Originally from China and now Brooklyn-based, ceramicist and designer Sierra Yip-Bannicq is a master of many mediums: concrete, stoneware, wood, aluminum. The list goes on and on. We sat down with Sierra to learn more about her travels, how they've inspired her, and her meticulous design process.
Tell us. What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Sierra Yip-Bannicq, I’m half French and half Taiwanese, but I spent most of my childhood in Beijing, China. I moved to New York in 2009 to attend Pratt in Brooklyn.
Why do you make what you make? How did you get started with ceramics?
I make handmade ceramic pieces at my studio in Ridgewood, right on the Brooklyn/ Queens border. I make the majority of my ceramics through a process called slip casting, which involves creating the form you want to cast and then creating a multiple piece plaster mold. Once the mold is complete you pour liquid clay, which is called ‘slip’, into it—this process allows you to create multiple copies of the same piece. I first played around with ceramics in high school, but it wasn’t until my third year at Pratt (where I studied Industrial Design, with a focus on furniture design) that I took a slip casting class. After that I was hooked and spent all my time in the ceramics studio making molds and new pieces. As soon as I graduated I knew I needed to find a studio to continue my work.
Your site says you pull inspiration and technique from all around the world. Where have you traveled and how have these places informed your work?
Growing up in China I was lucky enough to be able to travel with my family a great deal. Being exposed to many different cultures was very formative for me and allowed me to learn about how different places specialize in particular crafts. Since moving to New York in 2009, I try to make a couple trips a year to places where I can get inspired and spend time designing. Most recently I travelled to Sri Lanka, where I was able to visit Batik workshops and discover some truly amazing patterns that the local craftsmen create using wax and natural dyes. I also spent a few weeks in Morocco last year taking classes and learning traditional Moroccan crafts--two of my favorite were a hand carving workshop in the traditional Berber style and a kick-wheel pottery class, where I was able to make pottery on a wheel that is powered by kicking your foot. Wherever I travel I make it my goal to find inspiration from the local people, architecture, environment and crafts.
Why do you love the materials you work with?
I think it is pretty hard not to love clay, it is such a freeing material to work with. I enjoy working with both clay and slip so much because it’s such a malleable material--you can pretty much get it to do anything you want. I even enjoy working with plaster to make the molds for slip casting because even though it takes a long time to make a mold, there is something so satisfying about having a great mold to cast your slip into.
What is your design process like?
My design process is something I picked up while studying at Pratt. I spend a lot of time sketching shapes and forms, and once I come up with something I like I move onto sketching three-dimensionally. I probably spend most of my time in the whole design process sketching in 3D. I use all different types of materials when I sketch, pretty much whatever I find that works for that particular shape/ form. Once I am happy with the final form, I create the positive to make a mold off of. Sometimes the positive is made from wood, plaster, silicon or 3D printed.
You play around with angles, shapes and edges in a way that’s really refreshing. How do you execute this?
I love playing around with shapes and most of my designs are pretty geometric, I think this stems from my design process and that fact that I play around with 3D sketches so much. Sketching something out on paper with lots of angles and edges can be hard to visualize until you can see it in 3D. It sometimes takes making dozens of little sketches of a shape before I’m happy with the final form. I also use computer programs that allow you to create pieces that have more angles and edges than would be easy to draw by hand.
Do you have a favorite piece?
I think I would have to say the Pento Dishes are one of my favorite pieces. I make them in three different sizes and I like them so much because they’re so versatile. I’ve had people buy them and use them as ring dishes or coin dishes, as a catch-all for keys and even as a food bowl.
As a maker where every piece is your brainchild, how do you feel when people love your collection?
I enjoy it when people like my work and part of the reason I love participating in craft fairs and maker fairs is because I get to meet the people who are buying my work in person and talk to them about each piece.
How are you inspired by New York City?
I am inspired by the city in subtle ways, I think living here for almost seven years has made me feel like New York is my home and I can see how over the years my designs have evolved and seem to be getting more and more geometric and angular. I am not sure if the architecture of the city has played a role on me but I am sure I inadvertently draw inspiration from my daily life in the city.
What is the significance of furnishing someone’s home? How does it feel to know people eat, sleep and live in their personal sanctuaries with your products?
I love knowing that my pieces are being brought into someone’s home. I hope that the pieces I am sending out into the world find good homes where they are going to be used and enjoyed. I especially love seeing pictures of my work that people send me—it’s always fun to see how they are being used and where people choose to place them in their living spaces.
Do you have any anecdotes about a certain design you’re most proud of?
I spent two months in Jingdezhen a small city in the central part of China last fall doing a ceramics residency, while I was there I was able to work under master ceramicists and learn their tips and tricks to the trade. I worked on redesigning and developing my existing designs and got advice on how to better produce my pieces; I also created a few new pieces while I was there. I was able to practice techniques that helped me with my mold making, slip casting and glazing, I learnt a lot and continue to use the things I learnt while I was there on a daily basis back in New York.