Meet Dina No

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? When did you move to Portland?

I grew up in Rochester, NY, a great little city that my parents moved to in the early 80s from South Korea. I moved to Portland in 2007; my sister had moved here a year before and I visited her and thought I would give it a try. Obviously, I haven’t left! I grew up learning and being around a big mix of things: beekeeping, gardening, art, cooking, having animals, playing sports, Korean culture and children’s books. I basically still love and do all of these things. I watch a lot of cartoons.  


How did you start your line?

I started a couple years ago when my friend Eloise opened her cafe Sweedeedee. She wanted handmade pottery for the shop and had been buying it at thrift stores. I was making ceramics on a kick wheel in my house, so I started giving her little pieces here and there. When I finally got an electric wheel, I started making a lot more work and bringing it there regularly. It morphed into a really fun project and opened up a lot of opportunities because people were seeing and using my pieces at Sweedeedee. In the beginning of 2014, I left my beloved job as a baker to dedicate more time to my personal projects and now I am a full time ceramicist.


When did you start making pottery/stoneware?

I was 3 years old when I took my first clay class at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY (where they offered Saturday and Summer-long art classes for children and adults). I basically never stopped working with clay since that first class. I started assisting the teachers as I got older and became studio assistants for them, which allowed me the use of their studios to work on my own projects throughout high school. In college I started to experiment with other mediums like printmaking, sculpture, and neon, which I think later helped shape my ideas and inspirations for my ceramics. When I moved to Portland, some friends and I turned a garage at my house into an art studio, and I bought an old kick wheel to work on. I guess I’ve been working with clay for 25 years now.

You're based out of Portland, Oregon. What about this city helps you creatively in your day to day work?

Some of my favorite people live in this city, and they have supported me in all aspects of my life and my business. I feel balanced here between my studio work, getting out of town, being able to see and work with my friends and my sister, and living with my boyfriend and his son. I’m connected to this city personally and creatively, and I get inspired by seeing what other artists, curators, and friends are doing here.

I also like walking around and seeing all the plants in this city.


Who/what is your greatest influence?

Both my uncle and aunt are artists and when I was 7, we collectively decided that I was also going to be an artist—it was funny to consider my future from that age, but I think we were actually all pretty serious about that decision. They lived in Brooklyn in big studios, and I would take the Greyhound bus to visit them and they would take me to galleries, to visit their friend’s art studios, and to hang out at Pratt where my uncle taught (and still teaches). When I was 10, my aunt took me to a Beatrice Wood show, which I loved, and bought me the artist book which I still look at for inspiration today. I think that it’s because they took me so seriously as a kid with art aspirations that I had the confidence to pursue that future, especially because they welcomed me into their world and urged me to be curious, to find inspiration in unusual, small, and unexpected things and places. Now that I don’t see them as often, I try to remember things they taught me: stay funny (my aunt is the funniest person in the world), work hard, refresh with visual information often, manifest the future.

As for daily influences on my work, I rely on a lot of oversized books with pictures and I take many phone photos to draw from. I try to read as much as possible. I also work in a studio that is comprised of female artists and that is really inspiring—I don’t know if it was intentionally a women’s studio, but it turned out that way and it’s pretty special.


What is a typical day like for you? 

Every day is different. And every season. I have the most energy and focus in the morning, so I try to get to the studio earlier in the day. Having a disciplined studio practice is really important to me and I try to be there at least 5 days a week. Everyday I work on my orders and commissions, but then I dedicate time to experiment with making non-functional work, drawings, sculptural pieces, etc—I think it’s important to set aside time to experiment, try new forms, make mistakes, and fail a little bit because it can lead to surprises and accidental beauty, and it challenges and pushes me to be a better artist. I also need to clean and reset the studio so I always come back to an organized space. Oh, I also do push-ups to hip-hop music when I’m feeling tired or uninspired until I feel better!   


What's your process for creating your pieces? 

I draw a lot. They’re not great renderings or anything—just outlines to understand proportion and dimension—I guess it’s called doodling? When I’m making something functional, I try to trust my intuition and education as a visual learner. I dedicate a lot of time looking at forms. I try to assess what makes the ones I am drawn to so balanced. For example, I’ll make a bunch of mugs that seem similar or even identical, but only one will really stand out. I try to figure out the differences and break down the proportions, so that when I make something new, I have a lot of different things I can take from.

I try to not think about it too hard when I start working—I want to be simple and have a loose approach, to use the movements I’ve learned..

And I can’t be serious. Everything must have some sort of laughable quality to it, and I have to follow through. So, even if I think an experiment won’t work out, I’ll keep going it until it’s really weird or squashed. Most of the time when a piece isn’t looking so great, it can be pushed into something fun and refreshing. When I get scared and stop short, the result is something terribly awkward.


If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing? 

I loved being a baker. I could see myself baking again in the future.


What's your favorite beverage to drink from your pieces? 

Coffee, and a lot of tea in the wintertime. I usually give my new pieces away and ask for feedback, though, which is one of the ways I can maintain a healthy relationship to production work.


What's your top 3 favorite spots in Portland?

I love monograph bookwerks- so much visual information there. And hanging out at my friend Daniel Long’s studio where he paints and we play music together, which is really fun. My favorite place to eat lunch has always been Tienda Santa Cruz in St Johns.

Shop Dina's pieces here.

Photos by: Cheryl Juetten