It’s been a little over a month since I’ve arrived back in Singapore from Berlin and I’m amazed at how time has flown by.
After spending close to 3 years in Berlin learning and practising Ceramics, I’ve had the opportunity to learn at a few different studios and gain some knowledge of the resources available such as Ceramic Supply Shops and ceramic studios where one can learn and practise. I’ve wanted to make a list of places, shops and resources that I’ve come to know of in Berlin for the longest time. And finally, with the quiet time of a 2 week Quarantine, I was able to get a head-start on this.
If you’re based on Berlin…Germany… (or somewhere in the region), I hope that this guide will be of use to you in your learning and exploration of Ceramics. Wishing you lots of fun and beauty in your journey with Clay.
The ceramic studio that will always have a special place in my heart. It’s the place that I’ve probably spent the most time in (outside of my home) while in Berlin as I spent hours practising there initially as a studio member and then as a Working Artist for about 8 months till June 2020.
I can’t even begin to describe how much this place has broadened my mind about ceramics, creativity and life in general in so many ways. There’s nothing quite like meeting so many different people, from so many parts of the world, all with their unique stories, creative journeys, reasons for experimenting with clay, that makes one constantly amazed by the possibilities of clay as a medium for expression.
For someone who has always been a very ‘linear’ and practical type of person, who was only really exposed to making functional tableware when I first started learning ceramics, it always amazed me when I met someone at the studio who was making something very happily on the wheel without knowing what the end result would be. Or to see someone building an object without really knowing what it might be used for but it was something he or she just wanted to try out. Or to see a someone come in bringing a whole tray of clay body parts that would then be fixed together like a mannequin. Or to see a whole kiln shelf full of flowery clay penises waiting to be bisque fired. 😝🤣😂
Suffice to say that I was constantly surprised with the interesting ceramic creations that I saw when I was at Ceramic Kingdom. They are a great one-stop shop for all sorts of ceramic classes and practice space. They provide wheel-throwing classes (of varying levels started from Beginner’s Wheel classes focused on Bowls/Cups to the more advanced ones in which the basics of Lidded Forms are taught), hand-building classes, slip-casting, mould-making, one on one classes… classes on 3D printing… the list is constantly expanding.
There are always interesting artists and studio members going in and out and it’s a wonderful place to learn, be inspired, connect with others… and get a better understanding of the possibilities of clay.
Feuer Zeug Keramik is a cozy studio that has Beginner’s Wheel classes and provides a really great introduction to the basics of wheel-throwing. The owner of the studio, Cordula, is wonderfully warm and friendly and provides classes in both English and German. Her place was one of the first that I managed to find online (with the English language-friendly classes) and I took a few series of wheel-throwing classes at the studio. The 4 sessions are a great way to get acquainted with the fundamentals of wheel throwing. I’ll always look back at my first few pieces with the most fondness – nothing quite like the charm of Firsts.
(Photos from Pottery Tribe)
I had taken some hand-building classes with her when I had first moved to Berlin and was so moved by her patience and acceptance towards the entire process of creating with clay. There are no such thing as ‘failures’ in the creative process, and everything that is unexpected or has happened can be looked at as lessons, beautiful coincidences…steps along the way of finding one’s nature with clay. She has had a wealth of experiences with pottery in different parts of the world which she talks more about in an upcoming Interview that will be featured on here on the kokoro studio Journal. (Stay tuned for more~!)
(Photos from Meat Plus Something)
Meat Plus Something is a ceramic brand and studio run by Saeam, one of my dear pottery friends made during our times spent at Ceramic Kingdom. She has many years of experience with pottery starting from her days learning back in her hometown in South Korea, and these days she teaches wheel-throwing classes at Ceramic Kingdom and also teaches 1 on 1 classes at her own studio. She has such a strong, distinctively beautiful style and attention to detail that shows through in her teaching as well. (Link to her Etsy shop here.)
Started by Barbara and Sonya, two of my wonderful pottery friends from Ceramic Kingdom. They are in the midst of building up their studio space that is slated to be opened in October 2020, where they will be having ceramic classes and offering studio space to ceramicists. Photos will be up eventually but keep a look out for their space on Instagram.
I met Violaine at Ceramic Kingdom a long time ago when I’d first started going there and was always so taken in by her energy, dynamism and style. She has some of the most incredible designs for planters (with beautiful long curved signature handles) which you can see more of in her Instagram here. She opened her own studio in Neukölln and holds wheel-throwing classes there.
A cosy and vibrant pottery studio run by Mia Moss and her team. I’ve always loved seeing their cheerfully decorated and crafted handmade pieces on Instagram. They run a variety of workshops ranging from hand-building, wheel throwing, glazing, and offer monthly memberships for rental of the studio space.
Manufactory is an incredible studio – the best place that I’d found in Berlin for learning the fundamentals of plaster mould-making and trying a hand at slip casting with liquid porcelain. The warm, friendly and knowledgeable owner of the studio Uta, is truly a mould-making extraordinaire, and runs regular courses for Mould-Making and Slip-casting.
One of the best parts is that she offers a variety of coloured slips that you can use to try your hand at slip-casting with many of the wonderful moulds that she has prepared for courses. She also offers one on one intensive workshops where you can really dig deep on learning to make plaster moulds to your specifications. I did a few workshops with her and always found each one to be so incredibly useful. (Without her guidance, my plaster mould success rate was always hideously low ^^; so it was a great relief to have her guide me along making more complicated moulds.)
She also offers rental of studio space for the day or the month, and you can spend more independent time practising mould making and slip casting in a very comfortable and cosy space. I always enjoyed my days at the studio so much as they were almost an oasis of creative time for me.
Uta also routinely does incredibly complex and intricate mould-making and casting work on commission from Artists – have a look at the gallery of work here for some examples.
These are also known as District Adult Education Centers that are present in the various districts of Berlin. If you key in a search term as simple as ‘keramik’ – you’ll be able to find a huge variety of courses ranging from handbuilding, wheel-throwing, raku firing… the list is extensive and prices are very reasonable.
The benefit of these courses at the Volkshochschulen is that they often run for 2 – 3 months at a go, so this allows for a more long term learning experience. I’ve met a few people who had learnt ceramics at a Volkshochschulen and once they had finished a term, they were able to renew their space in the course for a second or subsequent term. It’s often difficult to grasp the fundamentals of something like wheel-throwing in a limited series of 4 sessions that is usually the structure of classes at majority of the studios that are listed above. So having a longer course at a Volkshochschulen can be very beneficial.
However, spots in these ceramic courses are very popular and get snapped up really quickly. I had wanted to register for various classes at some point in time but whenever I sent in an email to enquire they were always fully booked. Though nothing is impossible! A friend I’d met at Ceramic Kingdom managed to participate in one of the Raku Firing courses a few times and said it was a wonderful learning experience. Though keep in mind that most of the courses are held in German, so German language proficiency would definitely make it a smoother experience.
There’s nothing quite like the experience of an outdoor firing of ceramics. And nothing quite as elemental as Raku Firing – a technique in which pots are taken from the Kiln directly while they are still glowing red hot (at about 1000 degrees Celsius) and then placed into a material that can catch fire (sawdust/newspaper etc) to give rise to various colours and patterns.
Just before leaving Berlin I had the chance to attend a Raku Firing workshop taught by Ceramicist Marie-Annick Leblanc, in her beautiful studio based in the South of Brandenburg. It is about 1 hour drive away from Berlin’s city centre. She routinely organises Raku Firing and Pit Firing workshops along with Ryoko Berlin and it’s a wonderful experience getting out into the countryside for a day of interacting with Clay and Nature.
The Raku Firing Workshop was carried out over 2 Sundays. The first day, she guided us through pinching pots from Raku suitable clay, taught us about the background and history of Raku Ceramics and we were encouraged to take our time creating pieces calmly, naturally, instinctively. The second day of the workshop was when the actual firing took place. We each had the chance to decide on the glaze and rough idea of the pattern for our pieces, and were then guided with the process of firing them, removing them with tongs and decorating them in various ways. All the while accompanied by her sweetest dog Gina, who was always up for a cuddle.
One of the most amazing courses that I’ve attended – Hand-building with Porcelain, taught by Kiho Kang at his studio in Bad Ems. I happened to find out about this purely by coincidence when I met a lady (in the Netherlands of all places) who had attended his workshop and recommended it to me after finding out that I was staying in Germany. Porcelain is always known to be a challenging material and hand-building with porcelain was something that I’d not had much experience with.
It was an incredible 3 days of learning in his beautiful studio in the small, quiet town of Bad Ems (known as a Spa Town with its mineral and healing waters). Participants of any level are welcome and in the class there were some were experiencing their first class with clay. While primarily taught in German, he would also switch to English for me to explain the key points and in the end, watching him in action was the best form of learning. He would go around helping us with our different projects and show us how to handle the porcelain. One of my favourite quotes from him – “If you spend 10 minutes on your piece, aim for your piece to be better by 90% after.” It really made me realise that rushing through hand-building would not serve the piece in any way, and it made sense to take the time to really focus on improving whatever section of the piece we were making as thoughtfully as possible.
Kiho and his wife Youky are both Ceramic Artists and they have been based in Bad Ems for a few years. He regularly exhibits at Messe in Hamburg, Cologne and so on. (And I can’t not mention this because of the Foodie in me – the welcome dinner on the first night was an amazing feast of Korean dishes all prepared by his wife!)
Penélope’s studio is in the small town of Palautodera at the edge of Barcelona, about 50 minutes by train from Barcelona Airport. It’s a beautiful, cosy studio that supports the local village in so many ways. She and her partner Dameon are both incredibly kind, warm and wonderful Ceramic Artists and Teachers. She has been holding ceramic classes for her regular students and routinely organises Specialty Workshops whereby she invites Ceramic Artists from around the world to teach mainly weekend or 3 day workshops.
There are so many amazing Specialty Workshops that Penélope and Dameon have organized – Glaze Chemistry Workshops, Porcelain Throwing, Surface Decoration, Paperclay Porcelain… the list is incredibly varied and the Guest Teachers are always incredibly knowledgeable and generous with sharing their techniques and processes.
I had the opportunity to go attend a few of the workshops organised and always had an amazing experience. She and her regular students are some of the kindest and warmest people I’ve met (always happy to help me improve my Beginner’s Spanish!) and I love spending time with the beautiful creative community that she has built up over the years.
It was pure coincidence that I stumbled on Richard Phethean’s website when googling Ceramic Wheel Throwing Courses in Europe/UK. He organises Intensive 5 Day Throwing Workshops every season of the year and I had the chance to attend a workshop in Autumn. The slogan of the Workshop is “Just Make Better Pots”. 😉 And from the outset, we are told that this workshop is really to train us to improve our skills and is not so much outcome oriented. So by default, all pieces will be recycled. That philosophy really enables us to simply focus on practising, aiming to learn new techniques and refine existing skills rather than worry about producing anything concrete at the end of the workshop. I enjoyed every day of it and learnt an immense amount.
One of the best parts of learning from Richard is that he has taught so many students of varying levels for so many years, that he will always be able to provide insight and guidance for throwing regardless of the level that one is at. At the workshop, I met some of his students who have been learning for over 10 – 15 years and regularly come back to attend his course once a year to improve and freshen up their skills. After having learned my basic wheel-throwing fundamentals in Japan, I was used to throwing Clockwise on the wheel, while in Europe classes were largely taught with the wheel going Counter-Clockwise. So I had been worried about not being able to adjust to any Counter-clockwise throwing techniques. But Richard was always patient and flexible in his teaching methods and advised me to continue throwing Clockwise, while giving me guidance on improving my technique that way. I really learnt a lot about being open and flexible with different pottery methods and going with the flow.
A big bonus of the course is that it’s also in Cornwall, one of the most beautiful and inspiring places that I’ve been to. 😉 Couldn’t recommend this course enough for anyone looking to improve their wheel-throwing skills and are based in UK/Europe.
One of the most crucial parts of learning anything is learning about the raw materials required. The best thing about Ceramics is that you can start creating something with very basic materials and tools even in the comforts of your own home.
With some clay, a few basic tools and access to a kiln (studios like Ceramic Kingdom offer private bookings of their kilns), you can start creating your own pieces.
A couple of simple tips to look out for when buying supplies:
1. Firing Temperature of Clay
There are different types of Clays that mature at different firing temperatures.
Earthenware is usually glaze fired between 950 to 1,050 °C.
Stoneware is usually glaze fired between 1180 °C and 1280 °C.
Porcelain is usually glaze fired between 1200 to 1400 °C.
Before buying a clay body, it’s good to find out from the studio you’re going to what temperature they fire their kilns up to for Glaze Fire. If you use a clay body that is meant for a lower temperature and it gets fired above that temperature, there is a possibility the clay can melt in the kiln, stick to the kiln shelf and/or other ceramic pieces in the kiln, resulting in some disastrous outcomes! So don’t forget to check with the studio and the clay supplier about the temperature range best suited for the clay body.
2. Firing Temperature of Glazes
As there are different ceramic clay bodies, there are also different types of ceramic glazes to match the various firing temperatures. Before buying a glaze, take note of the temperature range that is it meant for.
If the glaze is meant for a higher temperature that is not reached in the kiln, it can come out very matt/rough/unmelted.
If the glaze is meant for a lower temperature and the kiln goes way beyond the optimum temperature, the glaze can bubble or melt very heavily down the ceramic piece and end up sticking onto the kiln shelf/other pieces around. So when in doubt, check and double check the optimum firing range for each glaze.
A popular Berlin based ceramic supply shop at is easily accessibly by U-bahn. The staff there are extremely friendly and multilingual and are always able to answer questions in English. They have a huge variety of clay test tile samples, glaze test tile samples and a great selection, so it’s always a fun trip there to see what the samples look like in person.
2. Carl Jäger
A great ceramic supplier that with a huge variety of glazes for various temperatures. The great thing about them is their really responsive customer service. I’ve emailed before for example to ask for recommended firing curves for certain glazes and they’ve always been very helpful with my questions.
A supplier with a huge variety of ceramic glazes and equipment and with relatively fast shipping and good responsive customer service via email. I’d ordered a lot of supplies from them before ranging from coloured stains to glazes to moulds and they’ve always turned out well.
A store I’d just discovered shortly before leaving Berlin but with a very wide range of Glazes that have so far worked very well for me. The staff are very friendly and responsive by email.
6. Welte Glasuren
Another shop with a wide selection of glazes.
If you have any questions about the resources listed in this Guide or have any suggestions on courses/studios etc to be included here, feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment below. 🙂 Hope that this is useful to you in getting one step closer to interacting with and experiencing clay.
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