One of the many qualities that makes Alternative Thinking and Alternity so unique is our selection of goods hand made with love by local artisans. We wanted to acquaint you with some of the creative humans that lovingly craft your favourite products with their own two hands.
We sat down with Annika, founder of Annika Hoefs Ceramics, to share with you her story of how her business began, and how a strong sense of community allowed her to create a fulfilling career as an artist.
Where It All Began
Annika took some pottery classes, both as a child and in High School. In 2008, she began studying Textiles at OCAD, and through their Material Art & Design program was able to take a few courses in ceramics. She quickly became obsessed and tried to find every opportunity she could to get more practice.
The school offered a Throwing Club. Every week they would host a potluck, where everyone could use their handmade ceramics to eat out of, and contribute to a shared meal. After attending those regularly, she landed her first opportunity as a volunteer instructor, giving her a glimpse into what a career in the field could look like.
The Material Art & Design program at OCAD put on a sale every year, where students of all disciplines could sell their creations. The feedback she got from showcasing her ceramics was more substantial than that of her textile collection, which further encouraged the trajectory of her path. After graduating, she rented space at two ceramic studios before returning to OCAD for an additional 2 years to refine her skills. In 2016 she was able to find a position as a studio technician, and started accepting teaching jobs one at a time; from there she was finally able to quit her part-time job serving at a restaurant. Now, she was available to dedicate herself to the craft full-time.
The Creative Process
There are so many approaches to making things with clay, so every artist has their own unique process - and even for one maker, the process from start to finish may not always look the same.
Sometimes, Annika will start by sketching out what she wants the piece to look like. You can also use templates, similarly to the way you would when sewing. Once she places a piece of clay on the wheel, she adds water and starts shaping with her hands, sculpting from a base cylindrical shape. "Once you have a certain skill level and rely more on your muscle memory, that's where you can start to get more creative with it. It's a really freeing and therapeutic process."
Annika's signature style utilizes chevron designs & burst patterns. She was drawn to the clean designs, angular forms, and the sharpness of geometric patterns. After having worked with the materials for some time, she started to experiment with the thickness of the glaze, and how thin the lines of the patterns could be. But it's not just aesthetics that inform her designs - they also serve a practical purpose, ergonomics and user experience being paramount to the design. Having taken some surface design classes at OCAD, she developed a technique that leverages on the texture of the raw, unglazed clay to create a tactile surface, providing an area to grip onto. That's how she's able to make usable drinking mugs without a conventional handle.
Annika works with a wide range of colours, but at our shop, you will see her minimal palette of choice in turquoise, white and midnight blue. Making all the glazes herself, she developed this simplicity over time, having started off with more colour ways, and intentionally pulling back to meet demand. This also allowed her to streamline wholesale orders for more consistency.
Annika aims to make her practice more sustainable every day. "Unless you're digging up the clay yourself from your own backyard, everything takes its toll on the earth". What's interesting about clay is that it can be recycled indefinitely before it's fired. This means that making intentional decisions while the piece is still wet allows her to reclaim that clay and avoid waste as much as possible. When shipping out orders she reuses packaging and uses recyclable or biodegradable materials as much as possible.
Annika first met Christina, Shop Manager at Alternative Thinking, at Trinity Bellwoods' Queen West Art Crawl. They quickly connected and stayed in touch after the event, and responded to Christina's invitation to start selling her creations at the shop in 2019. Alternative Thinking is just one of the many stockists that carry her collections, including Craft Ontario and the Gardiner Museum Shop. The versatility of her creations allow her to curate offerings based on the clientele. For instance, she offers ring holders at jewellery designer Suetables, and vases at Euclid Farms, a local urban flower farm & florist.
Like any business owner, not all opportunities that present themselves can be acted upon.
"Sometimes I have to say no to people if I feel I'm being stretched too thin. At the beginning I was taking anything I could get, which I would recommend to anyone starting out."
From there, some decision making is involved to decide which relationships are the best fit. "I'm usually working with people who are also in the arts, so they are very supportive and understanding."
Spreading the Love
The ceramic community in Toronto and the GTA is small, but mighty. With a mix of hobby potters & artists, Annika has always felt their support to be strong and nurturing. Her teaching roles at the Mississauga Potters’ Guild, Gardiner Museum, clayArt Studios and the Haliburton School of Art and Design offer a balance, creating a more fulfilling experience than just making & selling alone could offer.
"Something that is an everyday task may not excite me anymore, so it's really exciting to see the joy that it sparks in someone else, and it feels great to do that for a living. It's really nice to share the joy that comes from making things".
The teaching environment also provides a space to learn and experiment with new things that she wouldn't normally do in her own work, providing a whole new stage for creative freedom.
Building a Community
When asked what advice she would offer to other hobbyists or makers who are trying to manifest a fulfilling career for themselves, here's what Annika had to say.
"If you can afford to take the time to go to school, even for a few months or half a year. It's really about joining a community, like a pottery guild, and making connections with other people." Craft Ontario is another great community she recommends joining that supports glass, wood, fibre & ceramic makers.
Looking forward to 2022, Annika is currently working with a mentorship group to put together a show held at the Gardiner Museum shop this coming July. She also plans to go back to teaching next month, and will work on her production line alongside the work for the group show.