Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Jeannine Vrins. I was born in the Netherlands 40 years ago and now live in Belgium, in the picturesque town of Lier. I came to Belgium twenty years ago to study industrial design and ceramics at the Art Academy of Antwerp. I fell in love with the more southern way of living, the surrealism of this three-languaged country, the delicious food, and (most importantly!) with a guy called Raf, who is now my husband!
Our studio is called Atelier Oker. We’re both very different designers, but very inspirational for each other. Raf designs toys and logic games. I’m a ceramic designer and maker. I love to make things myself, but I also like others to manufacture my work. We have two boys who love to play with clay and to test all the new toys.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
I teach at an art academy, where I can share my passion for clay and form. I teach technical skills and creative thinking. I love to give students another viewpoint and to inspire them to see what they can create themselves.
I love to read, browse through art books, and visit museums; you can always find me in the museum bookshop afterwards. In the summer I like to travel with my family, enjoy nature and culture, hang around and sleep in a tent. Then it’s so refreshing to come home and start creating again.
What would be the title of your memoir? Why?
Balancing. Why? Because I’m always balancing between art and design, crafts and design, my teaching-job and working in my studio, between being a mother and losing myself in the making process. I’m always searching for a subtle stability and a balance between contrasts.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I’m inspired by natural lines and forms — the shapes of the human body, trees, seaweed or flowers. I see beautiful shapes everywhere. I’m also captivated by art history, especially the ancient Greeks or the Art Nouveau movement at the beginning of the 20th century.
My boys are full of wonderment, and their way of looking at the world also inspires me. They constantly question everything, asking “why,” “how,” and “when?” It helps keep me alert!
What does handmade mean to you?
As a child I always wanted to touch everything; I’m very tactile. I love the contact between my skin and any material. I like to to touch clay as it feels so soft and gives an impression of my skin. I love making ceramics; the user can feel my skin by touching the object. Handmade objects are always reciprocal.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
My biggest influence was a three month period in the European Ceramic Work Centre in 1998. It’s a crucible of artists, craftsmen and ceramists. I met Barbara Diduk there, who taught me to see the happy coincidences while I’m throwing. I met Bobby Silverman, who inspired me by showing me where you can get with a little hard work. I discovered the humor in ceramics with Phil Eglin and the beautiful lines in Scandinavian designs by Katarina Andersson. It was the time of my life!
And I’m also a lucky girl — I have a friend, Patricia van den Akker, who is a business coach for designers and craftspeople. She helped me make good choices so I could create more time for my craft and my business.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
I was very young when I realized it was essential for me to make things to live. In my second year at design school we visited Piet Stockmans‘s studio. He is ceramist and maker and has his own porcelain design workshop. The combination of designing things and making them yourself seemed like the perfect match.
How would you describe your creative process?
When I was younger I loved to live by the day and to create when I was in the right flow. But how do you get in the right flow? My creative process had a lot ups and downs.
In the last few years I’ve discovered that I’m very creative when I work within a strict structure. In the morning I throw to make my orders. In the afternoon I make glazes, fill my kiln, and brush the terra-sigillata top layer. Currently I’m working on some large trade orders, producing plates and spoons for restaurants and throwing new designs for a flower pot company. I design new products while I’m throwing.
I start my creative process with drawings in my sketchbook and I look through them when I need inspiration to create something new. But sometimes a new design just happens: a form arises and I embrace it and work it out. Having the same structure every day gives my creative process a good rhythm.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
Lucie Rie and Hans Coper were the founders of contemporary studio pottery. Lucie taught Hans all the different skills and she even managed to continue a ceramic studio during the war years by making buttons. I would be really curious to see how they combined working for a living with the creating new things.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
Our wedding rings are made by jewellery designer Hans Meganck. The design symbolizes our relationship perfectly in a simple form — the two rings fit in each other as a jigsaw.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I go for a run around the boundaries of our town, Lier. It’s about 5 kilometers, so I do the run twice a week. It empties my mind and gets rid of any stress.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I’ve actually already have realized one of my biggest dreams — to create and sell work in my own studio. Etsy gave me the opportunity to do it all by myself. I have more dreams for the next 10 years, and I enjoy the challenge. I want to compile a book filled with the ceramics I adore, work together with a chef to design the perfect match between plate and food, visit exciting places in the world and meet people who share my passion for handmade ceramics. I also would love to design a new sink or tableware for a porcelain company.
Will I reach these dreams in 10 years? I hope not too quickly, as I like the way my life and careers flows right now, and I like to keep dreaming!