Profile: Hilary McCandless-Beard

This profile interview is part of a series where we highlight the many interesting, talented people who use Hoban Cards in their everyday lives.

Hilary McCandless-Beard lives in Colorado Springs and creates stunning, minimal ceramic tableware. Her work immediately caught my eye when we created some calling cards for her a couple years ago. Since then, we've collaborated on some custom business cards for her ceramic company, Mcbeard Ceramics. I can't help but to dream about opening a cafe for the sole purpose of putting some of her beautiful work to use (I'll be trying to get ahold of a mug as soon as I can to add to my personal mug collection). I was thrilled to have a brief interview with Hilary about her craft and how her letterpress printed cards play a role in her business.

When people think about art, they often picture something superfluous hanging on a wall. I love the way your artwork is so practical. Much of your ceramic work is created for a very specific, even primitive task, such as eating or drinking. Can you tell us how it feels to make artwork that's meant to be used and physically appreciated?

I think I am just obsessed with efficiency, and therefore unable to make superfluous objects. Even as a baker, I quickly turned from sweets to sourdough rye once I realized how much more useful it was. There is plenty of debate about whether pots like mine are art at all, and it’s often hard to tell where the art ends and simple craftsmanship begins. One thing they always are, though, is useful! In the words of Shoji Hamada, “Even a bad pot has some use, but with a bad painting, there is nothing you can do with it except throw it away.”

I love your color choices. Can you tell us a bit about the process of arriving at a specific color? How is color mixed and worked into the ceramics?

I glaze and fire my pots in group studios, and have not personally gotten very involved in glaze mixing. Our glazes are made from recipes, though, just like bread. Glaze recipes developed by potters throughout history can be found in books or online and mixed for use by any potter with access to a studio and the required ingredients. Various dry clays and chemicals are weighed and combined with an appropriate amount of water, and the color comes from specific chemicals combined in specific ways and exposed to specific temperature ranges and a reduction of oxygen at a certain point during firing.

The challenge when working in this type of a studio (where many glaze colors are available) is using a minimum of glaze colors! I often use a simple neutral pale-to medium-gray glaze that is great for pots which will be used for eating and drinking, and add another couple of colors that vary with each seasonal collection. I try to coordinate different clay bodies, which themselves range in color from nearly white to very dark brown once fired, with different complementary glazes used more sparingly the brighter they are.

Macchiato Cup Trio in Speckled StonewareMacchiato Cup Trio in Speckled Stoneware

According to your website, you are involved in facilitating ceramic classes. Can you give us some details on these courses?

I teach wheel thrown and hand built ceramics to adults as well as children as young as six. My classes are facilitated by Bemis School of Art, a community art school operated by the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. My children’s classes are the most popular, and typically include at least a few repeat students. The classes last 6-8 weeks and students learn a different hand building technique each week, until the last two weeks when we glaze and celebrate with a junk food pot luck during our last class.

For adults (ages 16 and up, plus occasionally youth/adult combination classes for ages 12 and up) I offer both wheel throwing and hand building, focusing mostly on tableware items such as plates, bowls, and mugs. Adult classes last anywhere from 6-12 weeks, and students can progress from having no experience whatsoever to completing pottery projects they can take home and use. Wheel throwing is a lot harder than it appears, and takes quite a bit of practice before allowing for much creativity. Hand building is easier to control from the start, and my beginning hand built tableware students often end up with very beautiful pieces after just a few classes. I offer to let my wheel throwing students make pinch pot turtles when they’re getting too stressed out about their throwing.

On Etsy, it looks like your spring offerings are gone. Do you know when you'll be releasing more items to purchase? And, do you accept custom order requests?

Yes, the Spring Collection was an amazing success! I released the line on Etsy March 1 through March 16, with several dozen additional pieces going into local Colorado Springs shops Ladyfingers Letterpress and G44 Gallery. Besides my online shop, I produce pieces by special order for a select few businesses, including those mentioned as well as Loyal Coffee (also in Colorado Springs), where my plates, bowls, and macchiato cups are used for service and my planters decorate the cafe. Occasionally I list made-to-order pieces in my Etsy shop, including 4-piece sets of dinner plates and bowls, and my popular unglazed noodle bowls.

After scrambling to finish all my orders and ship the spring pieces out, I left for two months to Russia, where I have been studying Russian language. I’ll return to Colorado in mid-May, and am hoping to list a few made-to-order sets for customers I know have been waiting for them, as well as begin production of my summer collection. The tentative release date is July 1 in the Etsy shop!

Wheel Thrown CeramicsPart of Hilary's Wheel Thrown 2017 Fall Collection

You've made several orders with us, both calling cards and a custom business card specifically for Mcbeard Ceramics, so I'm assuming they are effective for you. Can you tell us about reactions or feedback you get when you hand them out?

My customers really appreciate a well crafted product. When I have a stack of your cards out at a craft fair it adds the perfect subtle touch to my display, besides giving passers-by a simple but beautiful reminder of my business name.

Not only do I pass them out at shows, I top each box that ships an online order with one of your cards, so that it is the first thing the customer sees when they open the box.

As my business grew, I realized maybe having my personal phone number on the card wasn’t such a great idea! But I had a logo drawn by a graphic designer from Sochi, who I came across on Instagram, and was so happy when you were willing to work with the font she used and passed along so that my email would match my business name in the logo.

Because I am a very small business, I like to work with other small, independent businesses. I’m super happy to be able to order such a quality product from another small business, and hope that passing out these cards will provide extra encouragement to my customers to continue investing in craftsmanship!

Salt Yellow Ceramic MugsSalt Yellow Ceramic Mugs