Take a spin through Julia Elsas' studio!

Seasons greetings, collectors! The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of fun + exciting new releases. While our deadline for Christmas Eve delivery has passed, there’s still time to get a few final gifts in time for the last night of Hanukkah. And we’ve got just the thing: The All is a Miracle Dreidel by Julia Elsas

We first introduced these with the help of author and podcaster, Claire Mazur, a few weeks ago. In an effort to honor the traditional dreidel game as well as celebrate the Hanukkah holiday, Julia sought to create a sculptural object to be displayed all year ‘round. And of course, they spin!  

The All is a Miracle Dreidel has been one of the most exciting projects we’ve rolled out in recent weeks, so we wanted to take you all behind the scenes to Julia’s Sunset Park studio to get the lowdown on her creative process. So read on! And if you’re looking to snag one for yourself in time for the last day of Hanukkah, get those orders in by midnight on Sunday, 12/18. 

- Team 20x200

Studio Speak

1. Where's your studio? Sunset Park, Brooklyn 

2. How has your work space set-up changed since the COVID crisis, and what effect is your new arrangement having on your artmaking? I am incredibly lucky to have a studio away from home. I’ve been in the same studio space since 2018, so my work space didn’t change. During the first few months of Covid, I stayed home and worked on watercolors and small sculpture projects in my kitchen. When I felt more comfortable going back to the studio, I started going back almost daily, which I continue to do today. 

3. What's your favorite "tool" in the studio (and why)? I couldn’t do a lot of my work without my extruder. It’s not my favorite tool to clean, but it allows me to quickly create loose shapes and hollow forms that would otherwise be time consuming and technically challenging to make.  

4. What do you wear when working in the studio? My studio is not well insulated, so my work uniform is usually some sort of coverall, whose length and weight changes depending on the indoor temperature. 

5. What's on your in-studio playlist? I love listening to the radio and always tune into one of WFMU.org's archived playlists. My favorite shows are This is the Modern World, Transpacific Sound Paradise, Vocal Fry and Reggae Schoolroom. On regular rotation in and out of the studio are: Pharaoh Sanders, Arthur Russel, Sessa, Alice Coltrane, Nina Simone, William Onyeabor, Gregory Isaacs, Burning Spear and anything from Wollesonic Records. I also love podcasts and just finished Helen Molesworth’s Death of An Artist about the life and unresolved death of Ana Mendieta.  

6. What's the first thing you do when you arrive? If it’s wintertime, I layer up and make some tea. 

7. What's your work style? Late nights? Intense creative bursts? Slow and steady wins the race? It depends on what media I am working in, but when I’m working with clay, it’s always slow and steady.  

8. What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio? I like thinking about my next meal. 

Whens, Hows, & Whys

9. How do you get over creative blocks? My ideas generate when I’m creating and using my hands. It honestly doesn’t matter what I make, when I am working with my hands I am able to connect and come up with creative ideas and see under the layers of distracting brain fog.

10. When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist and how’d you get there? I grew up in a family where creativity and art making was celebrated and encouraged. I never had an aha  “I want to become an artist” moment, but there have been moments in my life, especially over the last 10 years, when I’ve decided to take my art making more seriously and invest in myself and my work, i.e. renting a studio away from home and buying a kiln.  

11. Why do you think it's important to have a dedicated work space for your art? What advice would you give to artists looking to build a creative work space? I believe one can make art anywhere, you just might need to scale down or find some creative working and storage solutions. I think it’s more important to have a dedicated chunk of time to unplug from distracting technological devices and lose yourself creatively. This could be simple doodling or watercoloring, going to an art museum or taking a walk and looking at the changing colors of the world around you.  

Before moving into my own studio space in 2018, I made collage, watercolor, woodblock prints, textiles and cyanotypes in the living room and backyard of my former apartment. I also intermittently took ceramic and printmaking classes at community studios around NYC. When I felt like I needed a little more space to work and try out an installation, I would occasionally sublet someone’s studio for a week or a month and treat it like a mini residency. When I’m teaching at universities or continuing education spaces, I always suss out if it’s possible to use the studio equipment. 

12. Which artists' 20x200 collections do you most covet (and why)? It’s very hard to choose, but I’m leaning towards some photographs from the vintage collection, specifically work by Gordon Parks, Walker Evans and Berenice Abbot. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and am drawn to Walker Evans’ images from Alabama and the rural South.  My paternal grandparents were born and raised in Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively, and Berenice Abbot’s photographs from the 1930’s are a glimpse back to a time in history where I can imagine what the visual landscape of my family’s daily life might have been. Gordon Parks is an incredible visual storyteller and his work documenting the injustices of growing up as a Black American continues to resonate today.  

13. What do you like best about 20x200? I love how accessible Jen has made art to the wider public through 20x200. I am a living-with-art-maximalist, with work from friends, colleagues, trades, hand-me-downs, etc. and the first thing I do whenever I move into a new living space is hang art. Art is absolutely for Everyone, and it doesn’t have to be out of reach financially.  

14. Your menorahs and seder plates are absolutely stunning. When did you start incorporating judaica into your art practice? How has your own personal relationship with religion informed your work?  Thank you! There is so much creative potential in contemporary Judaica to be explored. My work is less influenced by my personal relationship to religion than my interest in ritual objects that can be used and displayed year-round.  

I made my first ceramic menorah in 2017. Like many of the ceramic objects I make, the menorahs were created as functional artful objects that I wanted in my life, but I couldn’t find elsewhere. 

15. The dreidels are your own new interpretation of a traditional object. Can you talk a little bit about how this concept developed from idea to final product? The All is a Miracle Dreidel was visually inspired by the playful shapes, colors and textures in the sculptures of Peter Shire and Ron Nagel. The text “All is a Miracle,” is from Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation, and it is written in both English and Hebrew on the top of the dreidel.  

I wanted to create an object that gives a nod to history and tradition and also feels new and fresh with a more universal message. I knew I wanted the dreidel to rest on a stand, and I wanted it to work visually both right-side up and upside down. After a lot of online research and some unsuccessful sketches and tests, a friend showed me a small squat conical plastic dreidel they received at a holiday party as a kid. Once I saw that form, with the slight grooves along the base, the concept developed quickly. I made several test versions with the conical shape and different handles, but felt like the cone (base), ball (handle) and wedge (stand) were the perfect complimentary shape and scale combinations.  I  didn’t know if the dreidel would spin until after it was fully fired, and I am thrilled (and relieved) it spins so well!

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