“I have so many ideas all the time that I don’t sleep much,” says ceramic designer
Janaki Larsen, happily reflecting on long days in front of the wheel and at the kiln. The acclaimed artist produces up to 100 ceramic vessels per day, notably creating dishes for Noma in Copenhagen when it was voted the world’s best restaurant (Janaki got the commission via a stylist friend when they worked on a cookbook together), so it makes sense she’s not wasting precious time lying down. Many creatives would burn out with so many hours spent working, but that’s precisely what gives Janaki balance — and especially so now that she has an expansive new studio, where those myriad ideas have room to fly. For our March 2022 issue, Janaki invited us into her new studio and shared her creative process with us.
Scroll down to see Janaki in her creative element!
Janaki’s previous studios had always been pint- size, with constant to-ing and fro-ing while raising her now 12-year-old daughter, Lola, co-owning Vancouver’s
Le Marché St. George café and designing the winery for its sister outpost, La Fabrique St. George.
But the pandemic brought about profound change. “I used to have a production schedule and timelines for my commissions, which gave me a sense of security,” she says. So when a large order was cancelled on March 18, 2020, it alarmed her. Shutting herself in her studio, Janaki surveyed the now orphaned ceramics, dusted off her abandoned website and posted them all online. “Everyone was trapped at home and, because my work hadn’t been available to the public for a long time, it sold out immediately,” she says. The enthusiastic response inspired her to start focusing solely on ceramics.
This plate, commissioned by Noma, is made with a custom glaze unique to the restaurant. “I love a challenge and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Noma once sent me a piece of seaweed as a reference for a glaze color,” says Janaki.
Janaki always knew she’d be an artist because her parents — painter and potter Patricia Larsen and painter and stonemason Ron Crawford — had long paved the way, but she never thought that ceramics would provide a viable living. “I’d only seen ceramics at craft fairs or admired people with small studios on Salt Spring Island; I couldn’t wrap my head around scaling up,” she says.
Within the first three months of the pandemic, another opportunity came along: a fan who’d been following her, urged her to move to a larger retail space he owned next to
Livingspace Interiors in the city’s Armory District.That 3,700-square-foot space had been sitting empty for a year, so Janaki jumped at the chance. “There had always been more that I wanted to do in my former 1,000-square-foot-studio, but I’d always lacked the space,” she says.
To put her imprint on the sleek new industrial envelope, she set about installing a kitchen with a six-burner range. “Food is such an important part of my work,” she says. “My dishes are for food, my commissions are often for cookbooks and chefs often bring food to the studio.” Now, her new workspace accommodates a showroom, studio, glaze laboratory, kitchen and welding room. “I love that everything is done in-house,” she adds. “I can cook lunch and then see how the welding is coming along in the next room.”
In the kitchen, an antique Chinese cabinet that belonged to Janaki’s mother, artist Patricia Larsen, serves as a pantry.
That fluidity is what keeps Janaki creative. “I’m always trying to achieve a seamlessness,” she says. “Some people have their day job and then they have their other life, but I don’t ever feel like that — it’s all just one mash-up. If I didn’t have a daughter, I would probably live in the closet here!”
Nothing in the studio ever stays in the same place for more than a day; her new furniture was built with change in mind. “I’m constantly working on a new idea — one day, the tables I designed on wheels are set up as a long-table dinner for 42 and the next, they’re being used for mixing glazes,” she says.
A 12-inch-diameter plate typically costs $375, and Janaki updates her plate styles every month, selling them through her website.
The kaleidoscopic array of glaze samples on the wall also serves as an unexpected art installation. “It’s like having the most beautiful recipe box right in front of me,” says Janaki.
Although she still produces work for Noma (“You don’t say no to Noma!”), Janaki has largely stopped doing commissions. “If it doesn’t make you feel good, don’t do it,” is a mantra that’s scrawled beside her pottery wheel, and it helps her say no more often so she can focus on doing the work she loves. “When you’re holding something handmade by someone else, there’s energy and passion in that object — it’s an extension of that person,” she says. “As we get more disconnected, these pieces bring us back together; returning to my roots has made me feel connected again to people all over the world.”