Iori Espiritu works as a Ceramic Artist and an Illustrator in Quezon City. She’s had a couple of collaborations with Common Room PH, particularly their Go Lokal Pop-ups, and is also a member of the Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang INK) group. She has done work on a handful of children’s books such as Where Do Mountains and Hills Come From (2013), written by Liwliwa Malabed and published by Lampara House; Mga Hayop sa Filipinas (2013) published by Adarna House; and When Zero Left Number Land (2013), written by Maita S. Salvador and published by Adarna House.
Iori is a nature person, and so usually spends some of her time by the beach or walking and hiking. She likes to go fishing, or on boat trips, and is very much a DIY person that loves building things with her hands.
You can find out more about Iori Espiritu and her works on Instagram.
Q: Everyone has an origin story. Could you share with us the exact moment (or moments) wherein you realized that you wanted to become an artist?
The first time that I realized I wanted to become an artist was when I was about to enter college. My parents didn’t want me to enroll in Fine Arts and instead wanted me to take up Nursing. I secretly submitted my transcript to another school just to get into Fine Arts. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else at that time!
As for being a ceramic artist, I enrolled in a pottery class at the Pettyjohn workshop back in 2008 and fell in love with clay ever since!
Q: From that moment, and throughout your journey as an artist, what has been your biggest struggle?
My biggest struggle was when I got diagnosed with Lupus just a year after graduating from college. I had everything planned out and thought that I knew what direction I wanted to go but everything changed after that. I was having a difficult time when I lost my basic functions. It was hard for me to do the simple things like walking or using the utensils for eating, much more drawing. I also had memory gap and couldn’t remember a lot of things. I was confined at home for two years. I really thought I wouldn’t be able to do art again.
Q: How have you been able to cope with (or overcome) this struggle?
During that time, it felt like I was in limbo. I was alive but I felt lost. I felt like I was being left behind. So I tried things to get my skills back. I tried writing and drawing again (I was drawing like a 5 years old!) That’s also when I turned to pottery as art therapy. I was just happy to be productive and making something with my hands. I also learned some valuable lessons from my teacher back then and what stuck with me the most is that, like making pottery, broken things can be fixed. I still get sick once in a while but I’ve learned how to manage it now. It is important for me to listen to my body and learn to stop.
Q: What would you consider is the ONE thing that REALLY helped you level up your skills?
I do a lot of research and try to learn from other people who are experts in the field. It really helps me if I can personally see them work but the internet has provided some very useful information that you can access in an instant.
Q: What is one thing you’d wish you’d known before you started your artistic career? Why?
I learned that if one path doesn’t work for you, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes the universe doesn’t give us what we want and that’s just how it is. It’s ok to be sad, cry about it even, but we move on and move forward.
I know the question only asks for one answer, but I also wish I knew that time is relative. Everyone has his/her own pace, we don’t have to race with other people.
Q: What drives or inspires you to continue making your art?
On the practical side, I want to be able to sustainable enough that in case something happens to me or to my family, I will be able to support us. I’m also driven by this idea that life is short and we have to make most of our time so I do what I can. There’s a lot of ideas and projects that I want realized during my lifetime and I just want to see it happen
Q: What does your average day look like? (And when do you fit in the time to create art?)
I usually wake up at around 6:30 am. I water my plants, have some breakfast and I start working on some pottery work up until 7pm. I don’t have any assistant so all the heavy work I do myself from carrying kilos of clay, carpentry work, cleaning, to the actual making of the pieces and firing the works. I take some breaks and reply to messages in between. I used to extend my hours till late nights but this proved unhealthy! When doing illustration jobs, it’s the opposite. I work from after lunch to late nights (I don’t know why haha!). My schedule is pretty flexible and I get to decide what needs to be done for the day.
Q: How do you deal with distractions or challenges that you encounter while you’re working on your art?
I like distractions haha! It’s like a breather for me. I do my work alone at home and it gets boring, so I look forward to hearing from my friends or getting greeted by my dog J
For challenges, I sometimes seek other people’s advise, so there is another perspective or someone else looking at it. When we are too focused on the work, we sometimes don’t see the other things. When doing freelance work, there’s also no boundary between work and personal life so what I do is I take a step back and take some self-care break.
Q: What do you do when you feel just completely uninspired or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself to start working again?
I usually just stop what I am doing and/or try doing something else. It can be as simple as taking a walk outside, cooking a meal or gardening. If I feel burnt out, I slow down my pace or stop completely. If you are feeling that your body is giving up or you’re already feeling some discomfort, listen to it! Don’t force yourself and give yourself some rest.
Q: What would you say has been your most EPIC win so far?
It’s always a big win for me whenever I open the kiln (big oven where I fire my works) and see what comes out of it. Bonus points if there are no damages! Similarly, I am happy when I see people use what I worked on, whether it be someone using my mug for their coffee or a kid reading one of my books J
Q: What would you say has been your biggest failure?
When I got sick, I had to drop all the projects I was working on. I also lost my job. That was a bad rep, but I had no choice.
Q: What, for you, has been the best way to promote yourself and your work to potential fans, clients, or publishers?
I get most of my clients online. I guess what is important is to get your works out there for people to see because if you don’t bring them out, they wouldn’t know if you are capable of doing good work. It also helps if you are good with your present/former clients because they can refer you to other people they know.
Q: What has been your game plan throughout your journey? What’s the BIG picture here? The ultimate dream? The end game?
I don’t really have that “big plan” but my future goal is to reach out to different communities and work with them on long term projects.
Q: What, for you personally, has been the source of your ideas, creativity and talent?
As with most artists, I take from my experiences and from the things I value the most. I like nature a lot so I try to incorporate that with most of my works. I observe my environment, the people and the interactions that happen in between, and I work with that.
Q: What is your big “WHY”? Why do you feel the need to make art? Who are you doing it for? What’s the hidden reason behind your big dream?
This is such a hard question to answer! Sometimes when we do things, we just feel like doing it, there doesn’t need to be a big dream or a hidden agenda on why we create the things we create. Right now, I’m just happy doing art.
Q: What 3 stories (comics, movies, documentaries, novels, etc.) would you say influenced and inspired your work the most?
I don’t get inspiration from other stories, but these books relate with me and my practice:
The Arrival by Shaun Tan; The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard
I also watched this documentary before that stuck with me for a very long time: “Things Left Behind” by Linda Hoaglund with Miyako Ishiuchi. It’s a film about how the photographer Miyako Ishiuchi documented personal items of the victims of the Hiroshima bombing.
Q: What are the top books, art books, blogs, podcasts, or workshops you’d recommend that helped you level up your skills? (Feel free to plug in as many as you’d like)
This is not on art per se but I listen to Radiolab for podcasts on different topics: science, social issues, music, art etc.
For Ceramics, there’s the Art and Craft of Clay by Susan Peterson, The Ceramic Process by Anton Reijnder.
For Craft, my bible is the Craft Reader. It’s an extensive compilation of essays regarding crafts (it’s an academic read).
For art and illustration, I like looking at artists’ sketchbooks.
For workshops, there’s are different kinds at Craft MNL.
Q: If you could work remotely, from anywhere in the world, where would your office be? Why?
I’ll probably be living on an island. As long as there’s abundant clay … and internet! Haha
Q: Name ONE artist/writer that, if you could, you would pick their brain and find out all the hidden secrets behind their amazing work?
Q: Who do you consider your biggest mentor that helped you improve your skills?
(Doesn’t have to be someone you’ve met personally. Can be someone you look up to, or someone whose art has inspired you to get better, over the years.)
It’s not really a specific person but a group I’m in. Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang Ink) and the community it has where people help one another really upped my skills as an illustrator. They offer year round discussions with regards to art practice as well as workshops. And just seeing how the others progress in their work inspires me to level up my skills as well. It’s healthy competition 😀 Same goes to my pottery community