Nobody brings mugs, pitchers, planters and bowls to life quite like Wai-Yant Li. His personified pottery line, Créations Li, may consist of kitchenware with small features like eyes, feet, beaks or feet, but the personalities of his creations are anything but small.
While Li's worked with a variety of mediums, he's chosen clay as his go-to material in order to tell interesting stories through everyday items. The goal of this Montreal-based artist is to make the everyday go extinct.
What is your role, where are you based and where do you sell your products?
I am the owner, operator and creator of Créations Li, a Montreal-based small business that makes quirky and functional ceramics.
I am pretty much a one-person operation, but I do recruit some staff during big rushes (say, right before Christmas, or even during the spring when more shows and store orders start coming in). I also have some folks who help me with some administration and web stuff.
Recently I moved into my very own studio and decided to bring in two other potters. But instead of paying rent, they help me out with my production in exchange for studio space. I love the bartering that happens within the art community.
I sell my products at craft shows like Salon des métiers
d’art in Montreal, the One of a Kind Show in
Toronto and 1001 Pots in Val-David, QC. Li is also sold in specialty stores in
Montreal, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.
What makes Créations Li an innovative company?
The pieces themselves are innovative and filled with personality! When I studied in ceramics, I had no previous experience or much exposure to clay, so when I finally came up with my production line, I went with my instinct.
I don’t think I was fully aware of my process, eight years ago, when I started adding faces and stompy feet on all the bowls and cups I was making in class. I just made something that I wanted to see – something simple, fun and functional, and, most importantly, enjoyable to make.
Since my first years as a ceramist, I have created an unexpected universe that has become Créations Li. Through the years I’ve come to realize how much joy and fun just one smiley mug can bring into someone’s day, and knowing that I created that with my own mind and hands, to me, makes it something very special.
What is Créations Li ’s design philosophy?
Fun and functionality. Outside of what I do in my sculpture work, all my
pieces have been tested for functionality. Design and aesthetics are very
important for me, as well – I always make sure that the pieces look balanced
aesthetically, and of course, there is also the animation aspect.
I love invoking the feel of animation within an inanimate object by adding in minimal features. For example, many of the pieces have a face, but some don’t – sometimes all they’ll need are a pair of feet, or other times it’s a beak, adding just enough to create the right mood. When I have clients come by my booth and say “hello” back to my pieces, I know I’ve succeeded!
What is your biggest challenge as a small business?
Keeping up with demand. Making sure the paperwork is in order. Staying organized. All the boring stuff. Also: self-care. As a one-man-band, you set your own work time, and often, that means long hours, working six to seven days a week. Weekends are pretty much non-existent for me – my schedule centres around the orders and the shows I have to do to make a living. I take nothing for granted, and as self-sufficient as I am, I also know that anything can happen. The mind and body need care in order to happily keep doing what it needs to do, so right now I’m trying to find the right balance between work and self-care.
What’s something most people don’t know about your company?
A lot of the profit I make and time goes back into the communities – like
the crafting community – that have supported me. I donate my time, pottery and
money to good things that other potters are doing – whether it be raising money
the fight hunger (check out the Empty Bowls project or just
fundraising for a wacky project that may not have any direct pragmatic use (like
a mug), but it may be pushing boundaries and education in the art/ceramic
Also, I am very active in the queer community. One of the reasons why I decided to get my own studio was to provide a safe space for this marginalized community to make art, either through a residency program I offer (Toronto-based artist Coco Guzmán just finished a residency at the studio and we collaborated on an illustration/ceramic project together), or by just using the studio as a resource for whatever art project someone is working on. In the space, we’ve shot videos, given workshops, held film nights, art openings, and have hosted meetings for QOULEUR– a 2-spirited, queer, trans* people of colour festival that I help organize.
All of this would not be possible if folks did not spend their hard-earned cash on my art. They are directly promoting the growth of future art– my own as well as other artists.
Any advice for entrepreneurs in this business?
Be genuine. Have goals, however small or big. Finish something. Anything. Because even if that finished product/experience is awful, you will have learned from it. You will have to make choices, and sometimes they will be unfair, but try not to regret, because time only moves forward.