Recently, I met with Susan Aach — a remarkable ceramic artist in San Diego who specializes in creating a wide range of handmade pottery. She makes ceramic pots for succulents, serving platters, sculpture, wall planters and hanging planters. Guess which caught my attention! Susan is a celebrity in the world of succulent enthusiasts, with her work highly sought after and collected. She was so generous with her time! We talked about where she finds her inspiration to create new succulent pots and how a perfectionist finds fulfillment in a medium that can never be exact. She helped me to overcome a huge personal insecurity — and finally get and plant a Susan Aach pot of my own! This is my second “succulent safari“, and I cannot wait to introduce you to Susan Aach and her ceramic pottery.
Susan Aach Succulent Pots
Susan Aach creates many of her ceramic pots entirely by hand, without the use of a potter’s wheel. She also mixes her own colors and glazes, starting with a series of large vats behind her studio. She uses texture throughout her work to impart individuality and character to every piece. Susan believes that each piece of her art pottery should be beautiful to the touch as well as to the eye. Everything in nature inspires her — from the bark of a tree to waves of the sea, leaves, coral and so much more. You can see this inspiration in her finished work. Some of her textures are achieved by pressing natural “tools” like bamboo, twigs or stones into the wet, unfinished clay.
With some, like the orange and the blue wave pots above, Susan uses her fingers to form the shapes, the hollows and the curves as she builds her pots. As much as I love all of her work, it is the wave pots that first captivated me. I see the movement of water in them, the swirl of the colors in the glaze is almost glassy smooth to the touch. The raised portions that cross and grow across the pot are rough and remind me of coral trees. It’s almost like viewing the movement of water through the branches of living coral. Did I mention how much I love her work?
Handmade Pottery for Succulents
There is such an organic look and feel to Susan’s work — I almost feel like I can see her pots growing. There is a rhythm and a harmony to her pieces that I struggle to describe. This is another of my favorites. She calls these many-sided ceramic pots “extruded” pots because she uses a device to extrude long slabs of clay that she cuts then assembles into the completed pot. This one has an organic finish.
Here are two more of her extruded succulent pots. It amazes me that she employs the same technique for both a very contemporary style while the pot above is so rustic and organic.
Ceramic Artist and Perfectionism
Susan sees working with ceramics as “problem-solving”. Her work involves balancing and incorporating the competing forces of artistic expression, chemistry and physics where a humid day or a variation of just 50 degrees (out of 2400) can make, break or completely change the outcome. She speaks about the process with such passion and energy, and she embraces the fact that “there are so many failures”. She considers herself a perfectionist, yet has developed a rewarding career in an art form in which “there’s so much opportunity for failure”.
Susan finds inspiration and discovery in failure. And she experiments to produce some of her most successful creations. I particularly admired one glaze technique — a glossy, cobalt blue shot through with speckles and patches of a rougher, almost rust-looking texture. She creates this finish by pressing irregular amounts of sawdust into the wet clay, before applying the blue glaze. When the sawdust heats in the kiln, it flames off, revealing the incredible effect you see here:
Susan cherishes and is inspired by the “perfectly imperfect”. She sees it in herself, in those she loves, in the natural world and in her art pottery. She discovered her love of working with ceramic at the same time she was first introduced to succulents. Her first ceramic pots were created to hold her first succulents. She continues to find inspiration in the sculptural qualities of succulents. She loves their hardiness and their perfectly imperfect qualities, like the magnificent monstrose cactus above.
Ceramic Pots and Succulents
Susan Aach’s handmade pottery makes wonderful pots for any type of plant, of course, but is especially suited to succulents. The ceramic protects the roots from overheating on a hot, dry day. The weight of the pot keeps tall plants from toppling over. Most of her pots are wider than they are tall, so there is not a pocket of excess soil below the root zone to hold onto moisture. They all have generous drainage holes — so critical for properly watering succulents:
Most of all — her ceramic pots are simply gorgeous, the colors and the textures complement and accentuate the succulents to perfection.
I confided in Susan that too often, I let my own perfectionist streak hold me back. I often refuse to risk the type of failures she embraces. As much as I love her work, I have never owned one of her ceramic pots. I’ve been afraid I somehow couldn’t plant it up in a way that would be worthy of the pot. But I was determined to change that fear and to buy one of her incredible pots. I bought the brown one imprinted with bamboo and she gifted me with this green and coral wave pot — my first love. I planted it with a Myrtillocactus cristata. Don’t you love the way the pot’s curves mimic the undulating lines of the crested cactus?
Inspired by Susan Aach’s Pottery
Susan finds she is learning patience from her work creating ceramic pottery. “I took on something that’s teaching me a big lesson of life.” Where I thought perfectionism would be an obstacle to an artform that flirts with failure, Susan seems to find it liberating to work without rules and to define the concept of perfection for herself. I was as inspired by my visit with Susan Aach as I am by her art pottery. She told me “everything evolves.” When it is no longer pleasing — change it! With succulents, of course, you can make many changes without harming the plants, so I decided to just go for it. I selected plants with coloring similar to those in the pot. The Aloe ‘Crosby’s Prolific’ was beautifully stressed, with mahogany tips to the strong, vertical lines that mimic the texture of the ceramic pot. Kalanchoe orgyalis ‘Copper Spoons’ at the back is the perfect coppery brown color, but the leaves all decided to face the back! (oops!) The Mamillaria elongata ‘Copper King’ cristata was the first true cactus I’ve ever purchased and planted! (I was busting through a lot of inhibitions with this arrangement!) Cremnosedum ‘Little Gem is a tiny, coppery-green rosette-forming little plant, perfect for the contrast to the larger plants. And finally, Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’, with its golden-creamy-rosy hues was a nice way to lighten and brighten the color palette.
What do you think? Honestly — I am delighted with it. And you know what? I think I need more Susan Aach pots! 🙂
Shopping for Susan Aach Ceramic Pottery
You can learn more about ceramic artist Susan Aach and her ceramic pottery on her website, Susan Aach Ceramics. You can shop for her succulent pots, wall planters, hanging pots, sculptures and spectacular serving platters on her website or through her Etsy shop, SusanAachCeramics. You’ll find an incredible array of colors, shapes, textures and sizes. But Susan is always open to custom orders as well as wholesale. You can contact Susan Aach through her website. When you do — tell her Kat sent you! 🙂
Thank you for joining me on this succulent safari to visit with Susan Aach. If you have any questions or comments — bring ’em on! Just leave a comment and I’ll get right back to you. I’d love to hear of any suggestions you might have for future succulent safaris!
‘Til next time… Happy Gardening!
P.S. For more information about all things succulent, please subscribe to The Succulent Eclectic. You’ll receive my FREE e-course, 7 Steps to Succulent Success! Thanks!