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France's crafts in focus - November 2019

Inside magical world of a self-taught ceramic artist

Small, discreet, and full of hidden treasures, the workshop of ceramicist Véronique Pignatta is a reflection of her artistic style.

Mrs Pignatta, 50, creates... from painting to sculpting, jewellery and ceramic items, she makes everything with her hands at the back of her shop in Nice where she grew up.

Her inspiration comes from stories, whether her own or well-known tales such as Alice in Wonderland.

She is self-taught and did not follow any course or receive a diploma.

She said: “Sometimes I do something and someone tells me ‘oh, you used this technique’, and I did not even know this was a technique!

“When I was young, I wanted to be a painter but my parents told me it was not a real job.”

But she did not give up and kept on doing what she liked, making objects with clay and painting them.

Her main focus today is ceramics but she admits it was hard for her to settle on a preferred career choice.

She said: “When I set up the business, they did not know which field to put me in. They were asking me what I was doing and what I was earning from but I was already doing a bit of everything, painting, sculpting, making tiles and ceramic cups…

“It took months to finally put me in a business pigeon-hole, which was something like ‘various artistic activities’.” She loves trying new ideas and started creating jewellery after her son asked her to make earrings for his girlfriend.

She found something “different” in this art and now also sells jewellery, which has her unique signature: a ceramic character.

When she works in ceramic, pieces can take two to three hours to create. She works with clay and has to be careful as it dries quickly. “When I work in a new place, I have to check the humidity of the room as I need a bit of humidity to work,” she said.

She said that clay is her “playdough” and she can create anything with it.

She often makes cups, plates and bowls but each piece is unique and she chooses not to reproduce items so they all remain one-offs.

She gives names to all her creations. She is currently working on a ‘princess collection” and said: “I tell myself a story and this is how I create. Each creation has a story.

“Sometimes, the objects are more beautiful than practical but it is also a real pleasure to know that some people use my cups every day.”

Some of her plates featured in the well-known French TV version of Come Dine with Me, Un dîner presque parfait, in which contenders are evaluated on how well they host a meal.

She said: “I didn’t even know about it. Someone told me and I was so surprised.”

She likes working and recreating stories, especially tales such as the Little Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, and Alice in Wonderland. And sometimes the inspiration comes directly from her.

A client will give her a theme and she might come back with several ideas. Once, some clients asked her to create something for their friends’ 60th wedding anniversary.

She immediately thought of creating two married skeletons. In the end, the clients decided to take what she described as a less eccentric option. 

Although her style is special and clearly marked by fantasy, Mrs Pignatta can create simple and feminine items such as floral plates or polka-dot tiles.

She previously worked for several restaurants in Nice, where her paintings are on the walls – and the doors and tiles.

Mrs Pignatta has always worked alone. She said: “I do what I love so it does not feel like work, and I will keep on doing this until I can’t do it any more.”

She said she might then hire an intern to help her and so she can pass on her knowledge.

Ms Pignatta’s self-taught career path is not the only way to become a ceramicist, though it is a well-trodden route.

The basic qualification required is a CAP (certificat d’aptitude professionnelle) tournage en céramique or décoration en céramique.

You can then go further with BMA (brevet des métiers d’art) céramique d’art, and later do a BTS CAIC (concepteur en art et industrie céramique), though experience and apprenticeships remain key to this sort of work.

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