Describe your normal day?
Each day at the studio is slightly different; it depends on the making process we’re currently involved in as well as clay’s behaviour. Clay is a type of material that dictates the pace and rhythm. After each step in the making it needs to be left aside to reach a certain level of hardness before work can be continued. Therefore, rather than describing ‘the normal day’, it’s easier to look at the schedule of ‘the normal studio week’. Mondays are usually half admin and half studio days when the making process begins by either slip-casting a batch of simple shaped vessels or rolling out slabs of clay for hand-building. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays that ‘initial stage’ of material preparation is repeated in the morning while for the second half of the day we concentrate on finishing the pieces from the day before. This routine continues and overlaps onto Thursday morning. By the afternoon we move onto decorating and glazing previous week’s work while what’s been produced in the current week is left sitting on the shelves to dry quietly. Additionally, every 48hrs we reload the kiln that is only big enough to keep up with the workload if we keep it running constantly.
How did you learn your skills? / What type of training did you have?
I am a self-thought ceramicist. Ever since I encountered clay as a hobby, learning the process has been a truly astonishing road to discovery.
Thanks to the kindness of people I met at the beginning of this journey and who were willing to share their experience and knowledge, I have developed the basic skills and understanding of the material.
The rest, as they say, is history…
Through experimentation, own research, trial and (frequent) error, as well as through limitations of the range of skills I had at hand, I started looking for my own voice and finding style that felt true to me.
Clay offers endless possibilities and ways of expression; therefore, the learning process never ends. This aspect of working with ceramics keeps me fascinated and always enthusiastic about ‘my’ craft. It offers the constant challenge, the exploration of the creative ideas, and finding means of translating them onto clay.
Also, because I have never received a formal training I am unaware of ‘dos and don’t’s’ and have full freedom of not knowing the ‘correct’ way of approaching things. Although often problematic, I consider it to be one of my strengths.
How would you describe your style and products?
Simplicity of form and colour paired with hand-drawn illustrative quality of my decoration defines the style of my work. It is whimsical, sometimes funny, sometimes grumpy and sad, slightly childlike, maybe sentimental and naïve.
There is a certain narrative to my work as well that is reflected on two levels. I have therefore rebranded karoArt quite recently by adding a caption the clay fable.
Firstly, my work is hugely inspired by fables, stories, myths, and magical realism as a movement in art. My pieces have a spark of magic and the characters I draw live between the real and the imaginary worlds. Secondly, although the design of my work is fresh and contemporary, the finished piece does not lack the humane imprint. My work is often slightly imperfect, wonky, the pencil drawings ragged and hasty, leaving no doubt that each piece is made by hand with some of the emotions and characteristics of the maker transferred onto clay in the making process.
I am hoping that the work is therefore more authentic and one-of-a-kind, personal for me as a maker and for the person on the receiving end.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Besides the fables, stories and myths that inspire my work, the beauty of Natural World and love for animals strongly comes across in my work, although in a very simplified form. I do not only take inspiration form Nature in sense of aesthetics. I also recharge my batteries, find balance and keep my creative juices flowing by being out and about, experiencing the closeness with nature.
Were there any positive or crucial turning points in your career?
I'm trying to stick to a simple philosophy of taking things as they come and not setting the goals too high. It this way every little success feels so much bigger and motivating. It also helps to keep the focus on what's priceless- enjoying the work I do. That also means having a clear view and being open to opportunities, grasping them if they feel the right way to progress.
With my practice that, over the years, has grown from displaying work at local craft markets to currently having it stocked by best retailers in the country and finally growing my customer base in Ireland and worldwide I feel karoArt's been on the right track.
As far as I can keep track of things I still consider every new sale and new customer to be a positive turning point, an expression of appreciation of my input, work and effort. The return customers or those who ask for special custom pieces to be designed and made for them are a cherry on the cake.
Finally, the progression of how I consider myself in my practicewere huge stepping stones of my personal career. When starting out with clay I wouldn't dare to call myself anything more than a 'humble maker'. With experience and growing confidence, I evolved into a 'craft-woman', a 'designer' and a 'ceramicist'.
What is your most popular product?
The most recognisable piece, that has now become the signature product for the brand is the 'Tweet Bowl'. It is a very simple porcelain dish, a basic half-globe shape with added foot and little bird perched on the lip of the bowl. While it's strong design feature is the contrast between the white outside of the bowl and the splash of colour filling the inside of the dish; the hand-drawn bird's footprints going across the inside of the bowl make it unique, recognisable and special.
Everything about the bowl is understated and uncomplicated; the simplicity of the form and decoration and the innocence of the simple narrative. There's also a personal element to the piece that makes it special to me as a maker. The very first 'tweet bowl', although very different from the current sleek-designed piece, was made for a very special cat named Richard and so the design will always remain a legacy of a very important furry friend of mine. Following the success of the 'tweet bowl', the range now features large plates 'bird baths' and 'tweet cups' that follow the same design pattern and we're currently testing some exciting new additions.
What is your favourite piece of work at the minute and why?
The idea for artwork inspired by old, universal stories and myths has been growing in me for a long time. After many attempts to design a satisfying range based on these themes finally, late last year I launched a series of a limited-edition wall plates with three designs loosely inspired by continental fairy stories of Brother's Grimm and H.Ch. Andersen that I read growing up. I'm still excited by this design and some of the decorating techniques I have not used before in my practice.
Currently, after lots of reacserch and extended reading, I am finalising the designs for two new ranges of wall art. One of them will be based on Celtic myths, and while I will initially launch two designs only, I'm hoping to grow the collection by exploring the abundance of the stories in Celtic heritage. The second collection, 'Aesop's Bestiary', will illustrate some of the ancient philosopher's fables and portray His animals that take centre stage in his story-telling.
This body of work is not only enticing because of its newness but also by the fact that I'm exploiting new techniques, including computer based design, to translate my hand drawings into designs in clay that can be reliably reproduced. (See KaroArt products here)
Why do you love doing what you do?
There are many things I love about working with clay and running creative business. Besides the obvious independence of working for myself and pleasure of getting my hands dirty making there's more complex set of benefits. Working with ceramics gives outlet to my creativity and freedom of exploration, provides constant trigger for my imagination and desire for learning. There is an element of surprise and thrill when working with clay; it is an organic material that requires focus, sensitivity and understanding. Getting emerged in the process, in the uninterrupted workflow and rhythm, keeps me grounded as it has a meditative quality. It is also simply rewarding to make objects that people appreciate, cherish and use in their lives.
If budget and time were no obstacle, what would you most like to create?
I would like to devote more time to designing and making of one-off, exhibition work. I am fascinated by the process of designing, planning and producing murals and large-scale mosaics; it is like playing an advanced puzzle game. I have recently had an opportunity to make mosaic tiles for my own bathroom and to create mural for the kitchen splashback and enjoyed every minute of it. I also created an outdoor mosaic panel 'Sumatran Tiger' that was an award winner at the Sculpture in Context exhibition in Botanical Gardens, Glasnevin in 2016.
If you weren't doing what you do, what would you work at?
I would probably illustrate books.
I am fascinated by the abundance of style, method, personality in the art of illustration. I sometimes go to the kids' section in a bookstore, flick through the pages of books and admire the amazing artwork.
One day, I would love to get some practical knowledge on the illustrative techniques and the combination of traditional approach and computer graphics.