June 22, 2019
Learning Contemporary Ceramics from a Slovenian Designer: Peek into my VAWAA Journal
Before My VAWAA, Outward-Looking
The world beckoned and every tale of travel made me want to go explore, but I knew the conventional path of star hotels and guided tours were not my style. Travel, for me, meant to connect with the land, to touch the soil and soul of a place, to breathe in the atmosphere, not just the air; to walk roads and stroll paths, like a local would. Visiting stores would need a cheerful greeting of a familiar face behind the counter – to blend in with the people of a place. To be able to say, “I more than just visited.”
Then, one day, while browsing on FB, I noticed the VAWAA advert. I couldn’t believe it – this was exactly what I was hoping for! Yet, it would be many months before I could find a like minded soul to break loose and step out.
Ceramics? Hmm…never done it, but why not? So, off to Slovenia, we go!
Susy Matthew and Dalreen Sequeira with VAWAA Artist Katja. Courtesy of Tit Košir.
The studio was a small wonder as we got introduced to clay, the different techniques and our tools with which we were to create marvels of our own. We were to work with white clay, to be baked at lower temperatures. Katja’s pieces in the shelves looked interesting…and easy enough, or so we thought.
Pinching and Building - the 1st 2 techniques. NO, clay is not to be treated as plasticine. We have to feel it, inside us, not only at our fingertips, I realized. Not all artists make good teachers, but Katja was both and through her patience, she guided 2 novices who have never touched clay before in their lives, imparting her skills into their learning.
We managed 3 open pieces and left them for drying – drying slowly and evenly is very important too, she said, too quickly and the product would crack before it got to the kiln and if it wasn’t dried evenly, it would break apart while baking. Any trapped air bubbles in the clay (aka handling it like plasticine and if we hadn’t pinched it properly) could cause the piece to explode.
Patience and Perfection.
Elated by our experiences of Day 1, we are convinced we can make Ceramics a profession. Lol. A harder challenge today – to create a closed object. It took us most of the day. Clay has to be handled gently; molded, not pulled into shape. After setting it aside for drying, we worked more on our first pieces that were now “dry as leather” and therefore at the best consistency for decorating. A keen inspection by our teacher certified us to move forward.
Breaks between studio time allowed us to meet people as beautiful as their countryside.
Embellishing, painting and decorating. Different paints, brushes and tools were experimented with. Patience, patience…and steady hands. We could not afford mistakes – there was no going back to step 1 to start all over. And of course, LOTS of imagination to get the best out of our creations. Glancing at Katja’s finished pieces in her shelf, we realized how much skill had gone into creating them – nothing was as easy as it seems.
The sun doesn't set till 9pm and we stretched our legs by fields of grass, but strangely, wild flowers were more along the roadside. Pesticides and artificial fertilizers, Katja informed us. Wild flowers are so sensitive, they cannot grow on polluted soil.
The little village of Krize boasts a small store, a larger supermarket and a café within easy reach. They supply the barest essentials. The only restaurant available for a good meal is a 20 minute walk away, but well worth the effort. The countryside is so amazing; we could have walked more if it wasn’t for the sudden downpour that got us scurrying home.
Our day off. Katja drove us into Ljubljana city for a tour of Predjama Castle and Postonja Caves. To try to describe our experiences would be to diminish it. One has to experience it to believe it. AMAZING. Incredible. We even saw baby dragons.
We came home with Katja, very excited to try out the new glazes we had bought today. We had gawked like kids in a toy store at the colours, effects and varieties available – we wanted everything! Katja explained which types would suit our designs, which glazes could be used in her kiln, and how some glazes would change and react with our coats of paint. We listened as excited students would, with half an ear of understanding.
We couldn’t wait for studio session to start. Our masterpieces had been baking all night. Katja was excited as we were, but bad news – the kiln was still too hot to open. We had to wait for it to cool on its own, or our products would be damaged. The kiln was opened a crack and we could barely peep in. Patience tried us sorely.
To make up for it, she prepared us a wonderful lunch which we had in the garden under a canopy of a new grape vine. The vegetable patch was a lovingly tended garden; the perfect setting. The kiln was opened a bit more. By evening, we could hold our products and spent the rest of the day light hours glazing over the painted pieces. We weren’t allowed to stop till every piece was completed. Dinner was at 11pm that night, after the products were safe back in the kiln.
Lesson learnt: don’t try intricate work when tired.
Courtesy of Susy Matthew.
Visited Lake Bled – wonderful place even though typically touristy. Then returned to meet Mr. Tit Kosir for the photo shoot, who first took us on a trek by a rushing river.
Back at the studio, we gingerly removed our creations from the kiln. They were warm to the touch, and strangely unfamiliar. The glaze had completely changed them! Some colours were deeper, some a different tone, yet others with totally unexpected results. ‘Glaze can eat glaze’, my teacher explained when my expected ‘neon purple’ looked a mild pink.
Courtesy of Tit Košir.
Return home; completely satisfied with our week of vacation with a gifted artist. Looking forward to the next one.
Written by Susy Matthew
Vacation With Katja in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
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