In a series of interviews, we want to capture the energy of the moment as we shift to a Virtual First world. We had a chat with Alex to learn how he’s staying creative and navigating the current work–life landscape. Here’s what he had to say:

What do you do for work?

Product designer.

How would you describe your creative practice?

My creative endeavors both at work and outside it are a series of trying different things to solve a problem (or set of problems). Sometimes I do my non-work work to explore a wild idea, to see how something works, or to help my physical and mental health through moments of mindfulness.

How do you feel right now?

Most of the time I feel like I am in a state of suspended animation. I am an extreme A-type personality and find calm in getting out, seeing people, and accomplishing.

With the pandemic, I have been trying to push my understanding of myself and allow myself to go inward. I have enjoyed reading more. Spending more time with my wife. Taking the opportunity to learn and face my biases, privilege, and role in systems of oppression (a process that’s sometimes painful and very hard, but absolutely necessary).

Alex Oskie holding a Tennis ball

Photograph by Chris Behroozian

In a time of crisis, how do you maintain your creative practice?

Exploring mediums that are new to me, as well as pushing myself to put work out there that I had previously kept more private.

I spend a majority of my creative energy (outside of work) as a potter. During shelter-in-place, the community studio I work out of (Clay by the Bay) has been closed. In this time I have been exploring furniture design with a couple of friends. This has pushed me to learn some 3D-modeling software to create pieces that will be CNCed.

I have also published a site to showcase my photography. Most of the work that I house on this site is from physical film photos. Before the pandemic, I had done very little with them, either procrastinating or being overly critical.

Alex holding a mug

Photograph by Chris Behroozian

Can you talk about how quarantine has changed your approach?

I have used my time away from clay as a reset. I had gotten into a rhythm of producing work for local shops and craft fairs that was heavily influenced by the feedback of others—what sells, which colors, how many of each item to make, when to post, how frequently, etc. I am coming back to what truly drives me: curiosity and problem solving.

I get a lot out of seeing people enjoy something I’ve made. I love to get feedback on how people interpret and use my work. That input informs future creative decisions. But I need to continue to balance this with my personal opinions and interests.

What new strategies have you developed to stay creative during COVID-19?

During the pandemic, I realized that I love the feeling of starting something new. I am going to continue to push my comfort zones and try things that inspire me.

As collaborative work comes online, how are you working with fellow creatives?

The furniture work that I have been doing has involved a great deal of collaboration through online tools. My collaborators and I regularly share sketches to discuss ideas for forms or structural concepts. We use project management tools to make sure we are keeping things on track. We meet via Zoom to catch up and talk about projects as well as keep a place for the camaraderie we had in physical meetings prior to the pandemic.

When I work out of a community ceramics studio, I love having the ability to share and collaborate with fellow artists in that community. We can bounce ideas off of each other, help solve problems, or discuss different ways of approaching a project. I hope to keep this as part of my creative process throughout my life.

Anxiety is running high right now. What do you do to stay sane?

Working from home has had a huge positive effect on my anxiety. I battle with feeling isolated from time to time, but I feel extremely fortunate to be able to continue to work. I find that the end of commuting and other distractions associated with office life has allowed me to be more productive and calm. The ability to be more flexible with my time, and to harness my concentration (or lack thereof), has added a sense of productive autonomy.

When I feel anxious, being outside or out of my routine really helps. Calling a friend or family member while taking a walk, going for a bike ride, riding my skateboard, or reading in a different part of the house have been some of my tactics for resetting.

What do you think the future of work looks like?

I am feeling more and more confident that we are moving to a post-colocated/post-synchronous working world. I believe that there is going to be a shift that affects all businesses. Working remotely will lead to more companies allowing workers to do their jobs across time zones. There will be a renaissance in how we communicate, how we show progress, how we hire and maintain talent, for all kinds of work. I believe that the working situations we’ve been forced into during the pandemic have highlighted problems that existed in the old working world but we weren’t compelled to fix (or we had suboptimal solutions in place that we didn't want to make better).

Basketball field with people playing

Photograph by Chris Behroozian

Who inspires you right now?

Isamu Noguchi, Gordon Parks, Hayley Eichenbaum, Kat & Roger, Kidtofer, Lisa Hammond, Richard Peeler, Randy Johnston, Warren MacKenzie, Scott Jennings, Shōji Hamada, Roberto Burle Marx, Alvar Aalto, Charles and Ray Eames.

What are you listening to or watching?

Listening to a lot of podcasts: 1619, The Argument, The Daily. Music: Black Marble, Dark Dark Dark, Bjork, a ton of jazz, and an equally large amount of salsa and Latin jazz. Currently reading: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Watching: The Imagineering Story, The Simpsons, and lots of Disney/Pixar movies.

How can we use creativity for good?

I make a lot of functional pottery, and I love the idea of it replacing disposable products. I’m interested in shifting people’s thinking toward having pieces that mean something to them, that they take care of, that reduce the urge to buy new and throw away the old.

I would love to explore opportunities for donating pottery as well—connecting communities like mine, which have a ton of inventory to give away, with people who could use it but don’t have access.

Have you found any special moments of humanity during this time of crisis?

My brother and his wife own a distillery in Minnesota. When the pandemic broke out, they transitioned their facility from producing booze to making and distributing hand sanitizer. Then, months later, when George Floyd was murdered just blocks from their location, they pivoted again to create a foundation to raise money for businesses affected by the damage that occurred during protests. They also created a food bank in their warehouse to help address the issues of food insecurity in South Minneapolis. This is an example that was extremely close to me, but there are many other examples of people coming together during these hard times.

Alex Oskie close-up - looking into the camera

Photograph by Chris Behroozian

What is your home/workspace like?

I spend about 16–18 hours a day in my bedroom. My desk is near the window, surrounded by plants. That is where I do almost all of my product-design work these days.

Alex's Home Office

Photograph by Chris Behroozian

I make art outside of my day job by either walking around and taking photos, putzing around on my iPad, or going to my community pottery studio.

Do you have a daily routine?

Big creature of habit! I love variation, but easily fall into routines. I need coffee to start my day, I eat on a very regimented schedule, and I tend to build routines around when and where I work. I am trying to push myself to step away from my desk more often and go outside as much as possible.

Have you given yourself a haircut yet?

Kinda. My wife has given me a haircut during SIP, but at one point I thought it was a good idea to show her how to use my beard trimmer on the side of my head, because I didn't think she was doing it right (what a joy I am to be with). She did finish the haircut and evened out the gouge I left behind my ear.

Alex's hair in close up

Photograph by Chris Behroozian

Have you found new ways of taking care of yourself or combating anxiety?

One of the reasons I got into ceramics was to be mindful about combating the anxiety that triggers my autoimmune disease. I have Crohn's disease and have found the studio to be a great place for slowing down and being in the moment as I focus on the various steps in the pottery-making process. While the studio was closed, I tried to fill this time with photo editing or 3D design, but these activities were too similar to my day job to really give me the same sensation that pottery does. I went in and threw some pots last night and felt that sense of calm. I’m overjoyed to be back in my happy place.

close up of Alex's hands on the pottery wheel

Photograph by Chris Behroozian

Alex's Arm with tattoo

Photograph by Chris Behroozian

Which local businesses or causes are you supporting?

Continuing to do my grocery shopping at Rainbow Grocery. Buying books through to support Dog Eared Books. Finding any way I can to buy local (or, at least, small).

How are you connecting with the people in your life?

Zoom with friends has been a surprising win for me. I never thought about using video calls for my personal life before. In fact, I used to get annoyed when people would FaceTime me without scheduling it or asking first. I think that VC with buds and family will be something I do forever. I am converted.

What’s your hope for the future?

Continue to grow. I am excited to keep doing the work of introspection and confronting my biases. I hope to continue to chase my inspirations. I am excited to take a more active role in my ceramics community. And I am hoping to push for a more flexible way of doing my day job.

What are you daydreaming about?

Seeing the world and immersing myself in other cultures.

Alex portrayed on pottery wheel

Photograph by Chris Behroozian

Latest in Human Interest