There are so many talented artists that come out of the central coast. From glass blowers to painters, to leather crafters, to potters, we see many hand-crafted artisanal goods crafted right in SLO CAL. Born and raised as a SLO CAL local in Arroyo Grande, Tawny Villegas of Tawny’s Pottery Lab found her passion in pottery at a time she needed it most. Now she’s inspiring the community around her with her optimistic outlook and intriguing products.
Tawny Villegas grew up on the central coast, playing in tide pools at the beach and enjoying the natural beauty SLO CAL has to offer. When Tawny was just 17 years old, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor that eventually caused her to lose her vision. She went from being a busy teenager who was driving herself to school and work, to not being able to see. Thanks to some amazing family and friends, she was able to keep moving forward and learn how to adjust to this new life around her. “I had to give up driving and my job and try to figure out how I was going to finish high school, but eventually, thanks to some really good family and friends, I was able to adjust and ended up graduating from Cuesta College.”After Tawny lost her vision, she attended the local community college, Cuesta College, as a web development major and worked an on-campus job maintaining one of Cuesta's websites. Though she lost her vision, she continued going to school obtaining her A.A. as well as earning certificates in web technology and web coding by utilizing a screen reader.
In 2016, the website she was maintaining had changed, and Tawny was no longer upkeeping it. This gave her more time and flexibility, so she put her web design skills to use and opened her online pottery shop, Tawny’s Pottery Lab. Tawny creates handmade stoneware pottery that is ceramic glazed to be food-safe for serving. She creates a variety of stoneware from ramekins, mugs, serving dishes, pendants, and even dog bowls.
At first, Tawny got into pottery as just a hobby. While attending Cuesta College, Tawny took a pottery class with her grandmother. It didn’t take long before Tawny realized she really enjoyed pottery and was quite skilled at it. “My grandma saw how much I loved it because it was something that I could do that was expressive.” Tawny found that pottery was a great way for her to be creative and imaginative while getting to experiment and feel with her hands. Tawny’s grandparents saw her passion and decided to build a pottery studio at their home for Tawny to practice her craft.
Much of Tawny’s work is inspired by her memories of the central coast and its unique topographical elements. With SLO CAL being abundant with beaches, lakes, woods, and rolling hills, the abstract, free-flowing feel provides inspiration for her pottery. Because Tawny focuses on her sense of feeling, she creates features in the clay that would feel most interesting to touch.
“When you have a plain, straight manufactured mug it’s just straight and smooth and not very interesting to feel.” This is where Tawny brings in aspects of the central coast to make her art more fun and representative of what she loves. “I have all these memories of the central coast and how the ocean is all wavy and curly and how the sand dunes are organic and flowing.” Tawny incorporates these elements into her products by adding features like twisted handles, flowy, organic curves, and bright colors.
Tawny named her business Tawny’s Pottery Lab after her black Labrador, Libby, who acts as her guide dog. Tawny has had Libby for nearly nine years and is appreciative of how she helps Tawny navigate the world. “She’s been really great helping me get around more and really connecting me with my community.”
Tawny initially got Libby to help her navigate more fluidly through her community while completing everyday tasks like getting around the neighborhood and shopping at the market. She didn’t realize how much Libby would connect her to the world and people around her. “It’s definitely a great conversation starter.” Libby also provides Tawny with inspiration for new pottery items. Tawny began creating pottery dog bowls with paw prints in them for dog lovers to spoil their furry friends at home with.
It has now been almost 20 years since Tawny lost her vision and she is enjoying the world around her with new activities each day. When Tawny is not creating pottery, volunteering her time, or hanging out with family, she loves getting out and exploring SLO CAL. “We love taking walks on the beach and going hiking. My husband and I also do tandem kayaking and have a tandem bike.”
Tawny enjoys the accessible trails around the county that allow her to move freely, especially when she has Libby helping guide her. Some of the trails Tawny enjoys doing are the Bob Jones Trail, The Johnson Ranch Loop Trail, Sycamore Crest Trail, and Cerro San Luis Trail. Tawny has found that these trails are wide enough for her to navigate comfortably.
“[Cerro San Luis] is especially nice for me because they have cows and horses out there and you can hear the cows mooing which is really cool.” Tawny also enjoys going to the beach and letting Libby go off-duty to walk along the shore and get her feet wet.
While Tawny is a big outdoor adventurer, she also enjoys trying new eats around SLO CAL’s vast restaurant scene. One of her favorites is Novo Restaurant & Lounge in downtown San Luis Obispo thanks to their impressive cuisine and extensive care towards Libby. Trying out new local food and drinks around the county has provided Tawny with inspiration to experiment with creating new dishware.
Tawny’s pottery is handmade in SLO CAL with elements inspired by all things the central coast is known and loved for. All of Tawny’s products can be found in her online Etsy shop. Give the gift of SLO CAL with a hand-crafted mug or dog bowl for any art or dog-lover on your list this holiday season.
Photos provided by: potterylab