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Morning Rituals: Ren von Hasseln of Ren Ceramics

Photos: Justin Chung

We first came across Ren when we saw sculptures she was making for our friend’s newly renovated hotel in Ojai (Shelter Social Club, The Hummingbird Inn). We were immediately struck by their beauty, and wanted to learn more about the person behind them. 

Little did we know how interesting Ren’s story would be! From an early ambition to be a scientist, to architecture school, to a 3D printing business and finally to her work as a ceramicist today, her path is unique as it is inspiring. 

We recently visited Ren at her beautiful home in Ojai. Over coffee, we talked about her daily ritual, her story, how science has influenced her work, and more. As usual, our friend Justin Chung joined to capture the morning in film.

We hope you enjoy.

Do you have a morning ritual? And what does a typical day in the studio look like for you?

I want to eat immediately when I wake up, and I’m a complete creature of habit, it’s always the same - eggs and black beans with tons of cayenne. Then I make coffee and take it with me into the studio. I love this part of my day – arriving in the studio - checking on how things are drying, looking at my calendar to see what needs to be built and what needs to go into the kiln that day. It gives me a very deep satisfaction, the operation of my mini clay world.


I’m usually in the studio from 8:30 until 6ish, with breaks for meals. What the day looks like, specifically, depends on the project I’m working on, but I handbuild all my work, so it always means either coil building or slab building (or both!). While I work I often have something playing - unless I’m actively designing, I need quiet to really focus. But if I’m building something I’ve made before, I listen to news and podcasts in the morning, and then often switch to some brain candy thriller audiobook in the afternoon. I drink at least 3 cups of coffee :) After work my partner Kyle and I go for a hike in the mountains above Ojai, which is probably my favorite thing about living here.  

Can you share your story with us? The path to where you are now? 

I always thought I wanted to be a scientist. One of my strongest memories of being a kid is sitting in a drainage ditch tagging frogs with stickers for a ‘study’. I majored in Bio and got partway through a PhD program in molecular genetics before realizing that, seeing them close up, I didn’t want any of the careers that degree would earn me. I took a leave of absence to figure out what was next, and eventually moved to LA for architecture school, which felt like a good blend of rigor and creativity. 

During grad school, Kyle and I started a small business 3D printing architectural models for fellow students during finals to help make ends meet. Because the proprietary powders that the printers use are so expensive, we experimented with other materials, including sugar. Sugar worked so well that we started 3D printing entirely edible pieces… intricate sculptures for the top of wedding cakes, branded sugar cubes for corporate events… When we graduated we gave ourselves a year to see if this was an idea anyone else was actually interested in. We got incredibly lucky on timing, because this was 2012, when everyone was interested in basically all things 3D printing. We ended up running the business together, in one form or another, for the next 7 years. Kyle is still running it! 

Moving to Ojai and buying our house here was my escape strategy from the 3D printing business, which had become increasingly corporate and minimally creative. I quit and acted as architect and PM for the tear down renovation, and my plan was that as that project tapered off, I would start to build the ceramics business I had begun to dream of. 

While the house was under construction, this looked like me hand building in a storage POD parked in the driveway. Not completely ideal - only a cold water hose/bucket combo, very hot when hot, cold when cold - but I was happy as a clam in there. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was working toward something I really wanted.

How has your background in the sciences influenced your work as an artist and ceramicist?

I’m a highly process driven artist, and my process is fairly methodical because to some degree I think I’ll always be a scientist, in how I work and how I think. It really comes into play when I need to iterate in order to solve a problem or generate a specific outcome. Creating hummingbird feeders for the Hummingbird Inn (Shelter Social Club), for example, really felt like it flexed my creative and scientific muscles at once, because I needed to create multiple rounds of prototypes to test how the hummingbirds responded to variables. Experimental design x product design!

What is it about clay that makes it your medium of choice?

I love the tactility of clay. The in-the-moment, day-in, day-out, bodily experience of working with clay gives me so much pleasure. 

Less romantically, but not less importantly, ceramics is such a good fit for me, dispositionally, in all the ways that architecture, as much as I love architectural design, is not. I love that I can be completely autonomous and independent. I take a bag of clay and using my hands turn it into a form from my brain. I don’t need to manage anyone else to accomplish the vision. I love that the timescale of creating a piece is weeks, not years. That allows for playful testing and experimenting and creative growth. I love the scale of work it’s possible to create with clay. I feel strongly drawn to larger and larger forms as my practice progresses. 

And I love that it is a discipline that feels creatively and functionally boundless. It contains so much that I know I can explore it for the rest of my life and never get to the end of the things I want to try using clay. 

How do you continue to stay inspired?

This is something I need to continually remind myself, so it’s good to write it down! I’m a super introvert, so my default mode is to hermit in my studio and as a result not get much external feedback or input mixed into my process. To some extent, for myself, I find that helpful, but I keep needing to relearn that I also often feel I take the biggest steps forward in my practice when I collaborate with other creative people. I really like designing within a framework or a set of constraints - it often generates work that I don’t think I would have come to otherwise. 

Tell us about a recent or upcoming project that excites you.

I’m thrilled to be participating in LA Design Weekend this June (21-23). The kick-off exhibition pairs fine artists with product designers. Each pair selects a piece of the artists’ work to use as inspo for a collaborative product. Both the art piece and the product will be shown together at the exhibition. I’m working with Isaac Resnikof of Project Room, and I’m so excited about our collaborative piece!

What’s something new, outside of your career/medium, that you are interested in learning more about?

I’m a bit obsessed with any content around gender dynamics/norms and feminist thinking. Also anything from a non white/cis/hetero/neurotypical perspective. I often think if I chose a major now, it would be what used to be called womens’ studies (oof the name!) and I’ve been looking for a good college level course I could take online.

What's a surprising thing about your current stage of life?

I feel much more comfortable in my own skin lately, moving in the world more to meet my own requirements and desires (in how I present, in the energy I expend etc) than in response to the perceived expectations or judgements of others. I say ‘more’ - it’s very much a relative improvement, not a perfect fix. But a meaningful shift and one I feel strongly every day. It feels self amplifying, too. Being in the world feeling more like myself only entrenches that sense of comfort further.

Ren von Hasseln is the founder of Ren Ceramics.

Follow Ren's personal journey @renceramics_

All photos by  @justinchung