Pot Dealings and Blue Feelings: A Chat Amongst Pals
Interview led by: Samantha Shaw, MM Founder
I’m thrilled to introduce Lauren Strybos, full-time wildlife biologist, part-time potter at From Tree To Sea, and a long time friend / creative companion. Lauren and I met in highschool, and over the years our friendship has continued to grow in ways I couldn’t imagine. We’ve walked together during some blue phases (hello young adulthood), and she remains a go-to for life advice, creative chats and wild daydreams. I promise, she’s just as amazing as her Instagram feed in real life — colourful, creative, and upbeat — she’ll light up the room with positive vibes. In this conversation, we chat about her creative journey and how she ended up in ceramics, lessons learned with the medium, a peek at the blues through her lens as a conservationist, and how she embraces the blues emotionally.
S: Hey Lauren! This is pretty fun! I’m excited to kick off an interview with a good friend and fellow creative. I’m going to start with a tough one... Who are you? Not to be confused with what do you do, because I feel that is too common…
L: Oh man, I’m surprised how hard it is to talk about who I am without referencing what I do, but I can appreciate a challenge. Hi folks! My name is Lauren Strybos and I’m a nature loving, ceramic pot dealing gal in southern Ontario.
S: Hahaha. Upon quick skim, “pot dealing gal” just jumps right out. She’s a ceramic pot dealing gal, guys. So… tell us about your pot dealing journey... How did you get started with From Tree To Sea?
L: It’s really interesting how you say journey – I’ve come to learn that distinct creative moments might not seem related until you’ve taken the time to reflect on them. There are some particular stops along the way that I believe to have been significant in the creation of From Tree To Sea.
Some people might not know this, but From Tree To Sea is a moniker I began using way before I ever even took my first ceramics class. With my enthusiasm for outdoor adventures and my interest in environmental conservation, it came to me very organically. It just felt so right. I’ve been telling people that my ‘journey’ with clay began in 2015, but it recently struck me that it started much earlier than that (thanks to my aunts for pointing that out to me!). I had never really connected the dots. Throughout my childhood I was completely enamored by polymer clay. Sculpey, Fimo, all those brands with their brightly coloured squares wrapped in little plastic packages. I would save up my allowance and run off to the art store to buy stacks of it, and then I’d spend hours making tiny sculptures (mainly animals) to give to various family members. And then I started making larger pieces, with more detail and more character. Eventually I moved away from this, likely too busy turning into the angsty teenager that I was (this is when I met Sam you guys, if only you could have seen our side-swept bangs and ridiculous Myspace photoshoots. Good times).
S: ^ TRUTH. *Turns up Fall Out Boy*
L: *Dies of laughter*
Fast forward to the first summer of university, when you and I attended a local yoga festival where a few pottery wheels had been set-up for people to try. I gave it a go, and ended up with a very wonky, lumpy bowl, half made by myself and half made by someone who actually knew what they were doing!
S: I remember that! Ananda Festival was incredible. That just reminded me of that deep emotional moment we experienced together during ecstatic yoga.. Higher Love was playing, and I think we all sort of transcended at the same time. I think back and it was kind of a blue experience for me — like a light, faint, airy blue — a brief moment of clarity, bliss, awareness, realization… It’s hard to describe but I’m sure you can connect. That was a bit off track… So after that first experience on the wheel, what was next?
L: It was seriously magical! That chance encounter with clay lay dormant in my memory for a few years, but I think it eventually sparked something. In late December 2014, I made a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish in the upcoming year – taking a pottery class was on there, just above trivial resolutions like eating less chocolate (never happened and will probably never be on my list again). I found a class and fell into it whole-heartedly, sharing peeks of things I created on Instagram and gifting a lot of it to family and a few friends. When classes ended a couple months later, my love for the medium continued. I moved north of the city, and through quite a bit of scouting found the studio I now work out of, Ways2Clay in Richmond Hill. Working out of a fully equipped studio with the freedom to make whatever I wanted was an amazing feeling!
There are so many factors in-between that brought me to where I am today. Above all, I think being a part of our own tiny tribe of creatives with entrepreneurial dreams really helped fuel my desire to turn From Tree To Sea into a small business. Though the group looks a bit different now, the support is still there, and it’s so important.
S: Totally agree! I think being surrounded by a tight knit group of creatives during that particular chapter of our lives really guided me to where I am today. You and I were very much indulging in craft for passion at the time, while pursuing the academic path expected of us. But we also had friends starting up a clothing line, another friend pursuing illustration full-time, and in hindsight, it was all so important to both of our journeys. I was still trying to map out my future, but these friendships always kept the creative path illuminated, and for that I’m grateful. Beyond our group of motivators, was starting up a small business in the arts always a good possibility for you?
L: I grew up in a household that nurtured my creative side to an extent, but didn’t really support the idea of creating art as a full-time gig. I was told time and time again that I would never be able to live off the money I could make as an artist, and for a long time I never really considered pursuing it as a career. I think this is somewhat common (with maybe the exception of those who were raised by artists)? My dad wasn’t around as much when I was younger, as he moved back to Jamaica shortly after I was born, but he’s actually an arts school dropout. He specialized in sculptures, so maybe it’s something that runs in the family - things really do come around full circle! And I think he’s secretly pretty thrilled that I’m pursuing a ceramics-infused lifestyle.
In a way, I’m happy with the path I chose… rediscovering and pursuing a passion for creating only enforces my belief that it is something I am truly excited by and interested in. Not to mention the broader worldview my background in environmental studies has given me! I’ll be spending the beginning of this year creating with a bit more intention than before, focusing on specific forms and patterns that I enjoy and testing out new ideas that have been floating around for far too long.
S: Amen! Let those new ideas breathe! I think that’s so important in maintaining the passion and momentum as a creative — honour the inner voice that’s telling you.. “Try something new!” What else has your time with ceramics taught you?
L: There are so many valuable lessons to be learned in a ceramics practice (which, unsurprisingly, can be applied to countless other aspects of life). Any potter will testify that you very quickly have to learn to let things go – things will break, crack, warp, or inevitably turn out completely different than you expect… even when you’re on the very last step! After hours of work! I’ve learned to laugh about it (or get grumpy for like 20 seconds before I shrug it off and get on with my day), but it took a while to accept as part of the process.
In the interim between my ceramics class ending and finding a suitable studio, I was hand-building a lot at home. I had a little desk covered in plants, notebooks and clay tools, with boxes of clay stacked underneath. Lots of little pinch pots and slab plates that didn’t turn out as desired, but there was SO MUCH JOY in creating them. In all honesty, I was VERY intimidated by working on the wheel when I began frequenting the studio. I had this weird concept in my head that hand-building was the ‘safe’ way to go – I had more control, could move at my own pace… there were less variables to pay attention to all at once. I’ll admit to being bit of a perfectionist at times, so there were moments where I would work with the clay for so long that it lost some of its structural integrity and would collapse with even the tiniest nudge in the wrong direction. It’s all part of the learning curve though. Things can usually be fixed or altered if something goes wrong, but occasionally you just have to let go of a piece if it’s not working out. The clay itself can be forgiving, but you must be forgiving too.
I’ll have days where I get into the studio with intentions to do the things I know I should do (e.g., glazing, recycling clay, etc.), but I am almost always drawn to the wheel. To be honest I’m still at that stage where sometimes I set out to make one thing, and it turns into something completely different… but I find that so exciting. I can generally throw the same shape multiple times if I’m in production mode and trying to make a batch of similar objects, but I don’t think it’s nearly as fun. I’ve heard a lot of potters laugh and say they’re so glad to be out of that stage, which I totally understand, but there’s really something to be said about seeing where the clay takes you. I think we have to get you on the wheel to try it out!
S: I’d love that! Livestream of me making a mess at Lauren’s studio to come…
Now that you’ve been playing with ceramics routinely, how would you describe your relationship with the practice? Is it primarily for passion, to pay the bills, an art of expression, etc.?
L: I make for myself - to release stress, to express myself creatively, to explore the boundaries of the medium I’m working with; and I make for others – my hope is that a piece will resonate with them in some way, whether it becomes part of their morning ritual, acts as a vessel for a special object they hold dear, or even if it simply brings them joy to see it on their shelf. Art in all forms is so subjective, it makes everyone feel a little bit differently… how amazing is that!
S: Agreed! Perception is fascinating. I’ve been continually amazed at how differently people interpret and feel the blues, and just how subjective blue is as a concept, but also a colour. We could both be looking at the same shade of blue and have totally different experiences and reactions to it. It’s wild.
With a name From Tree to Sea, I imagine nature and the colour blue resonates pretty deeply with you, and even a quick skim through your feed suggests a pull to blue. I find the connection between nature and emotion so powerful. Blue in particular always seems to draw an emotional response from me, either amplifying existing feelings, or calling me to reflect on neglected ones. How do you think the blues in nature affect you emotionally?
L: Blues in nature are so interesting because they aren’t really all that common (apart from the vast sea and sky). As with many others I’m sure, I think naturally occurring blues instinctively make me feel happy and content. It kind of strikes a chord in my soul. Growing up in a family with Caribbean roots, there was a lot of love for strong colour and patterns, and the vibrant, bright blues found in nature were not uncommon in family members’ households. Not to mention an innate love for the sea – with a father who spent many years as a professional scuba diver in Jamaica and a sun-worshipping beach loving mother, my adoration of turquoise blue waters was only natural. I think about the odd creatures that were blessed with that hue which may be generally uncommon within their taxa – something that makes them so unique.
On a sadder note, sometimes thoughts of the same blues that bring me joy also remind me of the difficulties we have brought upon ourselves in regards to our disturbance of the earth’s natural regimes. As I made my way through university, I was warned not to dwell too deeply on it. I think it’s really easy to get caught in a bubble of like-minded thinking and forget that you are part of a still very comparatively small collective that believes in the same things that you do. It seems instinctual to want to protect our planet’s future, yet day after day I see instances of scattered garbage, disregard for fellow creatures, and people who just plain don’t see the point in trying to change things for the better. There are so many different ways to help preserve our resources, some that require a very small and simple change in habit. I recently found @stevieyaaaay on Instagram, she’s all about zero waste and sustainability and I would definitely recommend her blog.
Many of us are exposed to these beautiful, vast water bodies and a bright blue sky, but I don’t think it always hits home just how lucky we are. Lucky to feel dreamy emotions about these things, when there are those who can’t experience them as we can, or are struggling to protect their rights to clean water and air. And though we’ve seen recent examples of these popping up all over the news (the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline & numerous deadly smog and air pollution issues throughout China, to name a few), they are not new issues. I remember being in Beijing a few years ago, and having to stay inside because the smog was so terrible. Soon after, we travelled to another province in China and I saw a bright blue sky for the first time in days – it gave me a deep sense of relief I hadn’t experienced in that way before.
That being said, the growing spotlight on issues like these gives me hope because it means that people are starting to pay attention and are becoming more and more aware!
S: See I love that the same blues I see in nature make you reflect on completely different things than me. I think that’s the beauty of blue — it’s so flexible and forgiving, but almost always demands a reaction. I know it’s kind of contradictory, but when I’m feeling blue, I need to be alone, but know that I’m not alone. I need to spend time exploring my own thoughts, but it always helps to turn to a close friend to ease the mind when it’s quickly spinning, “Is this normal? Am I normal?” When you’re feeling blue, what keeps you going?
L: I’m the same way. When I’m blue I like to hang out by myself and throw on a good playlist or some instrumental music. Music can make you FEEL things so immensely, and sometimes I just want to wallow in my sadness and think of the worst-case scenario. I remember a long phase in my early 20s in which I would randomly get depressed — I felt embarrassed and ashamed about it because it was happening so often… I didn’t want people to know I was feeling so down, because I felt like it was a ‘bad’ thing. And then I would feel guilty for being so sad, like my depression was hurting others but I couldn’t deal with it. Looking back, I realize just how silly that was. You can’t help feeling how you feel, and sometimes the best way to deal with deep emotions is to slink down into them and just stay there until they subside. Apart from that, my first instinct whenever I’m down is to talk it through with my partner, or call up one of my closest friends and rant or cry or whatever. Good friends will let you do that for free.
S: I gotchu girl. How about creatively — where do the blues as a feeling find space in your practice?
L: In terms of feeling the blues creatively, this probably isn’t news to you (since you are my right-hand gal and I’m always calling you for advice or your opinion), but I have a shocking amount of panicky, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, is anyone even going to like this?” self-doubt moments. I definitely agree that one of the main things to keep in mind is that you are not alone. Everyone goes through bouts of sadness at some point. Do you have a support system? Friends, or people who appreciate and understand what you do? If not, start building one! Reach out to fellow creatives on Instagram, Facebook, whatever your platform of choice is. Even if they can’t give you any advice on how to break out of the blues, it’s helpful knowing that everyone gets down and struggles at different points throughout their creative journey. Hearing other’s experiences is a huge inspiration to me. I’ll look up Q+A’s with my favourite makers, listen to interviews, all that jazz.
S: In closing, can leave us with a quote or excerpt that makes you think of the blues?
L: From the ever-inspiring Rupi Kaur;
She is water
To offer life
To drown it away