The Face Behind The Name: Filipa Pimentel
I'm super grateful to have found Filipa and her ceramic work on instagram. Right off the hop we had something in common with our love of family and community. Filipa balances creating amazing ceramics with work and family life. She is very much a "super mom" in the sense that her family means everything to her and will do anything for them. Here is a little bit about Filipa, how she finds "balance" and and her path in the makers world.
Ross: Hey Filipa! Thanks so much for doing this I’m excited to have you here. Lets jump right in! Obviously you found ceramics somehow, how did you get involved right from the beginning? Was it classes or what inspired you to move into that field?
Filipa: It was a bit of a winding road actually. I took art classes all through high school, but we never really did ceramics and even though we had a kiln I never really got into clay. The art classes in high school though did prompt me to go to OCAD and I was accepted there initially for sculpture and installation program. I did my first year in that which is foundations and I realised that it wasn’t really for me – I did enjoy it, but I didn’t love the way the program was structured. It was really focused on concept, and I really wanted to master materials. I wanted to learn how to do something with my hands and make it very well. Later that prompted me to shift into the material art and design program in my second year. In that program you have to take fibre, jewelry and ceramics as your first three core courses and then in your second semester you get to decide which to pursue. I went in thinking that for sure I was going to be a jeweler. I love jewelry and I convinced myself of that for the entire year even though all of my professors were telling me “No you’re totally going into ceramics.” I basically spent all my time in the clay studio and barely spent any time in the jewelry studio. By third year I came to my senses and completely focused on that. It’s been an obsession ever since.
After I graduated my four years at OCAD I went straight into being an artist assistant for a ceramic artist in Toronto and then while doing that I was trying to develop my own line on the side. From there I shifted into working in my studio full time and working part-time as a studio technician and teacher at the Mississauga Potter’s Guild. Like a lot of artists, ceramic artists have to wear a lot of hats which is a balance of creating steady income like from teaching or working for another artist ideally as well as doing your own work on the side. So its a lot of long days working nonstop in order to do something you love. I wouldn’t change anything about it. I did that for about 8 years.
Ross: Did you find that when you were working with other artists for the income that they were also mentoring you or offered you some sort of internship program so that you learn more of their style and techniques?
Filipa: I learned a lot of what I know through the various jobs and even in teaching. You’re teaching a variety of different things based on what your students are interested in learning – things that you may not have explored on your own in the studio. You are learning from each piece that is made, what works, what goes wrong, how to fix things. Also being a studio tech, I learned a tremendous amount of general knowledge about everything. When there was a question that I didn’t have an answer to I had to find it out on my own. I became very resourceful. My first job with the artist in Toronto gave me a look into what’s involved in doing shows. She used to do shows like the One Of A Kind Show, which I ended up doing myself as well for 6 years. I learned how to setup for a show and how to ramp up production leading up to the show. I helped her produce as well as sell [learning how to sell was new]. She is an incredible saleswoman. I learned so much from her on the sales side and I also learned a lot of what not to do – there are a lot of bumps in the road, no straight path. Which is great but there’s no set way of doing things and I find that can steer people away from this industry because if you’re not willing to handle that turbulence then you won’t enjoy what you’re doing.
Ross: Definitely the true – so let’s talk about that a little bit. One of the things I try to do is use this platform to inspire new artists, makers, etc. to get their feet wet and “go for it” essentially. Obviously, there is no pathway for people to follow that’s clear but is there anything that you recommend to makers – whether their just starting out, or are at some sort of roadblocks that may be looking to push through the roadblocks or even just get the ball rolling.
Filipa: I think one of the biggest things [that I’m also still learning] is to focus. It is so hard to stay focused on what it is you want to do. There are so many options that are going to be presented to you from commissions and custom work or other opportunities here or there that you can really split yourself in too many directions at the same time. From my experience that doesn’t lead to success or happiness because it can become overwhelming and the pressure starts to build and it's far too much. I’m still learning the ability to focus in right on the goals and how to get there/what are the steps so you can just follow through with that and stay on course. I think that will lead to ultimate happiness and success in my opinion.
Ross: Now, is there anything that must absolutely be done that is sort of a necessary evil of just paying your dues in the industry/maker world that may or may not pull you from the path you want to be on?
Filipa: I think taking the odd commission or teaching [I love teaching so that really helped. I never thought I would, but I had the opportunity to teach in the first job that I took and I realised I loved it] can be a necessary evil even for the people that don’t love it because its steady income in the industry. Doing certain things for the steady income is important because if you don’t have that then you don’t get to enjoy the other stuff as easily. We all need basic financial stability to live and function so if you don’t have that obviously it’s hard to build the pieces and enjoy the stuff you’re making. Doing shows is another one in my experience that you can’t get away with not doing. Whether its art fairs, shows like One Of A Kind it’s unavoidable. People need to touch the items, hold them, see them with their own eyes because photos only get you so far.
Ross: Totally, its more about touching and sensing the quality in person opposed to assuming what it’s like over the internet. I think one of the big things with these shows is it really separates who is willing to go all in on their products. Between that and brick and mortar I always find the brands or makers that hang back still have a little bit of fear when it comes to just going for it or getting their name out there. I guess the way I’ve always looked at it – “am I creating things for my friends or peer group or do I want to take it to a larger scale and really push outside of the bubble I’m in and expand the brand.”
So moving forward you’re balancing a busy work schedule, you have a beautiful family and you’re still doing pottery. How do you find balance in your day or at least prioritize your time?
Filipa: Right now, my schedule is very sporadic. I would love to have a set schedule that I can easily just follow and stick to but my youngest is 18 months old so he still really needs me. Balance, oh man, I wish! When I had my first, I realized that I would not be able to keep moving forward with ceramics full time because I was in the studio for 13 hours at a time 7 days a week and that’s not possible with children. Shows are also on weekends, and I teaching is at night so that also doesn’t work. Shows are also exhausting let alone parenting on top of that would need to take priority so it just doesn’t work. That’s why I shifted to a basic 9-5 office admin job because that pays the bills and then ceramics took a bit of a back seat. Now that the 2 kids are getting a bit older I am finding I have more time in the studio and as they get older obviously that will be easier. I can work from home now so that saves time and money commuting etc. So that will allow me to keep doing ceramics on evenings and weekends. I think every single parent has yet to find what balance truly is. It’s not so much about balance [because there never will be balance] its about finding some time to do something for yourself. Ceramics is who I am, I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s become a part of me and I need to keep that flame burning with the hopes that when the kids are older I can ramp it back up. That’s the direction I’m moving in right now. Really starting to ramp up or prepare for that and hold off on the shows which I’ve really done a lot of and laid the foundation for in my earlier years.
Ross: Balance for anyone can be a tricky one but it really seems that ceramics is a huge passion of yours. So, let’s say the kids are older, a little more self-sustaining at home and have your ideal scenario in terms of a little more freedom and maybe even a proper schedule. Where does that land you? What would your dream be when it comes to the ceramic side of things?
Filipa: with the kids in school, I would be working in my studio full time and be able to do that. If I needed to get out to a show, I’d be able to do that because they’re a bit older. That’s what I’m working towards in the realm of family. Not doing 12–13-hour days in the studio, I really want it to be a steady Monday-Friday, obviously in busy season it would go longer but ideally I want to create that picture. Once the kids are school age that shift will definitely become more realistic, but I never want to go back to that all-consuming schedule with ceramics because now I have people that rely on me and I love my kids and family. I think the biggest fear I had with starting a family and having kids was to lose everything I had already built, and it scared me because I spent all this time and energy building this up – I couldn’t just let it go. Luckily though we’ve made it work.
Ross: There will always be some sort of sacrifice that comes with that but what’s important is whether or not you can make it work.
Filipa: I mean I had a beautiful Toronto studio and now I’m in my basement at home or in the garage so that’s totally different. I still am so grateful that I have this space but sometimes I look at old photos of my old space and I was like “oh god, it was just so nice ha-ha.”
Ross: So ideally would you have your own studio that is its own separate entity - a unique space to get out of the house?
Filipa: In a perfect world I’d love to have my own space again. When the house is empty its great, but it can get noisy, and my kids come down to the studio they want to “help” which can be a real mess. I love that they have interest in what’s going on, but it can pull away from the work needs to get done. The other side of that though is that it’s in my house, it doesn’t cost anything extra to have and its perfect for right now. Once it becomes full time though and things line up, I would have a new space. I’d love to teach again and that’s not realistic to do at home either. One day it will all come together.
Ross: That’s amazing – thanks so much for doing this and working on the mugs/ashtrays and collaborating with Tool & Eye Collective!
Filipas Socials are: @filipaceramics on Instagram!
She has tons of stuff on her site that are absolutely amazing – feel free to check out her stuff and shoot her a DM for any questions you may have about her ceramics!