Meet Molly Bradford, the woman behind ceramics company Stranger Studio
founded in our hometown of Edmonton, Alberta but currently based in British Columbia. A few weeks back before she moved, she welcomed us into her wonderful home workshop to show us her assortment of hand crafted ceramics, which included a beautiful wall of ceramic mugs and even some pieces that she was experimenting with.
After graduating from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor's degree in Industrial and Product Design, Molly took a pottery class and took a liking to the medium. She began practicing with ceramics using what she learned about shape, form, processes and materials and now prides herself in making functional and beautiful ceramic products.
Keep on reading as we talk with Molly about her beginnings in the world of ceramics, what guides her work's aesthetic, what her creative process looks like, and what she's working on right now and looking forward to in the future.
If you were to describe Stranger Studio in one sentence or phrase, what would it be?
I want to say “Young and Restless” but that’s just my favourite soap opera. Maybe “Sassy, Strange, Ceramics” set to dramatic piano ballad.
Can you tell us about your beginnings in the ceramic’s industry?
In 2017, I had just graduated from the Industrial Design program at U of A and was really missing working in the shop. A friend of mine from the program suggested we take a pottery class at the City Arts Centre and I was hooked. After taking a few classes, a chef friend of mine was in the process of opening a new restaurant, Biera, and asked me to make some dishes for the restaurant. I was like whoa, whoa, whoa, I am not qualified to do that! But of course I made the plates and somehow it all worked out. Then I really started to think that people might actually want to buy the stuff I made, I also desperately needed to get rid of the obnoxious amount of pots I had made. I was doing a lot of practice!
What was the original mission behind Stranger Studio, and how has it changed over the years (if it has at all)?
The name Stranger Studio actually came from a school project where I was designing furniture objects that were intended to force strangers to interact. I really loved the concept of turning strangers into friends, but also the idea of strangeness and just being kind of weird. So I suppose my mission has always been to create objects that are joyful and a little out of the ordinary.
What is your favourite part about working with clay? Are there any other mediums you enjoy working with?
Clay is so versatile! The kinds of clay, the different ways to fire, the decorating techniques- there is no way to do it all. I never feel limited by clay. I also love the immediacy and independence- I can make all my work start to finish in my basement. I also love weaving and woodworking.
We love how playful and fun your work is! What guides your work’s aesthetic? How big a role does the use of colour play in your work?
I like to do a lot of different things, but at this point I have one major collection of work that I call the Party Line. It is primarily focused on form rather than surface decoration. Basically I came up with the Blug (Blob + Mug) and all the pieces in that collection are loosely related to that one piece, they are often wacky shapes and glazed in energetic, bright colours. I think most people think of earth tones and nature inspired themes when they think of ceramics and I really wanted my work to be different so I like those bold colour choices.
At what point in your life did you really start to come into your own in terms of design style?
I really don’t know that I have! I still change my mind all the time and will probably hate the work that I make now in a year.
If you could associate yourself with one design movement, what would you be?
For my work: Memphis Style! It’s an easy choice, more is more! For my personal life: 70’s, I have a love of sunken living rooms, corduroy, and wood panelling.
How has your past experience - professional or personal, informed your company today?
I mean.. It’s everything? Haha. Off the top of my head, I think all my time spent working in the restaurant industry has been super helpful. It’s gotten me a lot of custom work, a lot of networking with people around the city and it really improved my social skills for things like working a market or communicating with customers. I spent the last 6 years working at Corso 32 and it taught me a lot about professionalism and how to run a business.
What does your creative process usually look like?
Honestly most of my ideas come to me when I’m falling asleep, showering, nursing my baby, driving…etc. Then if I can remember them long enough to get to a pad of paper I draw them out, maybe right down a few words. When I have time at the end of a day I will make a few of the concepts. Sometimes they work out and then I will make a few more prototypes to make it right, get all the details down in my notebook, and then I can make a a batch of about a dozen and see if they sell. I have a huge number of these ideas that don’t work out that well and then I try to sell them at a seconds sale.
If you weren’t working in ceramics, what would you see yourself doing?
Who are the artist’s you are watching who are doing new and inventive things?
There are so many local artists that blow me away. Sam Knopp, Carson Wronko, and Vikki Wiercinski are a few that I get really excited about.
What are you working on right now & what are you looking forward to in the near future?
Right now I’m working on a series of hand built items in red clay. They look really different than my current work and it’s really fun to experiment with a different technique. In about a month my family and I are moving to a cattle ranch in B.C.! I’m looking forward to a brand new studio space with views of mountains and forest!
What visuals do you reference to inspire your own creativity?
Dog toys mostly.