small talk // brooke t. winfrey // ceramicist

i first came across btw ceramics, run by brooke t. winfrey, at capsule women's tradeshow in february. the simple silhouettes with slight irregular patterns caught my eye and a few months later, i had the chance to visit brooke's studio in greenpoint, brooklyn. i was immediately taken with brooke's easy going and modest personality as well as her intuitive approach to ceramics. after some eight years of making ceramics, brooke simply makes stuff she thinks looks neat and just goes with it. she enjoys making things people can use as a way to feel connected to what she's creating. and according to brooke, "you can always find a way to change things and make them work." well said.

more about brooke below:

cultureisland: tell us more about you.

brooke t. winfrey: i grew up in tulsa, oklahoma but from a young age wanted to explore. i travelled a decent amount, but as soon as i landed in new york, i knew i'd found my spot. the diverse eclectic culture in nyc is just so rad. i'm still a big fan so many years later. i had a few random jobs, working at non-profits and various office jobs but i was always doing ceramics on the side. anytime i wasn't working, i had clay in my hands. i think my relationship to clay really changed was when i first used porcelain. there was something about how malleable but finicky it was that really drew me in and made my mind spin in circles with ideas and possibilities. i made a body of work that all had slight irregularities including my striped dinnerware series and everything took off from there.

cultureisland: tell us more about btw ceramics.

brooke t. winfrey: btw ceramics is my ceramics company. all products are made in greenpoint, brooklyn. i started in 2012 with a line of striped dinnerware with a distinct handmade touch. i focus on creative details like uneven lines or subtle irregular texture. the object's unmistakable handmade feel embraces the playful nature of clay and draws attention to the creation process. as the designer and creator, i approach each piece as its own creation where the irregularities are embraced. each piece is handformed either on the wheel or with various hand building and painting techniques, so that the irregular details that characterize each piece are never alike. the minimal shape of the forms and focus on porcelain as the primary material juxtaposes the white smooth, silky porcelain against the graphic hand painted designs.

cultureisland: how did you get into making ceramics?

brooke t. winfrey: it was pretty random! i took an art class at hunter and one of our assignments was to make chess pieces out of air dry clay. i spent a ridiculous amount of hours building labyrinth figures as my chess pieces and realized i really liked using my hands to create. from there, i took classes at various hobby studios and just never stopped.

 btw ceramics // small serving bowl

btw ceramics // small serving bowl

cultureisland: what is your creative process?

brooke t. winfrey: a lot of it is experimentation. i might have a vague idea for a new shape or design that i start making. as i'm working with the clay, my ideas usually change and morph as the piece takes shape in front of me. for the painting and etching part, i go with how i feel in the moment and keep the designs as expressive as i can, not worrying about the replication process and making each piece the same. i try not to judge as i'm going but when i get to an end point and i still don't like what i see, i just start over. if i like what i've done, i set it aside and revisit it the next day to see if it still resonates. i think being willing to make something really ugly is part of the process and a lot of pots have to be crushed before i'm happy with a new design.

cultureisland: how has your ceramics style evolved since you started?

brooke t. winfrey: i'd say it's a lot more refined at this point. in a way my ceramic style is fairly minimal. i'm usually either drawn to very simple shapes with bold glazing or really crazy intricate shapes with very simple glazing. when the shape and the glaze are both really intricate, the pieces usually don't speak to me in the same way. i can recognize the talent and patience it takes to create those pieces, but in my making life i'm really drawn to some minimalism. it took me making many ugly, over the top, bizarre non-functional cups and bowls to figure out that simple silhouettes with graphic glaze are my jam.

cultureisland: has teaching ceramics affected your own work?

brooke t. winfrey: definitely. it made me pay a lot more attention to why certain techniques are successful and how to break down in a detailed, accessible way how to make a piece from beginning to end. there is an explanation for everything that happens with clay and figuring out the exact reason something happened to a piece down to the molecular level is part of the fun. in saying that, i fully admit and embrace my clay nerd status. i love every part of ceramics so whenever i get to discuss it with other people, i am in my happy place. i like teaching people who are just starting out and helping them on their journey reminds me of my own journey.

cultureisland: where do you find inspiration?

brooke t. winfrey: i feel like my ceramics are a mash up of what i see and experience on a day to day basis. in antique and vintage stores, the shapes of various home goods really stand out to me. months later, i'll remember a random glass pitcher or a copper teapot or some old school ceramic cups. i'll consciously or subconsciously work small elements of these into a piece, even if it's just the slightest hint of a curve. small changes in angles and silhouettes can affect a ceramic object in a big way.

cultureisland: what are your favorite places to shop, eat, hang out and grab coffee around greenpoint?

brooke t. winfrey: i don't shop much but dusty rose vintage is awesome for good old clothes that are actually affordable. i get coffee from cup every single morning. it's what gets me out of bed! homecoming is a rad spot too for coffee, plants and handmade goods. if i'm not in my studio, i'm in a neighborhood park soaking up sun whenever possible. during winter, i'm pretty much always in my studio. clay is still so fun for me but i probably should try to find a new hobby!

cultureisland: what are you listening to right now?

brooke t. winfrey: the shangri las.

* check out more of brooke's work here // follow her on instagram  *

* also be sure to read this ny magazine guide to urban claymaking, where brooke is listed as a leader of the indie ceramics renaissance! *