The first time Adrienne Ceramics founder Jeanette Adrienne Wee went to Japan was in 2010, after she was awarded a scholarship to study the language and fashion design by the Japanese government.
During her 1.5 years there, she noticed how regardless of size, Japanese eateries “always served their food in nice ceramics and dinnerware”.
Intrigued, she signed up for pottery classes in a small studio near her dormitory.
She recalled in an interview how the teacher was very strict, only letting her make teacups over and over again because she had not perfected the technique.
“Being 19, my attention span was a lot shorter I guess,” she revealed in an interview with us.
“It was [also] very difficult trying to make something that is perfectly shaped, because clay is so flexible and the lack of control and strength makes it easy to ruin a piece.”
“[But] it was also difficult being told to make something over and over again.”
In her one year of learning the craft, she only managed to make teacups and bowls of different sizes!
Jeanette’s pottery journey came to a standstill upon her return to Singapore in 2011 after she enrolled at the National University of Singapore (NUS) to study Communications and New Media.
“I didn’t continue doing pottery until I joined a statutory board as an Account Manager in 2015,” she recalled.
As Jeanette indulged in her hobby at different studios, she fell in love with the craft again, eventually starting Adrienne Ceramics as a side project.
Wanting to hone her pottery skills even further, she bit the bullet and applied for a residency programme in Japan.
And as fate had it, she got accepted.
While the budding potter immediately knew that she “should just go for it because life is really short”, there was something holding her back – her comfortable full-time job.
“My boyfriend, who is now my husband, was the one who supported and encouraged me to do it full time, so I’m ever thankful for that.”
Her friends and family, however, expressed their concern about her decision.
[They mostly said:] ‘Siao ah, government job so stable and good and so many people want to get a job also cannot! And here you are wanting to quit?’
“However, my parents saw how serious I was, and eventually let me do it because it is my life after all.”
From Student To Teacher
Not looking back since that definitive decision 4 years ago, Jeanette is now a full-time ceramic artist.
Finding her groove wasn’t completely smooth-sailing, though.
For one, she wasn’t earning any income initially.
“It was quite a risk, and a lot of the time I was wondering if I made the right decision,” she sighed.
On top of that, there were also sunk costs like renting a place and pottery equipment that she needed to grapple with.
Fortunately for Jeanette, her husband’s friend had a space in Chip Bee Gardens and they worked together to set up ves.studio, a studio and store for ceramic products.
Other than being its co-founder, she juggles several hats at ves.studio – teacher, studio manager, and creative director who leads the designs for commercial projects.
These days, when Jeanette’s not creating a new piece or improving her technique, she’s teaching individuals the craft three to four times a week.
“I’ve been teaching for 1.5years! Wow, it feels like yesterday when I taught my first class,” she chirped.
“I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment to see my students improving, and taking the craft seriously.”
It’s more important to teach them about the process of the craft than the result, and if they appreciate and persevere, then I think I did a good job.
When Life Imitates Art, And Vice Versa
Beyond the backbreaking hours (a commissioned piece can take Jeanette 2 to 4 weeks to complete), one can also imagine the sheer amount of discipline and patience required to master pottery.
And for Jeanette, the craft is more than just gaining a new skill – her practice has also shaped other aspects of her life.
“Seeing how my work has evolved over the years, I’d definitely say I’ve changed for sure,” she reflected.
She brought up how her mentor, renowned potter Iskandar Jalil, used to tell her that “a pot can really reflect the maker’s character”.
“I used to just throw a piece on the wheel and squash the piece whenever I feel like it’s not working out, since clay can be easily reclaimed,” she recalled.
[But] now whenever I work on the wheel, I do my best to turn every lump of clay into something beautiful.
“I’m more adventurous in terms of trying new things with my work, and I also try to be [that way] in other aspects of my life as well.”
“I Think There Isn’t A Day That I Don’t Think Of Giving Up”
With the wide availability of cheap, mass-produced ceramic products, there are many misconceptions surrounding the process.
One of these misconceptions that pottery is “as easy as watching someone make a pot in a time lapse video on Instagram”.
“It is quite difficult to explain this after watching such videos, but the truth is that pottery takes many, many years to be good at it.”
“There are many steps to making a pot, including throwing, trimming, firing, and glazing – and that is done over a few days or weeks.”
This is also the reason why Jeanette refuses to conduct one-day trial classes for her pottery classes, in spite of it being more appealing to a wider demographic.
“If we are to teach pottery, then at least do it right.”
To many, Jeanette is ‘living the dream’, having successfully managed to turn a hobby into a career, but she’s honest about the toll that comes with her work.
I think there isn’t a day that I don’t think of giving up. Why work so hard and earn so little?
“However, knowing that that’s not ‘it’, wanting to reach further heights, making work that I can proudly say [is mine], and [finally,] making good art…that’s always been a drive for me.”
I’d like to thank Jeanette for her time!
Featured Image Credit: @benngooi