Finding Creativity

Minh Singer is a ceramics artist based in Brooklyn’s art-filled Greenpoint neighborhood. We joined her in her bright, plant-filled apartment on a sweltering summer afternoon. As the fans whirred, we sipped elderflower cordial (from handmade cups, naturally), admired her flourishing plant collection, and discussed how she came to be a full-time creative, and what she’s learnt on her not-so-easy journey.

Photos by  @maddytank

Photos by @maddytank

What’s your personal brand elevator pitch?

I make decorative, hand-built ceramics, inspired by the wonders of the universe.

How did you figure out what your passion was and decide to pursue it as a career?

It was a very long journey. Everything I’ve done and learnt in my past culminated in ceramics. I tried doing everything I thought I wanted to do (retail, art education, styling), but nothing fit with my personality.

Ceramics started as a hobby, and then things started falling into place. In my other jobs, I faced a lot of resistance: it was always hard. But with ceramics, things unfolded easily. When I felt doubt, something would open up. I decided to commit to it, no matter whether I found it hard or boring. I married it in my brain, and dove in from there.

I made the commitment to ceramics as a career when lots of things weren’t going well: I was having problems with my family and my job. The only thing that made me happy was ceramics. It was the only thing I could control. When my day job laid me off, my boyfriend at the time said: “You can always get another job. Why don’t you try doing your art?” So I did!

Previously, I’d always worked for someone else. It never occurred to me that I could work for myself. My ex had experience as an entrepreneur, and explained that it was probably the hardest thing to do, but encouraged me to try it. Now I can’t imagine working for someone else, so I have to make it work!

You source your inspiration from Mother Nature, but live in NYC. How do you stay creatively inspired every day?

I’m definitely not creatively inspired every day! Four weeks ago, I came to the end of a really tough, busy period, and since then I haven’t created anything. What I need right now is a break!

I have to go and look at art that really inspires me and helps me remember why I’m an artist, how powerful art is, and how it can move somebody. And I have to spend time in nature. This weekend I’m going camping on a beautiful part of Long Island where there’ll be glittery rocks and water. I need to sit, do nothing, look around, and be in the water. That’s how I get my inspiration.

Living in the city makes it hard to get my nature-fix, so I fill my house with plants and light. It works to a certain extent, but it’s not enough, which is why travel’s so important to me.

It’s important that I prioritize making time to slow down, but when you’re self-employed that can be hard—there’s always something to do and it’s easy to feel guilty! But, there’s a yin and a yang, right? You have to take care of your yin side (get rest and have fun!) in order to nurture the yang. My work is joyful, grounding, and colorful: if I’m deprived of these things, my work suffers.

I’m also inspired by the 40 other people at my community studio. I can bounce ideas off them, be inspired by their work, and feel supported by them.

minh-singer-ceramics

Can you share the essentials for people who want to follow a creative career?

  1. Don’t be a perfectionist. Be okay with making mistakes. A lot of people—especially women—feel like they need to be perfect. But honestly, my work exists because of mistakes. It looks how it does because I made mistakes, took a step back, and liked what I saw! Mistakes are part of making a business or doing anything creative: you have to embrace them.

  2. Accept rejection. Not everyone’s going to like your work or care about it. But you have to care. If you want to be a creative, you have to be true to yourself, without trying to please everyone. When I decided to start doing this, my younger sister told me I should get a real job. I said “interesting”, and carried on. You have to believe in yourself, whether people support you or not.

What piece of advice would you give your younger self about working life?

Community is important. You can’t do everything by yourself. You have to ask for help. When I was younger I wasn’t into asking for help—it felt embarrassing. I didn’t get to where I am by myself: there was support, encouragement, and help along the way. This wasn’t true for a lot of industries I’ve been in, but it is now, and I think that’s why it’s working for me.

What brand of confidence do you carry around?

Memories of nature. I go to Cape Cod where there are these amazing ponds. In the pond I lay on my back, look at the sky, and I’m at peace. At that moment, I know that I belong in the universe. Whenever I feel ungrounded or insecure, I draw energy from those moments.

Are there any mentors or role models who’ve fueled your career?

The two 70-year-old women who run the Cape Cod residency I go to ever year. They’re best friends, and they’re badass. They play with fire, carry heavy things around, and are full of life. They’ve made me see pottery and ceramics as my retirement plan: there’s so much to do and learn! I know that I’m going to get older, and that’s scary, but these women make me almost look forward to it. It’s okay to get older! I think when I’m 60 I’ll be at the prime of my life.

What’s at the top of your goal list?

One of my long-term goals is to start teaching and build my own community. That way I can give back, share knowledge, and effect change with art.

My short-term goal is to have a good break now! After this time off, I’m going to get back to work!

What are you not sorry for?

I’m not sorry for choosing this path of being an artist. It’s a hard journey to follow. I come from an Asian family (we don’t have many artists among us) who always ask why I have to do this and how I’m going to make money. But I refuse to apologize for it. I don’t have a choice. I tried other things, and this is what works for me.