Artist Mipa Shin sits on a low metal stool next to her pottery wheel and prepares to talk houseplants. Smiling, pointing to the planters that line the shelves of her single-car-garage-turned-ceramics-studio, her excitement grows.
Photo credit: Instagram @mipas_pots_and_plants
She loves caudiciform succulents - plants that have an above-soil round caudex - and designs squat planters that highlight the plant’s swollen stem. She is a huge fan of fern leaf cactus, which she likes to grow out of the bottom of her UFO-shaped hanging planters, and has been known to drape delicate heart-shaped Dischidia ruscifolia variegata from the mouth of her macaroni-shaped vessels.
Shin’s planters are difficult to label because she designs each one to complement the rare plants that capture her interest. There are chocolate brown and speckled buff vessels for caudex, pagoda planters for Adenia glauca, checkerboard glazed pots for pussywillows, striped planters for Pilea peperomioides and philodendrons, and donut-shaped vessels for hoyas and airplants.
Shin says it is undeniable, although unintended, that her background influences her work. “There is a Korean term ‘yeo-baek’ that is meant to convey an aesthetic ideal of empty space and simplicity,” she says. “I don’t intentionally try to design my pots in this style, but I think to some degree it’s the style that naturally comes out of me as a Korean.”
Three years ago, Shin was living with more than 50 houseplants in the bedroom of her Koreatown apartment. She became so obsessed with plants, the Korean dancer and choreographer set a goal for herself: “I want to make something to dress up every plant.” She is now creating custom ceramic planters full-time in the garage behind her Cypress Park home.
She vividly remembers the first plant she ever purchased, a small cactus from Ikea. “I still have it,” she says. “After that, I started buying plants and couldn’t stop.” It was not long before she had more than 100 plants in her apartment. “My husband thought I was crazy,” she says with a grin.
When a co-worker invited her to attend a class at the ceramics studio across the street from the pilates studio where they worked, Shin viewed it as a way to break up her teaching schedule, but soon she was skipping lunch just so that she could throw pots every day.