I often joke about the lovely views in my studio: the washer and dryer and ever present pile of laundry, the only slightly private basement toilet, you get the idea. So I like to post excerpts from Ceramics Monthly’s Studio Visit department from time to time so I can daydream about the day my studio ceases to be subterranean. In today’s post, British artist Matthew Chambers takes us on a virtual tour of his studio on the Isle of Wight.- Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
My studio is situated in Newport on the Isle of Wight, a small island about a mile or so off the south coast of England. It’s situated on the harbor about five miles up the river Medina from its estuary on the Solent— the stretch of water that divides the island from the mainland UK. The studio is part of a building known as Jubilee Stores, and managed by Quay Arts, the island’s main creative hub. Housed in a 19th-century, red-bricked building and former brewery house set right on the side of the river, the complex houses six individual studios set among big general workshops for teaching of mainly ceramics, jewelry, printmaking, and painting.
The basic techniques, from coiling and pinching to working with slabs, are explained with practical instructions and helpful accompanying images. Equipment, clay bodies and studio advice are thoroughly covered. Through the work of today’s makers, the book then looks at new methods of building by hand, including mixed media work, sculptural methods, vessels and surface decoration, illuminating a wide variety of forms and styles. Sculpting and Handbuilding is an essential guide for any ceramic artist or student wishing to learn the basics of handbuilding, or seeking inspiration to integrate and adapt conventional methods.
I first arrived on the Isle of Wight in the late summer of 2004, straight after art school and on an Arts Council residency called the “Setting Up Scheme.” It was perfect for me in both name and nature and it brought so many great benefits, with great support from those at Quay Arts and the Arts Council too. The quick transition from student to professional and city to countryside made a complete change of pace and lifestyle here, and there was no pressure for me to do much other than to make at this time. A few deadlines loomed that I’d picked up from my degree show, and I got straight into exploring new ideas that would take me to new places, and from then until now, the flow has continued. It has been an ever changing time through my eight years here, but my passion and motivation to create is thankfully still as strong as when I first arrived.
My studio working space measures about 215 square feet overall, and it is divided into two separate areas. Each one is fairly modest in size so it’s vital that they’re comfortable and kept tidy(ish) to help with the day-to-day flow. The first space is for making only, and it’s where I spend about 90% of my studio time. I work quite simply in here, with just two wheels, a work surface, clay, a bit of everyday clutter, and now Daisy (my dog) snoozing in the corner. Through the door contains the other half of the process where there is work in every stage, condition, and form, alongside the majority of shelving and of course the kiln. In each space there is a glazed door at one end that allows plenty of light in from the day outside, and at the other there’s another door leading into the communal spaces and workshops of Jubilee Stores.
I try to stick to a normal 9 to 5 weekday routine at the studio, but this may extend a bit when things get busy. I arrive here in the morning, work out my plans for the day, and get started. Time is mainly worked through making. Apart from a lunchtime break for a chat with the other studio holders it’s like this throughout, and the many other aspects of running a creative business have to fit in at other times and around other things. The focused discipline the making demands can be pretty tough to maintain as processes can test me at every step, but with this kind of work it’s the way it must be. Maybe one day it’ll all get a bit much and I’ll change my pace and focus, but I guess if this ever happens my work will probably change along with it.
My beginnings in ceramics took me down two different educational paths that eventually joined at the start of my professional life. The first of these, and my introduction to clay, began in 1993 as an assistant to the potter Philip Wood in the Somerset village where I lived as a boy. It was both a very lucky and well-timed step for me to take as I was 18 years old, confused, and not at all sure where I was going in life. I fell in love with the learning straight away and began to shake off my high-school doubts. And as the skills grew, my confidence grew, and my love of the making started, then continued on to seven years of full-time learning. My focus was guided well from Philip, and his patient teaching and support was invaluable to me throughout this period.
From this path I was led to my second in 1999, and the beginnings of five years within the academia of ceramics.
I began as a 24-year-old student at Bath School of Art and Design (formerly BSUC), before continuing on to the Royal College of Art for a couple more years of postgraduate studies. There was great teaching in both, and a great understanding from my tutors about where I was from and where I was trying to go. In Bath, I was taught how to experiment with what I’d learned at the pottery, and develop this into my own ideas of self expression. This continued at the RCA, and while there, I learned how to fully understand my expressions, and hone all I’d learned previously to prepare myself for life in the real world.
Mind and Matters
The best thing for my mind in the studio is that the space still works for me. I still feel inspired and motivated after eight years here, and I am very thankful for this. To have ease with the process and technique is incredibly important for every outcome, so I’m glad I still have the solace here to take it. The patterns in the work can change and progress with my mood, as my life on the island changes pace through the seasons—slow to fast, high to low, and everything in between. What matters in the making is to keep a continuation and a sense of flow throughout these daily changes, as so many things try to creep in and challenge it in one way or another. Keeping up with it all can get a bit mad sometimes and it’s certainly not always easy to maintain the flow, but I guess that with ceramics it’s not supposed to be.
When I’m creating, I still think about, and have a hunger for, new ways to challenge myself and to take techniques to new levels and new extremes. The thing is time; many hours and even weeks can be spent constructing just one piece that can sometimes be lost in just one swoop as production and destruction go hand in hand. The thought of lost time can bring big frustration when all goes wrong, but it can also give great rewards when all runs smoothly. New possibilities are born, which can bring me great motivation and develop the work from one pattern to the next, each time giving me renewed drive to create. And so the studio journey continues.