If you've ever stepped inside one of our stores, you've probably seen the work of these two super-talented (and local) ladies. Christi Ahee is a ceramic artist who creates wonderfully eccentric mugs, planters, jewelry holders, small skulls with golden eyes, and teeth with gold luster fillings. Laura Berger is an artist with her own unique style that is instantly recognizable as her own. Her quirky cards, prints, pins, and ceramics are impossible not to fall in love with.
We caught up with both of these busy artists to chat about their day to day lives and what it feels like to be a fierce female maker. Here's what they had to say:
US: What inspired you to start making?
CHRISTI: I initially studied Art History in college, but I had always played around with clay here and there as a hobby. It never really stuck for me until my boyfriend got me wheel throwing classes at Lill Street Art Center for my birthday after we graduated. That sort of sealed the deal for me.
LAURA: I've been making things since I was a kid -- creativity was always both the escape hatch and my main way of entertaining myself. I remember my friend and I had a magazine we "published" weekly with hand-drawn fashion spreads and ads and stories that we wrote. We had a pretty low subscription rate though (just our parents) so unfortunately that endeavor didn't last super long. In college, I was a performance major but I minored in design so I also worked with costumes, makeup, and scene painting for the theatre. The first thing I painted there was a 40-foot replica of a French Renaissance painting for a backdrop, which involved a lot of long nights alone in the theatre having panic attacks, but it all worked out. There's no better way to learn than by getting thrown into the fire, so I'm actually grateful for that experience. I started making my own work in my mid-20s after a really hard time in my life -- a long-term relationship had ended and my father got ill and passed away. I tried running away to another country and when that didn't work out, I came back to Chicago and just started painting and drawing every night to try to distract myself.
US: What does a typical day look like for you?
CHRISTI: I have a hard time getting out of bed, so my morning process is very slow. I like to check my emails in bed and lounge for a bit with my cats. I'll then make some coffee and figure out what I have to do for the day. My studio is less than two blocks from my apartment so I usually walk over there around 10 or 11. From then it's a full on mud fest. I'm not a very tidy person, so when I have time to sit at the wheel for the entire day, it gets really messy. Depending on how many orders I have, I head home anywhere from 5-10 pm. If I can get into a good groove, I'll stay as late as I can before I physically conk out.
LAURA: Coffee first and foremost, followed by freaking out about whatever insane news has developed since I went to bed (a new routine that I'd love to end soon), followed by a mix of administrative and creative things -- working on sketches or plans, emailing, updating websites and social media, sorting out color palettes, prepping panels, working in the ceramics studio, ordering supplies, completing illustration jobs, and of course painting. I've been working way too many hours lately because I had back-to-back exhibitions, so I've mostly been just working from 10 am until anywhere between midnight-2am. Not super glamorous! But I'm hoping to slow it down a little this year. I try to get dinner or see a show with friends or my partner sometimes and either do yoga or get outside for a run or walk at some point during the day. That helps everything.
US: Early on, how did you find outlets for your work?
CHRISTI: When I first started wheel throwing, I never planned on turning it into a job. Wheel throwing was something I could do for myself and enjoy, so I mostly gifted a lot of my first pieces. As I started posting more photos on instagram, I think people became more interested in that part of my life, so I shifted gears and eventually got my own studio. I think most of my wholesale orders have come through instagram views, which is kind of crazy, but it's been pretty successful so far!
LAURA: I actually never intended to make my work for any other reason than to make it -- it was something I went to when things fell apart as a way to try and feel better. But then someone told me about Etsy, which was new then (this is like 2008) and I thought I'd set up a shop just for fun. It seemed like there was a nice sense of community there, which I'm always longing for because my family is very small. Then someone bought something and I was really surprised. After that, I started doing the Renegade shows, which were great experiences, and some small gallery shows. And a lot of opportunities just came to me from people finding my work online. It's all been very slow and gradually evolving, and I'm constantly looking for new ways to shape the way I'm making work, what things I'm spending time on making, and what I want my work life to look like.
US: Tell us about your work space. Is there anything that's always around? What helps you work best?
CHRISTI: I actually share my studio with my boyfriend who's a printmaker. It gets really messy with all the clay and dust. There's a coffee shop a block away, so there are usually lots of leftover coffee cups sitting around. My boyfriend prefers to listen to music, but I almost exclusively listen to podcasts. My hands are covered in clay, so I need something that's gonna play for a while where I don't have to change tracks often.
LAURA: My studio is the extra bedroom of my apartment that I share with my partner Kyle. We live in Andersonville in a 3-story vintage walk-up building. The room is small, which has presented some challenges recently as I've started painting larger pieces, so I have to figure out what's next. But I'm making it work for now, and my space is cozy with a few plants, some nice incense, and a pink chair. I listen to a lot of stuff -- usually a rotating mix of NPR, music, podcasts, and dharma talks. I also really like working in silence sometimes, so I usually do that for a couple of hours each day.
US: Do you have any advice for aspiring makers?
CHRISTI: Don't sell yourself short! Set your prices where you're actually paying yourself. Being an artist or a craftsman takes a lot of time and skill, and you should pay yourself accordingly! Also, pay a lot of attention to the business aspect of being a maker. That kind of pragmatic thinking doesn't come naturally to me, but it's such a huge part of being a self employed artist. We enjoy making the things make, so set yourself up in a way that you'll continue to enjoy making what you make.
LAURA: I think the best thing is to just keep going and always be working. Persistence is key because the more we make the more we settle into our own voices and create really honest stuff, which I think is what ultimately draws people in to someone's work. I also think discipline is huge and it's important to constantly be working and learning and putting stuff out there -- Instagram is great for this -- and to not be overly hard on yourself. Ok, that's way easier said than done and I know I need to take my own advice on the self-kindness front. But it's good to keep working on it! :)
Want to see more work from both of these amazing artist? Make sure to stop into our stores, check out their websites, and follow both of them on Instagram!
CHRISTI AHEE: www.christiahee.com / @chrisi.ahee
LAURA BERGER: www.lauraberger.com / @_lauraberger_