studio tour: a question of eagles.



ceramic pots and vases designed by A Question Of Eagles / sfgirlbybay

i’ve been a longtime fan and follower of local ceramic artists Melissa Tolar and Jonathan Ballak, the creative husband and wife duo behind a question of eagles, and finally got the chance to meet them in person. walk into their downtown L.A. studio and you’ll be greeted by the smell of the earth, beautiful natural light and a sweet little doggie named clyde. each one of a kind clay piece is made, assembled and carved by hand — usually passing through both sets of hands before it’s complete, making a question of eagles a true partnership. i love the way their glaze palette, forms and surface designs all seem to fit this hot desert of los angeles so well. enjoy their creative advice below and check out their final products in their online shop or follow a question of eagles on instagram for a peek at their process.

studio tour: A Question of Eagles / sfgirlbybay

were you working elsewhere before leaving to start your business?
We both have MFA degrees in different art disciplines and had been working for artists and galleries since we landed in L.A. almost 10 years ago. We always knew that we would eventually want to start our own creative business, and the timing was right around 4 years ago. We each continued to work jobs in that field throughout the start of our business, and that allowed us to grow slowly and at a pace that was comfortable. We could really take our time then honing in on the designs, textures, and colors that have since become a signature style for us. We didn’t want the pressure of having to create an instant hit, or to satisfy the current trend, and as a result, our collections have more of a timeless quality.

was your new path motivated by a particular creative need or personal goal?
Both really! We’re makers at heart, and although there is a ton of administration that goes along with running your own business, at the end of the day the time we spend in the studio together makes up for all that. We both have an intense work ethic, and being able to apply that to our own creative ideas was definitely a personal goal we wanted to achieve.

ceramic artist Melissa Tolar at work in her DTLA studio / sfgirlbybay

studio tour with ceramic artists, A Question of Eagles / sfgirlbybay

ceramics on drying rack inside the studio of A Question of Eagles / sfgirlbybay

Melissa Tolar and Jonathan Ballak of A Question of Eagles / sfgirlbybay

did you receive any particular advice that stood out when starting your own business?
Be patient. It seems simple, but things really don’t happen overnight. At least for us they didn’t, and that was OK!  A good friend who started her successful business almost 7 years ago, said year 5 was when she really felt things shift in a really big way. We’re in our 4th year now and are feeling that shift. Just be true to your vision, work hard, and always present the professional business that you want. Eventually it will all come together!

where do you gain fuel that inspires your creative endeavors?
so many places – museums visits, books, hiking, the California landscape. We always have our eyes open!

 Question Of Eagles ceramics on display in their studio / sfgirlbybay

studio tour DTLA with A Question of Eagles / sfgirlbybay

A Question Of Eagles ceramic and cork pots / sfgirlbybay

what was the most unexpected aspect of putting together your business?
We knew that it was going to be hard work, but really, it’s really hard work! There are so many other parts of the business besides making — line sheets, social media, packing and shipping, emails, so many emails! Scheduling uninterrupted time in the studio away from the computer/phone has become critical, and we didn’t really expect to have to do that so much.

inside the studio of A Question of Eagles DTLA / sfgirlbybay

studio visit with the creative couple behind A Question Of Eagles / sfgirlbybay

studio tour with A Question Of Eagles / sfgirlbybay

Melissa Tolar and Jonathan Ballak of A Question of Eagles / sfgirlbybay

what kind of vibe did you have in mind while designing your studio space.
Since we spent the early years working out of our apartment (which was functional, but a little cramped!), we wanted our studio to be bright and open without too much clutter. It’s a working studio though, so we don’t get too uptight about it. We basically just want to be inspired by the space when we walk in the door, and in that way we succeed everyday! One note about renting a studio – we waited until we absolutely needed to get one before taking the plunge, and waiting was really hard especially when you see so many beautiful spaces on social media. Not having that overhead though at the beginning really took the stress off while we were building our business, and allowed us to actually move into a bigger space when we were eventually ready.

scrap pile of clay inside the studio with A Question Of Eagles / sfgirlbybay

Melissa Tolar of A Question Of Eagles working in the studio / sfgirlbybay

ceramic pots on display inside A Question Of Eagles studio / sfgirlbybay

what are some of your work tools that you can’t live without?
This might seem pretty elemental but our hands! Our process is so tactile, that between the two of us, each piece is touched and worked on several times throughout its creation. That close connection between us and the pieces we make is really important to us.

gorgeous clay pots inside A Question of Eagles studio / sfgirlbybay

Jonathan Ballak of A Question of Eagles working in his studio / sfgirlbybay

Melissa Tolar and Jonathan Ballak working in their DTLA ceramics studio / sfgirlbybay

What are the top three things someone should consider before changing careers or starting their own business?
1. Be able to be flexible financially. If you’re already freelancing this won’t be new to you, but if you’re moving from a more traditional 9-5, not being paid every two weeks can seem stressful. We both continued to work part-time while we started out, and that really worked for us.

2. Working for yourself can be consuming and it’s easy to work every day. Make sure you still plan for vacations and time off otherwise, you’ll start to feel pretty burnt out.

3. Don’t take everything personally. Just because you weren’t accepted into that fair, or a certain shop doesn’t want to carry your work, doesn’t mean it’s a personal slight or failure. Often as makers it’s hard to separate your emotions from your business, but a little distance can really help you make more informed business decisions.

A Question of Eagles: ceramics by Melissa Tolar and Jonathan Ballak / sfgirlbybay

A Question of Eagles: ceramics by Melissa Tolar and Jonathan Ballak / sfgirlbybay

what do you currently have playing on the studio’s turntable?
We typically have a mix of KCRW (love finding new music there), podcasts (Invisibilia is a new favorite) and Netflix streaming (Just finished Stranger Things!) going on, but honestly sometimes the quiet of the studio with just the sounds of making is perfect. We’re plugged in so much with other aspects of our business, that a little meditative working feels pretty good.

• photography by lily glass for sfgirlbybay.

©