Video game designer quits to make pottery after job burnout

Sitting with Ana Cho in the pottery studio behind her Eagle Rock bungalow, it’s hard to believe the laid-back potter has ever endured such stressful work that she left behind a lucrative career as a designer video game design.

“It got to the point where I felt I had to choose between work or life,” Cho said of the 12-hour day job. “It will be very cold and then go up to 80 hours a week. It’s hard not to have time for outside activities. My anxiety and depression made things really difficult.”

A woman using her hands to shape clay

“Working with clay and wood continues to give me the emotional support I need,”
Ana Cho said.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Close-up of a woman's hand standing holding a large clay bowl.

Ana Cho holds one of her tall stoneware.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

When she was originally offered a job as a video game artist in Los Angeles in 2011, the Korean-born graphic designer was living in Vancouver after an unusually wet spring. Tired of gray skies, she jumped at the chance to move to sunny Southern California even though she had never set foot in Los Angeles. “I thought, ‘I’m out of here,’” she said with a laugh. “It made me 28 years old.”

She enjoyed working for Naughty Dog in Santa Monica, but when her mother was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in 2013 and died shortly thereafter, Cho was no longer certain of her place in the world. .

Remember feeling disconnected from everything. “I took a month off, but I’m not like that,” Cho said. “I was exhausted from work and couldn’t recover from losing my mother.”

Two small clay cups with an oval shape on the outside.

A pair of handmade Joshua Tree guitars by Ana Cho.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

In a way, it’s easier to accept death than the empty days that follow. So Cho pushed herself to make lifestyle changes that benefited her mental health. She started taking pottery classes at Echo Art Studio in West LA, and in the process, she found that working with clay helped her relax.

“It was amazing,” she said of the pottery class. “I thought maybe I would find a new hobby and a like-minded community, but it was more than that. There were a lot of older women on the set and I liked that. After losing my biological mother, it was great to be with them.”

In the midst of so much inner turmoil, Cho reached for her hands for support. She continued to return to pottery class. She started cooking more. She signed up for woodworking classes at the Otis College of Art and Design in the evenings and the women-owned Allied Woodshop in downtown Los Angeles on weekends.

“There is something about working with your hands. She talks about studies that have shown that working with clay can help alleviate depression. “It was treated for me. Having a single thought and literal connection with clay is soothing. “

Close-up of a woman's hand as she molds clay on a wheel.

The beginning of a craft on a ceramic wheel by Ana Cho.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A close-up of a woman's hand shaping a bowl on the left with a similar finished bowl image on the right.

Review Ana Cho’s process from clay to finished product.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

For three years, she had a pipe dream – attending the Krenov School of Furniture, a wood craft school in Fort Bragg, California that offers a nine-month program in cabinet and furniture making high-class. In 2019, Cho made that happen when she applied and was accepted. Instead of sitting in front of a computer screen all day, she will work with traditional hand tools from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

In a sign that she was unhappy, she quit her job before she was accepted into the school.

“It was a big deal that I had to quit my job,” she said. “It was really scary. It was a combination of courage and despair. But I don’t regret it because I know how unhappy I was. It was truly a leap of faith to believe. that I’ll be fine.”

In Fort Bragg, she rented a guesthouse near the ocean and enjoyed the “experience of a lifetime” with 22 other students, including a retired scientist, a film editor from LA and a group of men. in their 20s from all over the world.

When the role-playing show was cut short due to COVID-19, Cho moved back to LA in July 2020 and got a seat on the bench at the Allied Woodshop.

A potted plant on the left and a full body shot of a woman sitting on the right.

A planter pot designed by Ana Cho in her growing studio.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A series of bowls were laid out on the table.

For tableware design in a muted color scheme.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

She said: “I couldn’t do pottery at the time, so having Allied go to work a few times a week, even with a mask on, saved me. With the intention of getting ready, she focused on crafting furniture for her 100-year-old California bungalow.

After she converted the house’s garage into a ceramics workshop, Cho was able to focus on creating pottery full-time while teaching an introduction to woodworking at Allied.

“When I took my first woodworking class, I went home feeling elated,” she says. She can now share that experience with others, and especially enjoys the classes she teaches youth and women, transgender and non-binary students. “Women feel very empowered to use machines and saws. I love seeing their reactions. It’s nice to be reminded of how I felt at first – the joy you feel when you discover something for the first time.”

For now, Cho plans to remain in small batch production. She held her first online sale last November, and in April sold out her entire line of porcelain plates, bowls, cups and planters. She says it has given her more confidence, and that she is planning another sale on July 14 at 9 a.m. on her website.

Handcrafted pots and bowls.

Behind the scenes at Ana Cho’s pottery studio.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Sitting in a sunlit studio with sacks of clay, houseplants and tall terracotta shelves in muted earth tones, Cho says her new work life couldn’t be more different from her work. her previous job.

“I feel so much better,” she says of creating a new life for herself. “I once heard a saying like ‘You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.’ When I’m feeling stuck, it always helps me see things differently from people I trust or professionals,” she says, noting that she’s always been supportive of mental wellness journeys. different psychiatry, which can be therapeutic, pharmacological or supportive. Coporation, group.

She also studied meditation and said the relationships she built with other producers and students have sustained her, as well as her profession. “Of course, working with clay and wood continues to give me the emotional support I need.”

Taking a leap of faith is scary, he said, but it doesn’t have to be “one big leap from a high cliff”. Taking it one step at a time makes things more manageable – and more enjoyable – for her.

“I was attracted to what made me feel good,” she said.

A woman is sitting on an outdoor table with a dog to her right.

Ana Cho says of working with her hands: “I was drawn to what made me feel good.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times) Video game designer quits to make pottery after job burnout

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