Sylvia Sinel of StudioSinel Ltd says she has found her affinity in the forever fascinating world of clay and glazing. Exchanging a busy career life in Stockholm for a chance to follow her dreams of creativity and being close to nature here in New Zealand, she has recently taken the exciting step of becoming a full-time maker. She says “Ceramic art is the ultimate combination of all I cherish: sculpture, painting, physics, chemistry, poetry.”
What do you make?
I make ceramic sculpture and design in my home based studio in the outskirts of Hamilton. I also hold workshops and teach at the Waikato Society of Potters. I have been highly creative ever since I was a child and have always been drawing, painting and making things. I just love creating and will have a go at almost anything if I get the chance.
How did you get into your craft?
I emigrated to New Zealand from Sweden with my Kiwi husband and two boys seven years ago. My youngest son was only one year at the time so I spent a lot of time at home looking after him. I signed up for a night class in pottery at Waikato society of potters to get out of the house and also to meet some new people. As soon as I walked through the studio doors I was hooked. I loved everything about clay and all the amazing possibilities it offered me. This form of art is the ultimate combination of all I cherish: sculpture, painting, physics, chemistry and poetry. All my previous experience comes to good use in the clay practise. I can spend the rest of my life working with clay and only learn a fraction of what there is to know. There’s a saying that some people catch the clay bug, I have caught a serious case and there’s no cure in sight haha.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
After catching the clay bug at the potters society in Hamilton I ended up doing a 2 year Diploma in ceramic arts at Otago Polytech. All theory was done by distance learning and all practical parts were done at the potters society in Hamilton and some in Dunedin. I had the best times of my life! Many of New Zealand’s top potters are teaching the diploma and I got so much out of it, learning heaps from all of them. I managed to graduate with recognition of achievement and it was one of my proudest moments. I also have a Diploma in sculpture and painting and I have many art related papers from Stockholm university. Like many artists I have spent the equivalent of 6-7 years as a full time student and when the kids are a little older I plan to continue with my Master studies.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
I hand build larger sculptures and vessels as well as throw yarn bowls and hanging planters on the wheel. The process of making is quite different. A large vessel can take me up to two months to complete from start to finish. All of them are one of a kind in form and surface decoration. I lose track of time when I start making them and it’s a very free process, no right or wrong. Hours disappear in a flash. The only tools I use are a knife and a paddle. My granddad’s brother was a shoe maker and he made his own knife in the 1940s, I’m now using it and it feels quite precious to use his old tool in my practise when he’s long gone.
Wheel throwing is more of a fixed process for me. When I have throwing days, I might end up making 15-30 pieces on the wheel and then there’s another 1-2 days of work carving the yarn bowls and finishing off the hanging planters. I have recently started using a bubble glaze on the planters which I really enjoy and the result looks quite magic. I always try new things and techniques and I must say that my practise is very varied. The challenge is to stay focused and not run off in all directions, even if I love doing just that. I can’t say that I’m doing very well in staying on track resisting creative temptations but maybe one day I’ll get there haha.
What inspires you?
Anything can be a source of inspiration. My eyes are drawn to colour, line and form in my surroundings. Words and texts can be a starting point too. When it comes to my abstract sculptures then the inspiration is in my head. I see them at night before I fall asleep. They just pop up, they roll in and out of sight just like a movie.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Conceptual and Idea based work has been a big part of my art practice all through the years and most sculptural work has an underlying story to tell. It can be very different stories or ideas depending on the project. I also put a lot of focus on high quality craftsmanship. I want to make beautiful things that brighten up someone’s home and make you happy. I believe the energy of a maker can be sensed in the object and I want it to be a loving, good and inspiring one.
Describe your creative process:
Most sculptural pieces start off as an exploration of drawings. These don’t have to be beautiful or refined in any way, it’s more a way of getting an understanding of the form. When it comes to my wheel thrown design, I sometimes do initial drawings but often sit down by the wheel and try out the shape until I’m happy with it. Sometimes the finished piece does not look anywhere close to the original drawing or idea, it can develop and change in the process.
Describe your workspace:
We live on a small farm and I’m very lucky to have a big implement shed on our property which I have turned into a studio. It’s freezing in winter but I love it. It is my very special place and it’s the first time I have a proper studio with all equipment for the ceramic process. I have worked a lot from kitchen tables, in garages and other odd places so it’s wonderful to finally have a proper working studio. I only have to commute 50 meters in the mornings to get to work!
Five words that describe your mind:
Imaginative, inventive, curious, solution finder, quirky.
Your favourite feedback from a customer:
Any good feedback is favourite feedback, it keeps me motivated to continue making. One customer once held one of my bowls and said that it had very good energy. A few others have said my art has good vibes and makes them happy. That’s wonderful feedback and makes me happy. I really treasure the idea that I can channel good energy through my work.
What are you currently listening to?
I listen to podcasts when I’m driving and when I work in the studio. There are so many good ones. At the moment I really like Jumbled loves-a-chat (Aussie pod), inspiring interviews with creative people and another good one is How to fail with Elisabeth Day. There’s a fabulous New Zealand podcast by Neville Parker called The Artwonk. He’s talking about everything you need to know as a creative in business. Every episode is great.
Recommend an album:
As a Swede I will say ABBA gold. Their music has a way of making me want to dance and sing out loud even if I really shouldn’t! I’m tone deaf.
What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
Pippi Longstocking. I just loved the books and the films growing up. She’s such a stubborn and wonderful character, nothing can stop her. A good and fun role model for lots of young girls and boys alike. The author Astrid Lindgren was a similar character herself and she has been a big inspiration to me. Following her dreams of writing at an older age.
What are you reading now?
Eva Hesse – One more than one, by Hamburger Kunsthalle and Quiet by Susan Cain.
Who is your heroine or hero? Why?
I really admire Louise Burgeois and Barbara Hepworth. They were both amazingly talented sculptors and inspiring strong women who made it in a time when it was hard to get recognition as female sculptors. They followed their artistic conviction and were truly authentic all the way.
A favourite quote:
“Every morning you have two choices, continue to sleep with your dreams or wake up and chase them.”
Tell us about your pets:
We live on a small farm and have two cows, three chickens, six sheep and least but not last Ralphie the cat. Ralphie keeps me company in the studio and at night he walks beside me back to the house. We also have about a million wild rabbits and lots of birds who share our property.
If you were a crafty superhero, what would your name and superpower be?
Another featured maker gave the perfect answer to this question. Something in the way of “I am a crafty superhero and my name is Mum.” I thought that was the best answer ever, I don’t want to be a copycat but I cannot think of anything better!
What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
That it’s possible! Most of us are told that we can’t make a living on our art or craft and that we have to get a real job. I ended up as an accountant for way tooooo many years and even if it has been a good career which I’m grateful for, I wish I had the guts to choose my art practise full time a lot sooner. Once I leaned into it, things just keep on falling into place. I was waiting for someone else to tell me to have a go but I realised that it will never happen. You have to allow yourself to have a go and then run with the decision. Good work ethics helps and you have to know your numbers if you want to stay in business. Find like minded people to cheer you on and help cheer them on. It’s definitely not easy a lot of the time but it’s worth it a million times. You can do it!
Why do you think it’s important to buy handmade and/or locally made goods?
We have to encourage and support all talented Kiwi makers and artists. There are so many of them, it constantly amazes me. It makes me happy to buy handmade and local goods. It feels good to know who’s made it and that I make an ever so slight difference in their business. It feels amazing when someone makes a decision to spend
their hard earned money to support my business. It’s a win win.
What does it mean to you when someone buys your creations?
It makes my day when I open my inbox and there’s an email saying “You have made a sale on Felt” or when I get a payout from the galleries. Selling means that I can keep making and it’s very humbling when people want to invest in my creativity. I am so grateful to everyone who’s bought my work through the years and helped support me and consequently my family.
What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
Handmade branch hooks made by a local toy maker. They are amazing! They will come as a complimentary with the ten first hanging planter purchases. You can see the hook and a version of my planters in the pic in this story.
What’s in store for the rest of 2021?
This is an exciting year for me. It is the first year I’m heading into as a full time maker and artist as I resigned from my part time office job in September 2020. I want to find a couple of new galleries to represent me when it comes to my sculptural works and I will keep on adding and developing new products for my Felt shop. I also look forward to having more students in my studio sharing the joy of working with clay with others. I want to say a big, huge THANK YOU to everyone who supports us small creative businesses here on Felt. You make it possible for us to continue making.
Prizedraw for Felt readers!
Sylvia has kindly offered us a lovely prize for one lucky Felt reader – one of these beautiful hand built ceramic flowers (see below)! These flowers are suitable for use indoors or outside, and as they are individually hand built, each one is unique. We think they’d make gorgeous Mother’s Day gifts! To enter the draw, just leave a comment below telling us what you like about Sylvia’s story and her creations.
The draw closes at 5pm Monday 26 April and is open to New Zealand residents only.