Emily Carr University Spotlight: Zara Huntley

As part of our partnership with Emily Carr University of Art + Design, I’ve been interviewing recent grads about their work. This has been a fun way to reconnect with the school I attended (years ago) and it’s really inspiring to see all the talent coming out of there. Hope you enjoy this little series!

Next up is Zara Huntley, an interdisciplinary designer, born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She spent a decade living and working all over British Columbia before settling in Vancouver to focus on design. Of her work she says she “seeks to disrupt the preconceived, systemic notions which underlie our everyday lives”.

Jeff Hamada: What’s Halifax like?

Zara Huntley: Halifax, located on Mi’kmaq territory is a cute and small city. I grew up spending lots of time at the beach and in the ocean. My dad is from Cape Breton so we visited lots as a kid, it is so incredibly beautiful. I feel lucky I get to visit as much as I do as my parents still live there, although I haven’t been back since before the pandemic and miss it dearly.

Soft/Light by Zara Huntley

JH: How did you end up here? Maybe you can share a few of the milestones that happened in your life between Halifax and Vancouver.

ZH: I moved to Vancouver in 2007 to play basketball and take kinesiology at UBC. I was part of an inaugural high school national program based out of Hamilton in my last year of high school and decided to stay in Canada for university. I played my full five years of eligibility at UBC, playing for Canada a few of the summers in some international tournaments, and finished my career with a professional season in Spain. After Spain and some traveling, I returned to Vancouver.

Soft/Light by Zara Huntley

JH: Wow, that’s amazing. What made you choose design? Do you come from a family of designers?

ZH: I don’t come from a family of designers! Although my mom and sister are very creative people. Going to art school was something I was interested in for years but didn’t feel like I had a big enough portfolio to apply. A pivotal moment in making my way to Emily Carr occurred during the summer before I applied. I was living in Nelson, B.C. working as a forest firefighter for the government. Someone who worked at the same base had just graduated from Emily Carr and we got talking about how I wanted to go. Through those conversations, I realized I had lots for my portfolio already from all of the makings I had done throughout the years and he really encouraged me to give it a shot.

Soft/Light by Zara Huntley

JH: How would you describe your personal design aesthetic?

ZH: That’s a tough question! I think I’m still figuring that out in a lot of ways. When it comes to ceramics, I love clean lines as well as the softness of a piece. Often times I really like chunky forms but that changed a lot with Soft/Light as it’s more thin and delicate.

JH: I love that your Soft/Light project is about the relationship between a cup and a lamp. It feels like it was a direct response to the pandemic, was it?

ZH: It was definitely a direct response to the pandemic. My project shifted quite a bit second semester. What I was working on before my lamp idea was iterating and replicating sentimental objects and seeing how that would shift my perspective on them. Soft/Light was very driven by emotion. The pandemic made me reflect on the material objects around me as well as the relationships in my life. The relationship between a cup and a lamp became really prominent for me while I was spending more time than ever in my home.

Soft/Light by Zara Huntley

JH: Can you talk about some of the technical aspects of your process? How did you make the lamp specifically?

ZH: The lamp is made from a type of ceramic process called slip casting. Soft/Light is made of porcelain, a translucent ceramic body. The shape of the lamp was created from a balled-up quilt I had made the year prior. I balled up the blanket and vacuum formed it (essentially heating up a sheet of plastic and vacuuming it over the blanket to create a mold). From there I took the mold and poured a plaster model (the positive form). I then sanded down the form until it was smooth, leaving some of the ridgelines from the blanket. With that plaster model, I created my slip cast mold and used that mold to pour the lamp form. As for the cup, it is an exact replica of a glass cup. A similar process, except I made a silicone mold from the glass and then poured my plaster model from there.

On the bottom of the lamp, there is a hole for the lightbulb to fit in, surrounding the hole is a small lip with two keyholes. The light bulb and socket are housed in a 3D-printed PLA cylinder with two semi-circle notches. These notches match up to the keyholes, twisting in to fit flat and snug.

Soft/Light by Zara Huntley

JH: Were there any happy accidents, or is the final product pretty well exactly what you planned from the beginning?

ZH: There were some happy learning accidents along the way but not with the final form itself. I was lucky in a sense that alongside my final project I was in a ceramics class that gave me the ability to do projects with the same clay body and therefore was able to test out a few things. Although, having a PLA plastic piece fit mechanically with a porcelain clay body (a ceramic body that is not very forgiving) feels like a happy accident in some ways!

Soft/Light by Zara Huntley

JH: Who or what gets you excited to create these days?

ZH: My peers and friends. I recently went to a ceramic open studio to throw some forms and it was really nice being around other people creating again. I’m also part of a book club with some of my friends from industrial design and it’s motivating to meet up and chat design.

JH: What’s one thing you’d like to accomplish this next year?

ZH: I’ve taken a bit of a break from ceramics and textiles, so I’d love to get back into it, refine some work and maybe sell a few pieces. I would also love to find a job related to design.

JH: What about one thing you’d like to accomplish in your lifetime?

ZH: I think if I’m happy and fulfilled doing work that I love, I will feel pretty accomplished.

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