My initial career was in yacht design, as an engineer and designer, though with time this morphed more into maths and IT, so in 2009 I took up ceramics as a counterbalance to staring at computer screens all day. I particularly like the immediacy of the making, with the tactile, sensual feel of the clay under my fingers - but the alchemy of developing glazes also appeals to my more technical and analytical approach.
I have always been interested in the nexus between technology, design, and the underlying aesthetic, philosophical and psychological questions as to why a design is successful, attractive, collectable, valuable or whatever.
I am increasingly interested in the history of ceramics, and how the techniques and technology have been discovered, lost or discarded, and often rediscovered again. As part of this, I recreate historic glazes, e.g. Chinese oil spot glazes from the 12th Century, or Uranium based glazes from the 19th Century, and apply them in a modern context.
Ceramics provides rich pickings for all of these aspects, sitting between art and craft; functional and decorative; factory made and individual, labour intensive works; commodity item or priceless work of art.
Since 2017 I have been working in ceramics full time, as my previous "day job" was running a business doing research for the EU. After the Brexit referendum contracts weren't renewed, and the UK government weren't interested in our activities, so I closed the business to concentrate on ceramics.
I started exploring ceramics in 2009 with Sally Bettridge at her evening classes at Peter Symonds College in Winchester, which was a great way to explore the potential of clay over a few years. To widen my perspective, I then went to Mirka Golden-Hann's classes at Salisbury Arts Centre. Then in 2012 I set up my own studio.
Since then, as well , as avid reading and research, attending galleries, exhibitions and demonstrations, I have had classes with the following:
Conferences I have attended include the International Ceramics Festival in Aberystwyth; the 3rd European Wood Firing Conference in La Borne; and CoCA's Restating Clay in York.
Most of what I produce can be seen as domestic ware, i.e. functional or decorative pieces for the household as opposed to pieces that are purely intended for the art market. But I am not a production thrower - I don't make hundreds of identical items, so what you see now may not be available later on. But I have a number of stylistic themes, and within each of them I will steadily develop ideas, making subtle changes from one piece to the next, so they make a family rather than clones.
Technically, I use a variety of materials and processes to achieve the desired ends, rather than just using one type of clay, or just using the wheel.
Clays are generally earthenware or stoneware, seldom porcelain as my studio has too many sources of contamination to sully its pristine, anodyne whiteness. Earthenware I use in some pieces for the redness of the clay, and in others to benefit from its lower firing temperature, giving a brighter palette of glazes. Stoneware is stronger for functional pieces, and fires to a higher temperature and so opens up a different palette of glazes. Some clays are silky smooth, others have grog or other materials added to make them coarser, and more suitable for creating more organic surface textures.
Whilst quite a lot of my tableware is wheel thrown, I also use hand building, especially for the more decorative pieces, as this gets away from the symmetry of the wheel and allows richer shapes, surfaces and textures to be created.
I produce my own glazes to get a rich range of finishes on my work. Some are matt (or dry), eroded and windswept; others are highly polished and glossy, often with iridescence or small crystals in them. My technical background comes into play here, giving me a good understanding of glaze science. Some glazes are tightly defined to get a precise effect; others may use more naturally variable materials such as wood ash, and embrace the variations that result. But not all of my work is glazed. Some may be raw clay, perhaps enhanced with a wash or slip, and taking its colour from the firing.
Most work is fired in a computer controlled electric kiln, which lets me control the temperature profile of the firing precisely, to get the effects that I am after. However when the opportunity permits I also produce some wood fired work (e.g. at the Oxford Anagama kiln), where pieces are fired for up to 10 days, going in unglazed and picking up their colour and texture from the play of heat, flames and ash on the pots.
There is a natural rhythm to the making processes, and it is important to me to follow this, rather than using more industrial processes to force progress but lose empathy with the material. Clay slowly dries once it is out of the bag, and different processes need different levels of dryness, and the speed of drying varies with the season as well as the type of work being made. For throwing, I use one of the original Leach treadle wheels - no electric motor, no noise, a much higher level of intimacy with the clay, and the metronomic rhythm of my left leg powering the wheel.
With the advent of COVID all my selling outlets were closed down, apart from some online sales, so I took the opportunity to develop some online classes, something that was already on my to do list. The first courses were given in autumn 2020, and proved to be popular. Since then I have expanded the range of topics that I give courses on and also, with the end of COVID lockdowns, I am now also giving them in person.
In addition to organising and running my own courses, I have given courses (in person or online) to Cup Ceramics, London Potters, Messums Creative, Salisbury Arts Centre, South Wales Potters and Southern Ceramic Group.
Teaching has grown to become a significant part of my work, and I find this suits me well. I enjoy taking the more technical areas of ceramics and making them understandable to other potters. And, relieved of the need to sell pots in volume, I can take a more considered approach to my making.