Mugs and middle fingers; these ceramic pieces are memorable and striking, built for function, and meant to be held. Local ceramist, illustrator, and painter Victoria Crouse (@tangerine.creative) creates funky, intricate designs in clay. Often inspired by the ocean, her style is free-flowing and at times surprising; a breath of fresh salty air on one-of-a-kind pieces.
Growing up in West MI, Crouse was surrounded by a creative family that became both a boost and a hurdle to her own creativity. Having a father and brother that were highly prolific artists drew her towards the arts, but ultimately made it hard for her to find her niche. Crouse shares,
“I think stepping outside of my family and moving outside of my house really put things into perspective for me. One of my best friends who I met when I was living in Hawaii introduced me to watercolor in a way that was freeing. It wasn't so much like, ‘Okay, I need to critique every little thing,’ More so like, ‘hey, let's just put these colors on a paper and see what happens.’"
During a two year stint living in Hawaii, Crouse learned to take a less-forced approach to art. She explains that the culture of the islands was what made her reimagine her relationship with her creative side. “I think there’s just such a slowness and easy way of life there...and I think the ocean is the biggest factor to that; it’s such a vast part of the world.” Working close to the ocean, Crouse quickly discovered her love for nature and her relationship to it. She found she was a very tactile person. After moving back to Michigan she went to massage school. It wasn’t long before she was drawn back to creative arts, still working with her hands, but now in clay. Now Crouse shares that she creates for herself and for the sake of creating above all else. This leads to many pieces that are inspired the moment she sits down, often becoming one-of-a-kind creations.
Her favorite characteristic of her work is the way it feels in your hand, something that’s very difficult to convey through pictures on Instagram. Crouse says, “I think people gravitate towards them [ceramics] because it feels so personal,” She explains how she presses thumb divots into the sides of her tumblers after throwing the cylinder on wheel. “The end result feels as though you're getting a hug, or you're getting a very personal experience with that ceramic piece.” Beyond the tactile aspect, Crouse tries to create functional art; rather than just letting it sit on a shelf, Crouse’s pieces are made to be held, drank from, or even planted in.
Crouse works out of a small studio of about 45 members, called Grand Rapids Pottery. There, artists are able to work alongside fellow ceramists and celebrate each other’s triumphs together. While this space is freeing and welcoming, Crouse is making it a goal to open her own studio someday with her own materials and space.
So far, Crouse’s favorite piece has been her hand-sculpted teapot, made with the largest coil she’s ever used. The piece itself has a unique shape, with an aesthetic integrity thacould only be made by Crouse’s hands. Evident on the teapot and throughout many of her works is the use of sgraffito, a technique where she scrapes away layers of clay to reveal a secondary color underneath, creating beautiful two-tone graphics. Her top-seller, the middle finger, is a time intensive piece to make and occasionally explodes because of air pockets within the hand, making it a frustrating piece to make again and again. One particular day, when she was making four of these fingers, she decided to change things up a bit with a bizarre face-hand sculpture: “That day I was just so sick of making these little fingers, so I decided ‘I'm just going to play around,’ so that piece actually was just me letting myself have a lot of creative freedom that day and not making it for anyone and I loved how that turned out.”
When talking about the community of artists in Grand Rapids, Crouse mentions that “the WindowsGR initiative last year with Black Lives Matter got the ball rolling for connecting a lot of people and elevating so many different artists.” In a year of turmoil and confusion, this event brought community members together to create pieces of art that inspired the city. Tying deeper into the local arts scene, Crouse plans to dip her toes in the water by exploring other mediums and working closely with the Grand Rapids community. She confesses, “I think the biggest thing for me this year has been pushing myself to do things that are intimidating.” She recently created a chalk mural piece on the Blue Bridge downtown, and looks forward to teaching a class on ceramics to kids in the neighborhood.
HOT TAKE QUESTION:
The Stray: “What’s the best album to listen to on a roadtrip?”
Crouse: “My go to since I was a kid, mostly because of my dad, is Peter Gabriel's greatest hits album. I'll put that on, like every road trip.”
To see Crouse’s art in person, you can visit Nestology Shop & Studio on Diamond Ave SE, where many other local artists display and sell their unique pieces. A handful of her pieces are also available for purchase on Etsy.
Currently, Crouse is transitioning away from selling one-offs on etsy, and moving towards having a monthly-ish release of pieces that are focused on a central idea or theme. Her first release revolves around the combination of space and the sea, settings that carry both immense mystery and depth. The series incorporates mugs, prints, and stickers. We’re excited about the new direction for her work and can’t wait to see what she does next.