How Did I Get Here with Daniel Dooreck of Danny D's Mud Shop | Daniel Dooreck working in the studio.
Photography by Brad Torchia

Daniel Dooreck’s LA ceramics studio celebrates Americana and tattoo-inspired designs

Words by Ollie Horne
Last updated: July 11, 2024

From his studio in East LA, Dooreck discusses keeping his pottery practice humble, and how travel recharges his creativity

Daniel Dooreck was working as a successful wine sommelier in LA when he started learning pottery as a hobby. When the pandemic came around, he decided to sell some of the pieces he’d made. Within a week, he had sold out his stock and quit his job to set up Danny D’s Mud Shop out of his garage in Echo Park, East Los Angeles.

Working with the disarmingly simple mission of “turning mud into really nice ceramics”, his work is thrown on the wheel and features cheerful, colourful designs that are carved and painted onto the surfaces of bowls, vases, cups and lampshades. Featuring cactuses, cowboys, burning dice and roaring panthers, his ceramics draw on the visual culture of the American West and the LA tattoo scene, and brim with the positivity and enthusiasm of their maker.

All the ceramics are sold directly on Dooreck’s website and packaged by him and his small team, and are stocked in concept stores in Texas and California in the US, as well as in Canada, Taiwan, Japan and the UK, including Earl of East and Goodhood in London.

From his home office in Highland Park, LA, Dooreck discusses how he keeps things unpretentious and humble in his studio, and how travel recharges his creativity.

How Did I Get Here with Daniel Dooreck of Danny D's Mud Shop | Daniel Dooreck working in the studio.
Photography by Brad Torchia

Hi Daniel! I saw you were working in a garage in Echo Park – have you moved?

Yeah, I was based in my garage literally right on the street. It was cute, but from a business perspective, it was time to move on, so I took over a much larger and functional commercial space in Lincoln Heights, not far from where I live, last August. It’s been great working here and immediately tripled what I can achieve in the studio. I have a few assistants now, so deliveries, shipments and packing orders are much easier. People visit daily and it’s nice to have a real space where I can welcome them – there’s a small living area where I can offer guests coffee.

Dooreck’s first move into ceramics

What first drew you to pottery?

I picked up pottery as a hobby. I was in a pretty good spot in my career at the time, working in restaurants and focusing on wine. I was doing pottery for fun but I really wanted to get good at it. When I moved to LA almost four years ago, a year in, I wasn’t really enjoying the restaurant work, so I just took a shot and sold a few pieces I had stockpiled in my garage, and it did really well. A week later I quit my job and a month later I had a website and a logo. I am still figuring it out every month, introducing new products, designs and ways of doing things.

I’m drawn to it because it’s very hands on and unpretentious. I can wear the same dusty clothes and be comfortable. I put on my overalls and I get really dirty. But the really cool thing is you can see a final product finished in a week if you are diligent. It is a very demanding job; it’s hard on my back, but I love it.

How Did I Get Here with Daniel Dooreck of Danny D's Mud Shop | Daniel Dooreck working in the studio.How Did I Get Here with Daniel Dooreck of Danny D's Mud Shop | Finished work stacked on a shelf in the studio.
Photography by Brad Torchia

What does a typical day look like?

It really depends on what needs to be done that day. I usually have around 15 projects happening concurrently. Yesterday, I unloaded the kiln and painted a lamp shade that I’m really happy with, while my assistant helped me paint some smaller cups. I also recycled clay, threw some planters for a pop-up in Tokyo in six weeks and had a meeting with a client – I’m making pendant lamps to go in their new restaurant. It is weirdly busy – no one told me how busy it would be [laughs].

I feel like I’m playing a real part in this new restaurant. I’m making five pendant lamps for them, and they are dead centre within the space. People won’t even have to look up, they will just see my work, which is awesome.

Being part of a public space means hopefully a lot of people will encounter your work.

Totally! And the owners respect my work: they are like, ‘Take off, do your thing.’ That is
a dream come true. And on top of that, my work is just there, existing, for hundreds of people to see every week. That is the best thing.

How Did I Get Here with Daniel Dooreck of Danny D's Mud Shop | Daniel Dooreck sat in the living area part of his studio.
Photography by Brad Torchia

Dooreck’s process

When you create a new design, how do you begin?

There is always a sketch, and everything I do is wheel thrown. The most recent form I’ve been playing with is a ceramic pendant lamp, which have been very well received. A lamp is just an upside-down bowl at the end of the day, with a hole through it.

In terms of illustration and design work, I draw from a lot of things I see and like. I’ll go to a thrift store and just snap 50 photos of old-school paintings and Americana things that I see. I follow a lot of tattoo artists and I really admire their illustrations. For instance, I love the Felix tattoo – the classic Americana cat. By the time I’ve translated it to a vase, it has gone through so many different formats. I like finding inspiration through motifs and ideas, and recently I’ve been adding catchy little phrases to my pieces.

What is your process for making a whole piece?

I throw, wait a few days, then trim, which is when I add a foot ring on the bottom and stamp my ring on the base, which I use as my maker’s mark. Then I wrap it in plastic and keep it on a wrapped shelf to dry. I wait until the clay is leather hard – when it has good structure but is still pliable – and carve the design into the piece. Once it’s dried a bit more, I can paint.

How Did I Get Here with Daniel Dooreck of Danny D's Mud Shop | Daniel Dooreck working in the studio.How Did I Get Here with Daniel Dooreck of Danny D's Mud Shop | A detail of paint brushes on a workbench in the studio.
Photography by Brad Torchia

Dooreck’s ongoing collaborations

What are your favourite recent collaborations?

This month my focus is on two things: the restaurant and the pop-up in Tokyo. The restaurant is a new location for Ggiata, an Italian deli sandwich shop, in Highland Park – just around the corner from my house. I was really stoked to hear that and was really keen to do the job.

My other focus is a pop-up we are hosting in Tokyo in a coffee shop called Paddlers. It’s a huge logistical hurdle – I’ve got to get 300 pieces to Tokyo. We are going to smuggle some in an extra suitcase or two and ship a lot. I currently have three stores in Tokyo that stock my goods and have a lot of friends there now. Even though Japan is home to the most amazing porcelain work, I think there is something imperfect and rugged about my work that a certain pocket of Japanese people really enjoy.

I’m also doing a small clothing collaboration with a company out of San Francisco in autumn, another with a knife company based out of Detroit, where I carve out a design on their knives, and I’m in talks with a tile company, too. I think the next step for my work is a little less pure ceramic and a little more creative and designing, which is neat. Ceramics will remain the centre point, but there are different ways to showcase my work.

People want handworked stuff, when you know the person is really on it. I think people enjoy my work because every piece is a little different – you can see where I carved it, the tool I used and the stroke. That’s really cool for me.

How Did I Get Here with Daniel Dooreck of Danny D's Mud Shop | Completed cups stacked in the studio.
Photography by Brad Torchia

How travel informs Dooreck’s work

Does travel inform your creativity?

At a basic level, I think it just recharges you. I don’t fly to many places to be honest – I probably do one or two trips a year – but I drive a lot of places. I have a very deep interest in old trucks. I love old SUVs, particularly old Toyotas – I own three. In California you are kind of blessed to be able to road-trip a lot of different places. I do that a lot and, on the way, if I see a store, I will tail back, snap some photos and see if there’s anything cool to buy.

I go on a short trip once a month or two. I think it’s important. There was a time when I wasn’t doing it last year, when I moved into the new studio and business was so crazy, and I felt the strain. As a freelancer and small business owner, the ability to step away and have the option to go on a trip when I want is really valuable.

Even though we are busy, we’ve been doing it more. I think it is almost as important to not work as it is to work.

How Did I Get Here with Daniel Dooreck of Danny D's Mud Shop | Unpainted vases resting in the studio with illustration ideas sketched on paper behind.How Did I Get Here with Daniel Dooreck of Danny D's Mud Shop | Daniel Dooreck working on a pot at the wheel.
Photography by Brad Torchia

Are there favourite spots in California that you head out to?

We’ve just been to Borrego Springs, just east of San Diego, really close to the Mexican border, where it’s all canyons and desert. I love Mammoth Lakes in the north, which is close to Nevada in the Eastern Sierras. It’s about five hours away from LA and is all alpine lakes and stuff like that. August is the best time to go, when most of the snow has melted and everything is green and you can swim in the lakes. Those are pretty special places.

My parents live in Santa Barbara so that’s an easy place to go for a quick getaway. It’s only an hour and a half away. Going to Baja in Mexico is always a good time. My friends and I do that. It’s cheap, it’s not that far. Obviously the food is great, and you’re in a different country, which is crazy.

Is there a destination you’d love to go that you haven’t had the chance to yet?

I’ve never been to Spain and I’m really interested in Andalusia, down in the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, especially around Jerez de la Frontera. I love the sound of the desert, but also the sherry. My image of it is people sitting around eating canned fish and drinking sherry. It seems really cool to me.

I’ve never been to London and I have good reasons to go now – I have a lot of friends and clients there now. I haven’t been to New York in six years. I ship there all the time and it’s probably changed so much that it’ll be a new city for me as well.

How Did I Get Here with Daniel Dooreck of Danny D's Mud Shop | Daniel Dooreck sat by the wheel in his studio.
Photography by Brad Torchia

What do you hope people feel when they interact with your work?

When someone has one of my pieces, I want them to know how handmade it is. My work is a retaliation against shitty mass-produced ceramics. I have worked on every piece in my studio. There is also a dichotomy running through my work: the piece is expertly thrown – I don’t skip any steps in terms of structure and technique – and then has a quirky illustration on it that I hope is heartwarming to the people who use it. I want someone to use the cup and think, “Wow that’s cool, someone has made that with their hands,” but at the same time, not to be precious about it. Dishwash it, bang it about, because at the end of the day I’m still here making cups.

My work has such a wide range of styles – some say “Fuck you”, others are just flowers or a cute duck. Then others with a really serious cowboy design. I hope people find one that brings joy to them.

That’s awesome. A lot of care has been taken in the making of it, but it’s also lighthearted and joyful and just fun.

Yeah that’s really important to me. I don’t call myself a ceramicist or a ceramic artist, I’m a fucking potter – I love it and I’m proud of it.

My main objective is to stay humble. I don’t need a million people following me on social media; I need like 10,000 badass motherfuckers buying my cups that really respect and love the work. Maybe they will collect a few pieces or fill up their cupboard one day.

Los Angeles

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