Olivia, what did you do before you became a ceramist?
I worked about ten years for an agency specialized in interior design. I was a creative director and a designer. After all these years, I felt a certain lassitude and longed for a more manual, more creative activity.
What was your first contact with ceramic?
When I got pregnant with my second child, I took some time to seriously think about my desires. At that moment, I did a short training in pastillage – a technique from the 18th century used to decorate banquets with porcelain flowers – at the renowned Ateliers de Sèvres. It was my first contact with clay, in 2015.
Why did you choose to continue in that direction?
I admired the work of artisans and their know-how. I aspired to work with them, but I was not yet a craftsman myself. For a year, I went to meet them in their workshop : I wanted to understand their way of working as well as the various trades within craftsmanship.
At the same time, I begun creating small porcelain objects that I offered to my entourage. Little by little, it has grown and I found a workshop of my own within that year.
Has your career as a designer impact your current activity?
Greatly ! Beyond having sharpened my sense of estheticism, it helped me being independent and rigorous: I developed a very efficient work methodology. I also learned to understand and analyse a brief: this helps me everyday in my job as a ceramist.
Today, I consider myself a designer whose tool of expression is porcelain.
How do you function in your work?
The relationship with my customers is most valuable to me. Especially with professionals, I need to immerse myself into their world so I can understand their personality, their way of working, their daily life…It is an essential step for me because it allows me to adapt my creations to each one without becoming a sort of “catalog”.
I also appreciate when they visit me at my workshop to discover my environment and process of creation. These exchanges nourish my reflection and uncover the possible bridges between our activities.
Then come the first drawings, the first maquettes – always working in a collaborative way – back and forth until we reach a result of mutual satisfaction. Every time, it is a beautiful creative adventure. I enjoy going from one encounter to the next.
About that, can you tell us about the collaborations you’ve made?
Today, I essentially develop projects in association with other craftsmen, in particular in gastronomy and patisserie.
For example, I’ve worked with Simone Zanoni – the chef of the George V’s restaurant. Last year, he created a vegetable garden in the Parisian suburb. He wanted to me to think of a planter conveying the values of French terroir and craftsmanship. I made 50 of them for the occasion.
I also collaborated with the pastry chef of the same restaurant, Maxime Frédéric. I made for him 850 miniature pieces for the Galette des Rois – a french tradition for which small figurines are put into the cake.
“It is a work of patience : when I put a piece into the oven, I have to wait 36 hours before it is cooked. If I take it out too early, it’ll break. I can only be patient and live with it!”
What is your relationship to clay?
I’d say there is something extremely sensual in manipulating clay. I always am standing, using my whole body to knead and shape it.
I appreciate a lot working in a workshop because all the senses are stimulated, like the singular scent in there for instance. Only the sense of taste is unused in ceramic, even though I find it in the collaborations I make. The bond between ceramic and tableware is ancestral.
Working with people who use that sense as a starting point complete, in a way, my history and infatuation for sensorial experiences.
How would you define your job?
It is a work of patience : when I put a piece into the oven, I have to wait 36 hours before it is cooked. If I take it out too early, it’ll break. I can only be patient and live with it!
For example, I cannot brutalize the clay when I shape it – it has a great sensory memory – otherwise It may crack when cooking.
Sometimes, I have great disappointment for that reason. Other times, it’s the opposite. Surprises can be good or bad but in any case, the opening of the oven, especially on the second cooking, is a great moment of excitement, it is very powerful!
You mostly work with porcelain. Can you explain that preference?
To me, porcelain is the most refined, whitest and most fragile clay. But it is also complex to work with because it can be fickle. It requires a lot of concentration, determination and perseverance when handled.
The difficulty of that exercise is what makes it so interesting to me: in a way, i have to learn how to tame the clay…
What are your futur projects? What would you like to work on?
Other collaborations with Chefs, which is a great source of fulfillment!
I am also starting a new phase of my career: I want to start teaching creativity to young people…