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Ceramic Review is the magazine for contemporary and historical ceramics, ceramic art and pottery.

Ceramic Review Issue 327

May/June 2024

Descended from a long line of potters, Dylan Bowen takes us through the processes and techniques he uses to make and decorate his slipware pieces

I grew up in a pottery in North Devon. My father, Clive Bowen, still works at Shebbear. He makes slip-decorated earthenware, pots to be used, fired in a large wood-fired kiln. On my mother Alison’s side of the family, my great grandfather, grandfather, cousins and uncles were all potters. Today I feel privileged to come from such a long line of makers, but early on, clay and slip were not necessarily part of my plans. 

I did, however, end up working for Clive for two years after leaving school. I stacked wood, mixed glaze, attempted to become a production thrower and absorbed a lot more than I realised. I then went to Camberwell School of Art to study Ceramics, graduating in 1991. I didn’t realise how lucky I was to have been in the Ceramics Department at Camberwell at that time. The facilities and tutors I had access to were amazing and something I foolishly took for granted. When I left I was still unclear about my direction, although by now, clay had got hold of me. 

Dylan Bowen; photo by Layton Thompson

Dylan Bowen; photo by Layton Thompson

I spent some years as a builder before moving to Oxford. My wife Jane had set up a studio just outside the city and was making slip-decorated earthenware. I began working in her studio, at first with the idea of trying to make pots for use. I made mugs and jugs and bowls, poor versions of Jane and Clive’s work to be honest. I was still frustrated by my inability to figure out what I wanted to make. I didn’t realise that I was trying to master how to work, not what to make, that was secondary. 

I understood this one day when I made some marks with a slip trailer, loose aggressive marks with wet slip on top of wet slip and it felt like a door opening. My arm and hand had connected with my head. I could feel how to work, the marks were simple but the potential felt infinite to me. I felt unlocked in some way and could move forward. To where, I didn’t know, but I had an idea of how to try and get there. 

I think my lightbulb moment happened at least 15 years ago. I am still searching but it is okay. I am wary though of having a formula, thinking I have cracked the code but invented a set of rules for myself. The feeling of satisfaction is surely my enemy. I need to stay focused on trying to create work that has real freedom in it, freedom from materials, method or mentality.