Raina Lee’s ceramics look like they are from another world. The porous surfaces mimic moon craters and her glazes reference the happiest of earth tones. Each piece feels intensely personal but not overly serious, whimsical but with intention.
Always curious and an adept multitasker, she’s also a writer, a karaoke expert, and a DIY publisher of zines. We shared a meal and chatted with Raina in her dreamy treehouse behind her Eagle Rock home and studio.
Join us in store Saturday, May 4th, for a trunk show with Raina featuring her new kitchenware line.
Tell us a little bit about how you started in ceramics.
I started doing ceramics as a way to make tangible objects, which to me feels so physical and part of the world! I’m a writer in my other life and I spend most of my time in my head. Though I love writing, I can feel like I’m not living in my body sometimes. I’m ping-ponging through a wormhole of thoughts! I published a handmade zine about video games and growing up with technology called 1-Up for a number of years, and I'm interested in digital spaces and how we can have poignant experiences in places that aren’t actually real. So I’ve spent a lot of time in abstract, virtual spaces.
For me making ceramics is a way to give shape and color to abstract thought. It’s the best antidote to writing. It’s amazing to have an idea and then to quickly make this thing. And then the second the thing exists it’s no longer just an idea. It’s about the shape, texture, color, and how it relates to the world. People probably feel that way about having kids! I also used to live next door to a ceramics studio in Brooklyn and I just had to sign up for classes.
A lot of your work seems to be about texture as much as it is about form. Can you share about your process for creating the porous feeling of your Moon Landing line as well as the pebbled texture on the Sunset Cups?
In ceramics I’m driven by curiosity. Every time I fire I don’t know what I’m going to get. I hope it’s not a disaster like an explosion or really ugly. Most pots that come out are bad! And if they’re not you’re not taking enough risk! I am into constantly learning, making oddball glaze and color combinations just to see what will happen. I’m a generally obsessive person and when I get into something I take it all the way. I want to see if materials will foam up, or if glazes will shrink, crumble, or crawl. I want to know how to make metallic surfaces and iridescent lusters shine. Then when I know how to do something I want to try something else.
You make all of your glazes in-house. What are your color inspirations for your glazes and what are the advantages of creating your own glazes?
My palette is inspired by the colors you find in our natural rock formations, such as in Bryce Canyon, Yellowstone, or Zion, the swirling red rocks outside Las Vegas, and the painted hills of Landmannalaugar, Iceland. Places with geothermic activity such as Iceland have the best rock colors. Reds, bright oranges, yellows, greens, and blues even. What I find interesting is that our glaze colorants such as cobalt, copper, iron, titanium are all mined from our rocks, and are the same compounds that make these colors in our landscape. I also love day-glo fluorescents but have yet to figure out how to do that in a glaze!
Making your own glazes you can adjust the texture, color, or surface. You have free reign and can go in any direction. All you need is the recipe, so it’s actually just like baking. You measure each ingredient by weight and mix it up with a whisk. You add dry materials to wet. You stir until there are no more streaks and then you fire!
How did you develop the technique for your horsehair raku? In addition to horsehair can you tell us about the other carbonaceous materials you use to create your patterns?
Horsehair raku firing is a Native American technique. They burnish their works with colored slip and the pieces are unglazed. I glaze the interior of my pieces and then raku fire them, after which, if they survive, they can be used as tableware. I fire the pieces to 1400 degrees, take them out with tongs, and then lay organic materials on the surface. Horsehair makes especially clear lines as do feathers, and sugar creates a cascade of smokey dots. But I’ve also used twine, human hair, banana peels, leaves, whatever I have in the backyard! I mostly stick to horsehair, feathers, and sugar, but I have a friend’s dreadlock I’m going to try! I’m trying an Eastern European technique called Obvara where you dip the hot piece into a fermented mash of yeast and flour. The firing smells like baked bread!
You’ve written a book about the history of karaoke. Can you share how you fell in love with karaoke? And what are your top 3 karaoke songs?
I wrote a book years ago called Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Ultimate Guide To Karaoke Domination. I grew up singing karaoke with my parents on the Laserdisc player in our living room. In Taiwan as well as the rest of Asia, karaoke is just the normal default activity, like watching TV or playing a board game. Even my Chinese dentist in Alhambra had a karaoke machine in his waiting room! My top 3 change all the time but I do love “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac, “Drunk In Love” by Beyonce, and “Beez In The Trap” by Nicki Minaj. I love showtunes like Les Mis too!
And finally, what's your favorite thing to cook lately? Can you share an easy recipe?
I live off this stuff! Serve with crudite or toast or if thinned down, a dressing.
Spiced Almond Hummus
½ cup water
½ cup grapeseed or any neutral tasting oil
1 cup almonds, raw or roasted
¼ cup lemon juice
3 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp soy sauce or Bragg’s Amino
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp Aleppo or red pepper flakes, to taste
Soak almonds overnight.* Add everything to a blender and blend 1-2 minutes. Check consistency. If you want it creamier, add water by the tablespoon and then blend again. For a curry flavor try subbing curry spice mix or garam masala for the spices.
*If you have a Vitamix you don’t need to soak the nuts.
Thank you Raina!