Just the Facts
highly grogged white stoneware
Primary forming method
handbuilt: coiling, slab building, and sculpting
Primary firing temperature
2228°F (1220°C) (cone 6)
Favorite surface treatment
I let the clay speak for itself, with some slip application to enhance texture.
metal kidneys, scraping is my mindfulness
podcasts and the radio, but mainly I work in silence as I find my mind goes to work and all sorts of things happen
a bigger kiln
I live in rural North Devon on the edge of Exmoor and about half an hour drive from the glorious beaches on the north coast. I am surrounded by fields and sheep. My house is a 17th-century Devon Long House, made of stone and cobb, which is basically mud and straw. My studio is in the old hay loft and stables, which are attached to the house. I love working from home as I can pop in at any time of the day or night. Some mornings I get up, make a cup of tea, and get straight into the studio. I can quite often be found there in the afternoons still in my pajamas. I do tend to get carried away.
I studied ceramic design at Falmouth School of Art in Cornwall nearly 30 years ago, but due to family and the things life throws at you, my professional ceramic career only really got going in 2019. Since I was about seven years old, I have known that I wanted to be a potter, and my passion for this has been limitless. Over the years, I have quietly potted away in a shed, purely as a way of getting some me time. Clay has always been my therapy, and in times of crisis, I would coil a big pot. But now I have a proper studio, which is amazing, and I am so grateful.
I love the view from the studio, and because I am on a country lane, I get to say “Hi!” to passing dog walkers, and maybe have a chat.
Upstairs in the old hay loft it is light and airy, and I use it as my office space, as well as a workspace. This space is also where I box up all finished work, either ready for an exhibition or a gallery.
Downstairs in the old stable area, I have my kiln and sinks; this is where I do the mucky stuff. It is a bit cramped, as I share the space with my husband’s workshop, but hopefully, he is moving out to his own space soon, and then I can think about getting a bigger kiln.
I get my clay delivered in bulk, which I then store in a shed in the garden. Fortunately, I have a ceramics supplier only an hour’s drive away, and I must admit, I love to visit just to see what new tools they have, as well as stocking up on other ceramics essentials. I never leave without a new metal kidney rib.
I have always used coils to build my work, though I have tried all sorts of techniques. I have found coiling to be rather contemplative and therapeutic. The rhythmic motion of the process is just so satisfying. My work is all about the process of making, the many hours spent coiling and then scraping with ribs to integrate the coils and smooth the surface, and the work that has evolved from this process represents the calm and tranquility I was seeking.
I tend to have a few pieces in process at any one time. Usually, I work on one large vessel and a selection of smaller ones together. Each coil that is applied to a vessel needs time to firm up before adding the next coil. The aim is to apply a coil to each piece, and by the time I have done that, I can start the cycle anew, adding another coil again on the first piece. If I don’t work like this, then I am twiddling my thumbs waiting for the clay to dry naturally. I generally work downstairs near my sink and kiln, but when it’s very cold, I tend to move upstairs, which is easier to heat.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
For years, I was never sure what I should be making. Of course, I wanted to sell my work, but I also was compelled to make according to my heart. I think ultimately you must be true to yourself. Make the work that you are passionate about and eventually the right people, who will recognize that passion, will be drawn to you. It is important to just keep going!
In the early days, I used to sell small pieces, mainly porcelain, at a local market, but I would also add some of my stoneware sculptures, just in case. It was not easy, but it was a great way to discover who my customers were and what they liked, but more importantly, what I liked. I eventually decided to stick with my sculptural vessels.
It’s important to decide who your customers are and to figure out where to find them. I concentrated on getting my work into good galleries that specialized in contemporary art or ceramics; I was choosy, and it has paid off. A great way to market work is to participate in ceramics-specific fairs. It’s good if you can turn a profit, but the exposure to ceramics buyers, galleries, and collectors is priceless.
Life is very busy at the moment, as I am juggling many things—my ceramics career, family, and home, as well as being a full-time student at Bath School of Art and Design. I am currently enrolled in the MA Fine Art (ceramics) program. This is something I have always wanted to do, go back to art school. It is proving very challenging, at times, to keep all these plates spinning, but I am determined to achieve my MA.
My work, which has always been intensely personal to me, is now leading me to explore early, and often painful, experiences from my childhood, such as grief, separation, and loss. Taking the time to do an MA is allowing me to reflect and explore the complex and emotional responses to my past traumas and, hopefully, try and encapsulate this within a new, more autobiographical, body of work.
I find inspiration for my work in nature. I love wandering the beaches searching for pebbles and shells, or a good stomp up on Exmoor, which is famous for its wild ponies. My dogs, Billie and Ella, both fox red Labradors, love the moors, and it’s great to get out into such beautiful countryside. Then, after getting outdoors, I like to recharge with a meal, for example, a huge Sunday roast dinner by a roaring log fire, with the dogs under the table, in a lovely old pub—this is bliss.
I have a great network of ceramic artists that I keep in touch with via social media and FaceTime (or similar), and I love nothing more than catching up at ceramics fairs, etc. A few fellow ceramic artists live nearby, and we get together every once in a while to discuss all things pottery and have a good old chat. This connection is so important because working from home, alone in the studio, can be very isolating. It’s great to have a sounding board and get stuff off your chest to someone who understands the life of a potter.
Marketing and Logistics
Instagram has proved useful in marketing my work. I get many commissions from interior designers and private buyers, as well as getting known generally through using the app. I will also note that hashtags are key.
My advice is to spread your work across a wide variety of venues. Have work in galleries, take part in ceramics fairs/shows (mixed media has not worked for me), and apply for any opportunities that come your way, such as exhibitions and artist residencies—generally, anything that will help promote your work. One golden rule that is key: only use great images of your work when making applications. Also, it is important to make sure you are presenting a cohesive body of work; judging panels will not be interested in seeing everything you have ever made.
In terms of the business side of being a studio artist, I don’t use spreadsheets, and I must admit that paperwork is not my strong point, but I somehow manage to keep track of everything. I will get more organized when I have just a bit more time.
I use a good international fine-art shipper, as they sort everything out including insurance, customs, etc. The company I use was recommended to me by an art curator I know, and is the main shipper for Collect, Ceramic Art London, and many more international shows, with a good reputation. I have built up a good relationship with them, which makes the process of sending work abroad so much easier.
If I need to deliver work in the UK, my husband or I will do it, especially when I am sending big pieces of work to galleries.
Most Important Lesson
Running your own creative practice means there will be lots of jobs you will hate doing, such as accounting, administration, and marketing, but don’t forget why you are doing this. Your love and passion for clay and what you can produce is everything. Enjoy doing it and have fun!