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#howiAMACO Insta Feature - Q&A with Jenna Vanden Brink

Jenna Vanden Brink

Instagram: @jennavandenbrink


If you're looking for simple but chic handmade wares, stop what you're doing and look no further. Jenna Vanden Brink's clean aesthetic, condensed color palette, and quirky line work masterfully marry the playful and the sophisticated. Her two current bodies of work represent different but complimentary styles, one showcasing bold, solid-color sgrafitto work and the other watercolor-style, painterly details. And, as if her craft and illustrations weren't enough to swoon over in and of themselves, Jenna's Instagram feed looks like something out of an upscale magazine. Her food and floral motifs paired with careful staging showcase her pieces in beautiful lighting - and we certainly aren't complaning about the occassional pics of her puppy, Wellington, or her newborn daughter Rosie Lou, either! Check out her Insta, but definitely do so at your own risk - once you start scrolling, you may never stop.

[You can see more of Rosie and Wellie on their own Instagram - @rosielouandwellietoo]

How did you come to be interested in working with clay?

I grew up in Detroit, MI, part of a family that valued art and community. My mom was a dancer and involved in community theater. My dad was a potter and a clay modeler at Ford Motor Company. In my childhood home the cupboards were full of handmade pots, the backyard garden was unruly and abundant, and all the walls were covered in artwork. I grew up making and learning to love art, but didn’t take my first ceramics class until college, quickly got hooked, and majored in studio art and English.

After college, I moved to Pittsburgh with ten friends. Instead of scattering for jobs after graduation, we eleven decided to pick a place and venture together to make a new home. I signed up to do a year of service through AmeriCorps and ended up at Union Project, a nonprofit arts organization in a repurposed church building that needed someone to manage the ceramics and stained glass programs. After my AmeriCorps term was up, I was hired to continue growing the program. For seven years, I worked to expand Union Project’s community ceramics program from just 10-12 classes serving 50-100 adults in prior years to 200 programs serving over 5,000 people annually.

In the past year, I left my administrative role and now am a full-time studio potter, sharing a studio with three other fantastic potters.

What inspires your work?

For me, making pottery is about connections between people. I find most joy in my work when there is a communal component. My work is used to share meals, much is given as gifts, it facilitates acts of hospitality, and is a physical way for me to connect with others. It’s a privilege to interact with people, through my objects, on a daily basis in such an intimate way. And I hope the objects I make bring joy.

My two bodies of work were each initially created for close friends who requested dishes when they got married. I designed the pots to be meaningful for them, and continued making and developing the work after the initial commissions were complete.

What’s your favorite thing about clay?

I love the versatility and materiality of clay. I like the feeling that the possibilities for creating are endless, that there are enough different kinds of clay, firing techniques, and surface treatments that any artist can communicate what they want. And I like the feeling of the clay, the different stages, and the transformation of the material--it’s magic.

Which AMACO products do you always find yourself going back to? How do these products speak to your work?

My favorite AMACO products are the Velvet Underglazes. I use them in all my work in different ways, and they help me achieve a range of surface techniques. With my earthenware pots, I paint the Velvets onto the surface to get a brushed look, then sgraffito through to reveal the red clay underneath. I’m able to get pots that blend simplicity with a warm, handmade quality and also integrate personality through my drawings. With my porcelain pots, I use the Velvets in three different ways. I apply the dark green to the bottoms of the pots and get a matte, dipped effect that implies earth or grass. I inlay the jet black into carved drawings through the mishima technique. And, I apply watered down Velvets to bisqueware to create a watercolor effect over the black lines before applying a clear coat of glaze. In both bodies of work, one material/product, the Velvet Underglazes, allows me to achieve a wide variety of surface treatments.

Finish this sentence: I would rather be ____________

... at the beach. I've always loved the ocean, though I also have a very soft spot in my heart for the dunes at Lake Michigan.

Savory or sweet?

Savory wins by a mile! I'm a potato chip gal. I usually pass on the cake. Though, I was just pregnant, and nothing sounded better to me than sweet treats. It was good a time for my husband.