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Ceramics by Golem Design Studio
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Vladislav Ivanov: How I became a ceramic artist

From my early school years I liked making small things from clay and plasticine and later from wax, which was probably my absolute favorite. In high school I have been studying wood carving for 2 years, so I became pretty familiar with the basic carving techniques and tools. At the same time my fascination with history and especially with archaeological artifacts has grown with each my visit to an archaeological site or museum.

Another completely different interest of mine was chemistry mostly because I was charmed by the magic of fire. The almost magical high temperature reactions between metals and non-metal elements still fascinate me. My last two years in the school were dominated by hesitation about what I wanted to do, what career I should start? I suppose this sounds pretty familiar for most of you.

In 1989, after I finished high school, I finally made a decision and started studying pedagogic at the Veliko Tarnovo University in Bulgaria bearing in my mind that there was a sub department "Fine and Applied Arts". I also started my own research and experiments in the area of reproduction of archaeological artifacts from different epochs using different materials and techniques.

Can you guess what I found out waiting for me on the crossroad between the art history and chemistry during this research? Yes, you are right - it was art of ceramics with all its unlimited shaping and decorating techniques, with all different clays and unlimited palette of colors, with the excitement of opening each kiln firing and the promises for even greater miracles each next time!

Ceramics by Golem Design Studio
click to see gallery

After I graduated with MA in Pedagogic, Fine and Applied Arts in 1994 I started working as a teacher in the primary school. Teaching had its great moments as well as bad ones, but it was far from satisfying for me. My desire for independence was also inspired by the traditions in my family, especially coming from my mother's side. Looking through my family tree I discovered they were craftsmen for centuries - blacksmiths, carpenters, wood carvers, silversmiths.

My Grandfather was a very skilled blacksmith and carpenter. So maybe my passion for creating life based on things you make with your own hands came from there. I quit my job as a teacher in 2000 and up to now I'm a self-employed artist. It looked like my ceramic "passion" was very "infectious" - my wife Kremena received the "clay bug" from me soon after we got married, she started making pots and other objects in 1997-98 and in 2001 she stopped her teaching career, too. That was the official beginning of "Golem Design Studio."

Our studio-shop history

Until 2002 our studio was split in our home between the basement and the dining room a.k.a. "Studio room". The prize from the Bulgarian American Enterprise Fund competition (see below about it) with some bank loan together was fully invested in building a real studio attached to our house. We put a lot of work and efforts in this project, so finally in the late autumn of 2002 we moved in the studio; wich really increased our productivity and possibilities. Currently we have one big studio room about 320 square feet where we spend most of the days, and attached to it smaller kiln room where we fire the ready items.

Ceramics by Golem Design Studio
click to see gallery

How the brand "Golem" started

In 2000 I won the third prize in the competition called "Best Young Developer of the Year" hosted by the Bulgarian American Enterprise Fund. At the final stage of the competition each participant had to present a brand name for the business they are starting as a part of the project presentation. I was running out of time, there were just few hours for brainstorming about the name. I was trying to figure which name would work best for us really hard. Even with almost zero business experience at that time I was understanding that once you started developing a brand name it was really important the name would work for your business in five or more years.

At the end of the evening I remembered the legend about the Golem of Prague. According to the legend the Golem was an artificial clay man made by the Rabbi Yehuda Leow Bezalel. This clay man was a servant to his creator until that day he suddenly stopped being obedient to his master. There were a few different versions about the reason why this happened. The man became a rebel and devastated half the city of Prague, which was at the time the capital of Bohemian Kingdom (Prague is currently the capital of the Czech Republic).

According to the legend all this happened in the sixteenth century. What we liked about this story was the idea that the fate of human creature wasn't usually handled by its creator, and it is about a guy made of CLAY - our favorite media. We felt close to him and so we chose him for our business name and logo. The logo itself was created a little bit later by our good friend Petar Boychev. After 12 years we still like the name and the logo; it looks like that rush brainstorming worth the efforts.

Influence, inspirations, etc.

Ceramics by Golem Design Studio
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Living in Bulgaria, on the crossroad between Europe and Asia we have developed eclectic bunch of interests and tastes that are reflected in each of our creations. Although most of our works cannot be directly associated with any specific national traditions or styles we incorporate patterns taken from a variety of ancient and contemporary art forms. We find our inspiration in different parts of the world and ages. Traveling is our favorite way to waste time and money, but we are also trying to get a bit from each travel and to incorporate it into our pieces. The visits to Istanbul, Turkey for example were resulted in the pendants like PEN-001-A.

Probably the most inspiring place that we ever visited is the city of Barcelona, Spain. It's a real heaven for any artist, especially for the ceramic artists. Our visits there ended in the entire category of pendants. Some more info and pictures how Barcelona inspired us you can see in our blog. Our most recent inspiration came from our fourth Istanbul trip in October, 2011. We bought there in an antique shop a few used wood carved textile stamps that came from Afghanistan or Pakistan. The simple beauty of the carved flowers and foliage inspired two of our newest design lines, "Paisley" and "Floral Textile Patterns". Both lines were warmly accepted by our clients, so we'll continue developing them designing the full range of elements: pendants, cabochons and matching beads.

Ceramics by Golem Design Studio
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How our creative duo works

The things in the studio have really changed during last years. My wife Kremena is also a teacher by education and started "playing" with clay a little bit later, in 1994-1995. She is currently a leading designer at the Golem Design Studio. Since I've been her teacher in carving and other techniques, I'm really proud of my student. As to me, I'm in charge of all technical and marketing stuff: tools, equipment, supplies, orders and work schedule, website updates and everything needed for the non-stop work in the studio. I'm also the sales person most of the time; I work with the clients from the USA and EU.

This doesn't mean that I'm not making beads anymore of course, it just means that I spend only half to 2/3 of my working hours in the studio, the rest time is taken by paper work, marketing, Internet online activities and etc., that someone need to care. Usually we work in the studio side by side, splitting the tasks needed for the current project between us.

We are full time working-at-home bead artists, our work day starts around 8 - 8.30 am. We are trying to come to the studio as early as possible (not lucky to do that each day) and our working day ends depending on how busy we are with the orders, usually between 6 and 7 pm. As a rule, I'm spending evenings at the computer, working on the website, answering emails and so on, taking care of routine work.

How and why we appeared at the USA market

Ceramics by Golem Design Studio
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Up to 2002 we were focused on the selling of finished jewelry pieces (necklaces, earrings, bracelets) made using our beads at the local market in Bulgaria. We have mostly worked with galleries and gift shops in popular tourist destination towns. At some point we started looking online for abroad jewelry market. After some research we met some serious troubles and our thoughts to conquer foreign market was put on hold. This time the first ever real bead shop in Bulgaria opened its door, and we were really fascinated with the idea to unleash everybody's creativity.

After the first time I typed in "bead shop" in the Google search box and saw the number of results I was sure there was a niche for us. We started looking for contacts with bead trading companies and designers and in 2003 we made our first wholesale sales to USA and Australian clients. After 2004 around 80% of our ceramic elements was sent to the USA bead market.

In 2006 we received an invitation to exhibit at one of the Tucson jewelry shows. I asked my good online friend Marsha Hedrick from Amazing Porcelain for help us with accomplishing a nice answer something like "We are thankful to be invited, but unfortunately we aren't able to exhibit in the USA this time," but Marsha changed my decision. She offered all the assistance that I would need at the show: with accommodation, transport, etc., so in 2007 we appeared for first time in person at the USA bead show. We exhibit in Tucson each February, in 2011 we also added Bead & Button Show (Milwaukee, WI) to our show calendar.

Ceramics by Golem Design Studio
click to see gallery

Mixed media and art cooperation

In 2010, 2011 and 2012 we've taken part in the Bead Dreams contest hosted by Bead&Button Magazine and have won 1st and 3rd Places in Handmade Bead or Button category. We are currently running an interesting artistic cooperation project. A gallery in Sofia, Bulgaria called one of our friend artists, the silk painter Ganka Slavova to exhibit there, but together with another artist working with completely different media. Ganka invited us to arrange the exhibition together.

She was impressed by the items from some of our design lines and painted some silk shawls and scarves exactly matching our pendants colors and patterns. The results of this joint project are very cool up to now. Here you can see most of the pieces that we accomplished up to now: Silk & Clay. The exhibition was opened in March this year and it made success, so we continue working with Ganka.

Ceramic beads by Golem Design Studio (Kremena and Vladislav Ivanovs)
Ceramic elements by Golem Design Studio (Kremena and Vladislav Ivanovs)
Below are the links to some online tutorials that I created some time ago, they
show some details about each of the different stages of our producing process:

All the beads, pendants and cabochons are first hand shaped:
Changing the world - one bead at a time (How to make simple round bead)
Next stage for most of them is design hand carving:
Birth of a ladybug (Hand carving process - tools and techniques)
After drying all the items go to a kiln for the first firing known
as "Bisque fire"; after that they are ready for glazing:
Glazing of solid color and carved beads with opaque glazes (pictures and video tutorial)
Once the items are glazed they should be fired so the glaze melts
and shows its color. This second firing is known as "Glaze firing":
Kiln Tetris (Glaze firing of ceramic beads and pendants)

Below are the links just to video tutorials:
Daisies Lentil Bead - Part 1 (Petals)
Daisies Lentil Bead - Part 2 (Middle of the flower)
Daisies Lentil Bead - Part 3 (Background)
Glazing of a Solid Color Bead

About authors:

Kremena and Vladislav Ivanovs, Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

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