1 Rhian Malin hand painting a Layered Lines Bottle. Photo: Lucy Barriball.

All of my ceramic pieces are wheel-thrown porcelain that I hand paint in cobalt blue underglaze. I was initially inspired by my grandmother’s large collection of blue-and-white willow-patterned china. I use a lot of geometric patterns in my work. They are all mapped out by eye in pencil first and then followed over with the underglaze using a slip-trailing bottle with a very fine nib.

The throwing and trimming are the quickest part of the process, while the patterns take much longer to apply depending on their complexity. The easiest ones are probably the Linear and Dotty patterns, as I find it easier to add vertical lines down the vessel compared to the patterns with circles in them, such as the Double Ring or Frangipani patterns. My most complex and time consuming pieces are the Mandala collection, which are all intricate one-off patterns and can take up to a whole day to map out and paint by hand.

2 Frangipani Dimple Jug, 6 in. (15 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and hand-painted porcelain. Photo: Yeshen Venema.

Taking the Plunge

I’ve always been creative and had the drive to have a career in making things for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until my third year at university studying three-dimensional design at Camberwell College of Arts, that I realized I would become a potter. For my degree show, I displayed around fifteen blue-and-white hand-held vessels, and nearly all of them sold. From that exhibition, I got an order from a gallery in London—Cavaliero Finn, whom I still work with today—which meant that I had to find a studio to work from and make more vessels to fill the order, and it all just snowballed from there. I don’t know if I ever would have taken the plunge to be a full-time potter without that order.

Back then I wasn’t really expecting my work to be as well received by galleries and the public as it has been, which has carved a very different career path than the one I imagined before graduating. I expected to not have enough work and instead I have quite the opposite problem, too much work, which is a very nice problem to have. There are lots of deadlines to stick to, and that can make it more stressful than I ever thought, but I wouldn’t swap my job for anything. I love being my own boss.

3 Fluted ginger jars, to 7 3/4 in (20 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and hand-carved porcelain. Photo: Yeshen Venema.4 Ginger jars, to 7 3/4 in. (20 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and hand-painted porcelain. Photo: Yeshen Venema.

Branching Out

The most difficult decision I’ve made so far was taking on my own studio space and leaving The Ceramics Studio in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, which was where I had been making for the four years after I graduated. Initially I started there as the artist in residence, but I ended up getting on so well with the owner, Leyla Folwell, that I never left.

It was a shared studio space primarily set-up for teaching, but I had my own small space for making with my own wheel and I had access to their kiln. It was beneficial in terms of always having someone around to bounce ideas off or get feedback from, as well as not having to worry about the maintenance of equipment. Eventually it was clear that I had outgrown my space, but I had learned so much over the years and had become so comfortable that the idea of leaving and taking on more responsibility really scared me.

5 Mandala Bottles, to 8 1/2 in. (22 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and hand-painted porcelain. Photo: Yeshen Venema.

My new studio space is perfect. There’s a lot more room to spread out, and I’ve even taken on my first assistant, Alice Funge. On the days that she isn’t helping me out, Alice has her own space at the studio to make her work. We get along and work really well together, which makes coming to work a pleasure. Now that I’m settled in, I don’t have any regrets. Plus, The Ceramics Studio is only five minutes down the road, so I still pop in for regular catch ups and cups of tea!

My studio is based just out of Stratford-Upon-Avon, which is close to where I grew up. After living in London for four years I was ready to come home to a calmer pace of life. We put on open studio events twice a year, which attract a lot of visitors. People do come and visit us outside of those times, but generally they let us know they’re coming first, as we’re a bit off the beaten track.

6 Moon jars, 4 in. (10 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and hand-painted porcelain. Photo: Yeshen Venema.

Becoming a Business

Being selected for the Crafts Council’s Hothouse program in 2016 was a huge turning point for me in terms of learning to treat my ceramics practice as a business. I learned how to identify who my customers are so I could be more selective and target where they would be shopping as opposed to what they called spraying and praying (saying yes to everything and hoping for the best).

Ceramic fairs are a huge part of my business. I try to do around four shows a year, aiming for quality of shows, not quantity, in order to be able to make better use of my time. They do vary in terms of success, even sometimes down to the weather that weekend, which can be quite unpredictable in the UK, but I see them as marketing opportunities rather than just a place to sell directly to the public. I’ve met many of the galleries that represent me at these shows. They do a great job of selling my work throughout the rest of the year, which is invaluable.

7 Kaleidoscope Moon Jar, Dotty Bottle, and Condensed Double Ring Ginger Jar, to 8 1/2 in. (22 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and hand-painted porcelain. Photo: Yeshen Venema.

Another great tool for marketing, as well as sales, is Instagram. I think it’s a must for any creative business in this day and age. It takes time to build up a following, and having your own individual style really helps, but once you have a following it’s a way to literally have the whole world at your fingertips. I’ve recently agreed to go to Taiwan on a month-long residency. The opportunity came from the organizer seeing my work on Instagram and inviting me to take part.

My advice for those interested in pursuing studio ceramics as a career would be to only take advice from people whose pottery or business you look up to. I’ve had so many people give me ideas over the years, and they are only trying to help, but it can be very easy to be led astray if you aren’t strong willed and you take advice from the wrong people. And secondly, don’t be shy about getting your work out there, whether that be via social media or exhibiting at events, otherwise people won’t know your work exists.

8 Hand-held vessels, to 6 3/4 in. (17 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and altered, hand-painted porcelain. Photo: Yeshen Venema.

Career Snapshot

Topics: Ceramic Artists