Eric Landon from Tortus Copenhagen
Words & photos: Manuela Millan
You may recognise Eric Landon from his mesmerising pottery throwing videos on Instagram and the unique and beautiful pieces coming out of his Tortus studio in Copenhagen. We were lucky to catch up with Eric in the beautiful Tkawei Studio near Torquay, where he had just finished a ceramics masterclass. We had a quick chat and learnt a little more about his journey, his craft and the role of social media.
Eric first fell in love with pottery as a teenager in high school in the US and quickly began to specialise in throwing pottery using a wheel.
I kind of fell into it by accident and I fell in love with it right away. It wasn’t so much the material that I was attracted to – it was more like the dynamic of putting the material on the wheel and the whole challenge of it. It’s difficult and I guess that’s what’s always kind of brought be back to the wheel.
Despite his many years of experience Eric is always looking for ways to challenge himself and push his technique further.
I’m always finding new challenges with it even today. Maybe it’s a new type of work that I want to make or achieve, or sometimes there are limitations on it given the technique that I have, and I have to find new ways of going about something I’ve done thousands of times before.
Eric grew up in the Midwestern US city of Milwaukee and did not originally plan on having a career in pottery. It was only after he graduated with a degree in Economics that he made the fateful decision to focus all his energy on ceramics.
I was headed to grad school but then I decided I wanted to start making ceramics again. I met a Dane who coincidentally lived around the corner form a pottery studio in Copenhagen.
After moving to Denmark he studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, where the wheel was central to all his projects. After graduating he worked as an artist doing installations and conceptual ceramics, exhibiting all around the world.
He was central in the rise in the popularity of hand-made design. Eric presented his ceramics in a different context, placing it next to design, art, and fashion. He established a reputation for quality and his unique style, and produced collections for for Calvin Klein, Paul Smith and other high-end retailers from his Tortus studio.
Over time it became difficult to keep up with the demand for his work and Eric decided to scale back his production and transition out of wholesale production.
I could see that there was this imbalance between the popularity of ceramics and maintaining the quality of what I was doing at that volume. I decided to scale that business back and open an Instagram account as a way to really limit my dependence on wholesale.
He quickly established a loyal fan base and was free to have fun with his work in a way that wasn’t possible when he was required to produce collections for retailers.
These days I can really take risks. I have my own store, I can make the occasional odd piece and I have a way to get those things sold. I produce no more than 200 pieces in a year which we sell online and in our store. I've also diversified the business and now I also do the workshops. This has also limited my dependency to rely on sales to make a living, which means I can be creative and do what I want.
Eric began his workshops in Denmark but quickly took them worldwide after realising the potential demand and opportunity to share his techniques with his followers from around the world. The workshops also allow him to connect with people directly and ads a layer on top of what he is able to do through Instagram.
It's really made this job fun because in the old days it could be a solitary existence being a craftsperson. It’s nice to be surrounded by people and sort of feed of their enthusiasm for what you do. Because of social media it's kind of opened the game up a little bit and made it more accessible to people who have happened onto ceramics by accident and fell in love with it.
MM: What do you do to relax?
EL: I’m fortunate because I do the most therapeutic, relaxing thing in the world. I'm also fortunate because I'm not a production potter in the traditional way. If you’re doing a functional collection maybe you have to produce sixty cups, sixty bowls and you have to have a really solid flow of production. A lot of studio potters will sit and produce for hours in the day. I sit and make two or three things a day. A lot of things I don't have to finish which gives me a lot of time to focus on the simple act of making, and for me that's relaxation in and of itself.
I also run and spend time out in nature. I'm fortunate. I have a really relaxing job.
MM: What is the first thing you do in the morning?
EL: I'm up at 5:30 and I go to the gym. What I do is a type of performance with the videos. It's important for me to be fit so it doesn't look like I'm struggling. I really want that what I do comes across as elegant, and in the same way a dancer would train to do their dance, I train to do the pottery. So every day begins with a little bit of exercise to make sure that I'm limber and also that I have the strength to do this well.
I have a four year old and a five year old so I get home in time for them to wake up and I have a couple of hours with them in the morning, and then I head into the studio with my girlfriend who works with me. Everything in my life kind of revolves around the pottery in some way or another, even my personal life.
MM: What are your plans for the future?
EL: I try not to think too far ahead. The nice thing about the way I run my business and the way social media works this way is that we can kind of feed off the impulses that people give us. So next year we’re planning on doing more workshops in the US and probably in most of South America. One of the nice things about social media these days is that you can grow your business and your creativity in a way that matches people’s wishes or demands.
We will also open a studio in the US in the fall, we’re not sure exactly where it will be yet, maybe in Portland or somewhere in California.
We try not to think too far ahead and keep our business small, which also keeps us flexible so that we can really go where the demand leads us.