Chapter 1 / Sharing Stories
Beginnings – A Special Project with Ball + Cup
Read time: 8 minutes
We met Billy Cheung of Ball + Cup last year through our mutual friend and contemporary painter, Scott Sueme, and were immediately drawn to his work in ceramics. Born in Hong Kong, Billy is now a Vancouver based artist, committed to sharing his love with the technique behind pottery. His unique approach can be found in the individual traits that seem to shine through in each piece, a near semblance of personality. Through a mix of wheel work, hand building, mixed clays, interesting textures, and natural impressions, Billy brings new character to a longstanding and traditional craft.
We got to chatting with Billy about our shared culture and background of Chinese descent, living in Canada, and how each have shaped our perspectives on life, thought, and creation. Nostalgia is present in both our brands – Billy taking reference from beautiful porcelain rice bowls that his grandma used for home-cooked meals growing up, and us taking inspiration from memories that connect us to our travels around the world when we feel the most limitless. We thought it fitting to create a vessel that brought all these elements together; something to highlight our similarities ironically rooted in our differences, from the traditions and moments that shaped us.
Timing it with the New Year of the Lunar Calendar, we’ve created “Beginnings” – a collaborative Ball + Cup x OCIN candle, housed in a custom porcelain ceramic bowl. Each votive is hand sculpted, hand carved, and individually painted – a process honoring the ancient technique of traditional rice grain porcelain, dedicated to our shared Chinese heritage and the rice bowls that Billy grew up with.
The candle’s scent is made from an Oud essential oil, handcrafted in India from beeswax fermented for over a hundred years. The oil features sweet vanilla-honey and warm musky, earthy notes that create a scent unique yet familiar. Where in the moment of each burn you travel back to a magical spot or a time you felt at ease, calm, recharged, brand new.
“Beginnings” is a truly special project for both of us. It’s a candle representing tradition and culture, but also nostalgia and inspiration. Once the candle is burned through, we hope that the porcelain bowl can be repurposed into something special for you in whatever form that takes, inspiring new memories and new beginnings, in this new year.
Now available in a limited release, online.
Scott Sueme: Let’s start with you first Billy, why don’t you tell us a bit about Ball + Cup ceramics, the name, and how you got started with the brand?
Billy Cheung: Ceramics started off as a passion project for me. But as I started taking it more seriously, I really thought about a name that would reflect that. I was going through some shifts in my journey into ceramics. I had just completed my classes from Shadbolt Centre for the Arts and moved into 163, a shared studio space in Vancouver. Scott, you and I were also playing ball a lot at the time, and so the whole idea of creating a brand inspired by two things that I’m super passionate about, kind of naturally became ‘Ball + Cup’. The name is a direct reflection of two parts of my life that are important to me, being ceramics and basketball, and it also takes into account my initials, “B.C”, which was a way to tie in my name. I also think about my dog Darla, and our favorite ‘toys’, hers is a ball, mine are ceramics (cups)… haha. So, make that three important things in my life that inspired ball+cup.
SS: Yeah, that’s cool – we share our new studio space here in Strathcona, and when observing you in the process of making your pieces, I often see you start off weighing these perfectly shaped balls of clay on a scale. There’s a fun association there in that your name Ball + Cup not only relates to your love of basketball and such, but also directly to the process of your craft.
BC: Yeah, totally, it’s interesting. You’re right – Ball + Cup symbolizes a process, starting off with a ball of clay and seeing it form into something different.
Courtney Chew: What got you into ceramics in the first place, Billy?
BC: I was taking some courses on color theory and every morning when I walked to class I had to walk by this ceramics class, and always thought “that looks so cool, everyone looks like they’re having so much fun.” So, after my course ended I signed myself up for ceramics classes there. It’s where I met my teacher and mentor, and for four years now she’s helped to nourish and evolve my crazy ideas and showed me how to focus my energy into the aesthetic and form that I have with my pieces now.
SS: Cool, so you walk by this place, you start taking ceramic classes, and fast forward to now, you’re hobby has turned into a bigger part of your creative profession. I was looking at your website and you have a real nice variety of vessels from mini ashtrays, to tall flower vases, to bowls and tea cups. But there’s also some interesting sculptural pieces – like of the ceramic homes that you’ve made. How do you engage with the functional versus the sculptural and what do you get from either?
BC: Well the sculptural is really where my sense of play comes in. There really aren’t any rules, other than don’t tip it over haha, but it’s definitely where I can let loose. The series of houses came from when I first moved to Canada (Toronto) from Hong Kong when I was ten. Over there we only lived in high rises, there are no homes in Hong Kong. So, when I first got to Toronto and was driving by all these cool homes, that first interaction with them really stuck with me. To this day I love exploring new neighborhoods and looking at homes, the sizes, the shapes, the frames, the architecture, the window placement – it’s all really cool to me. It’s also such an interesting symbol for family and sparks a conversation on how things and inanimate objects can hold so much meaning and represent more than it’s function, for each of us.
SS: That’s an interesting point for sure. And a good segue into this candle project that you are doing with OCIN. You’re making super unique, and one-of-a-kind candles, inspired by your own personal memories behind the traditional Chinese porcelain rice bowl – that in itself has a lot of history behind the process of making these bowls. So let’s talk a bit about the candle – how did this process of “Beginnings” come to be?
BC: When Courtney and I were into conversations about this project, we started off with what we wanted it to look like. She sent me this really cool image of a modern take on these blue and white Porcelain rice bowls. We were into the look and feel of that shape, so we took that concept and the details of traditional rice bowls to inspire our candle. We were conscious to make our vessel one that would fit right into someones home, could function well as a candle with a wider mouth to make it easier to burn, and then could transform into a beautiful bowl once the candle was burned through. Each are hand-made, hand-carved, and hand-poured. We only did a limited run of them too, so it’s pretty special.
It’s also a significant project for me, because the original inspiration of the traditional porcelain rice bowl represents family to me. Every time I think of them, it just takes me back to my childhood and a lot of personal memories shared over meals I had with my grandma. My grandma was the one that took care of my family in Hong Kong and dinner was the important part of our day, the one moment we were all able to be together. She would serve us her homemade soup out of these rice bowls before every meal.
CC: I like what you’re bringing up around how family and memory plays a role in this project. I love that something as simple as a household item like a rice bowl can have such a strong connection to family and tradition. I’m sure there’s at least one object that everyone can say holds some sort of stronger emotional meaning to them.
SS: Yeah for sure. As individuals to get those emotional responses through inanimate objects, I think says a lot about why we make them.
The launch for the candle is coming up in time for Chinese New Year (February 5, 2019) and is being called “Beginnings”. The name is an interesting juxtaposition in that when you light it, it's beginning something but then you burn it away. I’m curious how you came up with “Beginnings” and how it relates to the Lunar Year.
CC: With the start of every new year, with every new moon, you’re almost cleansing and letting go of things from your past to leave you with a new perspective, a new starting point, a new slate to live into and take with you into the upcoming year. So, we were playing off of that and it’s parallel meaning with how the burning of a candle has an associated newness with every burn.
The core design intention behind these candles was also to be made in way that would allow the vessel to be repurposed into something else. Taking inspiration from Billy’s memory of the rice bowls that he used with his family, we see our porcelain vessels being used as an object that you can continue to use in your day to day. Once the candle is done, you’re left with this beautiful porcelain bowl, that has the potential to inspire a new memory, a new tradition, a new beginning for you, however you choose to use it.
SS: When I first heard about this project, obviously knowing you and how in touch you are with a lot of people in Vancouver, kind of a connector in a lot of ways, I wanted to ask you about collaboration and how it connect with OCIN’s ethos. How do you fit into that landscape and also, why candles?
CC: Firstly, candles… I have always been attracted to scent, it started when I was just a kid and could be found in my bathroom mixing all sorts of scents together from what I found in my mom’s drawers. To this day, scent is such an important sense for me. I am so mesmerized by how certain smells can trigger memory and nostalgia. Scent offers the possibility to take you back to special place, recharge you, re-energize you, and re-inspire you – that you can fall into in a second, just by burning a candle for example.
When it comes to collaboration, I love working with people from other industries, because the creative process is super cool when you work with someone in a different space than where you exist. It makes the project more interesting when you can bring other experiences and skillsets together. You get to tell more dynamic stories and connect with an expanded demographic too. Like with this collaboration with Billy, it just made so much sense once we started talking about it. Even though we’re a lifestyle brand and Billy works with ceramics, we share similar values when it comes to design and purpose, and being able to integrate our shared Chinese roots in the story of this candle, just wrapped it all up and made this project click.
SS: What was it like for you as a Chinese Canadian growing up in Vancouver. How do you reflect in that now as someone established, living here and working here?
CC: So, I was born here and raised here, and my parents were also born here, so the influence that my Chinese culture had on me wasn’t as prominent as it might have been on a lot of families that say, immigrated here when they were young. I never spoke Chinese with my parents, never went to Chinese school, was all in all raised with a pretty westernized upbringing….
SS: Oh that’s interesting, because both my parents and Billy’s parents immigrated here, same with a lot of people our age.
CC: Yeah, so being second-generation born here, my only real connection to my Chinese roots when I was young, was through my mom’s parents. They’ve been the foundation to teaching us about our Chinese heritage and the glue in maintaining the traditions that they’ve shared with us over the years.
Definitely as I’ve gotten older I’ve become a lot more curious about my Chinese background, digging into the stories that my grandparents and my parents have about their childhoods, them moving here, and raising kids/growing up in Vancouver in the 60’s during a time when they were a present minority and discrimination was a big thing. I would say I was fortunate to feel safe growing up as a Chinese Canadian and didn’t see the impact that that had on me.
But besides that, there was always this value of family that definitely shaped my upbringing. The importance of family is so rooted in Chinese culture, similarly with a lot of other cultures too, but family meals and large extended family dinners every month were so important for us. I think that connection to family through all the quality time we spent together was probably one defining and shaping influence that I can attribute to my Chinese roots, that is still key to this day.
SS: Yeah, family transcends all races, all humans - it’s something that unites people and it’s cool to pinpoint the nuances there.
So to end back on “Beginnings” – we know that OCIN launched in August 2018, so what does the idea of beginnings mean to you and the future of OCIN.
CC: OCIN was founded to become a platform to connect – to ourselves, to our environment, to each other – and I love how this brand has facilitated that. Every interaction that I have with someone new is a new opportunity. So, ‘Beginnings’ to me just represents the fact that opportunities are always there. It pushes me to stay open-minded, and connected. What gets me excited about OCIN is that I know what I want OCIN to be and the lifestyle and message we want to share, but there is no set path. It’s exciting when you understand that you can really do anything you want in the world – for those of us fortunate enough to live in a developed world, it’s all there for you, you just have to ask, do it, and believe.
SS: That’s so cool, I think we’re used to the brands hitting us over the head with their one thing. Where the opposite of that, is how free flowing it can actually be. It’s also an interesting parallel with the ocean, being an element that moves in any way it wants to, limitless. Like with OCIN, swimwear is just one facet that the brand shows up in – the future is exciting because OCIN can become anything you want it to become.
CC: Yeah, it’s definitely why I resonate so much with the ocean and why it’s the muse for the brand. It represents so much possibility, ever-changing, adapting with the environment, creating symbiotic relationships, existing to provide and be a vessel for every thing and every species that interacts with it. If we can all just be like the ocean…haha…we can open ourselves up to unstoppable potential and endless ‘Beginnings’.