Kitchenalia in clay: CR meets Jessica Thorn

Jessica Thorn is a designer and maker who creates vitrified porcelain pieces inspired by vintage tin and enamel kitchenware. We met Jessica to find out more about her work and story. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Collection of bottles. Image Jessica Thorn
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Growing up, I wanted to be a pharmacist. Applying for an art foundation was an unusual twist. However, during my foundation a tutor introduced me to Kate Malone’s Tutti Frutti collection – and I was instantly captivated by Malone’s glaze chemistry. I wanted to learn more, so I applied for the Contemporary Craft degree at Plymouth College of Art. After completing a rotation of workshops in glass, jewellery and large-scale metals, I quickly settled into the ceramic department.

My coastal location and love of food lead me to using rust and Victorian kitchenware as my main sources of inspiration. Seeking ideas for projects at university was the beginning of developing my own ceramic identity. I used these themes as a starting point to explore possibilities through broad experimentation with a variety of different clays and surface decoration techniques.

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Tea Cups. Image Jessica Thorn

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I started studying the design of metal tins and mass-produced enamelware – in particular, their small and delicate joins. This led me to highlight the construction of my joining process when slab-building; I want this to highlight the fact that my ceramics are handcrafted. These subtle lines are traces of my own craftsmanship and remain a strong feature in my work today.

 My colour palette was developed from a study of rusting and patination on metal surfaces. The colours derive from the use of coloured slip alongside non-ceramic materials such as leather, copper and cork, providing character, depth and a unique feel for each of my porcelain pieces.

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Breakfast condiments set. Image Jessica Thorn

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After graduating, I enjoyed the freedom to make. However, I missed having a creative network and being without tutorials, deadlines and critical peers keeping me on track, I was losing a sense of professional direction. It was being selected onto Hothouse in 2015, a business development programme run by the Crafts Council, which made me take my craft seriously. I left with a selection of tools to aid me with marketing, finance and understanding the craft market – and most importantly, with a supportive network of craftspeople from across the UK.

One of the most challenging parts of being an emerging maker is getting noticed. Craft fairs and trade events sound helpful, but take up a lot of time and can be expensive. Like most early career craftspeople I had a part-time job alongside my own craft business, so time and money to exhibit at events was restricted. Through social media, I started networking and building relationships in my own time for free. Actively and consciously, I started sharing posts and interacting with galleries I wanted to be a part of.

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Tea Caddy. Image Jessica Thorn

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I have learned that building relationships takes time. Taking a genuine interest in your customers is much more important than a straightforward sales pitch. Through investing the little time I did have into building relationships, I’ve made successful contacts and connections, including with the galleries where I now show my work. Mentoring from Erica Steer from the Devon Guild of Craftsmen made me decide to apply for ceramic specialist events, and in 2016 I was selected to be part of Bils & Rye’s Emerging Potters Exhibition and showcased my work at Ceramics in the City as part of London Design Festival. Both have furthered my presence in the ceramics world. 

I’ve been developing work based on my love for cooking brunch on the weekends. This collection of hand-built tableware, entitled Still Life Brunch, is designed to be simple and functional yet aesthetically pleasing. I’ve also developed a series of decorative bottles inspired by still-life paintings by William Scott and Giorgio Morandi. An artist’s residency at Mayfield School for Girls in East Sussex has gifted me the time and space to develop my work and skills of my craft, a luxury I have sought since graduating. It has also made me take a step outside of my comfort zone and teach pottery classes to adults.

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Jessica Thorn. Photo courtesy the artist

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The most important lesson I have learned is that the journey of a craftsperson takes time and patience. Developing skills and a public presence is a process not to be rushed but to be enjoyed. With this is mind, after my residency ends I am moving back to Bristol to establish my own studio space so I can continue to teach and create my own work.

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You can learn more about Jessica’s work at jessicathorn.co.uk, and follow her on Instagram @jessicathornceramics.

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