Studio Visit: Daniel Gillberg, Oslo, Norway

Just the Facts

Clay
dark-firing earthenware (Sibelco K144)

Primary forming method
wheel throwing, sometimes handbuilding

Primary firing temperature
multiple firings, cone 02

Favorite surface treatment
transfer and/or laserenamel collage

Favorite tools
wooden rib and scalpel

Studio Playlist
Mostly radio and podcasts. Hashtag Authentic, Talk Art with Russel and Robert, and Undercover to mention a few, but Netflix and music, too. Sometimes I just enjoy the silence.

Wishlist
a slab roller and a sink would be a treat

Studio

Six years ago, my partner and I managed to acquire a small property in the Norwegian countryside about 45 minutes from Oslo. Next to the little house surrounded by forest, there is an annex—this building is now my studio. It is a tight but comfortable and practical space that I really enjoy. The building (215 square feet (20 m2) in total) is divided into two rooms that can be separated by a sliding door. The slightly larger of the two is the studio space and a smaller office area in the back is reserved for clean work only. I keep a few handy books, the printer, and my transfer and photo library back there. The desk folds up to save space and so do two hidden beds on the back wall. You never know when an extra bunk bed might be needed!

The glass doors and the big windows in the main area provide good natural light during the summer months. I have placed the main working table right in front of them and do all sorts of work there. That is probably my favorite spot. Along the wall behind it there is a workbench with shelving and storage both below and above. I try to keep as much stuff as I can tucked away to prevent dust from settling on and in between everything. A tight space can get very dirty very fast. A light wall separates the kiln and the wheel from the main space, and for increased flexibility the big table and all heavy buckets with glazes and raw materials are on wheels or sliders. This, too, helps to facilitate easy cleaning. There is no running water in the studio, so I am constantly carrying big buckets of water from the house across the yard, which is sometimes a sweaty job during the winters.

For conservation purposes, I collect rainwater to use occasionally use for throwing. The rest is used to water the garden. Our house is equipped with solar panels that help to generate some extra electricity for the kiln. All excess power goes back onto the public grid as green energy.

Working as a paper conservator has taught me to really care for my brushes, particularly the handmade Japanese, Chinese, and Korean ones. I always store them hanging to keep the bristles neat and tidy. A couple of bamboo canes mounted horizontally and S-hooks from the kitchen department at IKEA do the trick.

Paying Dues (and Bills)

My education in ceramics was a winding path and compilation of schools, master classes, workshops, and training with traditional potters. At one point, I fell ill and had to regroup to focus on recovery. I lost track and did not know where to go next. I ended up doing some work at the local county museum where I met a lady who was a paper conservator. I had never heard of such a profession before, but her amazing practical skills and in-depth knowledge about various materials and historic techniques caught my attention. Meeting her resulted in me pursuing and earning in a degree in the science of conservation of cultural property a few years later. I did a major in paper conservation and specialized in historic wallpaper. In 2010, I was invited to come work on the Scream collection at the Munch Museum in Oslo. I packed my bags and left for a 6-month project that morphed into a permanent position. I stayed for 2½ years before moving on.

While working at the museum, I picked up ceramics again. I missed creativity so much. I rented some space at a local community studio and at one point joined a small cooperative with a shared studio in the basement and a ceramics shop on the ground level. I also worked some summers in the pottery at the Norwegian Folk Museum, learning more about the Scandinavian slipware tradition and educating visitors while working on the wheel. That was a very enriching experience.

Today I divide my time between making ceramics in my own studio and taking on occasional freelance conservation projects. Having two parallel gigs within the same small business can sometimes be frustrating as one always takes time away from the other. It sometimes makes my schedule very irregular, but at the same time provides some financial stability that gives me more freedom to experiment in the studio. I do not always have to push work for the sake of it.

Marketing

For me, making is very much about curiosity and where the creative process takes you. I would rather make similar but unique pieces than repeat the exact same object over and over. Many times, I build my visual narratives with collage from my own photography. Even if two cups are about the same size, they will never look the same. There will be slight variations in the form as well and I like to leave marks from my hands visible. I try to never trim a piece more than on the bottom once it’s been lifted off from the wheel. My hope is that all those traces will tell the user about my process.

Making functional work and using slip is a continuation from training in traditional pottery. The more graphic element comes from my interest in photography and graphic art. The objects I see when working as a paper conservator also play a part in my ceramics practice.

My process can be tedious and a bit finicky—it often requires multiple firings and it is not fast. Because of this, selling work wholesale or through retail is simply not financially sustainable for me. I sell most of my work directly online, from my own shop or through galleries. Those are the platforms that fit my work the best. With time, I have become very restrictive. On a rare occasion I will make an exception if there is a good reason for partnership. If the cause is good and if the value base of the venue or shop matches my own, I may make an exception.

In these times, direct sales have become an important tool for every maker. They generate a little bit more money, but on the other hand you have to manage the marketing, shipping, packing of a sold piece, plus gathering and storing all of the necessary materials for those tasks. These parts of the business take time, and that time needs to be paid for too. They also take up space! Perhaps I should add a separate packing room to the wish list so that the guest room could actually house people instead of boxes, tape, and multicolored paper. All in all for me, selling directly gives me a great opportunity to connect with those who support me and buy my work.

Mind

To recharge creatively, I usually need to step out of the studio. Spending time in other environments or recording stuff I see with my camera often sparks new ideas for later use in the studio. I look at a lot of other types of work, too, like collage, photography, street art, prints, and paintings.

I believe that the more you broaden your horizons, the more personalized your work will become over time. Before the pandemic, I used to travel a lot—visiting friends around Europe, going for a job, taking a workshop, or attending a conference. I would always bring back a ton of photos. Urban scenes, architecture, obscure details, or plain nature photography amassed. Many of the animals, people, and scenes you see in my work I met on my travels­—stressed-out tourists from the south of Norway, an Amish goat from Pennsylvania, a street sign from Florida, graffiti from Spain, views over the fjords, and old houses from the arctic. Going to international conferences, fairs, and workshops has given me valuable perspectives on my own work from the viewpoint of other cultural perceptions. I believe it has helped me push my work beyond the aesthetic traditions I grew up with myself.

Most Important Lesson

The most important lesson I have learned as a working artist is probably to follow my curiosity and my own intuition without thinking too much. Just do it!

https://danielgillberg.com
Instagram: @d.gillberg

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