From the grains of oatmeal-colored clay in her ceramic pieces to the delicate beams of light in her photographs, Debbie Carlos‘ work is organic and unfussy–regardless of the medium–as she masterfully highlights the natural beauty of her materials and subjects.
Her focus on experimentation and playing with new forms has grown into a portfolio that now includes jewelry, posters, pipes and even skincare products. Outside of the studio, Debbie stays busy curating, teaching and collaborating with creatives across the country. From her home base in Lansing, Michigan, we reflected on her multidisciplinary practice and what keeps her focused.
Hi Debbie! What are you working on these days and what’s exciting you at the moment?
Hi! These past few months I’ve literally been buried under a mountain of clay and prints getting ready for the holidays. It is finally slowing down now and I have a bit more room to breathe.
Some exclusive pieces I’ve made for Tetra came out recently so that is pretty exciting. I’m also working on producing another exclusive piece for a favorite retailer that will be coming out the beginning of next year that I can’t quite tell anyone about yet! I’m also just excited for what the new year will bring and have some ideas brewing.
After studying photography in college, what led you to start your ceramic practice?
Ceramics was on a long list of things I wanted to try and it was one of the very few things that actually stuck. I’m kind of an impatient perfectionist, but was driven to work very hard for the past four or five years honing my ceramics skills, so I guess I must really like it!
I am always trying to improve and I’m constantly learning something new, which keeps the process exciting. As frustrating as this medium can be, I’ve never felt like I wanted to give up. It’s a really beautiful feeling to find something that just clicks. For me, that was photography almost 20 years ago and, more recently, ceramics.
Aside from making your own work, you also curate art shows and teach workshops. How important is it for you to use your platform to showcase other artists and designers?
One of the things that I’ve come to realize when moving to a smaller city like Lansing, is that finding your community is not always easy. It is especially true if you work from home which can already be quite isolating. Sometimes you’ve got to build your own community and that’s why I love curating art shows, organizing pop ups and doing workshops. It’s a way for me to meet like-minded, creative, interesting people and a way for those people to connect with each other as well.
How do you prioritize the many mediums you work in, as well as your curation and production work?
During breezy times, it is whatever I feel most connected to and excited about at the moment. During busy times: Deadlines.
I love the earth tones in your ceramic pieces and your photography focuses heavily on elements like clouds, stones and plants. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with nature?
I think the overarching theme of my work boils down to serenity–producing things that reflect that, as well as feeling peace during my creative process. For me, that means doing things that are not too complicated and letting both my images and the materials I work with just be themselves.
In photography, I search for what is naturally extraordinary. In ceramics, it’s creating cool and unique forms using simple gestures while embracing imperfections.
Your ceramics feature smiley faces, pops of color, and lots of squiggles; what is your process like for developing new products?
To put it succinctly, lots of playing around. I have fun doing it and that is reflected in the work.
You moved to Lansing, Michigan a few years back and have lived in LA, Worcester, Manila, and Chicago. What brought you to the midwest and how has it affected your work, if at all?
I moved to Chicago to go to the School Of The Art Institute of Chicago a few years after I graduated from my first college in Worcester, Massachusetts. Art school definitely affected my work just in the way of learning new ideas and exploring new mediums. One thing that I learned to love was architecture. The very first class I attended just so happened to be one focused on architectural history.
Living in a city like Chicago, I could learn about it in the classroom and then walk out and and see what I just learned about in front of me. It was amazing and eye-opening and made me love Chicago even more. I looked at place and home and landscape and forms as decoration and ornamentation in new ways and I think that very much plays into both my photographic and ceramic work.
You recently converted your garage into a studio and you’ve also spent time photographing the workspaces of other artists–can you talk a bit about the importance of a dedicated studio space?
I cannot emphasize how important it is to have a dedicated studio space and I feel so fortunate to have one that is both connected to my home but separate enough that I can close the door and feel like I can leave my work at the end of the day and enjoy personal time. This is very much a part of being both a professional artist and maker, regarding what you do as a job you show up for everyday, but it is also a big part of self care.
The holidays can be an especially intense time of year for creators and small business owners. How do you take care of yourself during these months?
To be honest, I did a really bad job of taking care of myself. This was the first time I was in very heavy production mode as my ceramics business has grown this year and I had no idea what the physical and emotional toll was going to be like. However, it was a very good learning experience and one very important project for me going forward is to figure out how I can more realistically and sustainably do this during very busy times. If anyone has any advice, I am all ears!
Do you have a favorite piece of feedback you’ve received from a customer?
As a very visual person, I love it when people send me pictures or tag me in posts showing me how my prints, posters, or ceramic pieces have fit into their lives. I will never get tired of this.