It’s enough to spend only a few hours in the company or Swiss-born Bristol based ceramist Sina Wild to understand why she quit her 9 to 5 job in order to pursue her passion for the solid evidence of handmade objects. We met her at the Maze Studios where she creates her beautifully crafted Japanese inspired pieces and she was kind enough to get her hands dirty and show us how to transform a ball of clay into a perfectly shaped pot.
We then went to one of her favourite places in Bristol, The Old Market Assembly, where we talked about her trip to Japan and her plans for the future over some amazingly delicious food, followed by a visit to her home and garden to show us more of her finished pieces whilst chatting about surfing and cycling, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and the Green Man Festival. Later on, Sina showed us around the neighbourhood and took us to St Mark’s Road, the multicultural hotspot in Easton, stopping for some fierce coffee and super tasty homemade cake at No12 Easton Café before saying goodbye and parting ways with big smiles on our faces.
“I quit my job, my flat and my studio, bought a one-way ticket to Asia and set off.”
Tell us about Sina before Sina Wild Studio.
I grew up in the countryside of Switzerland close to Zurich. After graduating with a Master in Environmental Sciences from ETH Zurich a couple of years ago I worked in the environment field for a research Institute, the government and a private company. Art always was a very important part of my life too. Whilst working in front of a computer I often missed to live my creativity...
You are a Swiss ceramist trained in Japan and currently based in Bristol. Can you tell us about your journey from Switzerland to Bristol via Japan?
A couple of incidents lead to this choice: I went travelling for several months in Asia after quitting my office job and ended up living in Japan. I always had the dream of living and working abroad which I think is completely different from travelling. I love Japan very much but got homesick after a couple of months living there and working at Sensei’s studio – it is just too far away from Europe. So, I decided to move to England because of the shorter distance to Switzerland and the language I wanted to improve. I had London in mind but met someone in Kyoto, Japan who talked so enthusiastic about Bristol that I decided to come here.
What are your fondest memories from Japan?
I think about Japan every day. About my Japanese friends, my Japanese mum, and my Japanese grandparents that I’ve met there and who welcomed me with such open hearts. Even if we often didn’t share the same spoken language… Formative to me probably were not certain memories. It’s a feeling which is hard to describe but that I experienced from the moment I stepped foot into this country and is still here after leaving. A feeling of arriving home and finding your own peace in a completely new place.
Tell us about the pottery class that set you on this exciting new venture.
I did pottery as a child already and during my A levels (I focused on arts) I did many ceramic sculptures. The idea of using clay wasn’t too far away when I was thinking of what I could do as a creative balance to my computer-based work. I searched in Zurich for pottery classes and found an adult evening course to learn throwing on the potter’s wheel. I started these weekly evening classes and got suddenly addicted to it. So much so that after a couple of months I got my own wheel in my flat (what a mess!) and later moved into a small studio space where I practiced throwing in the evenings and on my days off in addition to my weekly classes.
What about the boy from your About?
That’s what people want to hear, right? A bit of love and drama…
I was in a phase of life, where I questioned everything in my life and I felt a bit stuck. The end of a seven-year-long relationship was probably the trigger to change more. I have always had the dream in mind to travel for a long time or live abroad so I quit my job, my flat and my studio (which was the hardest part) bought a one-way ticket to Asia and set off.
“Every morning I have my coffee from a cup I made in Japan to continue dreaming for a bit longer.”
Can you tell us more about your learning experience with the Japanese pottery teacher?
It was an amazing experience! Sensei who was at that point 76 years old was teaching me pottery. He couldn’t speak English at all and I just started to learn basic Japanese. But we understood each other surprisingly well. I regarded him with great respect and in the beginning a bit of fear too. I didn’t want to disappoint him. The first weeks I only did cylinders using one kg of clay. They all had to be the same 20cm high and 10cm in diameter. Sensei was watching me from his place and sometimes gave me advice. We cut every cylinder into two pieces and looked at them together to see how thick the walls were. I got so addicted and threw cylinder after cylinder until Sensei accepted them. From that moment, I could experiment with different shapes and sizes but still had to do ten cylinders every day as a training…
What are your main sources of inspiration?
In Japan pottery is everywhere. I got inspired there just by walking through the streets and going to galleries but also every Restaurant used lovely ceramics. I got some books with temporary Japanese tableware which I love to browse. I like going to museums to get new ideas and a new discovery for me is Instagram. I am a freshwoman in social media but got addicted to it very quickly.
Giving up your 9 to 5 job and plunging into throwing pots full time must have had its challenges. What did the people around you think about your decision?
I only got positive feedback. My boyfriend, my family and friends are all very supportive, motivating and encouraging! Thank you!!
Can you talk us through your creative process?
Usually I have something in mind that I want to create but it happens as well that I just take some clay and see what evolves from it.
When I know what I want to do I weigh out the clay. Especially when I do multiple pieces of the same size or want to replicate it later. Then I wedge the clay to make it more elastic and get rid of potential air in the claybody. As a next step, I throw the wedged clay on the wheel: Throwing a clump of clay into a beautiful bowl, plate or cup is one of my favourite parts of the process. The piece needs to dry afterwards which usually takes 2-3 days. It shouldn’t be too dry nor too wet for the next step, the turning. I love turning too! I put the piece back on the wheel but upside down and make a beautiful finish, maybe a foot, depending on the preference. For this I use tools similar to peelers and knifes. Then the pot needs to dry completely which usually takes another couple of days. Once it’s fully dry it can be bisque fired up to 1000 degrees Celsius. The kiln can take up to 12 hours to reach temperature and needs the same time to cool down. Then I sand the fired bisque ware to get rid of potential sharp edges etc. and glaze it. I either dip the pots in a large bucket of glaze and then sponge spare glaze off from parts that shouldn’t be glazed or I brush the glaze on which usually needs three covers. Then they can be glaze fired up to 1260 degrees Celsius. After hours in the kiln the pots then are ready to use.
When you throw, do you create things that you would like to have and use for yourself?
I probably get inspired by pieces I need or saw somewhere and want to try to make for myself in my own style (it’s also a good way of testing out products before making more and selling them). I also get commissions where the initial idea comes from the customer and I adapt it my way. One of my first commissions in Bristol was a hanging birdbath (how cliché). I wouldn’t have had the idea myself but enjoyed making it.
Where do you source your materials from?
I get my clay and the ingredients for the glazes from a Potters Supply nearby. The clay I use is a buff throwing clay which contains Shropshire and South Staffordshire fire clays. And I still use some brush-on glazes from Zurich.
Do you like experimenting with new materials and techniques?
Yes!! And I have so many ideas to experiment with! I’d love to source my own clay one day (just digging in my neighbourhood) and find the ingredients for the glazes in nature myself. I’d love to do wood firing and experiment with this too.
What role do the tiny imperfections play in your creative journey and final products?
I think this is the beauty of hand-thrown pottery. Although the pots are similar each product is a little different and has its own character. I also love the unpredictability in ceramics. Each firing is different and this affects the glaze and clay. I love when little iron marks from the clay body show in the glaze after firing.
What made you choose Bristol and what do you love about this city?
Bristol was a recommendation by a friend who lives in London and also had in mind to move to Bristol. I loved it from the minute I arrived here. It’s a very creative, friendly and open-minded city. There is a lot going on and it was very easy to find wonderful friends that make me feel at home.
How did you find your studio space?
I was looking online to find a studio space in Bristol and came across Maze Studios. It is a fantastic place. Maze is run by potters and they rent out approximately twenty studio spaces to mainly Ceramicists, have all the facilities you need and they do weekly classes there as well. I was pretty lucky that I found this place in the first days when I arrived in Bristol and could move in one of the studio spaces soon after.
What does a typical day in your studio look like?
Every day is different. I go to the studio and decide what to do when I check my work from the previous day. For example, how dry some pots are, if they need to be turned yet or need to dry a bit more, or I just finished a bisque firing and need to unload the kiln and glaze the ware.
What are your favourite places in Bristol?
I love the harbourside, I love water. And the many parks and green spaces in the city, the street art, the music venues, the pubs… I just live next to a huge old cemetery which is a wonderful park too. People come here to celebrate children’s birthday parties between the almost fallen-over gravestones. Something like this is not imaginable in Switzerland.
How do you engage with the local community of artists and makers?
Because I am working at Maze I already meet many local artists at the studio. One day a week I help out at the Village Pottery where I am in contact with other Ceramicists too. Also, I am going to take part at the Easton Arts Trail on the first weekend of June. I will have the chance to exhibit and sell my work at Este Kitchen, a local hotspot café.
Where is one most likely to find you when you are not working in your studio?
Probably in town, on a lovely day in a park and in the evenings in a pub, a music venue or a theatre. Spending time with my boyfriend and my friends.
And on weekends, I love to go to the coast. Go surfing, or walking along the coastal pathways and camp in the wilderness. Or visit my friends in London.
What are your cycling routes of choice in your area? What about further afield?
I just did a wonderful trip with a friend to stunning Wales and the Wye Valley. Otherwise, I cycle every day in the city to get from a to b. The bicycle is my favourite way of transport in a city. Sometimes I deliver my pots by bike too.
Do you have any special objects that you brought with you from Japan?
Yes, I sent loads of pots back home. Most of the objects I store at my mum’s place in Switzerland. But a few cups and little things I had to bring with me. Every morning I have my coffee from a cup I made in Japan to continue dreaming for a bit longer.
What is your favourite dish?
I am vegetarian since I was 10 years old. I love almost every vegetarian dish, vegetables, fresh salad, wonderful bread and cheese etc. And my boyfriend makes the best Risotto.
What about your favourite book?
I love stories about people’s lives, maybe over some generations and related with historical background. For example, Melnitz by Charles Lewinsky who writes about a Jewish family in Switzerland in historical context between the years of 1871 and 1945. I loved to read When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin Yalom and The unbearable lightness of being by Milan Kundera. At the moment, I’m reading Edmund de Waal’s The hare with the amber eyes – how cliché…
What other disciplines or projects are you involved with or interested in?
I am still interested in environmental issues and projects to fight climate change. There is a lot to do and to improve. I’d love to find a small eco-project to engage with.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working towards the Festival of Ceramics in Bideford, Devon, on the 25th June where I will be part of and also working on some private commissions I have.
“I’d love to never stop exploring and experimenting.”
What was the best advice that you have ever been given?
When life feels a bit uncomfortable, unpredictable and uncertain to not be frightened and try to go along or even better enjoy the uncertainty. Because usually this is when life gets more interesting, new things can grow and new options open up.
What are your dreams and ambitions for Sina Wild Studio?
I’d love to never stop exploring and experimenting, to have my own studio in the future and one day to be able to make a good living from what I love to do.
Thank you, Sina for the warm welcome and for the inspired insight into your creative and personal world.
*In 2017 Sina relocated to Zürich where she continues to make her beautiful ceramic pieces.