My short course experience: drawing inspiration from trauma

Regular short course student Julia shares her experiences getting creative at West Dean, where her inspiration comes from and why West Dean was a game-changer for her. Julia will be continuing her creative journey on the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design (FDAD) this year.

By Julia Engelhorn

I love taking courses to broaden my skills, especially since I moved to England. Finding West Dean was a game-changer for me, the variety of courses they offer, like the throwing weekender course, immediately grabbed my interest. The peaceful surroundings, rich history, and top-notch instruction all added to the appeal, not to mention the delicious food.

Apart from the Throwing weekender, I have also tried my hand at Silversmithing and Large Ceramics Sculpture courses, both led by passionate instructors who are very knowledgeable in their field. Silversmithing, although challenging, was incredibly satisfying once I had the finished piece. And there was something freeing about sculpting with clay, my fingers seemed to have a mind of their own, and allowing them to flow was very meditative.

The wonderful thing about West Dean for me is that it is a place where I can go for two or three days, stay there, be surrounded by people who share the same interests, where I am able to immerse myself in art and nature, and be able to disconnect from everyday life and responsibilities. It is time for myself to do what I am passionate about. 

I draw my inspiration from my trauma that I suffered 7 years ago, losing my twins at the hands of their father. Part of my healing journey is being creative by using and changing objects that have been discarded or broken, and making something new and different with them, a sculptural piece that can be appreciated in a new light, is part of this journey for me. I also like using seemingly hard and unmalleable objects, I find it satisfying that by causing it stress, heat, I can change its shape, sometimes controlling what the end object will be like, other times allowing it to flow and change how the material wants to. I have worked with resin, glass and ceramics and want to add other materials to deepen my understanding and knowledge of how to work with them to find my way to express the change one goes through while grieving and that ultimately one can create something beautiful from broken and discarded pieces. Similar to the ancient artform of Kintsugi, creating unique pieces from broken ceramics, making it stronger and highlighting the cracks with Gold. We all suffer trauma and we will all grieve at some stage in our life. Using my experience to make something positive from this is a way to honour my children, to try and normalise the conversation around grieve, and to help understand that there is hope, that life will continue and that something beautiful can come from it. 

I have always liked the image of a Buddha as it represents peace, undying love for everything and joy. I wanted to have a whole inside of it as it represents the grief that we all will face during our life time, no matter if it is the loss of a loved one, a pet, a home or a job. But through this grief, we come out stronger and more empathic and compassionate, like a Buddha. 

I created this piece in the Large Sculptural Ceramics short course in February.