Clay fairytales and fables in the studio shop of KaroArt

The new studio and shop space of karoArt Ceramics opened just last month, so Design Ireland paid a visit to Harold’s Cross in Dublin to catch up with owner Karolina Grudniewska and to hear about her her latest products and projects.

Karolina’s new shop faces south-west and the sunshine gleams through the windows - picking up the metallic accents which grace her latest designs. Inspired by fairy tales and fables, Karolina’s distinctive style has quickly found a following since she established her business some seven years ago.

Photo of Clay fairytales and fables in the studio shop of KaroArt

Her new space is bigger and more versatile than her old workshop and allows her to both display her work, and to host workshops, as well as making her range for her commercial clients.  She is keen that the shop will concentrate solely on pottery items and the work of Babs Belshaw is also on display there.

The response to the new shop has been terrific, with a steady stream of customers and class-goers coming to the door. Visitors can browse through Karolina's collection of functional items which include cups, mugs and bowls or can purchase more decorative items including vases, planters and wall art.

Photo of Clay fairytales and fables in the studio shop of KaroArt

Karolina says that while her products are stocked in many shops around the country, including big name stores such as Kilkenny on Nassau Street and new stockist Meadows & Byrne, her own shop space will allow her to display one-off, unique items alongside her main collection.

That the space was suitable for workshop-style classes also appealed to her. “I knew that there was a demand for classes - I’m delighted to be able to offer people the opportunity to come in and to play with clay,” she says. Some of her students’ work is drying out on the shelves in the workshop when we meet - the results are impressive - even without being fired.

There’s a good selection of classes on offer - from short sessions in which students can make a cup or bowl, to full-day classes and even six week skill-building courses.  “I was looking for a place with a shopfront as I wanted to be visible from the street and to be able to display the work properly so that people can browse,” says Karolina. “Lots of people from the neighbourhood have been very welcoming - happy to see me opening up in the area.”

Photo of Clay fairytales and fables in the studio shop of KaroArt

Karolina’s delightful creations have a very distinctive style. Often inspired by fairy tales and fables, her range includes wall art inspired by Aesop’s Fables and Irish tales and sagas. You’ll find that many of her vessels also have animal motifs which she hand-draws onto her pieces.

Originally known for her use of bright colours, Karolina has begun tempering her colour palette and her new pieces feature more dusty greys, browns, creams and pinks - colours which have enjoyed a great response from retailers since the Showcase expo in January.

In order to create this more “grown-up” colour palette Karolina says that she has essentially turned her methods “inside-out”. Where before, colour was applied using slips (layers of liquid clay), now the colour is intrinsic to the clay. This subtly-coloured clay is left exposed in parts to provide textural contrast in her new pieces.  This process of production requires much precision in terms of achieving correct and consistent colours and also necessitates that the studio be spotless, as colours can contaminate others if the workshop is dusty.

Photo of Clay fairytales and fables in the studio shop of KaroArt

In the workshop at the back of the shop, plaster moulds for bowls and plates are stacked up neatly on shelves, items sit in rows awaiting bisque firing, while still others await their final details which Karolina draws on with an underglaze pencil or with liquid gold before their final glazing and firing.  

“Once we have our piece made by hand or having used one of our moulds, it sits on the shelf for two weeks before bisque firing. The bisque firing hardens the clay and removes the gases. Then the patterns are drawn and the piece is glazed at the same stage. If a piece has gold on it then the gold is hand-applied and the piece goes back into the kiln for the third time.”

Photo of Clay fairytales and fables in the studio shop of KaroArt

When you buy a handmade item from a ceramicist or potter you are really getting something special - something that involves several stages and a lot of time. In total, each item of Karolina’s takes around four weeks to make - from the initial making-stage to the final firing-it’s a long process and one that requires precision in terms of timing. As she explains, it’s not a process that can be rushed.

“It takes around four weeks from the moment we start until the moment the item is ready to be labelled and packed. It is impossible to rush the process. If you put wet clay into a kiln, it explodes and if you attempt to try to dry it quickly, it cracks, so there is no way of making the process quicker. From the moment you turn the kiln on, to the moment you can open the kiln at 100 degrees, it’s nearly 48 hours for each firing - so the entire process takes a long time.”


Photo of Clay fairytales and fables in the studio shop of KaroArt

karoArt, 71 Harold’s Cross Road, Dublin 6W, Ireland.

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