Scroll through Helen Levi’s Instagram and and you might get a thumb cramp. It's hard not to be sucked into the highly textured and vividly colored world of her Red Hook studio. Marbled cups on well-worn wood surfaces, terra cotta jugs against white walls, and then, a chubby baby seated in a speckled planter. You might also notice that the average photo she ‘grams gets thousands of likes. That’s kind of a big deal for a ceramicist, but Helen wasn’t always a potter, you see.
For much of her adolescence, Helen (a native New Yorker) channeled all her energies towards a career in photography. And it’s clearly her camera fluency that powers her social-media presence. “I never stopped,” she says. “My love for photography has had a hand in my business growing because I'm still taking pictures every day, and it comes naturally for me to want to document the studio and share it on Instagram.” That’s not always the case for artists, though. Some prefer to show the end result rather than the less-curated and oft-messy getting-there stages. But in Helen’s gallery, you can watch her shape vessels, chisel designs, get gloopy with glaze, and find beauty in the clutter—as this charmingly honest post caption from October 13th illustrates. “Every surface in the studio will be covered for the next two months, but I still found time to test out a tinted stoneware goblet idea I had…”
It’s a rare treat to get front-row seats to a process, but in Helen’s mind there’s no mystique to her trade. She’s just as open and approachable as one of her mugs.
Oh yes, her mugs. It’s easy to get lost in the sun-saturated, plant-festooned world she’s created and forget her studio is where she runs her business (completing orders that multiply as quickly as she pulls vessels from the kiln). But all the time-lapse videos and Insta stories in the world can’t rightly convey just how involved—and unpredictable—ceramics is. From start to finish, potters are confronted with mess, mishap, and mistakes, no matter how seasoned they are. So perhaps that’s the best thing about Helen’s social media presentation is just that—it feels real. What you’re seeing isn’t the overwrought, overfiltered pseudo reality of a hip young Brooklynite. “It's safe to say that social media can be a facade—it's really important to keep it 'in the moment' and to try (try!) not to obsess over what I post on Instagram,” she confesses. “It's a trap that's easy to fall into, but I find that if I overthink what I'm posting then it's really not fun for me, and it can become something stressful.”
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So what does it take to be an Instagram-famous artist? Maybe that’s beside the point really. Maybe, just maybe, it’s about the big picture (the one bigger than your phone screen, that is). “I'm so amazed at the community I get to be a part of online, and the audience that I'm able to share my work with. I feel very lucky,” says Helen. And even with 174K followers, she says there’s still nothing quite like the thrill of seeing a stranger post a photo of one of her mugs in their kitchen. “It just fills my cup,” she exclaims. (Pun absolutely intended.)
We'd love to hear what you think of Helen's work! Drop a line in the comments below.