In Her Element

In Her Element

Heather Knight Micro Tile installation

Heather Knight describes her chic work as “design-forward ceramics.” Each porcelain piece in this Micro Tile installation is 5 inches square. Photo: Heather Knight 

Heather Knight’s workspace is painted a calm, smoky blue – and it’s very orderly. “I’m the kind of person who cannot begin to work on anything unless my space is clean and organized,” the ceramist says. Her desk is in one corner, where she displays an inspiration board full of images: textiles, fruit, chandeliers, sculptures. There are bowls throughout, exhibiting natural objects she has collected: sea urchins, shells, twigs, seed pods, rocks. Clean, calm, and well-designed, Knight’s space reflects her work.

Characterized by textures that sway, point, and undulate, and enhanced by primarily white surfaces, Knight’s porcelain creations look like something you might find rolling around in the depths of the ocean. Yet their crisp execution makes them just as likely to be discovered in the chic spaces of those with an eye for design.

Knight, 34, discovered clay in high school, but her career path wasn’t a straight shot. She spent two years studying art at South Carolina’s College of Charleston, which didn’t offer ceramics, before heading to Asheville, North Carolina, 13 years ago to pursue a cooking career. In 2002, following a “nagging feeling” to fully commit to art, she enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. “Once I stepped foot into the ceramics studio, I knew it was where I was supposed to be.”

She established Element, a studio in Asheville’s River Arts District in 2007, a year after earning her BFA. There, she used her Urchin bowls and tiles to explore texture. “I wanted to see how many different applied textures I could come up with,” she says. Knight constructs her work out of slabs, using templates and hump molds to create her forms. Each piece of texture is made individually. Her favorite tool? “A chopstick,” she says.

That same year, looking for extra income, Knight set up shop on Etsy at the urging of a friend. It turned out to be the “catalyst for my career,” she says. “I was approached by galleries, retailers, designers, and consultants through the visibility that Etsy provided me.”

She still has that online shop, but these days also consigns to galleries, sells wholesale to retailers, works with consultants on commercial projects, and supplies interior designers.

This year, Knight expanded Element to include a retail showroom. “It’s this diversity that allows me to work in my studio full time,” she says. “Each aspect of my business tends to ebb and flow at a rate that gives me some stability.”

She spends six to 10 hours per day in the studio (all after lunch; the morning is for administrative tasks), so finding balance is one of Knight’s greatest challenges. Last spring she hired a studio manager who helps with tasks such as shipping, maintaining the online sales listings, and working with galleries and shops. Her husband, who works in marketing and graphic design, lends a hand with marketing, branding, and development. She also appreciates the social aspect that comes with a space in the city’s arts district. But back inside her studio, bringing her pieces to life, she’s on her own.

“Clay is just so immediate in some ways, but also calls for you to take your time, know when to stop and start, when to push and pull,” Knight says. “It’s a dance.”

Joann Plocková is a freelance journalist based in Prague.