Joanna Lee, Age: 27
Hana Ward, Age: 28
A: So tell me a little bit about yourselves and how you both met?
We met during our first week at Brown University at an orientation program held by the Third World Center (now called the Center for Students of Color).
A: What does Uno+Ichi stand for?
Uno+Ichi means “one plus one” — uno as in the Spanish word for “one,” and ichi as in the Japanese word for “one”. We found this fitting for its more literal meaning of two people working together on something: me+you, Joanna+Hana, 1+1. We also wanted it to speak to our feelings of taking this one step at a time. It represented our belief that we could build something by taking those little steps, one at a time, each day.
A: What inspires you both?
Hana: music, grandmothers, the alphabet, rap-hip-hop (and alliteration), little-kid conviction, rice, the desert, mesoamerican pottery, vegetables, eggs, hiragana, Basquiat, Philip Guston, other artists' work.
Joanna: art history, color, wildflowers, babies, folklore and folk art, nature and things found in nature, Matisse, wabi sabi, other cultures, my sister, languages, postmodernism and postcolonialism (maybe not inspiration but I think about it a lot)
A: Can you tell me about your ceramic pieces? What do you make and if you could tell me about the materials you use.
Each piece is handmade in our studio in West Adams. We generally collaborate to make things — sometimes one of us will throw the piece and the other will attach handles. Then one of us may paint it, while the other glazes. Other times, we will work on a piece by ourself from beginning to end. We stay in communication both verbally and visually, trading ideas and riffing off of each other's work to create a cohesive collection.
A: Did you go to school or was this a self taught hobby?
Well, we are definitely always learning. I would say starting our own business is self-taught, haha. We definitely didn’t go to school for that! But ceramics is mostly a taught art form. Joanna took classes in high school, some in college, and after college as well. Hana took classes after college. We both continue to take classes actually — there is so much still to learn!
A: How long have you both been running Uno + Ichi?
We started collaborating and making things under the name “Uno+Ichi” back in the spring of 2015. We purchased our first wheel and kiln in the summer of 2016, which is when things really got going.
A: Do you make everything and are they one of a kind pieces/ do you wholesale?
Yes, we make everything! Most pieces are one-of-a-kind, although there are multiples for most of the things sold on our website. We still have many items that are one-of-a-kind that we only make one of. Those we usually sell at our popups or to stores that carry our work. Yes we do wholesale!
A: Is this a full time job for you now? If so how long did it take for you to actually start making some bucks to go full-time?
We go back and forth. Right now, we both have part-time jobs even though Uno+Ichi requires full-time level work (it’s a grind to fit it all in!). But we’re still waiting to “actually start making some bucks!” Haha.
A: What is your favorite thing to make? mugs? pots? vases?
Hana: I like making large Niñas the most I think, and Niñas y Chicos second.
Joanna: I like throwing super large and super small pieces. I like waddling both extremes, seeing how big I can go (with the limitations given by the size of our kiln and wheel) and similarly, how small I can go (using tools where my fingers can’t reach!).
A: Can you tell us the process of making an item?
First, you condition the clay. Sometimes this just means taking it out of the bag and wedging it. If it’s recycled clay, then we get it to the proper consistency for throwing by wedging it.
2: you weight it, ball it up, and slam it down on the wheel.
3: you center it. This is the hard part. The more perfectly centered, the easier it is to throw.
4: you start to pull the wall up with your fingertips.
5: you form it to the desired shape.
6: you may trim/clean up the bottom and take it off the wheel.
7: let it dry to a leather-hard state
8: trim the piece on the wheel and stamp the bottom when finished
9: make attachments if necessary
10: Let dry (control the drying if you added attachments. You don’t want it to dry too quickly or it will crack)
11: clean up the bottom of the piece and let fully dry. Paint it if necessary
12: bisque fire
13: glaze the piece
14: glaze fire
16: wash. Now it’s ready!
A: Where can we find your stuff?!
In LA: Giant Robot 2, Prelude & Dawn, Arora Boheme, The Underground Museum, New Stone Age, General Admission, CAFAM, among others
In the Bay Area: Little Paper Planes, Crimson, Andytown Coffee Roasters, Mischief
Abroad: Ventana Creative Collective in New Zealand
A: 3 tips you would give to an aspiring sculptor?
1: Take classes
2: Embrace disasters and mistakes
3: Be patient and let the clay dry slowly (aka cover your pieces!)
4: To prevent the kiln from blowing up, don’t fire until all greenware is dry!!!
A: What is it like working with your best friend?
Hana: It’s fun! Sometimes Joanna is my therapist. Working with clay occupies your hands but gives your mouth lots of time and space to move, haha. It’s hard sometimes to build something you’re not quite sure how to grow and we may make mistakes along the way, but it’s nice to work with a friend who rolls with it and is supportive during the tough times.
Joanna: We work well as a team, whether it be in the balance of our skill sets or just when we need some encouragement. We have similar opinions and tastes in terms of defining our brand, but we also are very different in our skill sets and how we approach problems, which I think is a good thing! That way, we cover all the bases and we are never short of ideas and perspectives when solving problems. Also, we are each other's number 1 cheerleader whenever we need some kind of pick-me-up.
A: Any big future plans or collaborations to watch out for?
I think we can mention this now, but our 'Mama' Ninas y Chicos are soon to be featured in Frankie Magazine! What a dream!
A: Did you have any mentors helping you open this creative business?
Hana’s dad has been helping guide our venture (not to mention, he built our current studio from the ground up!). Joanna’s high school ceramic teacher, Ms. Woody, also has been very instrumental and supportive to us.
A: Where do you hope to see your work in one day?
Oh my gosh. In the hands of Tracee Ellis Ross. At stores in New York and abroad. In Oprah Mag! In a gallery!
CHECK OUT UNO+ICHI!