(6 MINUTE READ)
The art of ceramics is having a resurgence, of sorts.
As people crave time away from screens, they’re flocking to activities that result in the creation of something physical. But for Lisa Kosak and Marilyne Blais, founders and artists at Argile Studio in Berlin, pottery never went out of style.
Marilyne and Lisa’s backgrounds in design and translation/editing, respectively, have equipped them to lead Argile Studio on all fronts – from its digital presence, communication, as well as networking with other ceramic artists and planning the studio’s calendar.
Argile studio is equal parts creative space and classroom, open to the entire spectrum from first timers to seasoned ceramists.
Marilyne and Lisa spoke with us about how they started the studio, what inspires them, and more.
How do you two know each other?
Marilyne: We know each other from the clay community in Berlin. We both started working at a studio in 2016. I had just moved to Berlin.
Lisa: I had been here a bit longer. I’ve been here for five and a half years now.
Marilyne: It was a studio where we both took classes. They had open studios where you could work on your own pieces and we became friends and slowly became more serious about ceramics.
Lisa: We went on to another studio where it was more a members-only vibe. So we could practice more and we both became more involved. Ceramics took more and more time in our lives. We outgrew that space and started thinking that we should look for a space of our own and then we found this place.
Was teaching classes always in the plan?
Lisa: It was primarily supposed to be a work space. And then the classes helped us support the studio and bring people in this space. We hadn’t planned [for the classes and workshops] to be such a big part of this studio in the beginning, but now we really enjoy organizing events as well bringing people like guest teachers to have a different vibe and energy. It’s really interesting to have people teach different techniques that are not especially available in Berlin or that have different ways of working with the material.
HAS THE CERAMICS COMMUNITY IN BERLIN BEEN WELCOMING?
Lisa: I don’t think there’s any competition… We don’t know everyone obviously but the ones we know, we always try to help each other. We have different programming so sometimes if someone asks us for something we don’t offer and we know a specific studio offers it, we forward to them.
Marilyne: Sometimes I refer students that want to continue and do it on their own time to studios that are closer to them. And we don’t offer any open hours for people who want to practice so it’s nice to be able to refer them to other places.
WHAT’S THE PROCESS OF CREATING A PIECE FROM START TO FINISH?
Lisa: It’s a very long process and usually when you work in more of a production mode, you would do batches of the same part of the process and then switch to a different part another day.
The first part is throwing. So you build the shape. We both work on the wheel. There are thousands of ways to use clay but we mostly use this specific way. You build the shapes on the wheel and create a rough silhouette. And then the pieces need to dry for a day to a week depending on whether they’re covered. Then when they’re leather-hard you can trim them to make a texture and start to work on the base.
When you add, for example, handles or spouts or anything – all the additions to the pieces come at that stage – and they need to dry a bit more until they become bone dry and they go through their first firing which is a bisque firing.
And then we sand the pieces when they come out of the kiln. We soak them in water to remove any dust and impurities and then when they’re completely dry we can glaze them. And then they go through their second firing – glaze firing – and then hopefully you get a finished piece that hasn’t broken somewhere along the process.
Marilyne: Even though every individual piece may not take that long, the process can take up to, easily two weeks between the drying stages. Each firing takes about 48 hours – sometimes a bit less or more. So with just the firing alone you have almost four days of firing and then the drying stages in between. So, that’s why sometimes we have people come in for the class and they want to do it all in one day, but it’s not possible.
Lisa: But that’s what I like about it as well – it forces you to slow down and you can’t rush it because otherwise there’s a 70% chance that something will go wrong along the way. Like your pieces will break because they’re not dry enough and you put them in the kiln or they dry too fast they crack. It can be stressful at times and that’s also what I like about it.
WHATS’ YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF THE PROCESS?
Marilyne: I think trimming is the most relaxing part. I find it really playful and I can let my mind wander a bit more. I also really enjoy throwing because I find that’s really when the object starts to exist.
AND YOUR LEAST FAVOURITE PART?
Marilyne: Glazing. I really like the effect and the look of glazes but it’s also messy and you have to wear a respirator [when you use an air gun and compressor to glaze]. There are different ways to achieve color. We focus on glazing as a decorative method, so the pigment is within the glaze. Depending on the glaze compositions, you’ll get different colors, different finishes. So, it’s very different – that’s always something that’s hard to explain when you get into that stage with students is it’s very different than paint. And it doesn’t behave the same way. Often the colors that you’re applying don’t reflect the colors that you get at the end so it feels very magical because it goes into the kiln on looking a certain way and it comes out totally different.
Lisa: For example, a blue glaze is usually very violet in the bucket. It’s disarming.
Marilyne: I remember working at a studio that had a glaze that looked neon orange in the bucket and it turned out to be dark green.
And what is your favorite part of the process?
Lisa: I think it’s trimming as well. This is where, like throwing, you get the final shape of your piece. You can also alter a piece quite a lot between the throwing and the trimming part of the process.
Marilyne: We both like parts where you use the wheel because it’s more dynamic and then the parts that we seem to like less are the parts afterwards.
If you could only make one piece for the rest of your life what would that be?
Lisa: I would say bowls because I like to find the right balance between the curve.
Marilyne: I really like making planters because they become a little home for plants. I like making objects where I know something will go in it, like a flower or an arrangement or plant and it becomes a bit collaborative with the person who buys it.
WHAT’S THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF THE PROCESS FOR SOMEONE WHO IS NEW TO CERAMICS?
Lisa: I would say the centering part of throwing. It’s the most essential part, the cornerstone to start a piece and it’s not very instinctive but you have to do it properly to have an even piece in the end.
Marilyne: Trimming and glazing is a lot more instinctual and people understand it a lot faster.
So how have your personal styles evolved (Marilyne’s pieces lean towards bright planters, and Lisa’s towards neutral bowls.)
Marilyne: I have a background in art and design and I was making ceramics that were what I imagined ceramics were supposed to look like when I did it more as a hobby. But then I quickly realized I wanted to make ceramics that looked like the other sides of my life. My forms have become bolder. Since we got this studio, I’ve been able to work on bigger shapes and more complex designs, so everything got bigger and more complicated.
Lisa: Yeah and opposite to Marilyne I don’t have a background in art at all, so I’m building on that with every piece I make. It’s a bit different and informing my style. And it has evolved in the way that I embrace imperfections a bit more. When I started throwing I really wanted the pieces to be perfect and now I do more hand-building, for example, because it’s more organic.
DO YOU NOTICE ANY TRENDS IN POTTERY?
Marilyne: Ceramics went through such a big boom in the last five years or so and what I notice is more diversity because so many people from different backgrounds are taking to it and bringing kind of their own aesthetic. People are really pushing the limits of what you can do with the material.
Lisa: There’s a trend around ceramics but I don’t think there’s a specific style that’s booming.
Why do you think it’s been taking off for the last several years?
Lisa: People want to work with their hands, because they’re stuck behind computers.
Marilyne: That’s what we hear the most and that’s how we started as well – wanting to do something more hands-on. But I also feel like there’s a big movement that’s related to slow design and going back to more individual, local kind of product. People are getting tired of the IKEA dishes. They want something that’s more meaningful. Not just with ceramic but with everything.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE STUDIO?
Marilyne: We still feel like we’re just starting in some ways. After being open for a year and a half, we have the rhythm down. We have had three guests so far so we want to keep doin that. We love to bring people to teach knowledge about techniques that maybe are not usually explored in class or workshop formats.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF HAVING YOUR OWN BUSINESS AND RUNNING THE STUDIO DAY TO DAY?
Lisa: It’s very rewarding. Our former studios taught us a lot. It was different from taking a class and going home; we had to take care of the studios as well, so I don’t think we could have opened here if it were not for the studios we were at before. But then we also didn’t have a say in what was happening there, so now it’s good that we’re both very much on the same page. To see the space grow in a direction that makes us both happy is very nice
Marilyne: It’s very instinctual and collaborative. The fact that it’s just the two of us means we are a bit open to fast changes – sometimes things come up we get propositions for a project or someone wants to host a workshop and because we’re a really small studio we can turn around really quickly.
DO YOU TAKE ON COMMISSIONS / CUSTOM PROJECTS?
Marilyne: Yeah we do. Sometimes people approach us. I want to work in my style so I’m very open to doing custom pieces or doing orders for people but I also don’t want to compromise. If someone’s coming to me it’s generally because they’re into my aesthetic.
Lisa: I work with a restaurant and usually she comes to me with the type of dishes that she needs. I do a few prototypes and it’s more of a collaborative process but it’s always in line with my aesthetics.
- ARGILE STUDIOS
- Fehrbelliner Str. 4, 10119 Berlin