Meet One Of Oakland’s TOP Artists!

If you ask us, Jessica Niello has the best of both worlds — the "sometimes painter, sometimes potter's" ability to flawlessly fluctuate to and from both mediums is impressive. The Oakland artist is responsible for many of the tranquil artwork seen in heaps of S.F. hotspots. From decking out Ramen Shop (have we ever eaten out of prettier bowls?), Flour + Water, and most recently, The Mill — and even finding time to get her model on — we don't know how this curly coifed creative does it.
Well, to see first-hand, we traveled across the bridge to get the lowdown on what's she's working on, what makes her tick, and of course, delved into her artsy-cool closet. The results are rad. And if this spawns a shopping spree, don't hold us responsible!
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
Tell us more about what you do.
"I paint and work with ceramics. I also love printmaking and drawing."

Where are you from originally and tell us how you got into painting and ceramics.
"I'm from Alamo, a little town about 30 minutes east of Oakland. I lived in San Francisco for nine years and Oakland for the past three. Painting is something I've done for a long time and I will continue with for the rest of my life, and ceramics is a more recent thing. Two years ago I went to Taos for an artists residency and learned alot about ceramics while I was there, and now working with clay has become much more a part of what I do."

Jessica hard at work in her studio in a vintage denim shirt, Job & Boss indigo-dyed shirt, Kill City pants, antique rings, and Acne boots.
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
"I think I always knew that I would be making things and exploring and making art, so I suppose the answer is yes."
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
How do you balance ceramics and painting?
"That’s been an interesting challenge. Working with ceramics is wonderful but incredibly time consuming. To keep the two in balance, I'll get a membership at the Berkeley Ceramics Studio for a month, work like crazy, then for the next month or so focus on paintings and other projects."
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
Tell us a little more about your process when creating.
"There's a lot of physical labor involved in what I do, whether it's building and priming panels or stretching canvas or wedging clay and firing kilns.There's also a lot of room for creativity within all this. Painting, for example, can be a loose, fun process. Sometimes it just flows naturally and it feels great, and sometimes it's more of a struggle and I want it to be just right and it can be more difficult. It's also surprising when and how inspiration happens for a piece, then rushing to write it down or work it into a painting. Ceramics takes a little more planning and intention since most of my work is functional, and the production process forces me to think more methodically. I still love to be playful and experimental within the traditional, functional forms that I usually make. I brought this little cup with a super long spout into Ramen Shop a few months ago for fun and the kitchen uses it to finish each bowl of ramen with chili oil, which I find totally delightful. So, it's rewarding when I take a chance on a piece and it's successful."
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
What is your personal style philosophy?
"Most of the time my clothing and style is sort of dictated by my work, so I look for shapes and materials that I love and will survive paint and clay and daily wear and tear. As I get older I find myself gravitating towards classic, well-made clothing, so I'm always excited to find a vintage piece from the old fashion houses — they are so beautifully made! I suppose my style philosophy is that the clothes I wear must work with my life and help me do what I have to do. When they help me express myself and feel good, all the better."
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
Who are some of your artistic icons?
"Joseph Beuys, Chester Arnold, George Lepape, Michelle Blade, David Wilson, Kiki Smith, Meagan Donegan, Whistler, and maybe even Caravaggio. I love old dark Renaissance paintings. I certainly have a soft spot for Bay Area painters like Wayne Theibaud and Richard Diebenkorn. I'm also inspired by the the work and philosophy of ceramic artists including Hamada Shoji, Bernard Leach, and the Mengei movement, Nick Schwartz, an incredible woodfire potter in Mendocino, Jun Kaneko, Warren McKenzie. and Travis McFlynn. A huge influence on my work is the collection of Robert Yellin in Kyoto, he collects and curates incredible traditional woodfired pottery."
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
What about style icons?
"Certainly Oakland women come to mind first, I find their style to be really unrestrained and fresh, and it's what I see every day. Then craftspeople and designers like Kristin Dickson-Okuda, the owner of IKO IKO, Michele Janezic, Matt Dick, and Julie Elliot."
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
Who are some of your favorite local designers right now?
"I'm surrounded by incredible Oakland designers! Job & Boss, Olivia Rogers, and Ariel Clute — whose work I'm wearing — are super cool inspiring women. Marisa Haskell and Ali Golden are designing wonderful stuff as well."

Jessica hangs out in front of one of her paintings in a Fog Linen dress, sandals from Mercy Vintage Now, Ariel Clute necklace, and a BellJar ring.
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
How long does it take to produce one of your pottery pieces?
"From start to finish it usually takes about a month, when I'm going to the studio regularly. First I throw a series of work, wait for them to dry enough to trim the form and add handles, lids or whatever needs to be done, then the work dries out completely and I fire it to a low temperature. Then I glaze everything and fire it all in a big gas kiln that I rent at the studio. The gas kilns can be a bit tricky to fire, so at the end of the month I'm always a little worried about how the final firing goes. It’s a lot of eggs in one basket."
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
Where are you when you’re not in the studio working?
"I love to travel to get inspired, have big dinners with loved ones, go to art openings and museums, ride my bike, spend time with my friends and family, wander about San Francisco, and it's always fun to go thrifting with friends. I try to catch the Alameda Flea Market as often as I can. Sometimes, I find the most amazing art supplies and old picture frames!"
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
We love all the gorgeous bowls in Ramen Shop! How did that collab come about?
"My man Sam White asked me to make all the ramen bowls for his restaurant, plus all sorts of platters, plates, mugs, and things. It's been an incredible collaboration with him and the two co-chefs, Jerry Jacksish and Rayneil De Guzman. I love learning about the role ceramics can play in a high-volume restaurant; what clays, shapes, and colors are most successful. I'm learning more all the time. They are also open to trying out whatever crazy experiments I bring in, and I'm very thankful for that. Some of my favorite works have been major experiments."

Jessica showing off some of her ceramics in a top she made herself, Ariel Clute necklace, and J Brand jeans.
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
Tell us what you are currently working on.
"A few projects, but at the forefront is a collection of new paintings for a show at The Mill on Divisadero in S.F. I'm really excited about this new body of work and have been exploring the connection between texture, color, and shape with these new large-scale paintings. The reception is Thursday, August 15 — so that will be happening soon. After that, I'm making a small line of ceramics for the Marlow & Sons shop in New York and helping design a ceramics studio at the Berkeley Art Museum this February."
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
We love your adorable studio — tell us more about it.
"I'm always moving everything around and reorganizing to accommodate different projects while trying to make it as comfortable as I can. My favorite piece in my studio is my old wood worktable that i found at a garage sale in the Mission years ago, I can't live without it! My two main purposes for the space are to make working easier and more efficient while also having a place where I want to spend time and can get inspired. It's nice having my favorite books and supplies and projects all around."

What are your favorite spots in your neighborhood to take a break?
"I feel lucky to live so close to Temescal Alley and Subrosa coffee. It's great to take a walk, get coffee, and get inspired by all these little independent businesses, like the Book/Shop and Esqueleto. When I'm at my ceramics studio in Berkeley, it's fun to take an afternoon break and stop into Erica Tanov, The Gardener, the June Taylor jam store, and the cool little hidden-away shops around 4th Street."
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
How have you seen your work evolve over the years?
"I'm certainly learning how to express myself through my work. It's been great learning lessons, making mistakes, and slowly becoming more in tune with what works, what doesn't, how to get things done, and manage time."

Jessica catching some sun in her lush backyard in a vintage dress, belt from James Rowland Shop, Swedish Hasbeens shoes, and necklace she made herself.
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
What has been your proudest moment in your career?
"It's certainly been wonderful in the past year creating a huge collection of ceramics for Ramen Shop and seeing them being used and enjoyed by so many people."
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Photographed by Maria del Rio
What are some of your artistic goals for the next few years?
"To keep refining my work, take chances, and continue to collaborate with people that I love and respect. I'm excited to see where it all goes."

What’s the best piece of advice someone has given you?
"My dad says always be genuine. Combine that with hard work and you will be successful."
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