Stumbling upon ceramics in her last year at DAAP (Design, Architecture, Art and Planning) at University of Cincinnati, Amanda Bialk found herself in love with the medium, especially wheel thrown objects . Combining her love for organic and modern forms into her handmade pieces , she creates simple vessels that are functional and beautiful. Amanda's philosophy is that our homes 'truly define us'. Nothing excites her more than creating work that someone will treasure and display in their home. It seems her true intentions are in hopes that the public will allow her works into their home to love, and to hold.
Amanda is a hustler. Soon after graduating from DAAP, she finds herself in the beautiful position of coveted ceramicist holding stock at six different locations around Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, as well as an Etsy shop and a shop with local online merchant-- Shop Made in Cincinnati.
Five-Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
Amanda Bialk: I’ve been in this studio since March .
F-D: And you said earlier that you were in an apartment studio up until then?
AB: Yes, I had half of a bedroom within my apartment and then Jessie, my studio mate [owner and operator of RheinoCeramics] contacted me and let me know that she had a space open within her studio. So I came, checked it out, fell in love with the space, and moved in. A little bit later the other girl that shared the space with us moved out and my boyfriend [architect Michael Ferguson] moved into the space.
F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
AB: It developed organically, we had a bunch of shelving donated to us from Rookwood Pottery, and after a little bit of time this kind of turned into my little corner.
F-D: Has the location of the studio influenced your work in any way?
AB: Not specifically Price Hill, but for sure having my own space. It increased my production by a good deal. Having a kiln has been a big bonus, I was previously paying to use a kiln every time I had a batch ready. That’s helped a lot.
F-D: Do you mind sharing the cost of the kiln with us?
AB: Actually it came with space. Originally the space was one of our old ceramics professors from DAAP. They left this kiln behind, and Jessie fixed it up. So now we just use it. I am saving up for my own kiln, but I might just get a cheap used one and then take this guy. The size is great and I really like using it.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself in the studio?
AB: Every day is pretty different depending on what I need to get accomplished that day, especially with ceramics because there are so many stages. I might be at the wheel throwing, might be at the back of the wheel and trimming, or fastening, then firing, glazing, lustering. It just depends.
F-D: Do you have a procedure or outline for your week? Is there any outline that you try to stick to so that you stay organized? Or do you just work to get it done?
AB: It depends, I don’t receive my schedule for my day job [Amanda works full time at the 21C] until a few days before the shift cycle. So I just have to flex around that. If I work in the morning I’ll come here in the evening, and vice-versa. I do feel like I have maintained my studio pretty well and I’m able to get in here 3-4 times a week. It’s never consistent though. I just make it work. Every maker knows the challenge of working a full time job and working for your passion. I’m always a little sleepy. But, you know, that’s ok.
F-D: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
AB: I'm just about contemporary clean forms. There isn’t much else there other than making things that people will put in their home and treasure. . . But, [as far as content is concerned] my thesis work was discussing earth, with a primary focus on salt. There are different elements that are poured into ceramics and something that I do think about is the process of taking clay, something earthen, and making it into a usable object.
F-D: So is sustainability something that is really important for you and your process?
AB: Yes, for sure.
F-D: What mediums do you work with?
AB: Clay. Glaze, yarn, rope, luster-- my favorite. . . That's pretty much it.
F-D: Can you tell us more about this process and how it has evolved?
AB: When I first started selling, I was just selling whatever I had left over from school. After a while I noticed which pieces people were really interested in and started attempting to recreate them.
F-D: Do you have narratives in mind for each piece?
AB: Not really. I just make something and hope that others will like it, something that they’ll cherish; kind of like a modern heirloom.
F-D: Did you ever feel like you were exiting away from your fine art background when you began making these utilitarian items?
AB: Yea, sometimes. But I also feel really good about my work. Before graduating the work was a mix of photography and fiber art--the ceramics came later. I was usually creating large installations--I actually just recently did a large collaborative installation with Una Floral. We created a modern still life for [the exhibition, Still Alive] at the Middletown Arts Center. So that kind of fed my craving for installation based work as well as exhibiting. Our intention was to just have a floral exhibition up while the flowers decayed.
F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your art?
AB: In a way yes, I guess I make things that I would like to have in my home. But also my academic background really plays into my business model. I’ve always been interested in placing my work into interesting spaces and photographing it. The marketing and photographing of my work is just about as important as the work itself.
F-D: Does your aesthetic come from anything in your personal history?
AB: I always combine vintage items with contemporary pieces. I like to incorporate old pieces of wood or vintage items into shots and stylings of the objects I make. It’s just a tendency that I have.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
AB: That’s such a hard question for me to answer becauseI feel like everything in my life corresponds back in some way to the visual arts. I mean, Michael has always been a huge supporter of my work and that has made a huge difference. He is a very hard worker and I was not before I met him. But also, having other woman makers around me has also been very inspiring and beneficial.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
AB: Having a space has made my production go way up like I mentioned before. But also, because I am making more, my work is getting better. I’m not a master potter-- but I can feel myself improving vastly. Jessie [her studio mate] is also great. It’s been wonderful having someone with a little more experience in the space with me. It gives me a sounding board and someone I can come to with questions.
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
AB: I just did Crafty Supermarket and City Flea. I also have two potential groups that I am talking to in regards to whole sale options out in California and Canada. So that’s really exciting. . .
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
AB: I think that there is a large resurgence within the Arts and Crafts Movement that I absolutely feel a part of. Also, there seems to be a sort of 'Makers and Small Business' movement that is kind of happening, and I can see myself as a part of that. I can’t really list any artists that I see myself in conversation with. I do work with a lot of florists-- Una Floral, Fern, Gia and the Blooms. . . As far as people that I look at: Martina Thornhill is an amazing ceramicist, Jessie, my studio mate, is wonderful. [Kenesha Sneed] who runs Tactile Matter, is a huge inspiration, and I mean. . . there are so many. I can go on and on.
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
AB: “Have nothing in your house that you don’t believe to be useful or beautiful.” By William Morris. Before I even began becoming interested in ceramics; I was studying William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement and I remember reading that quote and it hitting me heavily. It was before I even started studying ceramics, but it really changed my perception of the arts.
F-D: When did you take your first ceramics class?
AB: Well, my first 1 ½-2 years of school I was in photography and then something related to my schooling changed and so I went into fiber-arts and became interested in Art Therapy. I then had to take one of either drawing, painting, or wheel throwing. I chose wheel throwing and yea. . . it opened up a lot for me. I think a big part of it for me was it’s challenges. I usually catch on to things pretty quickly and this stayed a challenge. But I loved it.
F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
AB: Ceramics. I also tell people that I work at the 21C or the Weston Art Gallery, I occasionally help with exhibition installs there. But I really only make mention of that if they continue to push the subject after I've told them that I'm a ceramicist. But that’s really it.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
AB: I’ve obviously taken financial risks. I don’t sleep a lot. This is also a pretty physically taxing thing to be doing. I go from standing my entire shift, to hunching over a wheel. I already have a bad shoulder, my back’s getting messed up. I have a knee that’s just gonna get worse. It’s not the best for my lungs. . .
F-D: Words of wisdom?… a motto, favorite quote?
AB: There was a quote that came from Hillary Clinton right after the election in regards to what she could be doing with her time now that she wasn't going to be president: “I could be home making cookies and tea, but I’d rather be out making a difference and fulfilling my career”. That was a special thing to hear. Because I could just be doing my day job and not really reaching any level of fulfillment. But instead I show up, I’m tired and sore, but I’m happy. I also always return to that William Morris quote.
F-D: So, in summation: Just do it?
AB: Yea, pretty much.
F-D: Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
AB: Well, December was nuts: I had several pop-ups at Madewell in Kenwood Mall, Crafty Supermarket, Brazee Studio Night, and City Flea. But the next few months will be a little lighter. Jessie Reinerth [from RheinoCeramics] and I are trying to put together a Studio Pop-Up here in February, and I'll be making an appearance at the DAAP Maker's Market in March.