We are both very busy. We also both love art and travel, and we are both creatives at heart.
We heard about VAWAA from a relative, and the opportunity to explore a new country while learning a new skill seemed liked the perfect antidote to the grind of city life in London. We were immediately drawn to Katja’s beautiful studio in its picturesque mountainside setting.
From the moment we landed and throughout the trip, we were blown away by the absolutely stunning backdrop of the Julian Alps and the country we were to call home for nine days. We grabbed a rental car and made our way to Lake Bled where we spent our first night.
After our first day in Bled, we drove to Kranj, where we were staying in a lovely hotel in the Old Town. Kranj was the perfect base to explore Slovenia while being only fifteen minutes from Katja’s studio.
We met a smiling Katja in her bright, sunny studio on Monday, where we sat enjoying coffee and planning our week of ceramic exploration.
As novice ceramicists, we had some pretty basic ideas about what we wanted to make–some mugs or egg cups, then maybe building up to a jug. Luckily for us, Katja thought these things were all within our grasp, even as total beginners.
Katja’s studio is a tranquil, pastel-hued room filled with her pieces, which range from vases with egg box feet, to larger abstract art, to porcelain works with dolls faces (created by pouring liquid clay into mounds). Often the room would smell of thyme as we drank tea made from the fresh herbs in the garden—using cups Katja had made of course.
We started with the “pinching” technique, which is one of the oldest techniques man has used to manipulate clay. It even predates the pottery wheel and requires no tools. If prehistoric man could make useful objects with this technique, then surely we could, right?
Pinching is a slow, meditative technique that requires patience. However, in such a beautiful studio in the Slovenian countryside, it was also profoundly relaxing. With Katja’s guidance, we managed to each produce a bowl, sized somewhere between a cereal bowl and one your aunty might use to serve cashews.
Our most ambitious plan was to make a jug for water or wine, which we drink in equal quantities so the jug could be multi-purpose, along with some cups. Katja walked us through this new technique, including how to create the blueprint of these items by cutting the base and sides separately out of clay, ready to be put together the next day. The clay needed to rest overnight to become “leather hard,” which offers greater structural support when making larger pieces.
Concentrating on our clay, we lost track of time and got back for Kranj for a late dinner in the town square. After dinner we stumbled across a tiny bar beside a church with an amazing view south of the city where we had two large glasses of wine, each, for a total of four euros!
On the second day, our clay was ready. We carefully created eight beakers and a large jug by rolling the sides together and literally glueing them into place using a clay slip. We also made a few egg cups using a single piece of clay with the pinching technique and chose our glazes. In the evening, Katja took us to a local Gostilna (a traditional beer hall and restaurant that are found all over Slovenia).
The third day, we explored Ljubljana while our pieces were in the kiln, then met Katja in the evening for drinks.
We spent the final days in the studio glazing our fired pieces. The glaze initially came out of the tub as a purple colour. Katja explained that one of the most exciting things about ceramics was waiting to open the door of the kiln to see what the kiln had done to the glaze. It was important to be patient and allow the kiln to cool before opening the door. If it is opened too early the results may not be as good. A bit like baking—do not open the door to peek as the cake will not rise properly!
It was so exciting to wait and see the finished products and how the glaze came out, and we were really pleased with the results! We carefully wrapped all the items in bubble wrap and managed to get them all home intact by putting them in a hand luggage case that we put in the overhead lockers.
Slovenia has so much to offer. It is a beautiful country and all the people so friendly. We are so grateful to Katja for allowing us a glimpse into her life and her work. Not only did we learn a lot about ceramics (we are hoping to find a studio/pottery club in London to put our new skills into action again), but we also had a lovely time going to dinner together and even a beer festival!
Written by Emilia Brunicki and George Cherry