Karen of Clay, S’il Vous Plait is perfecting the art of mixing functional and decorative clay art. She’s got a unique style that’s fun to use or display! Meet Karen!
Please introduce yourself.
Hi! My name is Karen Papais (puh-PIE-iss) and I currently live in Oakland, CA. I moved here just over 2 years ago with my (now) husband who I met when we both lived in Brooklyn, NY. I grew up in central/upstate New York in the beautiful Finger Lakes region.
What do you make or do?
My primary focus as a maker is ceramics. I throw on the potter’s wheel, and occasionally make hand-built items, as well. I love to make bowls, and my shelves at home are full of all sorts of bowls that I just keep making! My work is both functional and decorative – I like to blur the line a bit. Mostly I try to make beautiful objects that can also be used. I work out of a community studio in Berkeley, CA. In addition to working with clay, I make some paper goods – greeting cards, mini-paintings. I plan to do more of this in the future to expand the type of items I sell. I also like to experiment with making my own healthy beauty products – soap, lip balm, body butter. I might consider expanding and selling some day, but as of now, it’s just for personal use.
Where can we find your creations?
My ceramics can be found in my Etsy shop: https://claysilvousplait.etsy.com. I also showcase additional work on my website: www.claysilvousplait.com. I sell occasionally at craft fairs, as well, and am considering expanding into local shops. I will soon be launching www.karenpapais.com. This will replace claysilvousplait.com, and I’m excited about the new adventure.
Is there an interesting story behind the name of your business? How did the name come about?
Clay, S’il Vous Plait translates (from French) roughly as “Clay, please!” It’s a playful tribute to my previous blog about trees, which I called “Trees, if you please.” I also have a bit of French heritage and have always loved French culture. Truth be told, however, I know that it’s tricky for many people to say and spell, so I might rebrand at some point. Stay tuned!
How long have you been creating and is it your full-time job?
I took my first ceramics classes in high school and college. I’ve been playing with clay ever since, and only started selling my work in 2015. It is definitely not my full-time job, as of yet! I am a self-employed professional graphic designer, which allows a little flexibility to work in the ceramics studio on the off days or hours. But it’s still a tricky balance, and a constant juggling act. My pottery and art is certainly influenced by my design education and background – my work tends to be elegant, minimal, and clean, which is partly my personality coming through, and partly my design training: focusing on “white space” and allowing the work to breathe.
When you’re not making things, what do you do?
I love to cook and take walks in nature. I try to get to yoga a couple times a week, because I always feel better afterwards. I’m a Spotify and podcast addict. If time and money were no object, I’d spend lots of time visiting museums, exploring new restaurants, gardening, dancing like crazy, taking photos, or curling up and reading. I could read for days. I would also travel to seek out wonderful sensory experiences – sights, tastes, sounds, warm sun and breathtaking natural beauty.
Is creativity a luxury or a necessity for you?
I try to always live creatively, and I feel we are all creative beings – we just have to find ways to allow creativity to flow. Sometimes it’s easier to access than others. I’ve spent the past couple years trying to slow my life down, focusing inward, learning to allow my creativity to feel safe enough to explore and poke it’s head out of its shell. I believe that when we tap into our inner creative selves we become most alive, and most authentic. As far as actually “making” things – I always feel better after I do, so I suppose it’s ultimately a necessity in order for me to be the best “me” that I know how. But I think everyone has the capacity to live creatively, even if they aren’t making a tangible object.
What obstacles have you had to overcome to lead a creative life?
This is an endless and constant struggle – I grew up with the “understanding” that you could never make money as an artist. I don’t know exactly where it came from, and I don’t want to place blame. But at some point in life we take responsibility for our own story and future. So now, it’s me – and my active little mind – creating my own obstacles. Limiting beliefs about what I can and can’t do – fears about what will or won’t happen – ridiculous imaginings about scenarios that may never happen…I’m well practiced at being my own worst enemy/barrier to success. Perfectionism is a big obstacle. Lack of money and time are sometimes tangible obstacles, but I think that usually those are magnified by my mind, as well. I’m working on changing my mindset – focusing on possibility – in order to expand my world and allow myself to dream big.
Did someone in your family, a friend or teacher introduce you to your creative side or have they helped you along the way?
My parents – a tax preparer and a retired engineer – are actually both creative in their own way. My dad tends to be a dreamer, and my mom is a doer. I don’t know if they realize how creative they both can be, and in fact, are. They appreciate beauty. My sister is a dancer and an artist as well. I loved art from as long as I can remember. My art teacher in high school was the best. It didn’t take much to find my creative side. What’s been much harder is to remind myself as an adult how much joy it brings me, so to make time and space for it. To not judge my own work.
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere. It’s all about awareness and perspective. It seems my mind is most welcoming of inspiration and ideas when I’m outside, smelling fresh air, moving my body, taking a shower, or breaking a regular pattern (i.e., getting curious or exploring – whether it’s a new neighborhood, a museum, a new street to walk on, a new shop to poke around in). Traveling always changes my perspective, and is inspiring. I find other artists’ work inspiring, and have some blogs and Instagram feeds that I follow, but it’s easy for me to slip into comparison so I have to be careful about following too many current artists and makers.
What’s on the horizon for you and what you do?
There are some changes happening my life right now, and I’m not sure how this will affect my business over the next year. I still feel like a “newbie” with my creative business and at this point, I mainly need to produce more work, and begin to establish a stronger web presence. I have longer term goals and ideas, but I’m learning not to expect too much from myself too fast, which can set me up for disappointment.
What inspiring advice would you give to other creatives be they established or just starting out?
I can only give the advice that I most need myself (and have been getting from my entrepreneurial podcasts, friends, inspirational books): Just start! Just do the work. Start making, and see what happens. Don’t judge your work too soon, because it’s all a process. Trust the process. Just see what happens…And don’t let fear drive. It’s ok to have fear…but it’s not ok if it’s making the decisions for you.