This 24-year-old potter runs a pottery business while helping vulnerable communities
Dawn Kwan shares her affinity for pottery and how she hopes to help others through art.
While some of us were still learning to paint at five years old, Dawn Kwan was already known as an art prodigy.
With a deep passion for art and helping others, she has had eight solo art exhibitions showcasing her paintings to raise funds for various charities such as Heart Foundation and the National Cancer Centre Singapore.
Aside from painting, the 24-year-old has ventured into the world of pottery, creating galactic and pastel coloured cups, mugs, bowls and tea pots.
Although the pottery scene in Singapore is relatively small, Dawn is just getting started on her journey as a potter. Youthopia spoke with Dawn at her home studio to find out more about her pottery and how she transformed it into an online business.
Discovering her passion for pottery
Dawn’s first interaction with pottery was at 15 years old, when a close friend of hers asked if she wanted to learn wheel-thrown pottery with her. At the time, Dawn was studying media arts at the School of the Arts (SOTA).
She admitted that she failed miserably at making her first piece in the school’s pottery studio as her friend was also unfamiliar with clay.
But that encounter made her eager to learn.
“I was quite addicted to the experience and I kept going back during my lunch break and the technician would help me out,” Dawn recalled.
Once she graduated from SOTA in 2015, Dawn decided to improve her skills further and took pottery classes conducted by pioneer potter Jessie Lim for five years.
“I only started to really focus on pottery when I turned 23 last year so I invested in a kiln because I felt this calling to do it,” Dawn said.
From hobby to business
After improving her craft and with her parents’ consistent encouragement, Dawn decided to start her own online business selling her pottery during circuit breaker last year.
“I’m always buzzing with new ideas, so it came quite naturally especially when there was nothing much to do. I was given a lot of time to put my focus and energy into something,” she said.
Although pottery is easy to learn, the process is also long and tedious. When making her products, Dawn sets aside a month to create her pottery pieces.
For the time, material costs, and effort needed, her clay pieces are usually priced from $45 to $170, based on size.
Being a potter has been a fulfilling experience for Dawn, but running a business also comes with its own set of challenges.
As a pottery business is somewhat new to Singaporeans, Dawn initially found it challenging to cater to local customers’ tastes.
“Singaporeans would generally think in a more practical sense and see whether the items will match the kitchenware in their home or like the interior design. If I’m overseas, the vibrant colours will be embraced more,” Dawn said.
Amidst the challenges, there are also heartwarming moments of running the pottery business. Recently, Dawn met up with a customer when she delivered some pottery pieces to her house.
Dawn said: “She invited me in and she had this special rack that was full of my items and was telling me that she needed more space for them.
“She unboxed my pottery in front of me and she was just so happy to be able to look at one single cup. I was just very encouraged to try more and push on.”
That encounter with her customer remains a memorable one. To Dawn, every sale is like a celebration that inspires her to continue making more pottery.
Helping vulnerable communities through clay work
Apart from managing her pottery business, Dawn is currently studying her master’s degree in art therapy at LASALLE College of the Arts. She hopes to become an art therapist and help individuals who have faced trauma and disabilities.
She said: “I find that being a therapist came to me quite naturally as I’m able to encourage people but also ask them questions that will let them think about who they want to be.
“I just feel it really suits my strengths so being able to connect with people on a deep level and build deep relationships while being able to use art to do that is a privilege to me.”
As part of the masters’ programme, Dawn was able to conduct art therapy for sex workers for five months during her clinical placement. She planned group sessions for her clients to discuss difficult emotions and experiences by using clay work.
“Clay work is a form of sensorimotor therapeutic art intervention that can be used in assisting emotional catharsis and emotional regulation. It’s not an art class, it’s focused on talking about difficult issues through clay-work,” she said.
From helping vulnerable communities to overcoming her own challenges in running a business, Dawn has found that practising pottery is a good reminder to keep persevering and not give up.
She said: “Clay can also be recycled so that symbolises to me that it’s always something that is continually being rejuvenated and renewed.
“No matter what obstacles you go through in life, we can always still constantly evolve ourselves into who you want to be.”