I think we have to preface this whole post by staying that Karolina’s hair is downright gorgeous. Those curls! Now, with that out of the way, we can begin. Today is another installment of a collaborative series where the talented Christine Burns takes photographs of Irish makers at work in their studio spaces, and I follow up with an interview to find out more about their creative world and inspiration. This is the third in this series. You can find the first two here and here.
For this installment, we’re getting a peek inside Karolina Grudniewska‘s ceramics studio. KaroArt’s beautiful pottery pieces are well known to most Dubliners. I have long admired her little “tweet bowls” which you can see her making in the photos below. I asked Karo a few questions and she wrote such lovely answers I thought I would include them in full below in Q & A format. I hope you enjoy this little chat with sweet Karo!
Can you tell me what you were interested in when you were growing up, were your parents creative? Did you take art classes or think you had a completely different career path in front of you?
I was always drawn into creative activities and liked to get my hands dirty. I still have some of my mad childhood creations tucked away safe in my family home in Poland. I definitely painted to my mum’s despair getting all things around covered in colourful splashes of, thankfully, water-based paints. I drawn and copied illustrations from books I liked. I have had books that I could endlessly flick through, admiring the same pictures and never getting tired of them. I also remember making little picture books for my sister or tiny modeling clay figurines that I baked in the oven. So, yes, I was definitely a creative kid.
But then I suppose the creativity died down a bit during my early school years. In secondary school I got a 30 year old Zenith – Russian analog SRL camera and loved taking photos- it wasn’t anything serious but was a fascinating thing to learn. Finally I had to decide what I want to do in my grown up life. The dream of getting into the Art Academy got the creative juices flowing again and for over two years I was attending weekend portfolio preparation courses, mainly drawing, taking 2hr bus trip at 6am every Saturday morning to get to classes. But then, when the time came I decided I wasn’t good enough and, sadly, never even sat the exams. After changing a country of residence, two colleges and few jobs later, after over a decade I made a full circle, returned to the starting point, and that’s when karoArt came to be.
How did you come to live in Dublin? What drew you here and keeps you here?
I came to Dublin in 2004 for long summer holidays that I was going to pay for by finding a short-term, summer job. i was hoping to collect a bit of money to upgrade my car back in Poland. Back then I was working as a teacher and had 2 months off work during the summer break. Two months extended into 10 years and I can only conclude that life writes its own scenarios.
Can you tell me what a typical day might be like in your studio? Do you have rituals for starting your day or working through designs? Do you listen to music or podcasts while you work? Do you work on your own and does that get lonely or too quiet sometimes?
I go through different phases of how I organise my work. I used to start work extremely early, even at 6 am. I’m now back to more usual hours but still find mornings to be most productive.I spend most of my working time at the studio, that’s the part I like most , and I take care not to compromise it with all other things that need to be done when running a small craft business; I either squeeze all administrative jobs, deliveries etc into a single day a week or, if too busy, I do them all in the evenings.
I like to work in batches, which means I would have a tile-making-week then followed by bowl-making week and so on. It is mainly dictated by the fact that I use different types of clay for different products and do not want the cross-contamination to happen- things can get messy. I listen to Newstalk radio a lot, especially in the afternoons, the broadcasters keep me good company and often make me laugh. I also do music from my mp3 players and I went through a phase when I listened to many audio books.
I generally work on my own and I do like it a lot, I’m a solitary person and concentrate best when I’m on my own. For the last 7 months I have been working in a very good company however- I joined Job Bridge programme opened for crafts people in Ireland and had lovely Emma Kavanagh, NCAD graduate, doing an internship with me. She has been helping me immensely and I have been really enjoyed a working companion.
What has been one of the most fun moments of your career?
It is all generally fun because all is happening so unexpectedly; there’s a great element of suspense in running of your own business. It can be scary at times not to know what’s next around the corner but, if not taken too seriously, it definitely adds to the excitement. I find that there’s a good balance between the quiet making time and the time I spend interacting with customers, be it through internet or in person.
It is also fun to send parcels into the wide world, knowing that they travel to places I probably will never see myself. It is like sending particles of myself into different places on the planet. I also love receiving ‘thank you’ notes or emails from happy customers; they recharge my belief in what I do.
The funniest situation happened to me a short while ago, just before Christmas. There is a German couple, Knut and Julia, whom I met in the shop on their trip to Dublin few years ago. They since became my great supporters and returning customers. They purchased Mr Fox (he’s a butter dish) and on arrival discovered that he’s missing a tooth.
I suggested I can make a few extra teeth for Mr Fox and posted them to Germany. some time later I discovered amazing post on my Facebook page documenting how new dental fixtures were glued into Mr Foxe’s mouth. I could not stop laughing!
Is there something that has surprised you about the career you’ve chosen? Is there anything that’s harder than you imagined?
I’m still a bit surprised at how my ceramic adventure suddenly took off and became my way of life and my career. I feel like it all just happened to me, of course there’s been lots of hard work, trials and errors involved, but in general I must have gone with the flow. I was very lucky to have discovered ceramics at the time when I was free to pursue this interest and discover new possibilities.
If you had one piece of advice to give someone who wanted to embark on a similar career, what would it be?
Build a comfort zone for your new venture. Crafts is all about being creative, both in terms of designing and making as well as finding your ways to keep things going. For the creativity to occur, I think you need to place yourself in a relatively safe place; mentally- be kind to yourself, patient and not to judgmental and financially – it is a good idea to have some kind of a backup, a small amount of savings that will modestly carry you throughout the first months relatively worry free. There are grants and government help available for new businesses and I think it is wise to research them and make the best use of what’s available. It takes a long time to build a brand, establish a name, come up with designs and market test them. I would advise to be consistent and hard working and patiently wait for the results.
Thanks so much, Karo, for sharing this wonderful insight into your creative process and history with us! You can find Karo’s lovely shop over on Etsy, and her products are stocked in the Cow’s Lane Studio, A. Rubanesque and the Jam Art Factory in Dublin, among other stockists.
All photos by Christine Burns.