Photos and story by Veronica Perry
August 1, 2018
Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters is known for its flavorful coffee and its world-class employees. Every employee that we spoke to described working for this small business as nothing less than “an honor”. The local, specialty coffee shop gives its employees opportunities to learn, grow and thrive within their business. There are many great examples of how Chocolate Fish commissions creativity but one instance in particular stands out.
Lindsey M. Dillon is an artist in Sacramento. A local who attended UC Santa Cruz for her undergraduate degree. After she earned her bachelor's degree in studio art, she found her way back home and is now a barista at Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters on Freeport boulevard.
“I noticed the city flourishing,” Dillon says. “It's nice to see that shift. Especially in a place where I grew up. There are so many things I love about this city. The first thing that stands out for me is the diversity, it's really wonderful. I didn't realize until I visited other cities how much I appreciate the many different cultures and how many different kinds of people are here in Sacramento. It impacts so many things about this city, especially the art scene. I love that as a diverse community we are continuing to support the arts and supporting things that make Sacramento a good place to live.”
For Dillon, there are three key reasons why she chose to work at this coffee shop in particular. First, the fact that it is a small business was very important. Second, with her expertise in functional pottery, she knew that specialty coffee and her handmade mugs were a match made in heaven. Finally, their focus on education.
“As someone who is always interested in lifelong learning that's something that drew me here” Dillon says. “When I came back to Sacramento from college I wanted to make sure that I could use the degree that I had earned.”
Doing just that, in each Chocolate Fish storefront, you’ll find Dillon’s handmade mugs. She has been perfecting this art for over a decade.
“It's taken 11 years of working in the field to even get to the point where I could make something like what you saw on the shelves of Chocolate Fish,” Dillon says. “It has been a long period of practice to get to that point. I started out in sculpture and then specifically started working in function pottery for the last 2 or 3 years and even more specific than that exclusively mugs. So, it's like a pin point focus that I have really been working on.”
The mugs she creates for local businesses in this city are expertly crafted and look just as good on display as they do filled with coffee.
“Elevating the art into something that is functional is one of the lovely things about it,” Dillon says with a smile.
Dillon takes us even deeper through the process of making functional pottery and specifically, the mugs you see for sale at Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters.
“Every single piece starts out as a lump of clay on the pottery wheel,” she explains. “It takes between 2 ½ to 3 minutes to get the base shape. And once that shape is made It takes a little bit of time to dry. Then I turn it upside down, that is when I carve away some of the excess clay when I first shape the cup. That's what gives it the foot ring, the bottom part of the cup that keeps it elevated. So after that, I attach the handle and it goes into its first firing. This is called the bisque firing. I have my own kiln and the kiln takes the clay to form something sturdy. If I were to make a mug and then put it in water before its first firing, it would disintegrate and turn to mud, but after that first firing it turns into a rock. There are all kinds of magical chemical changes that occur in those high temperatures. After that first firing, I glaze it. And what's crazy about ceramics is that the glazes you put on the cup don't necessarily reflect how they are going to turn out. You only know what it's going to look like when you open up that kiln after its been through the second firing.”
“I WANT THEM TO BE ABLE TO BE IN A MOMENT WITH IT. BEING PRESENT. WHATEVER THAT MAY BE. SOMETIMES IT'S JUST THE TEXTURE ON THE MUG OR THE HEAT OR THE WAY IT FITS IN THEIR HANDS. I WANT IT TO ALLOW THEM TO EXPERIENCE THEIR MORNING OR AFTERNOON IN A DIFFERENT WAY. IN A WAY THAT BENEFITS THEM."-Lindsey Dillon
From beginning to end, the process of creating functional art for the community requires passion, dedication and a vision. Dillon explains her inspiration behind each creation and how she came to create the mug we see in Chocolate Fish Store fronts in Sacramento.
“There is a moment that a lot of people come back to, of sitting at home or sitting in a cafe with your hands wrapped around this cup,” Dillon says. “So that image is what inspired the circular shape of the cup and then the overall branding of Chocolate Fish. How it combines bright whites with natural wood and metallic colors. So I wanted to combine some elements that were shiny, like some of the glazes that use are more reflexive, some are more matte. So, I wanted to really reflect Chocolate Fish branding in the mug itself.”
Dillon creates each piece with the intention of positively impacting the world around her and she wants people who connect with it to really benefit from her work.
“I want them to be able to be in a moment with it,” Dillon says. “Being present. Whatever that may be. Sometimes it's just the texture on the mug or the heat or the way it fits in their hands. I want it to allow them to experience their morning or afternoon in a different way. In a way that benefits them. And for my pieces that specifically talk about other worlds, because that is also an aspect of my work, I want them to feel a little bit of something magical in the world, one way or another.”
Dillon sees the impact her art has on the community, and in the future she would like to expand on her crafts.
“I like the idea of continuing to work with local businesses to get ceramic art into people's lives,” Dillon says. “I think that particularly in Sacramento that is still something that is relatively new. I also want to get back into some of the fields that originally got me into ceramic art, which is the more sculptural aspect of it. So I’d like to find a little bit more of a balance between working on my functional art, which reaches the local community here but also figurative ceramic artwork. This artwork relates to the entertainment industry, specifically film and video game like character design.”
You can find Lindsey’s handcrafted mugs at Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters, Oblivion Comics & Coffee as well as her website https://lindseymdillon.patternbyetsy.com.