Jeanette Adrienne Wee on learning discipline and patience through pottery

Jeanette Adrienne Wee is one of Singapore’s rising pottery makers. She creates pieces under her eponymous brand Adrienne Ceramics and also teaches at Jeanette shares with us her experience in teaching, creating, and the life lessons her mentor renowned ceramist Iskandar Jalil imparted to her. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What got you started on pottery and how has your passion for pottery evolved over the years?

I wasn’t really exposed to pottery until I got a scholarship and went to Japan to study in 2010. The craft is ever-present in the everyday lives of the Japanese, even the smallest coffee house served their food in these lovely ceramic wares and that got me interested in joining a course with a nearby studio.

One class lead to almost a year of classes in Osaka and it also taught me about the strict discipline the Japanese have in pursuing a craft. I feel that this practice has stayed with me even till now as I commit to this craft full-time.

I’d say my passion for pottery has evolved in a very technical fashion. I used to focus more on the form, trying to make perfect symmetrical pieces, but now I’ve learnt so much more about clay as a medium and focus of making asymmetrical pieces with layers of textures to tell a story. 

You mentioned before that renowned ceramist Iskandar Jalil is your mentor. Could you share a little bit more about your tutorship and how has that impacted your works as an artist?

Cikgu Iskandar is an educator who believes in teaching not just the craft, but the discipline and the life philosophies that come with pottery. I used to be very impatient with my process and he’s taught me that the work is very telling of the artist’s mentality and sincerity.

Clay is easily taken for granted, in the sense that because clay can be reclaimed if it doesn’t work out on the wheel, many people who learn pottery (including myself in the past) are hasty with the process and will just chuck their piece in the reclaim bucket if it doesn’t work out. But Cikgu always tells me to honour my process and practice.

Now I take every step, every idea, and every mistake to heart, and once I get to the clay I work while taking each step seriously, making sure that no effort is wasted.

How long do you take to create a pottery piece? Could you take us through the process?  Many people ask me about this, but it’s quite hard to specify just one piece. I could say that I take around a month to create a pot, but in that same month I also make several other pots. I work on personal commissions and my own pieces under Jean Adrienne, but I also oversee commercial production of works under

While the steps are the same, like wedging the clay, throwing on the wheel, trimming and then firing, the thought process of making pieces for production and an one-off piece are very different, but both skills are essential to have as a potter.

I really take my time to conceptualise a Jean Adrienne piece, planning the concept, form, and functionality of the piece and that typically takes a month for me to make. Sometimes I work on a set of pieces, and that can also take around 1-2 months.  I make all the glazes myself with recipes I tweak to make sure it’s my own. Sometimes a piece can also take 6 months to a year as I am trying to create a particular glaze. For colours, I will have to experiment a lot more before I make a glaze colour that I’m happy with.

Do you use pottery to bring out Asian culture and heritage? If so, could you share a little bit more about how you do that? 

I wouldn’t say that I’m consciously doing so, but because so far my teachers are from Japanese and Singapore, I’d say my style is more Japanese/Asian than western.

What do you think is the general perception of pottery or art in Singapore/Asia? Is there any misconception that you would like to correct or change?

I think that Singaporeans are generally not aware of how difficult the craft is because we are largely exposed to the videos of people making pots on time-lapse videos that look deceptively simple on Instagram and such. They also look at prices of commercial, mass-produced wares in places like Daiso, Ikea, Crate and Barrel etc, and they do not really see why handmade pottery is expensive.
But that’s starting to change as many people have begun learning pottery, and to even make a decent-looking cup takes at least 10 classes. My students also often tell me they have gained a new-found respect for potters. That’s just the making of the form which is just one step. There are also the chemistry and physics aspects of it that require a lot of testing and experimenting e.g. making of glazes and getting it to adhere to the type of clay one uses, and the organisation that is required to store the pots or load a kiln.
There is also a lot of manual labour involved that people don’t see when they look at a teapot. There is just so much more than meets the eye to pottery and I cannot emphasise that enough.  

You also run courses at Ves. How is teaching art different from or similar to creating art? 

Oh, quite different and also similar in some ways. Different in the sense that when it comes to teaching anybody anything, it requires a lot of people management which is requires a certain level of, well, diplomacy, in explaining things. I have to say I am quite a strict teacher and I do not hesitate to scold my students if they are doing something foolish, or if they repeat the same mistakes.
Similar in the sense that when you are invested in the person’s progress, you get frustrated when they do not focus or understand, the same way you would be frustrated with yourself when something doesn’t work out. However, teaching and creating my own work have both taught me to honour the process and to be patient, and most importantly, to accept failure as part of the journey and understanding that is a beautiful lesson that changed how i see things in my everyday life. 

You seem to be fluent in Japanese and Korean too. Tell us more about that.

Well, I am interested in North-Asian cultures and studied in both Japan and Korean in my early twenties. I spent around 5 years learning Japanese and 4 years learning Korean, and thought I’d probably become a translator and work in Korea after I graduated from university but I guess we never know what life brings us. 

Is there a quote or life motto that you live by?

I try to live a life without regrets and to always be honest with myself and others.

Lastly, what do you think the future holds for Asian arts and artists? 

I think it’s quite interesting as Asia is stepping up on different art platforms, even in music and films, and I’d love to see more focus on that as Asian art has so much history, is so layered and sophisticated it definitely deserves more attention! 

Check out Jeanette’s works at Adrienne Ceramics and her IG @jean__adrienne.

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