The Workaday Handmade founder considers himself lucky to be a 21st-century potter and embraces the medium's possibilities for both fun and function.
Forrest Lewinger moved to New York in 2011, after completing an M.F.A. at California College of the Arts, and found work as a studio assistant for a ceramicist. While firing the kilns and wedging clay, he mulled over ideas of his own and what it meant to be an artist starting out—without a studio space or much time to call his own.
What he did have, he realized, was his lunch break.
Lewinger seized that moment to make a single original work a day, experimenting with interpretations of classic blue and white ceramics. “Some of the patterns came from manhole covers or wrought-iron fences,” he recalls. “I was pulling in inspiration from the world around me.”
As these glazed wares, which he dubbed his “lunch pots,” piled up in his apartment, they caught the attention of friends who encouraged him to exhibit at Brooklyn’s Renegade Craft Fair. Wholesale orders quickly followed, and when Lewinger launched his own line, the name was inspired by the lunchtime routine that had started it all: Workaday Handmade.
Five years later, Lewinger is convinced that he’s found the right outlet for his creativity. “Clay somehow works really well with my personality and how I like to make things,” he says. “It’s very intuitive and tactile.” He also describes it as a fun material to play with, given its transformation from wet and malleable to rigid.
Geometric patterns and confetti-like splatters painted or etched by hand are among the signatures of Workaday. “I like when the pattern crawls over the edge and goes inside of the pot,” Lewinger says. “That way I feel like it’s not just a pattern in the surface of the clay, it’s actually an inherent part of the material itself.”
“On my lamps, the body is just slightly tilted, and you can sort of see the handprints,” says Lewinger. “The shade is also ceramic, and I’ve carved into it to make a reference to a pleated shade.”
This interest in reimaging everyday objects dates back to Lewinger’s childhood in rural Georgia. His parents—a furniture maker and a teacher/illustrator—gave him and his brother the freedom to spend days out in the woods, building all kinds of structures.
“The studio is maybe a recreation of that in some way, a place where you’re away from everybody else and free to do your own thing,” Lewinger reflects.
Lewinger recently took a break from his Workaday routine to visit an artists’ residency in Oaxaca, Mexico. He found it fascinating to visit with local potters, some of whose work reflects centuries-old techniques and styles. Next on his travel wish list is Japan. “I like being in cultures where I feel like I’m in a different space than my own,” says Lewinger, adding that it gives him a new creative energy when he returns.
Ultimately, the studio is where Lewinger is most in his element, working to make art day in and day out—and inspiring others with his example. He says people are often taken aback when they learn that ceramics is his day job. “I feel super lucky that I get to do it,” says Lewinger who, in a sure sign of success, now takes a lunch break.