On Happiness and My Journey

 

I have less money than I ever did. I also feel more fulfilled than I ever did. Am I happier? Truth be told, I think so but I don't know. Let me explain. 

First of all, it depends on how we define happiness. 

The motivational couch, Jay Shetty, said in a recent video for The Huffington Post: "We need to redefine what success means. Let's not make happiness and success about the size of our homes but about the size of our heart. Let's not make it about gratification but gratitude [...] Instead of thinking of what you want to do, think about what you want to be". 

I get a lot of emails and approaches from strangers and acquaintances who have heard about my journey from being a lawyer to a potter. They want to know what the secret is to do what I've done. I wish I could give them answers, which is what has lead me to write this blog post. So many people tell me how they dream of quitting their jobs too because they're unhappy. So many people tell me that they wish they had the courage to pursue their dreams. I think they may be getting it the wrong way around. 

I didn't quit because I wanted to pursue the next career that was going to fix the emptiness that I felt inside. I quit because I was unhappy in my job and knew I didn't want to do it forever. You get one shot at life and I didn't want to waste mine doing something that didn't fulfil me. However, I didn't quit with a feeling that I'd then be on a path to instant happiness that would come from something external. It might sound the same but there's an important distinction. I didn't know it at the time, but what I was doing was to look around me at the things that made me happy. My (then) partner did, my dog did and my evening pottery classes did. So I quit to have more time for a while for those things that gave me a sense of meaning and fulfilment. I'd saved up enough that I didn't have to work for a year and I had the financial support of my partner, which helped take off the pressure and it gave me a safety net. I didn't know that I'd be able to make a living from my ceramics - nor did I know that my partner would leave me shortly after. And that's the thing, you never really know what's going to happen - it's not in your power to control these things - but what is in your power, is to step off the grind of everyday life, pause and make a decision to focus more on yourself and the things that give you a sense of happiness and purpose. Whether that's going part time, quitting completely, taking a sabbatical or just signing up for evening classes. I think the key is to not do these things thinking that it will be a quick fix solution leading to happiness. Happiness doesn't work like that. Firstly it comes and goes. Secondly, it comes from within and it's often right there in front of us. We're just too busy with life - and with striving for the next thing - to notice. Being stressed and busy is a choice, just as deciding to slow down is.

When people are asked about their biggest regrets their answers often include the word "not". For example, "not saying I love you", "not pursuing my acting career", "not spending enough time with my children"... Again, I didn't realise it at the time but what I did when quitting was to clean the slate of all the "nots" and allow myself to turn them into "dos" - if I wanted to. Anything was suddenly possible. I wanted to go travelling. So I did. I wanted to spend more time making ceramics. So I did. I suddenly found that I was spending a lot of time reflecting on what kind of person I wanted to be and not on what I wanted to be which had otherwise been my focus from an early age (spurred on by careers advisors, societal expectations etc). 

I knew I felt a sense of happiness when making. That's all I knew. I've since come across the ideologies behind "mindfulness". It was like someone else had put words to what I intuitively felt and knew to be a better approach to life. When I was making, I was there in the moment, "staying" with what I was doing and, probably for the first time, I stopped running away from things and I stopped looking for the next fix that would fill the emptiness that I was feeling inside. I slowed down and started noticing all the little things in my life that gave me a sense of meaning and fulfilment: a smile from a passerby, the sun warming my face on the bus, a hug from a friend at the studio, a stranger picking up the papers I dropped in a shop - all the little miracles of life and the kindness in the world that so many of us are too busy to notice because we are living in a society that has become obsessed with success, happiness, beauty, achievements and instant gratification. 

I still have days when I don't manage to focus on the kindness around me and I feel stressed and overwhelmed. I then try to remind myself of the important fact mentioned above: being busy and stressed is a choice just as slowing down is. 

So for what it's worth, there is my answer to "how I did it". I chose to slow down and look for the happiness from inside of myself. I hope you'll find a way to do it too. I promise that it's worth it. 

X Stine 

The Art of Giving Away

This blog post is about the ceramic artist Lawrence Epps who has become known for giving away his work. There is something about this that appeals to me - for better or worse!

As an artist, Epps explores the collective attribution of value to objects, processes and people. I came across Lawrence’s work first hand at the British Ceramics Biennial (“BCB) in 20013 and again at the BCB in 2015. Both times, his work made me pause and reflect.

His piece for the BCB in 2013 was called Take Stock and it invited people to take one of 12,000 pieces away with them. The piece was a large scale sculpture of tiny extruded office workers sitting at their desks within small confined boxes. 

I think that this particular piece made such a big impression on me at the time, as I was in the process of quitting my lawyer job in the city of London to pursue my ceramic career. Epps himself says that the installation was all about questioning the ideologies implicit in the culture of the office and the system, which dictates the shape of our working lives.

The installation was filmed during the duration of the show but the film is only ever now played in reverse – so that it appears as though the audience members are building the troubling stack from the ground up, recreating an office building full of workers trapped inside their ceramic cubicles, stuck in front of their computers.

Epps has explained in an interview that he was intrigued by the way the nature of a visitor’s gaze would change once they discovered they could remove a piece of the sculpture. Suddenly a leisurely but distanced art appreciation of the sculpture as a whole turned into a much more detailed, acquisitive gaze that came with the pressure of choice. I felt this when I was there. I actually didn't want to have to choose - or even take one of the pieces away. But I did. With a strange sense of shame.

At the BCB in 2015, Epps made thousands of porcelain and terracotta coins. Each visitor could take a coin and decide whether to gamble it in a coin pusher machine to try and win more coins or keep the one coin, which they were given. The artist said that the thinking behind the idea for the piece was about people’s desire to acquire accompanied by the constant pressure to disregard what we already have in a bid to get something more. 

I love the way that Epps manages to evoke quite basic human emotions in his audiences through his work - and often emotions that we may not be very proud of (greed, inability to choose, questioning our existence, the desire to own objects etc.). 

I'm proud to say that I didn't gamble my coin but then again, maybe it was just the desire to own it that stopped me from sticking it in the coin pusher. I guess no one will ever know my reasons for keeping it and maybe that's just as well...

Bye for now. 

Love x Stine   


Objects of Fired Clays

The dictionary definition of pottery is simply “objects of fired clays”. I am really interested in the relationship between pots and their function – and that’s exactly what this blog post is about.  

My ceramics mentor (and hero!), Robert Cooper, recently talked to me about the history of pottery and how firing temperatures in different countries were determined by practical considerations. For example, in African countries, they would fire to lower temperatures because it would keep the clay porous, allowing the water to seep into the clay, thereby keeping the water cold. In Scandinavian countries, however, they fired to higher temperatures as the cold weather meant that the water would freeze and if allowed into the clay, could cause the vessels to break.

Tribal African Vessel

Tribal African Vessel

Then there’s the story of the ceramicist who made a coffee cup for her busy journalist and writer friend, who struggled to take breaks when he was working. The ceramicist’s answer was to design a cup, which could not stand up on its own. This forced the writer to get his hands off the keyboard, lean back and enjoy a coffee break. Genius.

Personally, I have recently been commissioned to make coffee cups for a company called the Slow Brew Club. The ethos is all about taking time in your busy day to have a break or as they put it: “Even the best minds need to pause”.

An example of other coffee cups which I have designed 

An example of other coffee cups which I have designed 

This has made me think about how the design of a cup can alter the drinking experience of the user. With this in mind, I have been working with them to produce a cup that enhances the feeling of pausing without distracting the user both in respect of the shape, colour and texture of the vessel. We are not quite there yet but watch this space for the finished product.

Bye for now

X SkandiHus

The Power of the Story Cont...

The next ceramic artist whom I want to invite into my “hus” (as you know, that’s “house” in Danish) because their story made an impression on me, is the young talented artist Katie Spragg. bottles

Katie graduated from BA (Hons) Wood, Metal, Ceramics and Plastics at Brighton University in 2010. I met Katie when attending a course in print making techniques at Camden Arts Centre where she was sharing her knowledge – and her stories of the curiouskatie 2 and the bizarre.

Inspired by stories in the Metro newspaper, Katie produced a series of plates, which depicted the tales of the bizarre behaviour of urban wildlife.

animals 2

For example, and one of my favourites, there was the story of the fox, which was found on the 72nd floor of the UK’s highest skyscraper and apparently was surviving off scraps of food left by construction workers.

fox 3foxfox 2

Or the drunk Swedish (how typical...) moose stuck up a tree that had to be cut free after snaffling too many apples...

moose

Katie has transferred her drawings onto digital transfers which she then adds to the plates. I personally enjoy the expressive and humorous nature of her drawing style which really goes well with these bizarre urban animal stories.

Katie, SkandiHus salutes you!

FOR THE LOVE OF BIRCH

Image

In Scandinavia, Birch is a highly treasured tree. To the ancient Scandinavians, birch was primarily a symbol of transition from spring to summer and, more broadly, the symbol of death and resurrection. It was also the symbol of the goddess Nerthus, who was considered the great Mother Earth.

Image

Scandinavia’s ongoing love for birch is still prevalent in the designs originating from these northern shores of Europe in more recent times. In this blog post, I have gathered a few of my favourite Scandinavian birch inspired pottery pieces. Enjoy!

Handmade Koivu vase made by Finnish ceramicist Maarit Mattanen. The Koivu vase was originally designed for an art exhibition in the National Parks of Lapland in Finland. “Koivu” means birch in Finnish.

Image

The talented, Swedish potter, Maria Holmberg, found her way of incorporating a birch pattern on her pottery with a special ceramic printing technique.

Simple and beautiful.

 Image

Image

I love these handmade birch bark tumblers by FarmhouseMud.

 

Image

And finally, I adore this lush vase, also from FarmhouseMud, made from super thin layers of white stoneware mixed with paper pulp and then peeled back just like a real birch tree.

 

Image

Image

Birch for now from SkandiHus. Hej hej!

Delicious Danish Design Duo

Get ready for a Danish Double treat! Image

I absolutely adore the work of the Danish design duo, Tools, consisting of the perfect double act, Claus Jensen and Henrik Holbæk. It seems that no matter what the pair put theirs hands on, they transform it into a beautiful success. One only has to look to their Eva Solo series for proof of this.

Image

With the launch of their latest design brand, Normade, the two designers are successfully making the most of the Scandinavian design wave that is slowly and steadily spreading across the world at the moment.

Image

According to Claus and Henrik, the philosophy behind Normade was to create designs that are appealing in their own right whilst being functional - but without any unnecessary detail. The objects are made in sizes that allow them to be easily moved around. This waWedge benchy the user always has them where they are needed and they can be used and enjoyed easily. Moreover it is important that the objects are functional. Sheep chairIn other words, these guys are yet another example of designers who are managing to design unpretentious affordable designs without compromising on the quality. Love it!

Image

In addition, the two say that it is important to them that every design feature has a purpose. For example, they do not put a handle on a chair primarily because it looks good; rather it is there because it is functional.

Pilgrim ChairThis way of creating furniture, is a return to a time when objects were designed to last and with a purpose in mind. Sadly so many functional objects today are designed to only last for a limit period. Thus, the Normade products are not only beautiful but also sustainable designs which do not try to be anything other than what they are. Beautiful functional objects!

Well done, boys! SkandiHus salutes you.

Coffee Lovers Unite

True to my love of the use of natural materials in art and design, I recently fell in love with Kählers new coffee brewer, Barista.

Image

The design is so fresh and Scandinavian. Allegedly it makes unparalleled great tasting coffee as well but as I haven't tasted it yet, I can't vouch for this. I hope it is true though as I can all too easily imagine myself sitting in the morning sunshine drinking great coffee out of something this aesthetically pleasing.

ImageThe cups are made of porcelain and you can buy a set of 4 together with a lush natural wooden stand. However, to be honest, I might just buy one cup so that I can selfishly enjoy it on my own. The only problem with that would, of course, be the fact that the Barista comes in three (wonderfully nordic) shades and I am not sure that I'd be able to choose just one...

The designer behind the little coffee beauty is Michael Geertsen who graduated from the Danish Design School in 1993. His inspirational designs and high artistic quality has made his art known throughout the world.

Image

He states that he finds inspiration in the meeting between function and sculpture – and his work draws a clear line back to classic ceramics, but shapes and colours are used in such a way that tries to challenge the observer. I would say that he succeeds in this. Just look at this great red sculpture as an example:

Image

Michael recently exhibited some of his works at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London with his installation: A DIALOGUE WITH HISTORY.

Image

ImageMichael described it as “an explosion of mixed works, which take on some of the highlights of our civilisation”.  He further explained that he took inspiration from Greek vases which is really apt as the Victoria and Albert Museum has one of the largest collections of ceramics in the world. The ceramic collection spans almost the entire development of our civilisation.

Michael Geertsen says that he hopes that when people see his designs they will go: “Wow, I really like the idea behind that – and it is beautiful as well – I must have it”. Well, Michael, you certainly succeeded in making me feel like that. I am pretty sure that I MUST add your lovely little coffee brewer to my growing collection of kitchen ceramics.

Thank you!

The Beautiful World of Anne Black

Image

A few years back, I celebrated my birthday in a Danish summer-house by the sea with my closest friends and family. It was one of the best weekends of my life. Some of my friends gave me a beautiful sushi set and a pair of earrings from the Danish ceramic and jewellery designer, Anne Black. I instantly fell in love with her designs and her style has inspired me ever since.

anne_black_seam_candle2_1

Anne Black is an interesting person and the more I have learnt about her, the more I am drawn to her designs.

Image

If nothing else, go on to her website to be mesmerised by the absolutely beautiful video and music that greets you as you enter.

Visiting her website is akin to visiting any shop selling her products. Looking at her designs gives you a sense of the ambience and sensibility of her universe.

Image

The sushi set that I was given, is from her collection "Black is Blue" which has been hand painted on the inside. This, Anne says, is to show that beauty comes from the inside. Adorable.

Whilst I am generally not a fan of outsourcing the arts/crafts, I think that if you are going to do it, you should do it the way Anne has done. She is co-owner of a small ceramics factory located outside of Hanoi, Vietnam in a joint venture with a Vietnamese partner, Mrs Hang. This was established with the ongoing support, supervision and guidance of the official agency DANIDA, the Danish Institute of Development.

ImageThe working environment has been developed with assistance from international experts and is comparable to Danish standards. Therefore, the production is monitored and continuously developed in relation to the working environment, health, social rights, external environmental load and technical competencies. What's more, the company's approach is decidedly personal, fair trade and earth-friendly. Nice work, Anne!

You can find Anne Black products in selected shops throughout the world but unfortunately it does not seem like she has a UK retailer.

Image

But fret not, you can buy her products online right here.

Alternatively, treat yourself to a weekend in Copenhagen and visit her recently opened concept store, Black, on Gl. Kongevej 103 DK-1850 Frederiksberg, Copenhagen.

Love love and kys kys from SkandiHus

Not only the English love the weather…

weather460The Weather Project by Olafur Eliasson

As there is a Tube strike in London at the moment, I walked along the canal to the studio yesterday. I love London when there is a transport strike on. People move overground, make eye contact, smile at each other and even make random conversations. It's one thing that we Londoners are good at: sharing the misery with a smile.

regents_canal_sunset

I was stopped twice on my 2 hour walk by randoms. Both times, the stranger initiated the conversation by talking about the weather. This made me think about the role the weather plays in the British versus the Scandinavian societies. As a kid, I was taught by my English teacher that "the Brits like to talk about the weather more than anything else". I never really believed him. I mean, he also tried to convince us that people in London say "Oh dear, it is raining cats and dogs"…. However, when I moved here about 15 years ago, I quickly realised that my teacher was right. The eighteenth-century writer Samuel Johnson put it perfectly when he remarked "It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm". The subject of the weather really does shape the beginning of a lot of conversations over here and I have grown very fond of this fact.

Olafur_Eliasson_ol_1780058i Whilst the weather does not generally play a big part of everyday conversations in Scandinavia, it does, however, have a central role in the arts. This is probably best illustrated by artists like the Impressionists and the Skagen painters who used the special light on the west coast of Denmark to paint beautiful beach based paintings. In more recent times, the Icelandic/Danish artists Olafur Eliasson took the ubiquitous subject of the weather as the basis for exploring ideas about experience, meditation and representation when he created his "Weather Project" at the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in 2003. This installation is still in my top ten list of favourite exhibitions.

weather project 1 Eliasson's installation was, in principle, very basic. He placed a giant yellow sun at the end of the turbine hall and covered the ceiling in mirrors. Yet, I remember at the time how everyone in London spoke about the installation and how it made them feel sooooo good to be under his big yellow sun. And that is exactly what it did. It made you feel good. You felt warm, fuzzy, relaxed (meditative?) and part of a bigger picture when you were there. People were lying on the ground looking up into the mirrored ceiling; all feeling part of something but without having to actively participate or perform if they didn't want to - hence being able to completely relax and not feel watched. weather projectI think that to a large extend, the feeling of warmth and relaxation was created by the lighting. It was really Scandinavian and cosy, or "hyggelig' as we say back home. You find this kind of soft lighting in a lot of Scandinavian homes, not least created by our obsessive use of candle lights. Anyway, back to the Turbine Hall. One thing I loved more than anything about Eliasson's installation was the interactive element. I went there in my lunch break whenever I could during the show's duration. As I laid there looking up into the ceiling, I could see friends doing synchronised movements, couples kissing, children waiving and occasionally you would get strangers interacting with each other across the room. It always made me feel all warm inside when I witnessed this and I can't think of a better measure of a successful in an art installation, than its ability to make the audience "feel". I felt truly alive when lying there and it somehow restored my faith in human kindness and ability to get on, across the usual boundaries like race, nationality, class etc. I always returned to the office with renewed energy levels.

Image

In discussing this, it is also worth mentioning that a group of 80 people used the installation to make a political statement when they, with their bodies, shaped the letters: "BUSH GO HOME!" (don't forget that this was in 2003!). Their message was of course reflected on the mirrored ceiling above. Allegedly it was a naked protest, but I cannot find any close-up photos to confirm this and maybe just as well... Weather project bush go home

Lollys Laundry

My wonderful fiancé recently gave me this beautiful scarf from one of my favourite shops: Lollys Laundry, which inspired me to do a blog post about this amazing Danish brand.tørklæde I love the simple, yet strong look that the designer, Kamilla Byriel, created back in 2007 when she launched Lollys Laundry. You will probably quickly note from my various blogs that I am a big fan of affordable goods which are nevertheless well designed and of good quality. This brand is no exception.About-Lollys_picture_1 (1)

this

Kamilla's philosophy was to create a brand where quality and price are woven together, resulting in strong collections that let you style your look up or down, depending on whether you are into classic romanticism or the tough rock chick look. Since I own quite a few of her pieces, I can vouch for this and the quality too.

Image

From the Spring/Summer 2014 collection, I am particularly fond of this fun bird print t-shirt. It's both stylish and cool. I would wear it with black skinny jeans, black Nike trainers and a black leather jacket. A very Danish look, yes, indeed.

Raw Materials - Wood and Leather

I have always loved the use by Scandinavian artists and designers of natural materials such as leather, wood, stone, metal and clay. I can't think of anything more aesthetically pleasing than the mix of raw materials and sharp light airy designs. The Spanish Chair 

SPANISH-CHAIR-2226_1_1

One of my favourite pieces is the Spanish Chair designed by the Danish furniture architect Børge Mogensen as seen in the photo to the left (borrowed from Manks).

spanish-chair-1

This chair is especially close to my heart as we had one in our summer house in the North of Denmark when I grew up. I have spent many hours of my childhood sliding around on the leather seat whilst watching one of the three TV channels available or perched on the arm rest next to an older sibling who had claimed the chair for the evening (and this was probably more often the case as I am the youngest of four).

Legend has it that upon returning home from a holiday in Spain in 1958,  the furniture designer Børge Mogensen created the Spanish Chair. He had fallen in love with an old chair in Andalusia with a leather seat and wide arm rests.

6234d5d219fdc7ebb2a13a6f002fe4b6

The use of leather and solid oak gives the chair a strong masculine character and the natural materials cause the chair to become increasingly beautiful as time passes. The buckles can be tightened as the leather naturally stretches over time. This way you can sit comfortable in the chair today, tomorrow and for generations to come. Clever.

Spanish chair

I admire Børge Mogensen for more than just his beautiful designs. His philosophy was that beautiful objects for the home should be affordable to the people of Denmark. During the 40s, 50s and 60s, he created some of the most well known furniture classics in Scandinavia.  He would probably be quite sad to know that 40 years after his death, his pieces are not exactly "affordable" to the ordinary person. Still, they are so beautiful that I would almost dare to say that they are priceless. Almost.

Tortus Copenhagen

Since I am also a potter, it only feels right that my first SkandiHus blog should be about a ceramics workshop in Denmark which I adore:

tortus 1

Tortus say that their work is about the love of making and a passion for materials - and it shows.  The beautiful simplicity has always captivated me.

tortus

When you look at their work, there is also no doubt that Tortus pay respect to the century-old tradition of Danish ceramics. On their website, they state that because they are aware of their responsibility to preserve their craft, each product is handmade in Copenhagen, without exception. Simply beautiful and admirable in every way.

eric tortus pots

Even the workshop, which is open to visitors, is so elegantly designed that one immediately feels immersed  in the calmness which exudes from the individuals behind the work, Eric Landon and Karin Blach Nielsen.

portrait_eric tortus

The building stems back from 1734 and was built after the big Copenhagen fire of 1728. True to their style, Tortus have maintained a much of the building's original charm. This also goes for the truss-style wood courtyard house which was built in 1830. In fact, the courtyard is one of Copenhagen's best kept secrets amongst locals (so don't tell anyone) and it is not hard to see why. Most artists can only dream of working in such beautiful surroundings.

tortus courtyard

If you visit Copenhagen, I can truly recommend that you visit Tortus' workshop at Kompagnistræde 23, 1208 Copenhagen K.
However, if you are London based like me, you do not have to miss out on the chance to view/buy their beautiful products as Flow Gallery in the Heart of Notting Hill are exhibiting some of Tortus' work. This gallery is also an amazing hidden gem, by the way - but one to be discussed in another SkandiHus blog post.
Bye for now and welcome to SkandiHus.
Much love.