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How a Ceramics Master Creates One of a Kind Plates for Restaurants

Erin Hupp has learned to embrace the imperfections in her art

Oakland-based Erin Hupp at Erin Hupp Ceramics views restaurants as live galleries to showcase her art. “I really modeled my business on a high-touch, collaborative kind of model,” says Hupp of restaurants using her work. “I’m inspiring the chef to create their art, and they’re inspiring me.”

Hupp begins her process by weighing out the clay based on what kind of dish she is making. For example, for a drop rim pillow plate for the San Francisco restaurant Nightbird, she weighs out 2 lbs. 12 oz. of clay. “Ceramicists always calculate their clay shrinkage rate. I’ll lose a whole inch on the width of the plate,” says Hupp. “But starting out with the same weight provides enough of a framework for it to be a collection.”

She then rolls the clay out, similar to how a chef kneads dough, to get the air bubbles out (if there are big enough bubbles left, then the clay will explode in the kiln). Next, the ball of clay goes onto the wheel, where Hupp can sculpt it with her hands to make the exact design that she desires as it spins.

“The clay is completely wet when I start. And over time you’ll see that it’s going to slowly dry and therefore retract,” says Hupp. “The crystals of the clay, the particles of the clay will sort of come in on themselves.”

Once the now-molded plate is taken off the wheel, Hupp measures it out and sees that it is nine and one-eights inches in length, which she rounds down to nine. “I want to have that standard deviation,” says Hupp. “I want it to look ever so slightly different.”

The plates then dry off on a wood board before being trimmed at the bottom. Hupp puts her signature spiral design on the bottom of the plate at this point, as well as a stamp with her logo. The next step is slow-drying, which helps prevent cracking in the clay due to weather and other factors. They then go into the kiln for the first time and then get wet-sanded down to rid the plates of any dry particles that shouldn’t be consumed. “Underneath the glaze there are hundreds and hundreds of fingerprints, because it’s handmade and it’s art,” says Hupp.

Hupp then hand paints a glaze onto each of her dishes to give them their signature look. Because they are hand painted, each dish looks just slightly different than the next.

Hupp sees her plates as an extension of the dining experience. “Those little touches are everything. It’s not just making art, it’s thinking about how the art is going to help the experience in the end,” she says.

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