April 27, 2016

Rotterdam based illustrator, Rachel Sender first dabbled in clay as a way to give herself a break from her computer and she’s been obsessed ever since. Her ‘Pothead’ series is a selection of quirky ceramic planters with personalities. Combining her illustrative style with clay, her pots each take on a life and character of their own. From grumpy looking faces to cheeky smiles, we love their distinctive style. We caught up with Rachel to chat about people-watching, what it’s like to work for yourself in Rotterdam and crushing a backpack full of unbaked clay.

UO: Can you tell us a little about your story so far?

I should start by saying I work mainly on illustration and graphic design projects. Ceramics is a sort of hobby that’s gone a step further than your usual hobby boundaries!

From a very young age my mum sent me to art lessons; I’ve always loved drawing. Luckily, at the schools I went to art lessons were available and I got a lot of encouragement and motivation. One of my dad’s friends was a graphic designer and that’s how my interest in that field started to grow. I think I was curious about the fact that he could make a living doing creative work. That might have been the seed that blossomed into the decision of studying graphic design. After my bachelor’s in design, I did a postgraduate in illustration, also in Barcelona. I worked for a few graphic design studios in Barcelona doing mainly graphic design work, but illustration kept calling. After some time, I felt like moving abroad and I knew I liked Rotterdam having been there before. Since I moved to the Netherlands, I’ve been combining design and illustration work in my own studio.

UO: You’re based in Rotterdam – what is it you love about the city and how do you feel Rotterdam inspires your creativity?

Rotterdam is a great city to be in if you’re working for yourself. There is a sense of community. There are quite a few people in design or art fields but we support each other as much as we can; the vibe isn’t as competitive as it can be in other cities. There is room for us all.

Rotterdam is still figuring out what it wants to be as a city, due to its past. The city center was bombed in WW2 and to this day there are still construction sites all around. This gives it a very different atmosphere to other Dutch cities and has allowed for quite experimental architecture to pop up. It seems as if there is a constant search for identity. It doesn’t settle, which is exciting, it’s sort of bubbling and this atmosphere is contagious. In Rotterdam I have the feeling that people are very open to ideas, it’s just a matter of setting your mind to it, no matter how wacky it is.

UO: When did you first start experimenting with clay as an artistic medium and what made you fall in love with it?

I started playing with clay in 2014. I thought it would be a nice way to get off my computer, which I spend far too much time on. I joined a course to learn how to wheel throw, but I was terrible at it. So I decided to change techniques and try sculpting. I find it suits me better as you can work at a slower pace and little accidents can easily be corrected. I love several things about working with clay: it doesn’t involve a computer, the squishiness of it is awesome, you’re working in three dimensions as opposed to two, which is what I’m used to with my studio work. And at the end of it, you get an object that you or someone else can use and enjoy every day.

UO: Can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind your potheads?

I love drawing and watching people. I tend to get caught staring at people and I love eavesdropping on people’s conversations. With my Potheads, I like enhancing this feeling that each one of them is different by varying their features. I also write a brief text with each one about a personality trait. For example, Amelia, the hanging Pothead, took her youth for granted and now doesn’t know where time went. Or Olivia, she believes in open relationships but can’t help getting feelings of jealousy. The aim is to make each Pothead unique, not only in appearance, also in personality, so that the people that take them home feel like they will be getting a new housemate.

UO: What’s been your worst clay-based disaster?

Unbaked clay is super delicate! You should avoid transporting it whenever possible. I learned the hard way. I had made a bunch of pieces at home that I had to transport to the kiln, which is not at home. My bike had a flat wheel so I put them in my back pack and took a tram. The tram was crowded, I leaned against a tram wall and… crumble, crunch, crack… a backpack full of destroyed, unbaked Potheads as a result.

UO: What are your tips for working successfully with clay?

While working with clay I find it’s important not to be in a hurry. It’s a delicate process that can suffer if you are not in the right mindset.

UO: What other mediums do you enjoying working in?

I’m an illustrator, so I like drawing. I feel comfortable using coloured pencils, I like the textures and different intensities you can get. I treated myself to a graphic tablet lately. It’s awesome and has completely changed my workflow. I bought a bunch of digital brushes and the results are so close to the real deal, you can’t see the difference. There is something wonderful about working by hand, but when a deadline is tight I’m really thankful for certain technology advances!

UO: How would you describe your style in three words?

Humor, colour, people.

UO: Who or what inspires your work?

Travelling is a great way to get inspired because your senses are more open than when you’re in a familiar place. Being outside and people-watching is what inspires me the most. I started teaching a year ago at the design academy and that is also a great way to keep on evolving and learning from others. The internet is a wonderful place to see other people’s work and it can be inspiring, but it can also be intoxicating in a way. I feel true inspiration is offline.

UO: Are there any themes you are drawn to again and again in your work?

Drawing people. Did I mention I like drawing people?

UO: Where do you want to take your work next?

I’ve been wanting to illustrate some short stories a friend of mine wrote. I am very good at procrastinating though… but I do really want to get it started. I’m also interested in printing techniques and I find self-publication is accessible to everyone now and it’s a great way to get your work and ideas out there. Together with a couple of friends, we organise a zine festival here in Rotterdam. Hopefully, I will be able to show the illustrated short stories in the next edition of the festival. That’s a good deadline to have. I’m good with deadlines.