like it feels aimless, comparatively?
ST: With glazing, you either like or don’t like the end result. But what specifically do you want to change or work on? I think it’s harder to articulate what you want to get out of it, and the process is also unpredictable, compared to throwing.
Megan Miao (MM): I think that glazing should come with some element of unpredictability.
ST: This is why you do the glazing! I really don’t like the surprise.
MM: But I think the surprise is where very interesting things happen, such as when different glazes interact with one another, or when changing the thickness of a certain glaze really makes a big impact.
And even though Sam doesn’t like glazing, I must say that before we started working together, there were many times where I would find a piece on the shelf that she has made and glazed and I would find it actually very exciting. And very often these would be those pieces that she doesn’t actually like.
She has a history of randomly trying out these really outlandish things, sometimes it ends up in our Box of Shame, but other times, it has a very nice payoff and you end up somewhere unexpected.
What’s one example where Sam’s outlandish ideas really came together?
ST: One of our earliest ones, which is also one that I really enjoyed, was the chendol one. Because it was the first where we really collaborated in terms of the glaze and what we wanted. This was when I had a very serious chendol obsession; I was eating it once every other day. And I told Megan, make me a glaze that is chendol-inspired.
MM: This is what I mean – if left to my own accord, I’d just do something that I think looks nice over and over again. It would likely never occur to me to take food like chendol as inspiration for a glaze palette.
Then there’s the osmanthus jelly glaze. I remember thinking, “This is weird, I don’t know why Sam’s taking out these colours.” But in the end, it comes out and it’s fine. Like the use of this yellow for example:
Some people might think it looks a bit unpalatable, but others really liked it. And commercially, well, it sold!
I think when you’re making objects it’s almost as though it’s an exercise in pushing the boundaries of your own taste. With pieces like these with an unconventional glaze – I feel that they are interesting because it’s not something that’s so easily acceptable. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Because of that there is this interesting process of trying to make it then look good – more visually interesting, more aesthetically pleasing – by pairing it with other glazes or in the choice of mark-making and placement.
We rarely have a piece that’s really 100% perfect, and if there was ever such a piece I also don’t think it’d be incredibly interesting to look at!
I like ceramics because I try and screw up as little as possible during my day job, and I pride myself on that. But this also doesn’t really adhere to my vision of life, which is that I should have enough room to make mistakes. Daring to make mistakes – and learn from mistakes – is something that we teachers tell our students to do, so it’s kind of funny as adults that we no longer have that safe environment.
ST: Pottery gives you room to be able to fail. And you can just explore. In our jobs and other parts of our life, we don’t get to play like this as much. And there’s also more agency in what we want to do within the realm of pottery, compared to our corporate or ministry jobs where we tend to have to follow the broader plans of someone else higher up.
With Eastfield Ceramics we have the space to try whatever we want to try, do whatever we want to do. I think we respect each other in a way that if Megan wants to try anything, I’m happy to accommodate. And whenever I ask her what I should throw next, she says, “Do whatever you want to do!”
Let’s talk about how Eastfield is a side hustle for the both of you. How do you manage your time when it comes to other commitments that you have in your life?
MM: That’s a good question. Firstly, I don’t necessarily think about it as a hustle. I think of it as a project sometimes, in the same way that you would think about a creative project or an artwork that you’re making.
I see Eastfield as a continuation of my art practice, though that is something that I’m still trying to grapple with. I was fine art-trained and practiced [art] quite a while, but as a young contemporary artist in Singapore with a full-time job, often you’re making work only after you have secured a place in an exhibition. Or you’re coming up with ideas just so you can propose it for a particular project. That frustrated me a little bit over the course of time in my art practice because it felt like I had to respond to what is timely, or respond before I could find the time and capacity to work on things.
So I would say that I think pottery gives me a lot more balance. And it also fulfills the side of me that really likes tangible objects and making things.
What about Sam, has pottery changed the way you look at life in any way?
ST: As I continue my pottery practice, I’ve realised that it has allowed me to be more both accepting and softer towards myself. I’ve learnt to better embrace failure. Somehow it doesn’t matter much when my pot collapses, when I’ve trimmed through a base or when my pot is off-centre. There’s always a chance to try again. And each time I gain just a tiny bit more insight on how to not ‘fail’ again.
Failure is such a common part of the learning process, especially when we are just starting out at something. I don’t know where along life we start developing a fear of failing. I’m certainly guilty of that — being so afraid and embarrassed of failing that it paralyses me, holding me back from wanting to pursue anything further. Part of improving is knowing how mistakes are made and problem solving around them. It’s hard to improve if one doesn’t make mistakes in the first place.
It sounds like you’ve found a more forgiving way of looking at the world – and yourself – through pottery. What is it about Eastfield that keeps you guys constantly interested or excited about it?
ST: I’m always excited to see what Megan creates next, actually.
MM: I have the same answer except it’s like what we create. I think what keeps us excited about it is being able to make with your own hands, tangible, functional and beautiful things.
ST: And to be fair, I think a lot of our mini side projects have also been very fun.
MM: Oh yes, our side quests, like our bazaars or our Christmas set, or even making this collection for Plural for example. These are side projects that creatively inspire us and push us out of our comfort zone. So we have our main focus, which is making and becoming better as potters, and then we have all these other things that we do that give us new skillsets and experiences.
What is the most ambitious project that you’ve ever done or are looking forward to doing?
MM: The biggest dream is to is to create a set for something like a restaurant or F&B place.
ST: Ooh, I did not think about that until you brought it up.
MM: Eh, don’t copy my answer!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Feature image courtesy of Eastfield Ceramics.