We hopped on the L to meet Brooke Winfrey in her Greenpoint studio and came face-to-face with a girl who's head over heels. Winfrey is a self-proclaimed ceramics addict who can't stop playing with clay. We managed to pull her away from the bench long enough to get the scoop on her process, her obsessions, and her bizarre childhood behavior.
So, how long have you been amhandmade designer and how did you get started?
I've been making ceramics as my job for about 3.5 years. I got into it pretty randomly. I had a few random jobs out of college and anytime I wasn't working, I had clay in my hands. I think my relationship to clay really changed 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. First came my striped dinnerware series, and everything took off from there!
Why do you make what you make?
Frankly, I'm a little obsessed with clay. I am overjoyed every single time someone buys from me and it's because I put everything I can into each and every piece. Making pots is so much a part of me. I can't imagine not making ceramics. I joke around sometimes that even if I never sell another piece, we'll have to find a bigger place to live - because I'm still going to make pots every single day.
Do you have a favorite product?
It's always changing because it's almost always my newest piece. It's always such an exciting moment when a new design or shape that I'd been thinking about for a while is finally formed and completed. It always becomes my favorite of the moment!
What is the rocket science behind your pieces?
I use porcelain because I love how soft and silky smooth it is, and the glazes I use are made from recipes where I measure out precise amounts of chemicals and mix them with water. It's creates a little brew that looks nothing like how the glaze turns out in the end. There's a lot of chemistry involved in glaze making, most of which is totally over my head. Most pieces probably take an hour or 2 from start to finish. You have to fire the piece so it can absorb glaze and then fire it again so it's fully vitrified…it's definitely not a quick process!
If anyone could wear or own a piece, who would you geek out for?
It would be weird if it ever happened, but David Bowie. I don't exactly see him going mug shopping, but I have been a huge fan since I was 6 and saw Labyrinth for the first time. I can't count the number of times I've seen that movie. I have all his albums and listen to them constantly. So yeah, I would seriously freak out.
Why are handmade products worth it? Why is buying something from a “maker" different than buying from a big, global retailer?
At the end of the day, you know you're buying something from someone who cares about what they do. No matter how many mugs or bowls or vases I've made, if someone has an issue with a piece or something doesn't work, I will do all I can to fix it and make sure they like their piece as much as possible. You can't get that kind of dedication from something that was made by 10 different people in a different country.
Why do you love your city? If I were visiting you in 24 hours, where would you take me?*
I'm going to preface this by saying I am not the best tour guide. I'd probably want to stay in Greenpoint and not really go to Manhattan. So that totally scratches all the things most people want to see. The things I always want to show people are the most mundane. Like, I'd want to take you to my favorite coffee shop and then walk through the farmers market at the park. Maybe pop into a couple used clothing and furniture places. There are some solid ones where you can still find really weird random goodies. Since it's a Polish neighborhood, there'd have to be a stop at a Polish bakery and then a little trip to the waterfront to look at all those big crazy buildings from afar. And of course we'd have to top it all off with a couple neighborhood bars to have some locally brewed beer!
What inspires you in general? Business stuff aside, what makes you feel like “fuck yea – this is exciting."
I'm always really excited to see my craft improving. Anytime I make something bigger than I've made before or if I notice I threw 10 perfectly symmetrical pieces faster than I have before, that makes me excited.
Was there a point in building your own company when you felt like, “shit. This is a bad idea."
I didn't really set out to start a business so I don't think I ever had a 'oh my god what did I do' moment. I was making ceramics for fun, and then I was making a bit more since people started buying a few pieces from me and then I was making more for a couple of stores. It kind of happened while I wasn't really looking. A year or so in, I looked around and realized it was my job and I was doing it every day. It was shocking. It still surprises me that I get to make what I love.
What were you like as a child?
I was quiet but feisty. If something happened I didn't like, I'd tear the wallpaper off my walls in little bits so it was easy to hide in the trash can or find a pair of scissors and cut my bangs off. Hiding the fact that I cut off my bangs was a lot harder to hide. It used to drive my mom nuts. There are very few pictures of me as a little kid where my hair is not completely jacked up.
What are you like as an adult?
I'm laid back but passionate about what I do. Most daily decisions whether big or small, I take with a grain of salt and don't worry about, but if there is something I believe in or want to make happen, there is no changing my mind.
Do you feel like you're pretty tapped into the Brooklyn maker scene?
There is a massive maker community in Brooklyn. Pretty much everyone I know is a maker of one sort or another. It's amazing to know that there are so many other people that are going through similar day-to-day obstacles and victories. It's a pretty amazing support system to know that we can reach out to each other to ask for help or share good news.
My first show. My clay pals were trying to convince me for ages to put together a body of work and show it. I was so nervous but because they all kept pushing me, I made the leap and it was amazing. So many people came out to support me and my pieces did so well, it was the first time I really took to heart that other people liked what I made. It was a pretty cool feeling.