Muddy Hands in Sunny Boracay!

One busy day at the pottery studio, I decided to check my e-mail. I take breaks everytime my back starts to hurt from working too long with the potter’s wheel. I received an invitation to do private pottery lessons in the beautiful island of Boracay. I didn’t think twice and set the date for my next trip in the country. I haven’t gone to the beach in a while, so this is really a wonderful treat!

My first trip to Boracay was more than five years ago. I remember staying at the resort and didn’t go around the island that much. I’m such a mermaid and can stay in the water for hours. Well, not this time. I am going to the island to teach someone pottery. I am amazed that there is a clay enthusiast who actually lives there.

Straight from the airport in Caticlan, I went to Susi Trischberger’s hotel at True Home (Station 1). She was excited to see me and asked if I’m hungry. It was lunch time when I arrived. I was more excited to see her potter’s wheel and kiln, really. Sometimes excitement for anything related to pottery can make me skip my meals. But how can I turn down a good Italian meal at Aria? I’ve read other people’s blogs about the famous restaurant on the island. Now I’m hearing my tummy rumble.

The Insalata Di Riso was light, which I really love. But the most special one for me is the arugula salad with cheese, pine nuts and watermelon. After teaching pottery on a very hot day, it felt cooler after having this meal.

Hama is another restaurant, owned by Susi and Paolo. I definitely loved their sushi!

After our lunch meal, we headed to Susi’s beautiful home. The house is designed by her partner, Paolo. It’s amazing how a beautiful home can be found right in the middle of D’Mall. The wooden door alongside the stores, leads to this awesome surprise on the island! I’m a huge fan of private homes, rustic and contemporary. She gives me a tour and take everything that I see and touch with so much gladness.

Here’s one of Susi’s creations. Hanging on the corner of the main entrance to the house. Who would’ve thought that a clay enthusiast lives in Boracay? Our paths definitely crossed for a reason and a great purpose.

After touring the house, we went straight to the garden, and started to work. Susi told me through our e-mails, that she has a kick wheel and a kiln made by an Italian pizza oven maker. Aha! Interesting! I checked all her equipment and made some suggestions, to maximize their functions. A centered clay is worth raising your hands above your head with gladness! : )

She has been struggling with centering her clay on her own. With just a few tries and a lot of my supervision, she finally gets to center her clay! All you need is a lot of patience, which a lot of us may not have. But it is something that can be acquired through time.

After lunch, Susi and I take a break from pottery. I make sure that I walk around the island and swim in its turquoise colored sea.

It’s hard not to think about the beautiful sea while I was getting my hands dirty with clay. I love sunsets and it is now official that a sunset view in Boracay is one of the best I’ve seen in The Philippines.

Our second session, the next day, was right inside the house. It rained the previous day and we’re hoping for a better weather today. I arrived at Susi’s house before 10:00am and there she was on the wheel, centering her clay with great concentration and confidence.

Centering the clay needs a lot of focus. Sometimes one has to look away to feel the clay spin between the hands even more. I did the same almost ten years ago when I was a new pottery student. It works most of the time.

I make sure that I stay close to my students as they learn pottery. There are students that want to be left alone. Some want me right next to them. In Susi’s case, I can see her confidence more when I watch her throw the clay. I was the same with my teachers in the past. It always helps to have a teacher close by.

My dinners at Aria are always special with Susi or with her family. Thank You guys for making my island experience unforgettable. I’ve been around families all my life and it’s always nice to be surrounded with love, humility, generosity, and kindness. I am encouraged to keep doing what I do, most especially when there are people, like this family, who are also very passionate with their lives. I appreciate all our conversations on food, love, life and spirituality. May you always be blessed for you are a blessing to so many people! Thank You for extending your generosity and warmth to a potter from Manila : )

Chef Marino just arrived from Italy for Aria in Manila. Had a great time chatting with him during our afternoon sunbathing  with his wife. A very passionate man in the kitchen. Loves the island and city life too! Aria is opening at The Bonifacio Global City in Manila very soon!

Paolo Occhionero is Susi’s partner and it was great meeting him. Born in Italy, he travels a lot in his twenties and fell in love with Boracay.  The first time he has set foot on the beautiful island, he knew that he was going to live there for a long time. No electricity, no establishments, only white sand, and the blue sea. Along with other travelers,they brought into to the island, the things they are very passionate about. Paolo owns several restaurants on the island: Aria, Hama Japanese restaurant, a cafe, bakery, True Home hotel, True Food, etc. They also have a farm that grows some vegetables for Aria. I am looking forward to see the farm and your private beach next time! Paolo, your sense of humor is amazing! Thanks for making me laugh while being so relaxed. Just what I need!

Susi, thank you for all the stories that you shared with me. Your kindness and warmth really made my stay in Boracay very relaxing. There are great plans for 2012 and I am looking forward to meeting the Ati people. I can’t wait to see their hands get busy with clay. I know that they will love pottery and everything that goes with it: patience, passion, and transformation. Cheers to transforming clay in Boracay!

I had Filipino breakfast during my stay on the island. Every single day, I asked for this: Garlic rice, friend bangus and fried egg. I’ve missed this a lot! Thank You, True Home Hotel, for my energized mornings because of this meal! Now I’m ready to burn all the carbs I had during my stay in Boracay. I needed them during my stay there : )

Everytime I do my morning walk, I always see something new. I only see this image on other people’s photos. I can’t believe how great I felt after seeing it with my own eyes. I wish I had clay with me in my hotel room. I would’ve given them all to these kids and see what they can make from a lump of clay! Next time, I will surely bring extra! Nature is not going to be a problem in finding inspiration to form pieces out of clay. They grew up seeing the sea, walking on the sand, trekking mountains, and climbing trees. I can’t wait to meet them all again someday.

In one of my e-mails with Susi, I asked her if she has sand that we can add to her clay. And for a second, I thought, “Wait a minute, there’s an island supply of sand there! Mia! Mia! Mia!” During one of our sessions, we asked her helper to fill the plastic bag with sand and it was definitely more than enough! Sand helps the clay to become stronger, most especially when one is using it with the potter’s wheel.

Susi starts to add sand to her clay from Iloilo, Philippines. She kneads her clay too, to make sure that the sand is well distributed all throughout the earthy material. She also wedges the clay by cutting it into loaves, and make sure to put sand in between them. The clay was very soft when I felt it between my fingers. We let them sit right under the sunlight for several minutes. I make sure that my students still do something, while waiting for the clay to get dry. Susi trims her pots as she waits for her clay to get dry and become stronger.

It’s always a joy to see students become very passionate about making pottery. It encourages me a lot to keep teaching my passion to other people. When they ask for help, when they ask questions, when they laugh, when they get frustrated: these are things that keep me going.

You can do pottery in your garden, inside your home, in the backyard, front yard, etc. The location doesn’t really matter because once you feel the spinning clay between your hands – it will surely take you to a personal place, right within your soul. What will matter most, is the clay that is being formed between your hands, and how you feel as you make it come to life. Do you feel frustrated? Impatient? Hopeless? Lost? Everything depends on the potter’s control. Never let the clay manipulate you. The material can be intimidating in the beginning, but it is something that you can be friends with eventually. And once you feel the relationship become stronger through time, transformation happens effortlessly. Let the clay collapse between your hands, let it grow as you choke it upwards, let it bend as you fold it going down, let it wobble, let it fly!

This is a potter’s wheel designed by Susi’s engineer, Kuya Rey. It needs a lot of development but it surely works for now. Thanks to Susi’s patience in kicking the wheel non-stop! I am looking forward to seeing its improved version next year.

Private pottery lessons in Boracay  was a success! No more frustrated days, kicking wobbly clay, Susi! Keep that fire burning for making pots. Surprise me with your creativity and I am looking forward to see photos of your upcoming works. I want to see your beautiful angels with these thrown pots too! You’re a very patient student and I can see that you really want to learn throwing on the wheel. Thank You for your patience and dedication for pottery. We will surely work together some more in the years to come!

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Thank You, Susi and Paolo, for sharing with me your hotel, restaurants, and endless gelato (which I miss very badly by the way). May you be blessed in greater ways that you can’t even fathom! Your hospitality, grace, and warmth, will always be reminded in my heart.

These muddy hands and tools have gone to many places around The Philippines. I am excited to go to my next destination. Wherever that may be, I know that it will be another unforgettable experience to write about, taste, see and get muddy in. It may be a house or an apartment in Metro Manila, a private home in one of the provinces in the country, a school in town, or a place where people are waiting to learn something and earn money from doing pottery. One thing is for sure, I will be teaching even more in 2012. Whether it’s right in the city, up in the mountains or by the islands, these hands will go where clay can be found. More hands will get dirty with clay next year. And I will be there to sit next to you, teach you, and make sure that you will have a muddy experience that you will never forget. Let transformation begin around The Philippines! Oh wait, I think it has begun already : )

One of the great things that I’ve seen on the island is this. Fire dancing. To some, it is just a shirtless guy who plays with fire. Others may see it as entertainment. It is for me too. It surely entertained my eyes and my soul. Fire speaks of a lot of things. It symbolizes encouragement on my part: To keep my passion for pottery burning, even if there are times when it seems that the flame has completely disappeared. I am believing that my passion for pottery will spread even more like wildfire in the years to come. It will spread, not only for me to enjoy it, but for others to take ownership too. The torch for this forgotten craft will be passed down from generation to generation. To the provinces that I have visited with an abundant source of clay, I will visit you again and meet more of your people.

To the island of Boracay, Thank You. Thank You for my restful evenings, excited morning walks, relaxed afternoon stroll around the island, calming swims, and great company of new friends. I will see you again in 2012.

Pottery Haven in Baguio

Traveling in my country, The Philippines, has always been a favorite way to explore beautiful places, eat local food,  and meet new people. During my trips, I make sure that I meet fellow potters. Most of them are found in rural places, where they use their backyard as their work area. And some are off the main roads with beautifully designed homes, which carry their studio and their handmade pots. There are no maps going to where they are. Thanks to landmarks and kilometer posts. They help me a lot in finding my way to see these pottery havens. I’ve been to the nearest, and easy to locate ones. I’ve also seen other pottery studios that are isolated. I make sure that I am more patient in traveling than forming pots on the potter’s wheel. Once I lose my patience in finding these places, I will never see them.

A week ago, I received an invitation from a Belgium potter, Jeff van den Broeck. He is based in Baguio City in the northern part of Luzon with his wife, Angie. I couldn’t believe that he’s been in the country for over a decade now. A trip to a potter’s home is always an exciting thing for me. Potters share ideas, tools, and impart stories of common failure and success.

A day after receiving the invitation to see his pottery exhibition, I didn’t think twice and went to the nearest bus terminal. Buying a ticket was easy. I was expecting a long line of passengers by the cashier. It only took me five minutes! I can make my reservation online too! Keeping the ticket in my wallet was the most joyful part of my day. I knew I was going on an adventure by myself, which I’ve missed so badly. So, here I am, right inside the Victory Liner Deluxe. A very clean and smooth five-hour ride from Manila to my destination. The weather was perfect. Not too sunny, not rainy. I had my vegetable sticks in my food container with my home-made dressing, bottled water, and a good book. It was a very beautiful day to be out of Manila.

Jeff welcomed me to his pottery studio with great hospitality. He doesn’t give his residential address to the public. I knew right away that my visit was special. There were six rooms that he showed me last Saturday: The kiln & glazing room, the garage where he stores his pots, and takes photos of his works, the main pottery studio that holds his pug mill and potter’s wheels, the clay printing studio, his library which carries the most amazing book selection of European, American, and Asian Ceramics, and the foyer to his home.

My eyes feasted on everything that was shipped from Europe. His kiln, the pug mill, and the wheels that spin and bring life to his balls of clay.

Showing tools to fellow potters is like sharing self-experimented ideas. Each potter has the basic set of tools to form and trim pots. But there are tools that one discovers along the way. Tools that one create after finding them in the home. Angie, Jeff’s wife, jokes around and says, “If I don’t see some of my kitchen utensils, I know they’re in Jeff’s studio!” These are tools that stay very useful in the pottery studio. The ones that are not very useful are kept in a special storage container that can be used later on.

Just when I was starting to be overwhelmed with all of Jeff’s treasures, I saw a staircase that leads to the loft. I asked what was up there, and he simply answered, “Upstairs is where I do my clay printing.” Even more excited, I said, “Wow! There’s more to see here!” On the way up, I saw these lovely little pots, sitting on the window sill.

Being in art studios always excites me. There is always something new to see. New tool, new material, new inspiration, new passion. An artist can stay in his/her studio for hours. Sometimes days. It’s a sanctuary for creation. A secret place for freedom. A place for self expression. A walled space filled with an artist’s personality, creativity, and life. But when you see their creations, they are definitely made and thought outside the box. Handmade. Unique. Set apart.

Here’s an example of what Jeff has produced from printing on clay. You can see more of his clay monotypes on

Here are some of his brushes that he uses for clay printing. He has another set of brushes for glazing his pots too.

These are just some of the many tools that Jeff uses in the studio. He learned creating clay monotypes during a workshop he took in Australia. Clay Monotype is a painting and print making technique using clay slip with different pigments. The pigments are applied on leather hard clay using various direct painting and transfer methods. Once an image is formed, it is transferred to a non-woven fabric with a wooden roller (shown here).

I keep noticing a tinted sliding door right next to the clay printing studio. Me and my nosiness! I asked Jeff what was in there and he said, “I have my library in there.” I thought I’ve seen it all. I was definitely having the best time of my trip at this great potter’s home and it’s only 10:00 am! As soon as he opened the door to his knowledge room, my jaw totally dropped. I browsed through hundreds of his books and found some that I have too. It was great to hear his comments about some of my favorites. A lot of contemporary potters write books on pottery: techniques, photos, inspirations, etc. But we both agree that the old ones are still the best ones to keep.

I made sure that I left before lunch time. I came to visit Jeff on the day of his exhibition opening. I didn’t want to stay long, although I’ve really taken my time in being toured in his fantastic home. Before leaving, I looked and felt some of his pots between my hands. These are functional pots that should really be touched inside and out. I liked touching the lids of his canisters and teapots. Why? Because I am not a master in making lids, and it is one of my frustrations – to make good lids that sits perfectly without moving. I held his pots like I was caressing a lover. I hold other potters’ works that way all the time. Yes, it is very sensual like that…

After doing a studio tour of Jeff van den Broeck’s home, I headed to Pynky Cafe at Leonard Wood Rd. I thought of everything that I saw and learned today from a great artist. There was something that stood out during my visit. Greater than the beautiful pots, tools, and equipment, it was Jeff’s and Angie’s hospitality that made it to the top. They didn’t know me at all, but they welcomed me with so much warmth into their private space. I respect people’s privacy because I want mine to be respected too.

After having my lunch and walking around the city of pines, I headed to The Bencab Museum to see it for the very first time, and see the opening of Jeff’s pottery exhibition. I was at a loss for words to describe the location of the museum. One has to go and witness the beauty, serenity, and mystical vibe of the whole place. Bencab is introducing the three artists here who opened their show to the public last Saturday.

I went to Baguio City because of this man. I’ve finally met him! It was a great weekend because of his hospitality, grace, knowledge and passion for Ceramics. I always ask fellow potters to give me a little piece of advice or encouragement in doing what I do. Here’s what Jeff told me, “You have to enjoy clay and the process of letting go of your imagination and creativity. Run after them. Don’t let them rest.” I am taking hold of these words that come from a fellow Potter, who has taken on an uncertain path that brought him to his successful life as a Potter today.

To see more of Jeff’s works, please visit


Here’s another link about Jeff’s handmade pots

All in all, this has been one of my best pottery trips in the country. This trip reminds me of a tour I did at Robert Compton’s pottery studio and home in Vermont, USA. A lot of good memories to keep and be inspired from. Thankful for these people, who are not limited in sharing their stories, success, failure, and dreams.

I’m writing this from my pottery studio here in Manila. All inspired and ready to create new works that I like. Hoping that they will find their way to people’s homes this Christmas and the years to come.

‘Til we meet again, Jeff.