Artist Profile // Xiaotong Duan

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This morning we’re thrilled to feature one of our closest friends and talented artist, Xiao. Ceramicist, photographer, and just all over awesome person, this little lady is making some beautiful work, and we knew we just had to share it with you all.

Xiao and I (Reg) go way back to college, where our soul-sister-ship blossomed over a bowl of pesto tortellini while watching Saved! in her massive wrap-around porch home in rural Coventry, CT. The first of many movies and meals we were bound to share together, the two of us soon became roomies, and now both live in the Boston area.

This little dumpling’s ceramics have been blowing up all over the Etsy stratosphere and the local Boston scene, she’s had a recent pop-up shop at West Elm, and she just re-launched her brand through a newly updated website and logo (which Christa got to design!).

Check out Xiao Crafted and her Etsy page to see some more of her stunning handmade custom pieces.


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You went to school for photography, did you take ceramics classes throughout college as well? Or was that something you got into after?
It’s totally interesting to compare the journey we take through learning and what our lil’ paper degree says. I got into ceramics in college a little late in the game or else I think I probably would have focused on ceramics. My good friend/ex-roommate took a ceramics class and she would bring back to the apartment all the cool things she made. I enrolled the following semester because I also wanted to make cool things.

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Obviously you love the animals. A lot of your chosen animals aren’t just your average woodland creature – you have everything from praying mantis to big mouth bass, where do you get your inspiration for some of the quirkier ones?
Honestly? Mostly from Nat Geo’s Instagram. I love the way they tend to tell a story alongside each image, it totally activates my inner naturalist. There’s just so many interesting species that I really like to explore beyond the more commonly know creatures. Like did you know that sometimes fruit bats are called flying foxes?

How long does it usually take to create one piece from beginning to end?
Oh man, I have no idea. If I had to guess i would say 10 days if the stars aligned perfectly. Clay requires a lot of patience because there is just a ton of steps involved in its journey from this squishy formless ball to something functional and beautiful. Usually I throw a batch of work on the wheel and then let it set up so that I can trim it within a couple of days. After that, everything is hand painted and left out to dry completely before entering the first kiln firing, called  a bisque. It takes a full day for everything to “cook” in the kiln so that it is solid and porous enough for the glaze. Then I take a day to glaze my work and then back into the kiln it goes for the final firing. The glaze kiln runs for a full day as well. Long story short, if this was a race, ceramics would be going at a slow and steady pace.
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So ceramics can be a pretty time consuming craft (pun intended), any scheduling tips for someone looking to take on a new art?
Just be patient. Ceramics will never provide “instant gratification” but it is an awesome feeling to take a lil’ lump of clay and make something out of it. For people starting out it’s actually a really good 1x/week kind of craft because how the background time involved with letting work set up and firing in the kiln. Just be warned, you may get addicted and just be constantly making cool stuff!
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What are some of your favorite shapes to throw? Anything that is still a tough one you’re trying to tackle?
Recently i’ve really gotten into making planters. Just in time for Spring! The forms are really simple but I love trimming lil’ feet on the bottom to give it a little height and negative space. I don’t really make a lot of tea pots because there are so many parts and spouts are always so challenging. Definitely something I strive to work on.
We noticed that you started taking on custom work, have any of these projects sparked an idea for a new line, or new piece? Or do you try to keep them separate?
My custom work totally inspires me! It helps me explore new themes and surface treatment methods for clay. Recently I did a platter that had my first human being. It was a cowboy on a horse set to the backdrop of the American West. I really loved integrating a background and foreground visual and I’ve created some new work that follows the framework from that original custom order.
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What was the first ceramic you ever made?
It was large hand built candle holder in the shape of a star with little moons cut out on each arm of the star. So cheesy. I see it every time I visit my parents and wish that the cat was strong enough to knock it off the end table.
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Who are some of your artist inspirations?
Ayumi Horie, Chotsani Dean, Diana Fayt, Polly Fern, Molly Hatch, Julia Rothman. Lady creators represent!
You recently had a popup shop at West Elm (congrats, btw!), do you have any other goals or dreams you’re reaching for with your work?
This year I’ve really been trying to make the push to establish myself as a small business artist. (Eeep!) I’ve been doing a lot more pop up shops and sharing my work with the people. I’m hoping to just continue to develop my work and continue to add to my portfolio. I would like to do some residencies and be able to continue to explore the medium.
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Go to late-night junk food?
Grillo’s Pickles
Night owl or morning bird?
Morning bird

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Artist Profile: Tara Shupe

Two Octobers ago I had the exciting and unique opportunity to be a Blogshop intern in NYC, and one of the best parts was meeting and co-interning with Tara Shupe! We clicked instantly, with people asking us if we had known each other prior to the weekend workshop. The answer was no, but we worked hard and had a blast getting to know each other and the fun students of Blogshop.

At that time this blog wasn’t even an idea yet (what!), but Tara had a blog, Old Socks and we chatted about her photography (which I didn’t know at the time was so beautiful). She was living in Stamford, thinking of moving to NYC and was interested in taking fern crown selfies with me (aka my kind of gal). Today she is traveling around the world, expanding her photography business and settling back in the midwest. This is her story…

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You get to switch up your focus and subjects a lot — Etsy product shots, European travels, Free People outfit shoots (uh, basically dream jobs!)— what have been some of your favorite career highlights so far? It’s funny because I think I always think my highlights have yet to happen, but I also don’t check in with myself as often as I should and tell myself, “look how far you’ve come!” Some of my personal fav’s though were definitely working with Carissa from “Us the Duo” (photo below) and being styled by Free People, also her wearing one of my deer antler necklaces while she partied with Fergie! I think for a while I got caught up feeling “cool” as I worked on large photo sets, or retouched for Birchbox, Clarins and other well known brands…but although I was learning I found the most success in seeing my personal work grow. Like having my first successful Etsy Holiday, (at least in my mind) or pushing my personal work with every photoshoot.

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What inspired your recent world traveling? How has the experience shaped you or your photos? Big changes were happening in my life and after making the decision that NYC was coming to an end it wasn’t long before I was searching flights ANYWHERE! I had promised myself I would backpack Europe before:
  1. I got married
  2. Turned 30
  3. Left NY – simply bc of flight costs

I still have a few years left before 30, but I made the decision, bought a flight and had about six weeks to plan my month long journey! It was a pretty emotional/crazy last month as I sold almost everything I owned and said bye to people and a place I loved. I was with my best friend the first ten days and then completely alone for 11 days before meeting up with my cousin in Lisbon. Traveling with my camera is never boring, and I actually found I really loved traveling alone…there was something empowering about relying only on myself and at times laughing with myself.

Besides your art, what else do you like to fill your time with? Collin (my Fiance) and I love to travel, and we’ve always been long distance so I think it has really created this love for adventure and traveling between the two of us. I also love being outdoors, or working with my hands on misc. projects – these days crafting for the Etsy Shop.

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You’re originally from Missouri, studied in Iowa, lived in Connecticut and NYC, and now have settling back in Kansas City – have you found a difference between the Midwest and the East Coast as far as inspiration goes? They’re inspiring in so many different ways. The Midwest connects with my soul – I’m inspired by the quiet of nature. It recharges me when I’m not always able to be amongst the craziness. The East Coast however is a creative Mecca! It’s screaming at you everywhere you go and you’re constantly inspired at the talent you see. However, for me it could feel overwhelming, especially if I couldn’t find a balance. At times I think I found that balance, but I was desperate for that mental break to calm my creative mind.

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How has your work progressed over the years — either aesthetically or content wise? Oh man…I love seeing progression in my work and the day I don’t I’ll be quite worried! I would say the biggest changes are in my editing styles. I’m not sure at first I was doing it consciously, but over time it’s molded into a style filled with dark/muted tones with a very intimate feel.

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How do you find a balance between your personal photography from the ones you make a career of? Do they tend to lead into each other, or do you like to keep them separate? I think I used to maybe feel that I needed to do that, but naturally they became one. I feel like you start to create what you’re drawn to and love anyway, so having two styles wouldn’t make sense unless you’re just experimenting. I like to have fun with different editing styles, and I’ve started playing around with Polaroids that I wouldn’t consider my “professional” work. I of course have hopes that some day somebody will be paying me for them! ;)Inspiration can spark from anywhere – memories, places, books, music – what do you like to use as tools to stay enlightened? I should try to be better at this, but my personal muse is my alone time. Sitting, meditating, coffee drinking and really getting in my own head. I like to step away from pinterest and so many common creative “outlets” that can make my ideas foggy with too many ideas and really focus on what I’m really trying to do. I also get inspired by listening or interacting with people that I look up to or admire and it really encourages me to keep following my dreams. Recently I helped contribute to an amazing heartfelt workshop, called Monarch and I left feeling ready to conquer the world!

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Do your photos tend to portray your general personal style? Or would you say you use it more as an outlet to express something you may ordinarily not? Absolutely! I think one thing I’m the most proud of is how my style happened naturally. Although it has evolved, I never had to stop and say…and now I want my photos to look like this! I’m drawn to nature and my friends even used to tease me about only wearing neutrals colors, but there’s something intimate about connecting with the earths color palette.

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Anyone in the art field knows that it’s not always the easiest path to make a living out of — how did you get the business end of things started for yourself? Do you ever partner up with other creative talents, or do you prefer to ride solo? Let’s just say I struggle! There are still SOO many things I have left to figure out. Taxes have become more complicated, but this last year I was lucky to have a lot of longer term freelance work – which can be good and bad. I suggest really understanding your needs, like if you’re going to need really good health insurance, keep that in mind. It seems like with every individual client I figure out something new, (sometimes the hard way) but as long as I’m learning how to do it better I’m okay with that. I use freshbooks for quick invoices and love square for a 3% fee you can brand beautiful invoices and clients can pay with ease. As for collaborating, I LOVE IT! I can be a HUGE introvert and it’s easy to get into the “I’ll do it myself” mindset, but it’s been on my projects I worked with other creatives that I found myself wanting even more to do my absolute best work. I felt like people invested in me and it’s always a great learning experience!

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Any photo or travel gear you’d be lost without? I don’t go on any job, trip or day adventure without one of my three lowepro bags (1, 2, 3), and since I’ve had a lot of bad Hard drive problems, this is my go to rugged HD. And then I always carry a journal.

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Go to late-night junk food? Stupid queso dip & chips, and always hot coffee

Night owl or morning bird? I’m the most productive in the mornings, but I’ve pulled more than my share of all nighters to finish some things!

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Photography can require a surprising amount of confidence and knowledge — any advice you’d give a budding photographer? With very situation I give myself a pep talk. I tell myself, “look you’ve never came out with zero images you’ve been proud of, so keep calm and get into your zen.” For some reason that has always helped, but being mainly self taught there have been moments I have felt very self conscious of the middle aged tech talk – yes I stereotyped it! This has happened to me on multiple occasions, every where from the camera store to shooting and I simply acknowledge my humility and go figure it out for myself. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing, but understand there are far more important things than just having top notch equipment, like composition, lighting and connecting with your subject.

I try to explore new things, like shooting a single scene in different apertures and look at it later and learn what I liked or didn’t like. Take a reflector even on a cloudy day, ask a friend to assist you so you can try something new – make it fun!

A big thank you to Tara for answering our questions! Make sure to also check out her work on her facebook & instagram!