How to become a potter, with Sünna Studio’s Amy Hazeldine

Step One: Imagine Beautiful Things.  Step Two: Make a Happy Mess.  Step Three: Practice, practice, practice.  Step Four: Show the World.

Potter, Amy Hazeldine, has been firing up a storm in her Pemberton kiln, to prepare for her first season at theWhistler Farmers Market every Sunday. Sake sets, manly mugs and big-and-little-kidlet cups are all part of the Sünna Studio line. We checked in with Amy to find out what gets her firing on all cylinders.

What does the Sünna in Sünna Studio mean?

Sünna is an Icelandic word for sun.  An Icelander introduced  me to my partner, Kirk, who now makes annual forays to Iceland to ski guide. He brings home the most amazing Icelandic music. The perfect combination of mellow and moody, it’s some of my favourite music to work to.

How did you end up in Pemberton?

I followed a boy! I was living in my VW Van in Squamish as a climbing bum when I met him over a game of darts. I drifted up to Whistler for a few seasons for the dating phase, then finally made my way up to Pemberton where he lived. We bought a little acreage together up here, which is where my studio is now. It’s really been an amazing place to end up.

What makes Pemberton a good place to base your business?

Pemberton is such a hotbed of creativity right now – it’s very exciting to be starting my business just as the art scene here is starting to gain momentum. The whole town is full of young, vibrant, inspired people with amazing ideas and incredible talents. It also doesn’t hurt that life outside “work” involves mountain biking and climbing and growing food.

What are the pros and cons of working out of your own home studio?

On the pro side, I’d say lounging around with a coffee in hand (in a fabulous, handmade mug!) until I feel ready to wander out back to my studio is near the top of my list. I also love that I can look outside and see my little boy running around causing havoc. Supervised havoc, of course. My partner is staying home being super-Dad right now, which is amazing. Pro – I can take a hammock break in my back yard. Pro – I can work until midnight and not have to commute home… although I’m scared of the resident cougar and bear family after dark. That can make for a very nerve-racking 4 second sprint home. Maybe that one should be a con.

How does a person become a potter?

I attribute my own potter’s path to a spectacular set of brown dishes I grew up with. I stole them from my parents and I still use them today.  Fast-forward many years, I found a pottery drop-in program at Whistler Secondary, where I dropped-in a whopping total of two times before packing my bags and moving to Nelson to train at Kootenay School of the Arts. To round schooling out, I apprenticed with Whistler potter extraordinaire, Vincent Massey. I learned so much about the ins and outs of running a studio and managing the flow of work through the various stages. Then came the lengthy and laborious building of my own studio. We rebuilt a dilapidated shed that took a year and a half to revive. After plenty of hours of personal exploration with lots of successes and lots of failures, I think I can finally say I’m a potter.

What other work have you done (in your many-hatted life)?

I’ve worked as an environmental educator in Toronto with a great organization called EarthRoots and more locally with EagleWatch in Squamish. I spent four summers in Nunavut in diamond exploration camps as the cook, roughing it in a canvas tent on the tundra. I’ve worked on the assembly line making tire parts, driving a forklift and running the zamboni that cleans the factory floors. And I’ve done my Whistler time as a bartender and server. Out of all the hats I’ve worn, the potter’s hat is my favourite fit.

I’ve heard it said that you’re a little bit of a perfectionist… How do you finally know when something is done?

It’s true, I am a perfectionist. I’ve learned the hard way with pottery that if you keep fussing and trying to change things it will eventually just collapse into a big pile of gooey clay. I found it was really hard to sell that stuff. But seriously, I don’t think I ever really feel like anything is “done”. I reach a point where I’m really happy with a form or glaze and move forward with it, but I’m always thinking about what I can try in the next firing, how I can tweak a glaze recipe to alter the surface a bit, or what could I change about a form to make it more interesting. That’s the exciting part of pottery – there’s so much room for exploration.

What kind of materials do you use to create your line of pottery and glazes?

This is the really fascinating part. I essentially take clay from the earth, dip it in ground up rocks and minerals that have been mixed with water into a slurry, then throw it into the equivalent of a volcano so they melt into a glass which coats the clay. My favourite glaze right now is a gorgeous creamy white that I’m using on my line of sake sets, children’s mugs and cappuccino cups. The glaze is made with 8% tin and the white is the result of the metal re-crystallising on the surface, giving it a really lustrous finish. It’s amazing to think about. Some other common colorants I use are iron, chrome, cobalt, etc . It’s pretty wild chemistry and I definitely geek out on a regular basis trying to achieve a certain colour I have in mind.

What’s the process for creating one of your lines?

I always start with a sketch and put it in front of me while I throw on the wheel. I’ll often take weeks practicing the same form over and over until it’s second nature before starting to produce them. I guess this goes back to the perfectionism. I also like to use the finished product for a while to really figure out how it feels in the hand and if the design functions well.

What was the impetus to launch your business?

I don’t think there was an “impetus” so much as a sudden realization that I needed to launch my own business. I went to school in Nelson so I could be a potter. I don’t think I really thought about owning my own business necessarily, but there definitely aren’t too many wanted ads for working potters. Launching my business was a pretty natural step.

What kind of feedback are you getting at the Whistler Farmers Market?

The feedback has been incredibly positive. I was completely out-of-my-head nervous the first day I showed my pottery at the market – it’s pretty scary putting your art on display and sitting back hoping people will come along and look at it. But all’s gone really well and quite bit of my work has sold already, which means I’m running back into the studio in full-on production mode again. The Sake Sets on Walnut Trays are definitely getting a lot of attention – it’s a pretty unique item. The trays are actually made by my very talented sister, Julia Hazeldine Bonnell of studiohazel in Burlington, ON. It’s been very fun collaborating with her on that piece and we’ll be doing more joint projects down the road. The little cream cups with hand-cut clay detail are also getting quite a bit of attention. I originally designed them as children’s cups but quickly realized that many people wanted a bigger version for cappuccinos. I’ve upped the size and now it’s a dual purpose cup.

2 Responses to “How to become a potter, with Sünna Studio’s Amy Hazeldine”
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