Raina Lee is a Los Angeles-based writer and ceramicist. She lives in Mount Washington, where—upon buying her home in 2013—she came into possession of a small treehouse. Perched on a wooded hillside in the backyard, the treehouse has become Raina’s studio, showroom and writing space. To us, it’s an inspiration for what a creative space can be; but that’s also largely due to the beautiful works adorning its interior, and the creative force behind them.
What stands out to us about Raina is how fully she embraces and pursues her curiosity through her work and art. She dives deep on subjects that interest her, from video games (she self-published a video game culture zine) and karaoke, to ancient glazing techniques and finding ways to achieve new, strange colors and textures in ceramics.
On a recent mid-summer morning, Ally and our friend Justin Chung stopped by Raina’s for coffee and a studio visit. Read on for Rania’s takes on creativity, balancing meta- and tangible work, ceramics, and even video games…
I'm usually running out the door to go to yoga first thing in the morning. And then when I get back I make coffee — I weigh the beans, then grind, then turn my espresso machine on. I got a basic espresso machine during the height of covid lockdown, and it's made me fine tuned my elaborate coffee ritual. I have my latte with something sweet, like a cake or scone I've baked. I try to have a moment where I don't think of anything. Then I go over my planner to see what I need to do for the day.
Even though my house is small, it has a layout where it has enough separate spaces I can dedicate to specific activities. I am lucky that it's worked out that way. I would say it's the opposite of open concept! The house is where we live, eat and sleep, the backyard patio is where we outdoor entertain, grill or fire raku pieces, and the treehouse is where I can display my work as well as brainstorm and nap! The garage is where I store the kiln, glaze pieces and mix glazes, and my laundry room is the clay-making area with a wheel, slab roller and extruder. I'm amazed by how much I fit in each space! Coming from Brooklyn, I knew working in a smallish for LA space wouldn't be a problem.
Being a writer and avid reader is a good balance to making clay since clay is actually very physical. When writing, you're articulating ideas and distilling concepts, and it can be abstract and not in the world, or not even in your body. I was probably attracted to clay because it's very physical and embodied. It was exciting to make a real thing, that couldn't be edited down or changed. Making an object had an endpoint! I suppose meta and tangible intersect with the clay work when I'm concepting work, and trying to find reasons why the work exists at this particular moment and why I chose a particular form, inspiration, or reference. I don't think visual work needs to always have a concept or a reference, but I'm used to thinking that way from being a writer.
Just like painting or filmmaking, clay has as many techniques and styles as there are kinds of people. Clay is also difficult to work and has a high learning curve, so it takes a long time to work the material well. I'm just at the beginning of that process even though I've been doing it for a number of years. I have to say I'm addicted to the discovery of new techniques. From raku firing to laboriously making my own textured glazes, there's always something new to learn. I am addicted to discovering new techniques!
I lived near a ceramics studio in Brooklyn and happened to take a class. The feel of clay was instinctual. Shaping it with your hands was so satisfying, and I realized I could make just about anything.
After living in cities, I became a "natural person" some years ago, and started trekking in places such as Nepal, Iceland, and Laos. My favorite part was moments of discovery after hiking or traveling to remote places-- that's when you get the best view! I love seeing how rocks or even seashells have colors and layers of rock, each layer representing a moment in time. And ceramic materials all come from rocks, so it's the same compounds that create the colors in clay and glazes. Once I understood this relationship I tried to manipulate the materials to recreate landscapes.
I imagined I would do some kind of creative work, since I always liked reading and making things. I knew whatever job I had, it had to be something that only I could do. I wouldn't have guessed I would be entrepreneur. Had I known I would have gotten an MBA / MFA!
I lived very much in a digital video game world as a kid, because it was place to explore and roam free, and test the boundaries of the game. Like with sports or any game, the elements of problem-solving and competition is thrilling, and through games I learned to really focus on one activity and do whatever it takes to solve it. I suppose that's my endorsement for letting kids play video games. 1-Up Megazine was a handmade zine I published about video game culture. It was like a love letter to games— the fandom, personal stories about growing up with technology, and feminist criticism of weird male-dominated culture. I had readers all over the world and a cult following amongst people into gaming culture in the mid-aughts. I still love games but these days I'm trying really hard to live in the actual world!