As one of our 16(!) collaborators from South Africa, Gemma Orkin is a Cape Town artist and ceramicist that worked with us to create a collection of bowls and vases. We also used her relaxed and happy artwork on pillows, trays and wall tiles…

What inspires you?

I am inspired by all the things I love. I love life, I love nature, I love being outside, I love the sky, I love the sea, I love my family, I love love songs, I love cooking, I love eating, I love bright colours, I love beautiful shapes and I love delicate lines.


How would you describe your work?

I would describe my work as happy and uncomplicated. The shapes are simple and classic. The colours are creamy and the designs are bright and bold. I think my drawing technique is quite loose.


Your pieces have such organic shapes. What inspires their palettes and patterns?

When I start building a shape, I have an end shape in mind, but especially with my vases, I do let them develop into themselves as I go along. I like it when they are slightly unbalanced or there is a mistake in the drawing, I think it adds to the originality and wholesomeness of the piece. When I am making bowls, I focus on the fact that they are containers and I find this shape very rewarding. My colours and patterns are inspired by the natural beauty of nature. Birds and flowers have the most intense beautiful combinations and juxtapositions of colour. It kind of makes my heart sing and I try and translate this in my work. I like to use a pale creamy background colour to juxtapose and enhance the boldness of the design, also to add a little bit of quietness. All of my original work is hand-built with coils, all my background colours are hand-mixed, and everything is painted by me.


Where do you like to work?

I like to work in my studio amongst my friends. I also teach ceramics there.

Who are your favourite artists/designers and why?

I really love old world ceramics, traditional shapes and old-fashioned glazing techniques. I don’t have any particular favourites, but I am very drawn to ceramics from all around the world. My mom is an artist, Gail Caitlin and she inspires me a lot in teaching me about the sensitivity one should try and capture in one line.

What’s your approach to decorating?

Bold and simple. I’m not afraid to make a mistake, which gives me confidence to express myself with colour.


Tell us about your collection for West Elm. How did it come together?

west elm approached me to do a series for different seasons. The joy they expressed around my work made me very excited and the freedom that they gave me to choose what I thought would work in a nice story within their seasons colour themes. I focused on very simple shapes with a little brighter-than-normal colour themes. I chose birds and flowers that worked well together as a series and that would complement each other. A little bit of quietness and a little bit of boldness. I really enjoyed it because I thought much more about appealing to a wider audience and being able to use the designs/shapes in many ways.


Gemma Orkin
VIDEO: South African Design: Gemma Orkin + west elm
Gemma Orkin


gemma-orkin-silk-pillow-west-elm-red-modern-protea-rectangle-south-africa gemma-orkin-bird-south-africa-wall-tiles-pastel-color-sweet-art-artwork-west-elm silk-pillow-gray-yellow-bird-gemma-orkin-drawing-west-elm-modern-living-room
pastel-ceramic-bowls-west-elm-gemma-orkin-color-flowers-yellow-blue blue-silk-pillow-gemma-orkin-gray-bird-sketch-west-elm-deep pastel-bird-vases-south-africa-gemma-orkin-west-elm-green-red-pistachio
brown-silk-sparrow-bird-pillow-gemma-orkin red-daisy-african-south-west-elm-gemma-orkin-pillow-modern gemma-orkin-glass-decoupage-bath-room-trays-birds-pastel-blue-green-yellow-west-elm

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December 13, 2013

Love the design, but how does “made in China” make its way into the product? S.african artist, American company?


December 16, 2013

Hi Marlene — west elm works closely with our design collaborators to bring their designs to a mass market. In some instances (as is the case with Gemma Orkin) it would be impossible for the designer to create all of the work on their own. In order to produce these designs at a competitive price and scale, our designers and collaborators work with producers around the world. This way, west elm is able to provide original products by designers at a competitive price + value. If you have more questions about our commitment to design and handcrafted goods, please check out:

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