Peyton Flynn is the artist and founder of Cloud 9 Clay – a ceramics company that makes modern home objects that bring mood-boosting colors and fun, natural textures to your space. All handmade by Peyton herself in her Philadelphia-based ceramics studio (which now doubles as a storefront!) using a combination of wheel throwing and hand-building techniques, Cloud 9 Clay pieces are as unique as the natural landscapes by which they’re inspired. The unabashed gradient-lover and ceramics fangirl in me was immediately excited to see Cloud 9 Clay launch in the Design Milk Shop, and even more excited to chat with Peyton about Cloud 9 Clay and her creative process.
Tell us about Cloud 9 Clay.
I started Cloud 9 back in 2018 really as kind of a passion project and a way for me to make things. I’ve been working with clay for a long time but in 2018 I turned it into a business. And then this past September I opened a shop as well here in Philadelphia – so that’s the latest, my store venture. That’s been fun, and otherwise I’m still just making lots of ceramics and having a great time!
How did you get started with ceramics?
I was first introduced to ceramics in 2007, as a 14-year-old in my freshman year of high school. I took my first actual ceramics class and got to work on the wheel and start to experiment with glazes and things like that. Having that medium was amazing versus something like drawing a painting, clay was a way for me to just really work through things. It’s a nice, tactile form and I think it does hold energy in an interesting way. I think I also just really resonated with the idea of functional art. If nothing else, aesthetic aside or whatever, it’s a useful object. I think that was the addicting part for me from the jump, thinking “I can eat off of this, that’s cool.”
Color is a key part of your work – can you talk about your approach to color choice?
It’s funny, I wasn’t always a huge color person. I think that especially when you’re starting off with ceramics, there’s a big learning curve just to get to a point where you’re making forms that you like. Before I had my own studio, I was working out of communal spaces, so I was just able to use whatever was available through the studio. And a lot of times those were the more traditional glazes like brown, cream, white, maybe green – but like earthy tones, which I think is nice and more of a traditional ceramics vibe. I guess I was just kind of bored with that after being in other classes and things for 10 plus years – when I got to pick out all my own colors and things I was just like, “I’m going to go a little crazy with this.” So why not make it fun if you can? Especially with home objects and those things you interact with a lot, maybe you’re not somebody who wears funky colors and patterns in clothes all the time, but you can get that little moment of joy and fun with your coffee. More people are embracing color in general and that maximalist look of almost too much color sometimes which is fun, you know?
Where do you find inspiration for your pieces?
It might be kind of cliche sounding, but just like nature. If you ever don’t know where to turn for color palettes, just look at different landscapes, like a desert landscape or sunsets and things like that. I’ll also look back through travel photos and things like that. My environment in general is always inspiring me too. Philly has a really rich art culture. I am lucky enough to know a lot of artists and be able to feed off people’s reactions to my work too. I’ve noticed that people really seem to just smile when they look at those like gradient cups and all the color in my rainbows and things, so I’m like “all right, yeah I’m going to ride that wave and see what other color combinations are like.” I’m just always changing stuff up and trying things, and I think that’s the fun of it.
What does your process look like?
There’s always so many moving parts. I think that that’s kind of the theme of my overall production. There might be a point where I’m waiting for a load to come out of the kiln, so it’s all about timing. Most of my core collection pieces are wheel thrown and then altered along the way. The next step would be trimming the piece after it dries and then you have to wait for it to dry, and then you fire it once, that’s the bisque firing. And then I glaze – I mostly paint all my glazes on. So even those gradient tumblers, a lot of people think are airbrushed. That’s becoming popular with ceramics, which is cool – I bought an airbrush, and I haven’t gotten the chance to play with it enough. But yeah, I paint them on, and it’s kind of a process of blending the lines nicely so you get that gradient effect. Then they go in for a second firing, the glaze firing. I’m lucky too because of the way that my space is set up, I have a live work scenario in my studio, so I don’t have to go far to the studio to check on things. I’m kind of always just running downstairs and peeking at my mugs like, “okay, a couple more hours before those are ready to trim.”
What are your favorite pieces to make and why?
Honestly, I think sometimes my favorite thing is just sitting down not knowing what I’m about to make. I’ll sit down some days and make 50 plus mugs, and that can get kind of boring sometimes. So, sitting down and maybe having a shape in my mind, but then just seeing where it goes and trying to work a little bit outside of my comfort zone is always interesting. Because you can go on autopilot when making the stuff I make really often. I also really love experimenting with those donut pieces that are fun and feel experimental. Those are always fun one to make because those are thrown on the wheel as well and then manipulated later – I don’t know, it’s hard to pick favorites!
Wood Fired Vase
Wood Fired Vase
Made with a combination of wheel throwing and hand-building techniques, this wood fired vase is one of Peyton’s favorites to build! The donut shaped vessel is completely hollow and can hold water in its base for ikebana style floral arrangements.
What do you do when you hit creative blocks?
I don’t produce a ton of the same thing over and over again to begin with, so I always have at least something that is in the mix of a batch of work that I’m doing, that’s outside of what I should be doing. So those little side projects that I’m working on, I feel like help me not feel the creative blocks so much. Sometimes they’ll turn out great and I’m like, “oh cool, this is the next thing I’m going to run with,” and it kind of keeps the wheels spinning.
What was the most challenging part of building your business? What would you say to other designers looking to build their brands?
So I’m still figuring it out and taking it day by day. It’s really a matter of prioritizing your time and not feeling like you have to do everything because you can’t do everything necessarily. Also knowing when something’s not in your wheelhouse and asking for help with those things. I feel like at the beginning I tried to do everything – and I still do a lot of stuff – but I think asking for help and budgeting to pay people for certain things will save you time and money.
What’s something you wish more people understood about your craft?
That everything really is handmade and one of a kind. I don’t always remake things, and I work in limited batches a lot of the time. I think that’s something that’s sort of unique about my brand – if you like something, it might not come back just because that’s how I personally work.
Hand thrown and designed with a speckled gradient glaze, and a fun ribbed texture – how could you not smile looking at Cloud 9 Clay’s Ribbed Tumbler?
What are your favorites in your Design Milk collection?
I really do love the tumblers – the green and blue pieces that we did. But the wood-fired pieces are very special to me specifically. I really like them all, but I really liked the orange tumblers especially. Those were some of my favorite pieces to come out of that firing. I was excited that you guys were interested in the wood-fired work too, because in terms of process, it’s a totally different process. It’s literally what it sounds like – the pieces are fired with just wood. The environment within the kiln is basically affected way differently based on the placement in the kiln, and it’s heating up to around 2,400 degrees, literally just with this huge fire pit that’s at the other end of the kiln. It runs for 36 hours. So there’s a whole team effort behind the process – and 15 to 20 people involved to keep this thing going, there’s even an overnight shift. The interesting part about it is that you really don’t know what you’re going to get so much as you do with a kiln that most pottery studios use which work with electricity. So, you get like all these really earthy looking elements to the piece because the literal wood that’s burning creates ash that’s moving through the kiln and it’s adhering to the pieces along the way in different spots based on where it is. If you look at the wood fire pieces, the variation that you see in the glazes and stuff is not so much from what I did, but it’s from what the wood did – so that’s really magical to me.
Wood Fired Tumbler
Wood Fired Tumbler
Cloud 9 Clay’s Wood Fired Tumblers feature a warming, hand-painted gradient glaze, and are fired in a wood-burning kiln for 36 hours (requiring a team of 15-20 people to watch stoke the fire!) to achieve their dynamic, one-of-a-kind finishes.
What do you hope people get from your work?
I just want people to feel that little moment of joy, that maybe they didn’t even know that they were missing out on. I also think that if you have handmade items in your home, you’re kind of like interacting with them differently in general, just having a reason to take care of something a little bit more and truly value things in your home is really special. They’re hopefully making people smile throughout their days!