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Knotwork LA </br>Is a Celebration </br>of Nature

I first encountered Knotwork LA at the Echo Park Craft Fair and was immediately drawn to the hand sculpted wooden rattles and small whimsical ceramic figurines. The natural materials, warm aesthetic, and the appeal of something that was unique and original was attractive. I fondly remember talking to the artist, grabbing her card, and musing to my husband about the name of this darling company I just discovered called “Knotwork”. Then, a few months later, I encountered Knotwork again, but this time, in my own neck of the woods of Northeast Los Angeles (NELA), on a small stretch of one of Highland Park’s commercial thoroughfares York Boulevard. This time, Knotwork was featured in an artistic collective pop-up called Arroyo General. Once again, I marveled at the collection.

 

Pitchers created by Linda take the forms of bodies, faces, and birds.
Hand sculpted wooden rattles and small whimsical ceramic figurines by Linda.

It’s no mistake that fate would bring this writer and Knotwork together once more. This is an assignment I’ve been excited about — for it gave me an opportunity to spend time with Linda Hsiao, the artist behind Knotwork. On a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles’ hip Highland Park enclave, I came to learn that Knotwork is a beautiful dialogue between an artist and her materials. Each piece Linda creates is a reflection of the natural wonders of the world in which we live. These pieces have soul and purpose and are overwhelmingly delightful. Below, I sit down with Linda to discuss how she infuses nature’s magic into her creations.

Close-up of Linda working a small ceramic piece.

There’s a lightheartedness and feeling of celebration and play that I hope
our products give others.

What inspired Knotwork and how did you arrive at the name Knotwork?

Knotwork was initially created as a side project for Kagan and I to create things in our spare time. Fun things made in our spare time.  When we coined the phrase “made in our spare time” it instantly enveloped all the things that I was tinkering on from clay to our wooden rattles and utensils.

How would you describe the feeling of a Knotwork creation?

Although there is no spare time left, I still feel like Knotwork has the spirit of being made in my spare time since it’s all I ever want to do! From the whimsical feel of imaginary creatures to the more refined Porcelain inlay that invokes the rocks at the beach, and then, that of the natural world with the magical sound the rattle makes — there’s a lightheartedness and feeling of celebration and play that I hope our products give others.  That, along with how each piece of work is handmade and one of a kind is very important.

Some of Linda's pieces on display.
Unfinished clay baskets.

You primarily work with wood and clay. Why are you drawn to these materials for your designs?

[I’m] Definitely drawn to natural materials, and lately, clay has taken more center stage. It currently feels the most pliable to the shapes and ideas in my mind.

What part of Los Angeles do you live and work?

Highland Park, Los Angeles. Living and working in the same location.

What is the vibe of this community?

[Highland Park is a] fairly low-key neighborhood feel, lots of folks and friends raising chickens, growing gardens, making things and tinkering at home like us!

What attracted you to this area?

It’s quieter and there are lots of other creatives. It’s also the closest place to live in the city, but with the ability to feel like you’re in your own world. There’s a neighborhood feel and great places to walk and ride your bike. We’re close enough to run into the forest for a hike and a swim, but still in LA where things are always happening.

How has this community influenced Knotwork?

We’ve made amazing friends in the neighborhood — friends we can go foraging, hiking, swimming, and make things with! We have almost everything in this little community of ours making it feel like a very special.

What is generally your process?

Ideas come from many places, sometimes even a kernel of a concept might come up in my mind, but until I let my hands take over it’s just a thought. Sometimes just the act of making develops ideas out of nowhere.

Unfinished clay figurines.
Close up of Linda's hands working with clay and tools.

What are your favorite tools to work with?

Just my hands.

You grew up in Orange County, just outside Los Angeles proper - what experiences from your childhood do you bring to your work?

Playing on the beaches, in the sand, growing things in my mom’s garden and digging up mud and dirt always felt natural.  Being surrounded by such beautiful natural cliffs and poking around the critters in tide pools kept me occupied for many hours all throughout childhood.

 

How has your background in industrial design changed the way you understand the relationship between design, form, and function?

In the back of my mind, I always hear my 3-D teacher asking me to “step back and look at the form. Where the dominant, sub-dominant and tertiary forms are, what is the function and does it function . . .”. And what’ I’ve also learned is sometimes the function needs to just bring another joy. Simple as that.   My background in industrial design has definitely helped me develop and grow as an artist, maker, and designer, providing a strong foundation in understanding form and function along with production aspects I bring into my studio every day.

Your mother also dabbles in ceramics, how has she influenced your work?

Actually, she’s a farmer! She started ceramics to make bonsai pots for her Bonsai.  I began around the same time, but when I was living in Brooklyn. I turned to ceramics to have an outlet from just designing on the computer.

Linda working on a clay piece in her studio.
Close up of Linda working with her clay tools.

Have you ever collaborated with your mom? If yes, on what?

She actually sometimes helps me in my studio when I have a large production order. It’s been nice having her be my assistant. She already understands the medium and loves figuring out how to be efficient in production, and I get to spend lots of time with her too!

How is your aesthetic similar and/or different?

We both love elements in the natural world: Birds nests, collecting seeds, growing things and making things.  But aesthetically, I think when she works in ceramics it’s much more about exploring various techniques and making miscellaneous things she might need around the house. When I work in ceramics, I feel like there are things that I need to show and express.

Shelf displaying Linda's different creations.

In 2014  you teamed up with a collective of artists working in NELA to form Arroyo General. Can you discuss how AG formed and the decision to launch the project?

It began with just a few friends; we knew Max of Morning Glory Confections from vending around town. He had a storefront on York he was using as an art studio and got the idea for a holiday pop-up when one of his sub-letters moved out in October. He brought Knotwork in for homewares and Pop Produce who we all knew from Altadena farmers market for produce, and we had a bare bones general store. To expand our offerings, we each brought in maker friends, and folks in the neighborhood to highlight local products and produce.

 

 

Linda working on a clay piece in her studio.
Linda's unfinished clay figurines on her worktable.

What attracted this Arroyo General collective of sorts to Highland Park?

We live in Highland Park and love the neighborhood, but it was clear something was missing. There are some decent grocery stores, but the farmers market is pretty disappointing. We thought there was room for a place where you could supplement your normal shopping with some really great produce and specialty foods at the same time buy a perfect gift or card + gift for a birthday or shower. Our best customers weren’t just buying ceramics, they were getting some produce, and a card or a box of brittle for a friend. People really appreciated and utilized the whole store.

 

 

It was intended to be a pop-up but lasted for over a year, during this time, you must’ve seen the neighborhood of Highland Park change.

We became ambassadors for the neighborhood. Every weekend we would see new faces — young couples usually with a dog or kid in tow. Once we started chatting they would say essentially the same thing: [that] they were from the Westside and had heard about Highland Park and had been meaning to check it out. Sometimes they were looking at houses, sometimes they were just getting some ice cream and walking around. It was fun to talk about the neighborhood with newcomers. At the same time, we had a lot of locals who were excited that we were so close: they had been going to Cookbook or Hollywood Farmers Market for specialty items. We filled a gap in the neighborhood that still hasn’t been addressed.

 

Linda working in her studio with her back to the camera.
Linda working a clay piece in her studio.

What was so magical about this time for you?

The connections we made with our neighborhood was the most magical part of running a local general store. Our only agenda was to stock and sell products we were excited about, and often that came directly from people in the community. One weekend a couple came in, the guy stood awkwardly as his wife told us her husband worked in bee rescue and relocated hives all over the city, oh and by the way he had the best honey. So we asked him to bring some in, they printed up some labels and brought in a dozen jars each handwritten with the zip code from where the honey was collected. She wasn’t kidding about the honey! It was the best we had ever tasted.  It was fun to let customers sample honey from their own neighborhood against others. (I still think Highland Park was the best!)

 

You started creating pieces in your home during off hours - how has your home/studio transformed to support your growing business?

My studio is now in our backyard, sometimes I hear woodpeckers, sometimes the cackling of the chickens next door. It's been an interesting work/life balance since I am doing what I love it seldom feels like work. Now that my studio is so close, it's allowed me to maintain my garden during my breaks and has helped me avoid the daily grind more Angelenos have — particularly sitting in morning traffic!

What’s next for Knotwork?

I want to keep growing and reaching more customers, developing new ideas and products.  This winter, I'll be participating in a new 4-month seasonal pop-up called Good Goods Market that I'm really excited about! It will be the first time I'll be able to sell a large selection of my work in NYC in a collaborative retail setting shared with other designers and makers.

Doorway into Linda's sunlit studio.
Linda's wooden paneled studio.
Linda standing in the front door of her studio.

I’m dying to visit….

Easter Island.

I’m currently listening to…

How I built this. Addicted to every episode where you learn how other's have built their business empires both the points of failure and the success.  

A perfect dinner party would include…

Just a few of my closest friends. I'm a fan of Sunday dinners.

 

I’m happiest when…

I'm hiking or backpacking then jumping in a cold natural swimming hole.  I love pools of fresh water set in stone nothing makes me feel more connected than swimming in a river, in a forest, or in a high Sierras lake.

My favorite travel souvenir is...

Usually just a rock or a piece of wood, something found that will help remind me of a moment in time.

Image of Linda standing in front of her creations.