From the earth: CR meets Atelier NL

Atelier NL is a Dutch design studio working with local materials to foster new ways of looking, thinking and making. For a special blog, following on from our news story inside the current issue, CR talked to its co-founder, Lonny van Ryswyck, to learn about their recent projects and the ethos behind them

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AWAITING MORE - AND CAPTION

Portrait: Paul Scala

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‘We hope to offer a new awareness of surroundings to others, stressing the importance of seeing what is around us, considering how we can better use it. It’s not about forcing nature, but learning from it – highlighting that we must go with and understand nature and see what it can bring us. Instead of stretching lands to the point of mass production, we should focus on quality.’ 

Atelier NL’s projects involve taking on the knowledge of geologists and chemists
They work to make the detail visible in their products. It’s about transforming by looking carefully, working with materials in-depth, to produce ceramics, paint and glass. The pair work with data to develop their ranges, and run hands-on making workshops to spark engagement with their projects and experiments.

‘Workshop participants will ask if they are doing it right, and we say of course they are – it is their work. They get real excitement and pride from the process, leaving with a small amount of material that they have seen all the processes go into.’ 

One such session saw the pair take a group of people out onto the street, where they were encouraged to look and choose things to pick up, to analyse. To inspire others to engage fully with the environment and found objects – encouraging personal responses – is one of Atelier NL’s core aims. Lonny and Nadine champion close observation as a means of understanding what a rich range of materials make up given fragments.

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Photo: Wouter Kooken

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‘On the beach, most people will see the sky, the sea, the sand – but I will notice the variety of grains of sand – its colour and texture. I get fascinated by pieces found in everyday life, like a little child.’ – Lonny van Ryswyck

Lonny and Nadine studied at Eindhoven’s Design Academy and travelled a lot, working on projects together
Here they looked carefully at the way people lived and behaved, and how certain cultures work so closely and directly with their environment (whether out of necessity or not). The more the pair worked in these communities, the more they found and were able to be creative with them and the surroundings, noting that people are the knowledge of a place, and that such a breadth of findings can be made in a small area, when thinking carefully about its people and its natural qualities such as terrain.

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Clay machine, photo Patricia Rehe

Clay machine, photo Patricia Rehe

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Atelier NL’s ‘clay machine’ is about visualising all that is there
The pair take dirt from the ground and produce ceramics from it, deconstructing and showing the length of the process of making clay, increasing general understanding of the intricacies involved. The design studio works at realising the character found in every kind of soil, demonstrating what can be created with it. ‘It is meditative to deconstruct soil in this way’, says Lonny, ‘to engage with the material carefully and quietly.’

‘When we have everything, we don’t see anything. But when you make your own paint, you can be super happy with this small gesture. It takes two hours to make a small bit of paint but the outcome and the experience is huge.’

‘When you make your own things,’ Lonny continues, ‘you experience that there are different soils and they offer a lot of outcomes – you experience that you are influencing whether the paint is thick or thin, and are much more connected to the materials, so that when you use the paint, you will be careful and think of its significance. You know you made it yourself, so you are proud and careful with it. We want to spark this – a feeling of being lucky or happy is in the small things.’

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Photo: Paul Scala

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Atelier NL have been working on a unique project featuring ceramics
Spurred by the writing of a new book. Professor Richard Fortey (presenter of BBC Four’s Survivors) is the author of The Wood for the Trees: A Long View of Nature from A Small Wood, to be published shortly by Harper Collins. The work takes as its focus an ancient beech-and-bluebell woodland in Oxfordshire’s Chiltern Hills.

Fortey’s research covers the species, ecology, science and natural history of the wood
It includes, too, the woodland’s human story, the tale of the estate to which it belonged for 900 years and its connections to the wider world. As part of his research Fortey ‘felled trees, turned bowls, made charcoal and more’ and wanted to ‘turn appropriate bits of geology into tiles and glass.’

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Photo: Wouter Kooken

Photo: Wouter Kooken

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To do so, Fortey contacted Atelier NL
They were asked to visualise the material transformation of one square metre of earth from the wood, working with its tough, flint-studded clay. The results have been an array of paints, pigments (ranging from warm, creamy brown to a rich peat colour), glass and ceramic tiles.

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Discover more about Atelier NL’s ceramics and wider projects at ateliernl.com

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