Just My Cup of Tea

Storytelling Ceramic Artist Patrick Johnston Returns to S.B.

by Elizabeth Schwyzer

Fanciful, lopsided, charming, and lovable, Patrick Johnston’s teapots have little in common with their sensible, symmetrical counterparts. His functional vessels are more than just hot beverage dispensers — each pot is also a storybook character in one of the artist’s whimsical tales. “For me, teapots are representative of communication,” said Johnston. “You invite someone into your home, serve tea, and talk. My work is all about pure communication, and the stories I write are about freeing yourself from whatever is holding you back.”

Johnston began exhibiting his work in the late ’90s while still a student in Santa Barbara City College’s art program. His storytime tea party exhibitions at D’Angelo, Muddy Waters, and Roy met with instant enthusiasm and attracted hundreds, but Johnston — known to his fans as PJ — felt he was stuck in an artistic rut. Encouraged by SBCC art professor Christopher Bates, Johnston applied to study art at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he graduated from the BFA program in 2003. Since completing the program, the artist has been based in Orange County, but he’s determined to make a Santa Barbara comeback — his show at Reds next month marks his triumphant return.

teapot.jpgAlthough clay is his primary medium, Johnston considers himself a writer and storyteller as much as a teapot maker. “Essentially, I write children’s books for adults, to help them regain the consciousness of being a child,” Johnston explained. “There are too many miserable adults out there.” When asked whether his interest in liberation from depression comes from personal experience, Johnston was candid. “I’ve been in situations where I was unhappy, I realized it, and I changed. My life is a process of recognizing barriers and overcoming them; recognition is always the first step. I’m a very brave person. I risk it all every day.”

Johnston has titled his latest teapot story I Remember Being a Cow. “Cows are complacent, peaceful animals — they don’t really know what’s going on in their lives, and they don’t worry about the future,” he said. “I Remember Being a Cow is a metaphor for simplicity, and a reflection of a time before technological inventions took over; a time when the inner child ran wild.” The appealing teapot characters that illustrate his story vary from squat and lumpy to tall and elegant, but Johnston’s narrative of his pots doesn’t stop with formal description. “Some are nervous, and some are in total command of the situation,” he noted. Fans of Johnston’s work from the 1990s will notice developments since he was last in town.

He now imprints words from his stories directly on the surface of the pots — a new dimension to his work that he claims would never have developed had he not left Santa Barbara to study at RISD. “They’re still absolutely funky, but they have gesture and poise,” he said. “I feel my work is a thousand times stronger than it was.”

4•1•1 Approximately 20 of Johnston’s teapots and accompanying books will be on display and for sale at Reds Café along-side other artwork during the month of December. On December 2 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., Johnston will read his teapot stories. Tea and hors d’oeuvres will be served; drink specials and live jazz will follow. For more information on the artist, visit or email Patrick Johnston at

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