Interview With Munbeibi Creator, Hannah Louise

Hannah Louise and I talk Japan, her love for stories and how anything can be sentient (even something like a used coffee cup).
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Munbeibi is a line of playful ceramics created by graphic designer Hannah Louise. She lives and works in both Vancouver and Sapporo, splitting her time between the two. Her work with the “Moon Babes” is based on a story of her own creation and each moon babe she makes seems to have it’s own story as well.
Where and in what ways have you studied art?
I’ve been making art since I was a youngster. My dad is a photographer, and my grandmother a wonderful painter – I first learned to paint from her. Back then, I did more traditional work such as landscapes and some toll painting. Since then, I’ve studied illustration, graphic design, bookbinding, photography, and ceramics in a variety of adult-education schools, as well as through my first job, where I ran a graphic design, print and bookbindery department at a photo lab for five years.
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What do you do in your free time?
I primarily spend my free time making things! I love exploring new techniques, and since I am mainly self-taught, I find a lot of value in learning something new in my off hours. I’m currently exploring the world of embroidery and sewing by making stuffed toy versions of my ceramic sculptures. It’s something I’m really interested in pursuing further down the line. I also love to read; escaping in stories was my favorite thing to do as a kid, and I still feel so calm when I can sit and read for a good long while.
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What is your purpose in spending time in Japan?
I first went to Japan in 2014 to visit my sister, who lives in Hokkaido. Since then, I have traveled there more and more often, staying longer each time. These days, I spend half of my year there, and I’m currently in Victoria, B.C. for the other half!
Not only do I love spending time with my sister (my very best friend) but I can’t get enough of exploring the natural beauty of Hokkaido and the art scene in Sapporo. Last year, I began taking lessons from three ceramic artists in Furano, Sapporo and Jozankei, and it’s been absolutely wonderful to learn about each of their unique approaches to clay, and the culture surrounding each of their studios. I think there is a lot of value in putting oneself daily into a situation where it can be a struggle to communicate and fit in. My Dad always said that situations that make you uncomfortable are there to help you build character – I rolled my eyes at this when I was a teenager, but after 4 years of spending so much time outside my comfort zone, I really agree with his sentiment. I have found a well of strength and creativity I didn’t know was within me. I’m so grateful to my sister for moving there and opening up this new world to me, and to have a job that allows me to work remotely!
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What inspires you and your art?
I am really inspired by personification. I could attach feelings and a personality to a twig or an old plastic bag if I really wanted to. Sometimes I actually have a hard time throwing out a coffee cup if I’ve been carrying it around all day. (I know, so bonkers.)
I think this stems from having a lot of stuffed toys as a child and reading the Velveteen Rabbit one too many times – I can’t help but think that every single thing is sentient. This makes me want to create my own little creatures, and that’s really how I ended up starting Munbeibi. I just love the idea that you can create a small life out of clay, and that it could be a friend to someone.
I’m also greatly inspired by the ceramic designs of Lisa Larson. Before I found her, I felt that the work I made was too cute, and not serious enough. I just assumed I would never be able to take it very far. Lisa encountered a lot of the same roadblocks (and this was 50 years ago no less) but managed to have an extremely successful career. Her ceramic designs are still produced in her studio in Sweden all these years later, and there are countless versions of her designs made in wood, plastic and even stuffed animals. There are definitely a lot of folks out there who see this as a form of “selling out”, but I’ve never felt that way. I would be thrilled to be able to design capsule toy versions of my sculptures, or plush keychains. I think that making art accessible to anyone is invaluable, especially to someone who might only have $5 to spend, but wants to spend that on something of yours because it speaks to them in some way. Making that kind of connection with someone is what I love most about selling my work.
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Do you think a person’s art is reflective of who they are? That is to say can you separate art from its creator in your opinion?
Personally, I know that my ceramics and other designs reflect who I am very clearly. I often hear from people that they can tell my work is very dear to me, and I think it’s because each time I make a sculpture or a vase, I am connecting myself closely to the little personality I’m imagining for her – their facial expressions tend to mirror ones I often make, and they ‘wear’ and ‘eat’ things that I do as well. It tends to be difficult for me to sell a lot of my work, as they are often one-of-a-kind, and I get attached.
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I love the Moon Babes story! Can you explain why you chose clay as the primary medium for the babes?

Thank you! I have had so much fun turning the Munbeibis into 3D creatures since I wrote that story. When I was primarily making books back in 2014, I made a graphic novel about all the thoughts I was having as I was approaching my 25th birthday. It was called “Fairytales for Grown Ladies”. As any 20-something can relate, at the time I was struggling with feelings of loneliness, and was unsure of my future, so many of the sentiments in the book are questions about life and relationships, posed to no one in particular, except a few of which are directed at the Moon. I could see the moon very clearly most nights from my bed where I wrote, and I liked imagining that there were some small ears that could hear me up there.

So, the story of the Munbeibis really came from an idea I had that the Moon was populated with these little creatures that would float on down and hang out with me and others who happened to find them. Of course, being a very hands-on person, I had to actually make them real so they could live in my apartment and go on adventures. They’ve come a long way from their first iteration, but they’re still so dear to me and I hope to continue making them for a very long time.

Munbeibi work can be found on the website Munbeibi.com or on instagram @Munbeibi

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