Kate is a painter turned ceramicist who combines simple forms with symbolic painted patterns to make ceramic brooches and tableware. She works part-time at the pottery studio in Lewes where she first took pottery classes but has very recently set up a garden studio at home in Brighton. I went to meet Kate in her new space and find out a bit about her past present and future…
Hi Kate. Thanks so much for letting me come and visit your brand new garden studio!
So… you originally trained as a painter. What made you switch to ceramics?
I’ve always been a painter but I wanted to find a different surface to paint on – I’ve always worked on small paintings, often with a white background.
I popped into a pottery studio in Lewes one day and saw that there was a space on a course… and I thought ‘oh maybe that’s my new surface to paint on’. So I just started a class there! I had a really clear idea of what I wanted to do. I knew I just wanted to have a plain white background and paint patterns on it and I always had that really clear idea right from the start.
So what was the course that you signed up for?
It’s a weekly class that I still do now. I’ve been doing it for about 5 years. It’s mostly wheel throwing but I haven’t ever really done intensive throws as it’s only been a weekly thing but I’ve just been given a wheel of my own so now’s my chance! I have also done some hand building.
So can you talk me through your making process. Do you have an idea first or do you start working and see what develops?
I do things in batches, so at the moment I’m really trying to nail mugs. It’s hard to get the handles just right and make them all a similar size. I don’t really want to start making everything too uniform though… it’s not really me. I do quite like the fact that each one is slightly different, I think that’s the beauty of having something that’s handmade.
I paint a similar pattern on each one. I used to do a different pattern but I’ve been trying new things and I’m trying to be a bit more focused and create a range that all works together. I’ve always used quite a lot of symbolism in my painting so I wanted to make something simple but very much mark making.
So the process is I’ll throw a mug, add the handle, do the glazing, then the best bit is the painting. At the moment I always use the same blue colour.
Glazes are a funny science aren’t they – what colour does the blue look when you’re actually painting it?
It paints brown! It’s really nice to paint with. I’ve found it really different painting on an object. I’ve had to really be careful – I’m quite a messy person so I’ve had to learn to be really controlled but it’s been really good for me. So for this new range I’m doing mugs, bowls, planters, I might do a brooch. I wanted to think of a name for the range and it’s taken me so long – I was looking in dictionaries, chatting to people. I knew the right word was out there and then last week I found the word ‘Lacuna’ which means ‘a gap or a break in something’. The pattern reminds me of time passing.
So you’ve really only started selling your work since having your little boy Ezra 18 months ago. What was your job before?
Well I’ve been working for my pottery teacher for quite a while. Before that I actually had a vintage clothing shop in Lewes but it kind of just came to a natural end and whilst I was doing that I had already started doing the weekly pottery class. And then I got pregnant! Just before that I’d kind of already thought ‘I think I want to be a potter and a ceramicist. That’s what I want to be’. I mean I’d always done painting and I will always be a painter and I’ll definitely go back to it but I think having Ezra has kind of focused me more. I’ve never really been commercially minded when I paint so I find it hard to justify the time spent now… but I will continue to do it and I do still exhibit.
What do you enjoy most about the making process?
Pottery is quite focused and I’m quite a hectic person… I don’t really sit down much and I’m just a really busy person so it’s a good time to sit and focus and you have to be disciplined. I think it’s a good way for me to be.
That exact same thing! I find it hard to be disciplined. I studied fine art for 7 years and art school is very free, and although you have to be disciplined with painting, pottery is a very different thing. There is a science to it. You can’t let things dry out, there are certain things you can’t do. So yes, I find being disciplined is hard. But I think I am getting there.
What do you think has influenced your visual style? You mentioned your painting. Anything else?
Yes my own painting and I’m really into symbolism. I use a lot of motifs in my painting and my pottery… like eyes. When I go to galleries I’m always drawn to paintings… like Miro, he used a lot of symbolism and Philip Guston he always used recurring imagery and recurring themes. So I guess artists that use similar repetitive themes, which I guess is where my patterns have come from.
So when you say symbolism… are you thinking of something specific when you make the marks?
I am at the beginning but after a while it just becomes part of my language so I think initially when I was using eye shapes I was thinking about what that would mean but then it almost becomes second nature, it becomes a visual language in a way.
You’ve just built this studio in your garden. Talk me through your areas…
Well I haven’t really had a chance to use them properly yet! There’s my wheel and my main working bench where I'll cut out my brooches and when I’m throwing I can put stuff up there to dry. I need more shelves… that’s my next job. I’m still figuring it all out really. There’s my kiln… the electrician came just this morning to fit it. It took 4 people to get it up the garden steps! I just can’t wait to get started in here really. To have my own space is incredible. It’s a big change.
Are you looking forward to working from home?
Yes. Although I will still use the pottery in Lewes, I will still go and have lessons from my teacher – I’m still learning. Massively. I am really looking forward to working from home but I definitely do need to have contact with other potters, I do quite like to be around people. But it’ll be good to focus and I can always talk to the cat.
How do you juggle running a creative business with family life?
It’s hard. I don’t know really. I think now I’ll be able to do a lot more in the evenings. Before I would literally just steal moments when Ezra was asleep.
Even just making my brooches I’d get clay all over my hands and he would wake up and I’d have to wash it all off. It’s not that easy so it will be at night and when he’s at nursery but in the long run he’ll go to school. I know I really want to do this as my thing now. It still feels like early days. It’s really exciting.
Kate has recently launched her hand thrown, brush painted Lacuna range of tableware and planters on Made+Good as well as a selection of her handpainted monochrome ceramic brooches. I can’t wait to see what ceramic loveliness emerges from her garden studio in the future!