Just the Facts
earthenware, stoneware, porcelain, home-mixed paper clay
Primary forming method
throwing and handbuilding
Primary firing temperature
primarily cone 6 electric
Favorite surface treatment
I enjoy classical music and podcasts, but when sculpting, I prefer silence.
I live and work in the seaside community of Hout Bay, South Africa. The back of our property has access to a wooded stream where our dogs love to run. We can easily go hiking up in the forest, or head down to the beach to enjoy a box of fish and chips.
My 538-square-foot (50-m2) home studio is a converted double garage attached to our home, with an adjacent kiln room. The space is centered on a large worktable, with materials, wheels, a wedging table, a slab roller, and a pugmill within easy reach on the periphery. I can move smoothly between tasks and quickly shift items to and from the kiln or storage rooms.
As I operate a small business, I have not needed town planning approval or special permits. I also make sure to keep excellent relations with my neighbors!
The studio’s large glass doors mean that I enjoy lush greenery, along with plenty of natural light and fresh air. Speaking of green, I try to reduce my environmental footprint by switching off the studio’s small water heater at night, firing only full kilns, and washing up in a bucket of water instead of using the sink.
I love everything about my studio, but between my students and me, work is constantly spilling over next door, onto the dining room table and kitchen counters. I really need more shelf space. Since I share my studio and tools (aside from some beloved brushes and modeling tools) with the students, I seldom work on projects while teaching. I designed the plexiglass screens to be easily pushed aside. Each week, I set up the studio for classes by clearing the table and setting my work aside. This forces me to keep everything ship-shape.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I have been a full-time potter for 40 years. It’s a family affair: my mother was a studio potter and my daughter is now one too. I studied pottery as a child and went on to graduate with a bachelor of arts, followed by part-time studies in ceramic science at a technikon.1 After that, I worked as a decorator and studio assistant in the production facilities of Kolonyama Pottery (Lesotho) and Mapepe Craft (Henley on Klip, South Africa).
I work seven days a week. From Tuesday to Thursday, I teach five classes in my studio, including two in the evenings, with about eight students per class. I produce from Friday to Sunday. On Monday, I finish and glaze. This adds up to many hours. That’s why I keep detailed priority lists for my orders and employ two part-time studio assistants.
One assistant throws pots and the other is a brilliant handbuilder, wedger, glazer, and pugmill operator. I design and make samples, throw, pack the kiln, and perform all the other tasks. My assistants have helped me boost my output and it’s a lot of fun working with them. Because my studio is one big space, we work together.
South Africa recently relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, so we can now work without screens or masks, but the government also instituted even more severe load shedding (planned power outages). Right now, there are rarely stretches of more than four and half hours between outages. I have an alarm to wake me up so I can restart the kiln, which will have lost around 392–572°F (200–300°C) each time. It is a dire situation.
My sculptural work draws on my experience of growing up in South Africa during apartheid. It seeks to capture emotion and draw the viewer into engaging more with the subject. For example, my African Mamas series honors the Black women who work here in difficult conditions, away from their own families. People from many walks of life can identify with these figures and find some resonance with their own lives.
Recently, my thrown work has become larger and more monumental, exploring texture, form, and color in a more abstract way. It’s also grown more playful and experimental, especially with color. I switch between bespoke work commissioned by clients and my own artwork. I continue to explore different techniques and I like to challenge myself creatively.
Selling is an art in itself, and it’s not one of my strengths. Instead, I’ve taken the wholesale route, selling through galleries and retailers. I maintain a presence on social media, as this is where prospective wholesale clients find me. I would love to be able to sell directly to customers, but my weeks are so full.
Most of my work retails locally, but I’ve recently received commissions from the US and the UK. I think they find our South African creativity—and favorable exchange rates—appealing.
I recently had two exhibitions. I exhibited a collection of Matisse-inspired work at the Roche-Bobois outlet in Cape Town. I also had a retrospective of my large figurative sculptures at the 6 Spin Street Gallery, also in Cape Town. Where you show your work makes a huge difference: I find people take an artist’s work more seriously when it is being shown at a known venue.
I also organize short workshops on special topics. This draws new people to my studio and gets my name out there.
When I need to nurture my creativity, I check out other artistic media and crafts at exhibitions and shops. During the COVID-19 lockdown, I attended tons of online workshops, given by the likes of Michelle Gregor, Catie Miller, Sue Tirrell, Adrian Arleo, Mike Stumbras, Cristina Córdova, Steven Showalter, and many more. It’s fulfilling to watch other ceramic artists at work: there is always something new to learn.
I draw inspiration from Pinterest and Instagram, participate in Facebook groups dedicated to pottery, glean from the Ceramics Art Network and DigitalFire.com, and watch videos from The Ceramic School. Finally, I have a big library of ceramics books right next to the entrance to my studio.
Speaking of books, I’m currently reading Headrests of Southern Africa by Bruce Goodall and Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, so when I have time off, I head out to somewhere else to relax: if I stay home, I’ll just end up working.
During the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa, I taught myself how to make instructional videos for the students who wanted to carry on making at home. I was filming one each week, making 20 in total. Imagine my surprise when people from every continent started buying them—and continue to do so to this day.
Two of my videos were aired during the Ceramics Congress (organized by the Ceramic School), followed by a live question-and-answer session. I have one workshop available on the Ceramic School’s website, too. Additional coverage of my work and practice came from an interview with Paul Blais for his podcast Potter’s Cast. I’m immensely proud of these achievements and of my newfound ability to reach more students online.
Passing on Creativity
My children essentially grew up in the studio, surrounded by creativity. Jacques (Instagram: @Jacques.Art) is now a representational painter, and Natasha (Instagram: @ByNatashaHuman) is a designer and potter (and new mom to a baby girl). I organize figurative sculpture workshops with Jacques, and ceramics workshops with Natasha: I find it extremely rewarding to work side by side with my children.
Most Important Lesson
You must love what you do and enjoy your own company. Ceramics can be a lonely pursuit until the work is finished and shown to a viewer.
1 Technikons were post-secondary technology institutes (polytechs) in South Africa that focused on career-oriented vocational training. They were merged or restructured as universities in the early 2000s.