Interview with Elke

James, Tilla, Elke

Since March we have had Elke living and working with us as an apprentice. It is working out really well and I thought you might like to hear about it so I asked her some questions…

What made you want to come to Wales and learn with us?

I knew about your work from an article in Ceramic Review 2010. The article included a photograph of the landscape you live in and I sensed a connection between the multicoloured lines of the glazes on the beakers and jars and the lines and the colours of the landscape. These photographs changed my perception of functional ceramics and glazes and they made me want to learn how to make functional work with this special quality you feel but can´t name.

The article also mentioned that you have Fine Art degrees and did apprenticeships after graduating. As I am currently doing a Master’s degree at the University of Arts in Linz/ Austria I thought that we might share a visual language / have a similar approach to creativity and realised that we have something in common.


How much experience of clay did you have before you came here?

 I started working with clay in 2008 at a local evening class. In 2009 I did a 2 month work-exchange with the ceramicist Sandy Brown in Devon where I learned about slab building and the creative process in general. These experiences made me want to work in clay in a more professional way, so I applied to the University of Arts in Linz in the Departement of Plastical Conceptions/ Ceramics.  During my time at university I began to work in a more 2-dimensional and conceptual way and I did less work in ceramics but I funded my studies by working in an Austrian pottery which made tiles and decorative objects. We also did restoration work on ceramic tiles which really fascinated me.

So, to answer your question: Yes, I did have experience of working with clay but not in throwing or in glaze techniques.


Is there anything that you’ve found surprising or not what you were expecting?

Yes. It is surprising for me that working AND living together with you and your family is easier than I thought. Before I came to your home I was a bit concerned that it could be difficult to be so close all the time.  I also could not imagine how it would be being apprenticed to a couple. However I find it easy, feel part of your family. At the same time I am very aware of the fact that our relationship is work based. I feel quite lucky being apprenticed not to one but to two professionals in the field of ceramics.

The thing which I find most surprising at the moment is how my taste in ceramic objects has changed. I realise now, that what I like to use is often not the object I am drawn to at first sight. I also recognise that in making something it is very important that one has the joy of using it afterwards in mind.


How does the balance of give and take work between us?

 I think it is best to describe the structure of an average working day to better understand how the give and take in our relationship works. My working day begins at around half past nine. We meet in the kitchen or outside (depending on the weather) for a cup of tea and talk about what is going to happen during the day. Usually I work for you until lunchtime. This work depends very much on what is needed to be done at a certain time. For example, you asked me to do some research work on Jun glazes so I spent time in front of the computer and also read about Jun glazes in a book and tried out recipes I found. I produced test tiles, which were fired, and afterwards we discussed the results. On other days I recycle clay; wedge and knead it, or after a glaze firing I help to finish the fired work by smoothing its edges.

In the afternoon I am free to do my own work; usually throwing on the wheel working on my own project. My first project was to make small coffee-cups where I learned to throw a specific form, to make handles, to fix them onto the form then to glaze them. I am learning by observing you in the workshop as well as by asking you, but also reflecting on work or glaze tests which come out of the kiln.

On average a working day for me ends between 5 and 6 pm.

So the progress of my learning depends mainly on my desire to learn.. I have the feeling that you are happy to share your knowledge and skills.


What has been the hardest part of the apprenticeship so far?

I think one of the hardest parts for me is to take responsibility for my own learning. Although I am used to working on my own in my artistic work I find it hard to both learn a new skill and at the same time use it in my own project. Everything develops in parallel and sometimes I produce things I don´t like. It´s hard to accept making mistakes.



What do you enjoy most?

I enjoy nearly everything in my time as an apprentice with you. First of all I enjoy your clear structure of the day: it is clear when we start, when we have lunch, when there is teatime and supper. I also like the working day beginning part, when the tasks for a day are talked over. I enjoy the way you teach me. I like being included in your creative process and have been able to learn through real situations.

I also find the working atmosphere in the workshop very pleasant. It can sometimes be quiet or with the radio in the background. In general it feels peaceful and relaxed – a comfortable place to work in.


What are you working on at the moment?

 At the moment I am working on lidded jars for spices – a project where I work on the cylindrical shape, the splitting of a rim, the fitting together of forms and on surface decoration with letters and symbols.


What will you take away with you at the end?

I will take with me the joy and the skill of throwing a shape  and  analysing what I have done with my hands to make it. I also feel more able to reflect on shapes and glazes now and I think I have already gained a higher sensitivity in the use of functional ceramic objects. I recognize that I am asking more questions already: e.g. why do I like to use this mug more than the other one? What is it that I like about it?

I have also gained a more sophisticated understanding of shape and colour; how different coloured ceramics influence each other; the relationships between colour, shape and scale. I guess there are many more things I will take with me which I am not conscious of at the moment.

What  I am sure about is, I am taking with me a great motivation and curiosity to find out more about ceramic work for everyday use and the pleasure of living with handmade pieces.


Thank you Elke!




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