Singaporean ceramics designer Jenevieve Woon, is passionate about creating meaningful objects for home spaces. We invited her for a fun chat and got to know more about being a local artist and entrepreneur!
Jenevieve wears our Cecilia Asymmetric Dress in sakura, size S.
We truly enjoyed having you at our inaugural pop-up at our Takashimaya flagship store! Tell us more about how you embarked on this sculpturing journey, and how did JENEVIEVE Official come about?
Actually I didn't study ceramics in school, I did industrial design. But I took one class in slip casting in my senior year. I was really bummed that it was my senior year, because I didn't have enough time to do more ceramics before I graduated! So doing ceramics wasn't something that I had built my portfolio around, I kind of did It on the side, but I really enjoyed it.
Then during lockdown, all of a sudden, I found myself at home with none of my belongings, because all of it was stuck in New York, and I was thinking to myself what can I do with like the least supplies needed. So I ordered a bag of clay and started hand building like what I have learnt before. It started purely as something like a hobby to pass time but when I posted the piece on social media people really wanted them. Hence, I started making more and then it kind of just grew into this venture. I mean, it took quite a while to get there, but that’s how it started. I think a lot of the fundamentals I did learn them in school but I also took up other classes on the side, like wheel throwing, hand building, and picked itup from different people along the way. That’s also what I like about ceramics and crafts, you really have to learn from everyone.
Heard that you were a Fashion Designer in New York previously, what made you decide to do a switch?
I think that's because I started in industrial design and with this degree you really learn about a lot of different materials, for instance we work with wood, metal, furniture and many other little things. So you can do many things out of that, like you have a variety of options, and then I naturally just found myself as a footwear designer after I graduated because I got an offer. Then with COVID, I came back home. Because I had nothing with me, no materials or equipment, I thought hard on what's the one thing I can do that doesn’t require my sewing machine or tools? Clay work was something I literally just needed to play with my hands. So yeah, that's why I started in ceramics again.
And you also have a formal education in Industrial Design from Central Saint Martins. What would you describe as the main difference in designing across the different fields – fashion, industrial, homeware?
I like to think that with your sensibilities as a designer, whatever medium you're applying it to, it’s actually quite similar in that sense. Like whatever emotions you are trying to input, whatever you're trying to bring to your users, it's something you can do across all these different channels. But I would say the biggest difference between them is the product knowledge and understanding. Example, you’d need to know about shoes, the basic structure, before you can design footwear.
Understand that you like to examine the confluence between Art and function, could you share about your design philosophy?
I think in the design world there is very often this conversation between form and function - like how functional do you want a thing to be or do you want it to be an art. I mean, if I wanted I could just make a sculpture, it doesn't have to be vase.
I’d like to sit in the middle, as the way I think about it is like art and the emotion that you feel towards it, that itself is also a function. I don't want to make pieces that you don't have an emotional reaction to. If you have a cup that you have your morning coffee from, I want it to be functional, comfortable and keeps your coffee warm if you want it - that kind of thing. At the same time, I also want it to be so beautiful that you enjoy your coffee in the morning. I think that's really important, and that's a big part of my design. So apart from the function and art, there's also an emotional aspect to it. While it’s hard to articulate that, I think it’s quite important e.g. what kind of form and things do we make connections to, and the relationship we have with different objects that we care for.
Where do you typically seek inspiration from?
It’s probably a very broad range, very hard to define! I think most designers will tell you that if you look hard enough to look around, there's always something to inspire you with, something that could be like a start point.
Form and shapes are really core to the brand and our pieces. And for me, I'm really interested in like root structures for flowers, fruits, birds - I look at the shape of birds a lot. I also look to textiles, fashion, a lot of different things and sculptures in general. There are certainly quite a number of sources but I would say nature's the number one.
Do you get artist-blocks, especially during these pandemic times where we had to stay in mostly last year and even till now travel is limited, and how do you get over it?
Definitely, for sure! I think everyone felt a bit stuck, we were literally all stuck in our homes. That was probably not pleasant for anyone. But I think in that way having ceramics to do at home during that time was really great, it was more like therapy for me. When I felt so frustrated that I couldn’t do anything, sitting in front of clay where I would create pieces without having to worry about time and all the chatter and noise that I usually hear - that felt like my quiet place.
So that definitely helps! But if you ask any artist I’m sure everyone has had blocks. It’s like a matter of time and part of the process.
I'm realising that in fact I should expect it to come. I mean, obviously you don't want it and want to always be in your zone, doing good work. But it's going to come and that's okay, just keep making through the processing. That's the only thing that gets me through a block. I know I'm not going like what I make during a block but the most important things to keep making. Somehow or later you will get out of it and find yourself making something that you like.
Being an entrepreneur and artist is certainly no mean feat, but what is the greatest challenge you’ve had so far?
As this is like a creative venture for me. I want to stay true to what my vision is creatively. But of course, I have to also balance that with the business side of things and having to switch back and forth, this is probably the greatest struggle for me. They're very different mindsets and perspectives and I think it’s a great thing that keeps me on my toes. But it’s quite hard to switch back and forth between both mindsets because I really have to compartmentalise. Otherwise, if I'm only looking from a business standpoint, I start to lose like the artistic aspect and what I enjoying doing. Then I'm going to make shortcuts and sacrifices. Yet if I want to keep my brand and the creative side strong I wouldn’t want to do that.
Is there anyone that you are particularly grateful for in your journey as an artist and entrepreneur?
It's a very long list! Right now, officially for full-time it's just me, but the number of friends and family who have given their time and expertise to help - that’s something I’m very grateful for. For instance, I'm not a business major, so I’m actually not sure how to run a business, I don't know how to do my books or my accounting etc. Yet so many of my friends have stepped in and given me advice here and there. And my family, they’ve really helped. It's a very long list and I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for everyone around me!
It’s really nice that as a small business you are also keen to give back to society (3% of all proceeds goes to Habitat for Humanity, Singapore). Is there any personal significance as to why you chose to partner with them?
I thought long and hard about the space I wanted to create for and what's the bigger picture I want my work to sit in.
I think growing up, home wasn't always safe, but of course I blessed to even have a home in the first place. But I think having a space where you feel safe, don't have to have your walls up is so crucial. Being human you can't rest and come back stronger the next day if you don't have that. Not everyone has that opportunity and that blessing.
Since I was creating for the home space, I wanted to also give back to our local community. I wondered how can my pieces make someone who needs help feel better? Because at the end of the day if I'm only making nice vases for people who can afford nice vases and if I stopped making them the world is still going to be spinning round right? Then what change am I affecting with my work? So yeah, that was what I was thinking when I reached out to Habitat.
Jenevieve wears our Cecilia Asymmetric Dress in ice blue, size S.
Do you have any beginner’s tips for people who are interested to learn ceramics?
I would say, really just start if you never touched clay before. Just get your hands on clay! Go take a few classes. What's nice about ceramics is that you don't need a degree for it and there’s so many classes you can take wherever you are. If you're in a city, there's probably a ceramic studio you can go to, get a membership and you can sit in front of a wheel and just hand build.
So seeking the opportunity to get your hands on clay that's not the hard part, but do expect a steep learning curve.
You’ll need to build up an understanding of clay, and from my experience, that just comes from spending a ton of time in front of it. Also, be open to learning from different people! Ceramics is one of those things where every artist is so different, what you're trying to do with it is also different. And everyone has their own tips and Like a small little thing of trying to join two pieces of play, everyone has different tips for that. Every time I meet a new artist and work alongside them, I get to see them doing something new or different that I haven't done before. And that's what's nice about craft! Always be open to learning from others in the community, I think that will take you really far.