Born in Arundel, Maine but based out of his studio in Brooklyn, we sit down with ceramist Isaac Nichols of Group Partner. Laying it all bare, we discuss building an unapologetic brand and strip back the ins and outs of running an indie business.
FOUNDER OF GROUP PARTNER
MALE NUDE BOTTOM PLANTER
WHEN DID YOU REALISE THAT YOU WANTED TO BE A CERAMIST?
I think I started making pottery around 2012. I was trying to make things that were fun and functional, as a way of escaping from the pressure I felt from my years at art school. Ceramics seemed like the most basic material. It's literally dirt.
WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD BE DOING TODAY IF YOU WEREN'T A CERAMIST?
I think about this a lot. Probably carpentry or interior design... maybe painting. As of now I spend about 60% of my time tinkering. I'd probably still be doing that with or without ceramics.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY THE CHALLENGES OF BEING IN THE POTTERY MAKING BUSINESS ARE NOWADAYS?
That's a big question. COVID-19? Mandatory shelter at home orders? I think with so many great social media outlets, online marketplaces, and technical websites and resources, it's probably never been easier to be a ceramist. I really mean that. I think this tends to put a lot more pressure on the makers to come up with unique, "iconic" design pieces that really stand out. I think this is a new trend in ceramics where previously there was much more emphasis on craft and technique and even lineage and geography. I would say for starters, really identifying what you want from your practice is by far the most important thing you can do. For me there's always been more success in bringing people smiles than making lots of money. But once you decide what your goal is, you just have to put in the work and hope for the best.
WHAT DOES A NORMAL DAY IN THE STUDIO LOOK LIKE?
Well these days it's a lot of daydreaming, cooking with my partner, reading the news, checking in with friends and family, running, biking. I've even done a dance class through Zoom ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. When I was working a few weeks ago... my week was spent answering emails and general customer service. Then there's packing boxes and scheduling with USPS and UPS. This is what I refer to as the drudgery. It's become a lot of office work, but I usually find myself drawing on people boxes, writing notes to my wholesale customers and getting caught up in tangents on email and DM. I pretend that everyone I'm dealing with is a friend of mine and it helps me feel a deep sense of gratitude for my life. And I'm pretty sure the post master thinks I'm a bit loony.
COLLECTION OF NUDE TOP PLANTERS
NUDE TOP AND BOTTOM PLANTERS
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS WHEN IT COMES TO DESIGNING AND MAKING A NEW PRODUCT?
Sure. I've had the best luck creatively when I relax and just sort of play. For me this means creating a loose framework and then expanding from there. For instance, I'm going to make five new pieces every day for 30 days, as long as they hold a plant when they're finished. That's the only rule. Then I start working.
Sometimes, when I'm stuck, I try to think of a specific person to make a piece for. This is where I get the most joy from my practice.
WE UNDERSTAND THAT EACH PRODUCT IS DIFFERENT BUT HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU ON AVERAGE TO MAKE ONE OF YOUR POTS?
I made pots by hand for about two years. It was a lot of fun and also totally exhausting. For the next four years, I made molds and then made pots from the molds. This was, again, lots of fun and also exhausting. About a year ago, I traveled around Portugal with a bag of my work and a map that had about 40 factories marked on it that I'd found online through hours of research. After about six days of driving and knocking on about 30 doors, I found an amazing family-owned factory near Nazaré, which is pretty much in the middle of the country. We came to an arrangement and I started to produce my work with them. I flew back one more time and spent another week showing their staff how each piece gets painted, which is still done by hand. I think that when I was at my best I could consistently paint a face in 2 minutes and 25 seconds.
I get this question a lot! I made the first boob pot for my then girlfriend as a gift. It was just a simple pot that I tried to make as real as I could, a sort of celebration of her and the beauty that she shared with me.
I've thought about this a lot... Why do people buy my boob pots?
When I first read this I was just going to write; Why not? Why shouldn't we celebrate ourselves? Why shouldn't we feel beautiful and proud of our bodies? What's wrong with nudity?
I think that the answers of "why not" are more revealing than why. Beauty exists, sexuality exists, why these things are repressed and who benefits from this repression is more revealing of our society.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO COMMUNICATE TO THE PERSON WHO PURCHASES ONE OF YOUR PLANTERS?
That people are amazing and beautiful and that they have my support to celebrate themselves.
A MORE SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TO US AND OUR CUSTOMERS. COULD YOU TELL US WHAT YOU DO TO APPROACH YOUR BUSINESS IN A MORE SUSTAINABLE WAY?
Tough question. I think about this a lot. I could talk about the work I put into reducing my use of plastics and developing packaging that can be and has been recycled, but let's be honest... There is nothing sustainable about capitalism. I'm vegetarian, mostly vegan. That's probably the most impactful decision anyone can make regarding their effect on this planet. I think that happiness and a sense of belonging are inherent and I try to inspire this through my work. These things don't need to be unsustainable and shouldn't be.
IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE ONLY ONE PLANTER THAT YOU MADE TO TAKE WITH YOU FOREVER, WHICH ONE WOULD IT BE?
Adam pot. It's the only one I've ever owned.