The audio file for this article was produced by the Ceramic Arts Network staff and not read by the author.

1 Flasks, 5½ in. (14 cm) in height, mid-range stoneware, slip, underglaze, glaze, 2024.

Animals are speaking to us. Can you hear them? Milo Berezin is listening. From a plate a frog croaks, “oh HELL no,” from a bowl a worm gurgles, “DIG deep,” from a vase a ladybug on a dandelion flutters, “FINE and dandy.” The animals’ words express things we all want to say. Berezin lovingly handbuilds the forms and playfully decorates the surfaces in small batches when he has momentary breaks from being a full-time dad. Creative time happens in bursts in his studio, a converted office in his Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, home that he shares with his husband, son, and animals. 

As I’ve spent time with Berezin’s ceramics, I find myself drawn into the pathos that’s hinted at in the challenges posed by his works’ transitions and movements. The stories I’m drawn to have an arc that travels and characters that weave between plot lines through mountains and valleys of drama. Stories can help us recognize feelings buried within ourselves, and help us find our ground. Sometimes our ground is clay, and sometimes our characters are animals. 

Berezin’s work is vibrant like the nature he so gleefully mimics. This playfulness appears in raising his son, preserving his studio practice, and witnessing the movements of the seasons we all live through. There are robust creative and magical elements to his art that inscribe his pottery with a poetry of empathy and tenderness for us to receive, share, and feel. 

2 Complex Emotional Needs Plate, 8½ in. (21.6 cm) in diameter, mid-range stoneware, slip, underglaze, glaze, 2024. 3 My Own Company Plate, 8½ in. (21.6 cm) in diameter, mid-range stoneware, slip, underglaze, glaze, 2021.

We first met in 2018 during the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference. Berezin was an arts administrator for the Union Project, a community arts nonprofit housed in a repurposed Gothic Revival–style church in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh. I followed him on social media for years until we met online for this article. His mom was a full-time production potter and he did not want to pursue clay but after starting work at the Union Project he tells me, “. . . around 2017, I sat in on a workshop with Kevin Snipes and it clicked that ceramics could be a powerful medium for illustration and storytelling. I could blend my love of drawing and printmaking with my love of 3D design and the intimacy of the handheld object.” He holds a bachelor’s in fine art from Carnegie Mellon University and a master’s in teaching from Chatham University. He did not study ceramics but participated in a rigorous program of art inquiry with 2D and 3D design. Having the focus on academic concepts rather than craft left Berezin feeling pressure to settle on a medium as well as leaving him burnt out. Gathering himself after college, he began working with clay for himself and slowly started putting his work out there. Today he embraces clay as the perfect synthesis for his love of illustration and 3D handmade form. 

4 Milo Berezin in his studio.

The Give and Take of Parenting 

Berezin became a papa during Covid. The strain of parenting an infant and working remotely was too much during lockdown, and he left his job at the Union Project in 2021 to focus on being a stay-at-home dad. He shared how being able to sneak into his studio for an hour or two while his son napped was crucial, “Clay has been the most grounding for me. Isolated parenthood is a thing. There’s something about stay-at-home parenting, maintaining your own identity, and keeping it separate from your child who is your focus 24/7. Having clay as an outlet has helped me hold onto my sense of personhood outside of parenthood and honestly, if I’m away from it for even a few days I get depressed quickly.” Acknowledgments of identity and personal needs surface in his work. A bear on a plate huffs, “I could use a hug.” A crocodile sobs, “Sometimes I just need a good cry.” And an opossum snarls, “I prefer my own company.” The puns gloss a deeper aspect of Berezin’s humor and can sometimes be the best mask for difficult truths lodged between humor and sadness. When I see Berezin’s ceramics I usually laugh or sigh, feeling a connection to the critter, to Berezin, to myself, to the objects. Berezin has a unique ability to warm us with his work, and on a good day, the cup holds tea steeped to warm our hands, hearts, and bellies.

5 Footed mugs, 3½-4½ in. (9–11.4 cm) in height, mid-range stoneware, slip, underglaze, glaze, 2024.

Nature Tells a Story

A woodsy kid at heart, he grew up in Alaska catching bugs and raising lots of pets—his themes are in his DNA. He was raised on a small peninsula with beaches, swamps, woods, and mountains. As a young person, he wanted to be an artist, a herpetologist, or an entomologist. He’s now resolved his early inklings working as an artist who shares animal stories. 

“What brought you to animals and speech bubbles?” I asked. He said, “I was reading an article that spoke about how pet rabbits have complex emotional needs, and I thought, ‘Hey bunny, you and me both!’” Then he made it on a plate. This spawned a line of anthropomorphized animals with phrases that can be goofy, vulnerable, or even aggressive. Often, they are diaristic emotional self-portraits. If bunnies think and feel this, what are other animals and bugs thinking and feeling? 

The pace of making helps him slow down and forces us as fans and collectors to slow down with him because we want his work. At one point I messaged him regarding the bunny piece and a possible commission and he said, “No, I’m not making commissions now, they stress me out.” While boundaries can feel frustrating, like a block, I’m now seeing Berezin’s refusal as a pathway, a softer way of sharing slowness. I think of “The Hare and Tortoise” in Aesop’s fable. “Do you ever get anywhere?” the Hare asked with a mocking laugh. “Yes,” replied the Tortoise, “and I get there sooner than you think. I’ll run you a race and prove it.” We know how this tale ends and I love the contrast between the Hare and Berezin’s complex, emotional bunny. These rabbits are walking or racing, contradictions, just like us.

6 Freaking Out Vase, 10 in. (25.4 cm) in height, mid-range stoneware, slip, underglaze, glaze, 2024. 7 Freaking Out Vase, 10 in. (25.4 cm) in height, mid-range stoneware, slip, underglaze, glaze, 2024.

Serious Play in the Studio

Spending 20–25 hours a week in the studio with Standard’s Brooklyn Red 308 clay, white slip, and underglazes, he’ll handbuild with press molds and other tools. He uses slabs, pinch pots, and coils to create various dishes and sculptural forms. A whiteboard in his space helps with ideas and whenever he’s stuck, he can see the list of what’s coming next. After a form is made, he begins storytelling on the surface using white slip. This background gives an immediate contrast to the red clay. He likes to keep the top layer of slip translucent so the layers peek through. He’ll continue to tell the story while he layers with underglaze and then goes back with sgraffito to accentuate contours within the shapes on the form. His illustrations extend to the bottoms, the handles, and even the insides of vessels. Underneath each piece he signs his first name sharing a simple sweet “Milo.” Perfectionism, imposter syndrome, and stress wriggle into his process, and he works both with these and against them. 

8 Confide in Me Plate, 8½ in, (21.6 cm) in diameter, mid-range stoneware, slip, underglaze, glaze, 2021.

“I can usually get a couple of hours here and a couple there. . . every few weeks something changes and new rhythms develop. My ability to work is about momentum, too. If I lose it, it’s hard to get back. This is true in the business aspect of the work. Photography, website stuff, packaging/shipping, this can break up the momentum, too.” He uses personal tricks that ease and connect with the interruptions of parenting. Focusing on handbuilding is one of them. Wheel throwing requires longer blocks of time and lots of cleaning. “If I only have time to build two cups that’s okay,” he states, “handbuilding allows a certain kind of control to pick it up and put it down, pick it up and put it down.” Having his studio in his home across from his son’s bedroom helps and the kiln is in his garage. “Whenever I have a decent chunk of time, I do a lot of building at once. I’m reliant on damp boxes, and pieces might sit in them for weeks.” Utilizing an hour he’ll do a quick coat of slip and then keep pots in the damp box and come back the next day and paint some underglaze, or carve a little and the cycle continues. He goes on “. . .maybe it’s not the most efficient, but it’s what I can do and it’ll keep evolving. It’s different every few months.” 

9 Not a Nuisance Mug, 3½ in. (9 cm) height, mid-range stoneware, slip, underglaze, glaze, 2024. 10 I Could Use a Hug Plate, 8½ in. (21.6 cm) in diameter, mid-range stoneware, slip, underglaze, glaze, 2022.

Slowness Beyond the Studio 

The clay world continues to grow and Milo Berezin is well embedded within it. Like the Tortoise he declares, “I’m a slow maker, and that’s okay. It’s hard not to be influenced by ideas of what being a potter should look like. Even though there’s this message that you ought to make a bazillion of the same thing, I don’t know if I will.” Embracing cycles of growth and change, bringing joy, humor, and depth, a frog sighs from a vase filled with dead flowers, “Everything Dies,” and the cycle starts again with a most earnest connection to love. I followed up with Berezin recently and asked him, “Do you still love it? Making animals and speech bubbles?” “Haha! I really do,” he texts back, “I make work that makes me happy, and it’s a bonus that other people seem to enjoy it too. I love every minute of it.” 

the author Erin Shafkind is an artist and educator living in Seattle, Washington. To learn more, visit and Instagram @eshaffy