My name is Krzysztof Bocian. I'm a ceramist and a designer. I've earned my experience through many years of work and experimentation. In my studio, I create ceramics that combines craft with unique design. I'm persistent and precise. I value openness and honesty in others. I invite you to delve into my story and the genesis of Stratus as a brand (takes about 6 minutes to read).
Like my namesake, the polish singer Krzysztof Krawczyk, I could start with a song: “I wanted to go on a cruise as a sailor adorned with tattoos”. I didn't become a sailor because, after a year at the Gdynia Maritime University, I decided I had a rough idea of what the job was like and I'd rather pass. And so far, no tattoos have adorned my body either. Eventually, I graduated from Printing Technology at the Warsaw University of Technology and spent a few years working in that field. As a designer/constructor of packaging and other cardboard widgets, I had an amazing occupation; a little technical, a little creative. Unfortunately, constant pushing in terms of tasks and time tends to cause wear and tear, and so I got worn out. My savings allowed me to open my own ceramic studio. I spent years making ceramics to order, gathering knowledge and experience. I produced small series of my own tableware. After six year, I've managed to create something I can call my first big success. It's the end of 2018 and the Stratus brand is born.
However, let's go back eight years. The start of my ceramic story is a very normal one. Every tale needs to start somewhere – preferably from nothing.
Nothing. That's how much I'd known about ceramics when I went to my first ever ceramic workshop. I was looking for a new hobby. Music wasn't going great, because either I'm not musical enough, or maybe I wasn't determined enough to practise. Plus, it's pretty hard to practise drums when you're living in a block of flats. Sailing is a great sport and a great way to travel, but it's also seasonal and requires relocation. I used to climb and, with a little determination, perhaps I could reach a satisfactory level... Well, I could go on and on about those numerous passions and interests, but the need to do something creative and tactile made me look beyond what I already knew. I used to assemble plastic models and it was great fun, both demanding and satisfying, but what would I do with the models afterwards? Just put them on a shelf to gather dust? No, I needed something creative but more useful. Which is how I ended up in a ceramic workshop, where I hand-shaped my first works. I got really into it and discovered that I could do the same at home, I just needed to take it somewhere else for firing. Which I did, carefully packing up my works and watching out for holes in the road, so that everything would stay in one piece. Then the aforementioned professional crisis happened and I was left with the nagging questions of “What to do? How to live?”
Make ceramics, of course – that was the decision, I signed a lease for the premises and things started working out somehow. The key word being “somehow,” which at the beginning meant something more like “middlingly.” Let me just pause to say that I had no technical training or knowledge on how to make ceramics, I'd barely had a taste of the subject. Technique was one thing. The other, more important one was that I'd had no background in art or design. For years, I'd surrounded myself with objects without paying mind to what they looked like – and often they were pretty bland. This stemmed from shopping habits learned at home, where the priorities were frugality and functionality. Design is a slippery matter, a matter of taste and “in matters of taste, there can be no disputes.” (I know now that the whole world has disputes over taste and they lead to a lot of good.)
And so I needed to learn technology and design. For students, this takes around five years and culminates in a graduate thesis, which in the case of art schools is usually a materialised design. That's also how I like to think of my own path, the Stratus collection being the culmination of a few years of trial and error, exploration, learning the techniques and materials. Ceramics gives you vast possibilities for expression. In it, I managed to find something that agrees with me and my sense of aesthetics. My persistence and consistency helped me, as did support from my wife. Without her, I wouldn't be where I am today and there would be no Stratus.
How did the Stratus design come into being?
The character of this collection, it's rawness and texture, was – as is often the case – largely a matter of luck. However, because it's so consistent with my ideas of design, it immediately embedded itself inside my head. It was 2014 and I was preparing my entry for the 11th International Ceramics Biennale of the KERAMOS Association, the theme of which was “GAME”. I was looking for a way to achieve an interesting, raw, somewhat dark texture and colour for the ceramic bottles that comprised my sculpture. Thanks to various experiments, I managed to find a material that let me do exactly what I wanted; I then fired the work using the very interesting technique that is RAKU.
After the exhibition, I continued to do what I normally did – fulfill my customers' orders, conduct ceramic workshops, and create my own series of tableware – these, however, I wasn't satisfied with. Time went by, disappearing who knows where, and I kept working, feeling like I still wasn't fulfilling the dream that had hatched at the start of this road. Said dream was, of course, to create my own original style, my own collection of pottery – and the pattern of my sculpture lured me with its rawness and its darkness.
Sometime around 2016, the slow but steady design process started. The technology of producing tableware is vastly different from RAKU, which is more of an artistic technique. Before I started properly designing the first element of the Stratus collection, i.e. the PRIME 400 mug, I had to perform a series of fairly complex trials, starting from colouring the clay and developing the technique for creating the model and the plaster mould, and ending with finishing details and firing. The whole process took a good two years, but thanks to visible progress, those small steps ahead, I knew I'd eventually get there. And so I did! In September 2018, I debuted my first Stratus-branded mug to a very warm welcome. The raw, frugal design and the original matte texture garnered much attention right away.
“Stratus” was named after the clouds of this dark category. I'm not building a philosophy around the name. I do, however, place great emphasis on the philosophy of the brand, which – as a rule – is meant to be fair and ecologically conscious, and care for the quality of production and of work. I've taken it upon myself to not just create a unique collection of ceramics, but also build a team that works well together on fair rules and in good atmosphere. I can't imagine developing a brand without such policies. I'm currently in the process of adding new shapes and colours to the collection, perfecting the technology, and gathering a team of people around the brand. I believe that what I do is meaningful, and design and solving technological problems in my studio gives me great satisfaction. If you asked me where I see myself in five years, I'd say: “I don't know, but after what I've experienced working with ceramics – I'm dying to find out myself!”
Krzysztof - designs, develops the technology, weighs, measures, and adjusts; he's also in charge of marketing and distributor cooperation;
Natalia - works in production, advances the technology to a masterful level, advises in matters of technology planning
Julia - works in production, gaining knowledge and experience in the field of ceramics.