We had the privilege of working with our good friend Phill Kim of PKK Ceramics to put together a new offering of his hand-thrown ceramics that release just in time for the holiday season. While Phill's ceramics are beautiful and look great on a shelf, our hope is that these pieces will be used often and enjoyed. Food and beverages have a unique way of bringing people together, and we hope that these pieces facilitate evenings of great conversation and shared experiences.
Each piece in the lineup is crafted by hand in his pottery studio in Echo Park, Los Angeles. While this is not the first time we've worked with Phill on some custom pottery, this is the first time we've been able to put together a full collection of everyday-use essentials that can be used in any home. The entire assortment includes a coffee mug, a beer mug, a coffee carafe, a bowl, and a plate, all glazed with a beautiful three-color palette that Phill developed just for us.
In preparation for the release, Phill welcomed us to his studio for an afternoon to trail him and take some photos of his studio and his process. One thing that struck us was how labor-intensive the work is. Phill mixes all his clay in-house to his exact specifications, which vary by the project. Vessels are thrown and then left to dry for a day before being trimmed. They're then carefully glazed by hand, fired in a kiln, and then further sanded down by hand to achieve a pristine finish. The entire process requires a lot of intuition and experience to be able to spot issues and course-correct along the way.
We chatted with Phill to get some more insight into his journey in ceramics and what drives his work.
You got your start with ceramics while spending a summer in Martha's Vineyard, correct?
Yes, I went out there to help open up a cafe. Someone from LA was heading up the pastry program and I was brought in to set up the coffee. I found an open studio experience where I was able to get reacquainted with clay by trial and error. I had taken to clay when I was younger, but at that point hadn’t done anything with it in years. I had the foundation in my head; it was just a matter of getting everything centered and then executing what I was already thinking about.
What were you seeking to make at that point?
The array of jobs I’ve held over the years in the cafe & restaurant industry, coupled with a general love of food, informed (and continues to inform) what I do. I think my overall affinity for beverages and the vessels people drink out of drove the obsession to not make not only beautiful cups but functional items in general. One thing that's been important for me to communicate in my work is to produce something raw but tactile in sensation - something I’ve taken out of the wabi-sabi school of thought, which I hope people experience when they use the goods.
What makes for a good drinking vessel, in your opinion?
I pay special attention to the lip of my vessels, both when I'm throwing them and trimming them later on. It's something that is hard to describe but immediately noticeable once someone drinks something out of a mug. Another thing that is important to consider is the material itself. The clay that I use is textured, and there is grog or sand in it - so I make sure to meticulously sand each piece. Over time as one uses and washes the vessel over and over again, I’ve noticed it just gets softer. I make vessels for quite a few cafes around town and it's always cool to see the little dings here and there on them as they evolve.
Those dings and dents you mention tie into your appreciation for wabi-sabi. Is that a defining characteristic of a PKK Ceramics piece?
Wabi-sabi can be a loaded descriptor and can be hard to pinpoint. Overall, though, I like to make things that are a bit rough but still disciplined. Hopefully, the markings and curves tell a story of a piece that was handmade with care.
Tell us a bit about the process and inspiration behind this new collection you worked on for us.
This batch was really fun. At this point, we’ve known each other a handful of years: from meeting Andrew in NYC and then Johan when I moved back to LA as I was ramping up into ceramics full time. Not only do I enjoy wearing the clothes and beating them up, but the support and rapport I have with the entire 3sixteen team is also something I really appreciate. We’ve worked on some projects in the past, but I was excited to get a little cohesive collection out and everything just fell into place. The shade of blue was something I’ve worked with before and if you look closely, it's not perfectly solid. There's a bit of a fade characteristic, which like jeans, will look better and worn in the more that it's used. The matte black accent on the lip is something I took from my Lucy Mug.
A big thank you to Phill Kim for his partnership - we continue to be inspired by his craft and count ourselves fortunate to be able to work together on this new project. We will release the PKK for 3sixteen collection this Friday, November 1st, at noon EDT online. You may also shop the collection in person at our LA Flagship.