The work I make now champions the technique of sgraffito, where the surface of a piece is coated in a contrasting coloured slip and the design is created by scratching through the surface to reveal the clay body beneath.
What craft do you work with?
I am a studio potter, making both domestic wheel thrown ware and one off hand built pieces. I’ve always been interested in making and have a degree in jewellery and silversmithing but my obsession with clay began about 15 years ago. My children had started school and I had some free time, so I joined a weekly class. Before long I was hooked! The work I make now champions the technique of sgraffito, where the surface of a piece is coated in a contrasting coloured slip and the design is created by scratching through the surface to reveal the clay body beneath. Fine detail can be achieved by effectively drawing into the surface using different thicknesses of tools which results in a highly graphic result.
What inspires you to work with this craft?
The possibilities presented by clay are incalculable and part of its draw is the challenge of harnessing the malleability of this incredible material. It can then be fired in the kiln to transform it from mud to solid object. I’m constantly humbled that this most basic of materials can be the basis of some of the most incredible and diverse works of art from early civilisation onwards. As well as the clay itself, glazes can be created that can further enhance the surface with incredible colour and depth. Glaze chemistry is a vast topic that I have only just started to explore. Creating your own glazes is incredibly rewarding but can take many hours of testing and refining.
Sadly ceramics courses have dwindled significantly in recent years in the UK but interest in the material has surged and classes such as the one where I discovered clay are popping up more and more. For me, clay has a healing quality, it has the ability to focus the mind and in this stressful world surely that’s what we all need. I’m dedicated to introducing more people to the benefits that can be gained from this craft and through teaching and sharing my work and techniques on social media I hope maybe to inspire others to succumb to its charms.
How do you start your creative process?
I always start with the form of a piece. It’s my blank canvas and becomes the vehicle for my decoration. It’s important for the two to work together so the decoration is always in the forefront of my mind when I create each piece. I mainly draw to develop ideas but I also like to work three dimensionally, constructing paper and clay models.
I probably find the most difficult part of my process is to transition from an initial idea through to a piece that will work. Clay takes a lot of understanding and getting it to do what you want it to can be a challenge that takes a lot of trail and error.
Probably the most rewarding stage of producing one of my pots is the decorating. I usually sketch my design onto the piece before scratching, as there’s no going back once you score into the surface. When I start the sgraffito all of my concentration is focussed on the piece. Holding it in my lap, it becomes just me and the pot and while one slip could ruin it, I find that at this point I’m the most relaxed and completely absorbed in my craft.
How would you best describe your workspace and what tools could you not do without?
I work from a small studio building in my garden. It was built to my specifications by my husband and although small, has everything I need. Central to my making are my potters wheel and kiln but probably the tools I rely on more than any other are my hands. Clay can be manipulated in many different ways and by different tools but touch and experience are essential to the progression and success of a piece.
Are there new techniques you would like to try?
There are many new techniques I’d like to explore further such as the technique of mishima which involves inlaying different coloured slip into the surface of a piece and that of Korean buncheong ware which pairs a dark iron rich clay with lighter coloured slips that can be brushed on expressively or inlayed into impressed patterns. I’d also like to experiment more with glazes and colour in my work.
What have you learnt that you would like to share with fellow crafters?
One of the things I’ve found to be important in the growth of my business is to continually engage with my audience. I find that sharing my working processes and techniques through social media encourages an interaction with people that you’re not able to achieve when they only have the finished work in front of them. People are fascinated by how things are made and the inspiration behind them and by educating them on these processes they can gain a deeper appreciation of the work involved. I also find that when I meet prospective customers at fairs they have a better understanding of the difference between hand made and mass produced work.
What other types of craft do you dream of collaborating with?
I’ve also found social media has introduced me to many other crafts people whose work I admire and this has led me to thinking about possible collaborations. I have worked on a small scale with wood workers which is definitely something I’d like to take further but I also see possibilities working alongside leatherworkers and basket makers.
What professional dream do you have?
My ultimate dream is to have a piece of my work in a public collection such as a gallery or museum, I would be thrilled to think that I had created something that others felt worthy of preserving.
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