The ceramicist demonstrates how she throws a bellied form and decorates one of her Daisy vessels using paper resist
I fell in love with clay almost by accident – we studied ceramics for half a day each week on a diploma course in window dressing I undertook after leaving school and the ceramics department became my second home. I spent so much time there that they eventually gave me the keys to lock up at the end of the day.
I discovered Lucie Rie fairly early on and she became my role model. The fact that she was still potting into her late 80s had a significant impact on me and I would tell anyone who listened that I was going to do that too. Clay is not a 9–5 job, it’s a life choice.
Whilst I enjoyed handbuilding, it was throwing that most excited me, the thrill of producing a form out of a lump of clay is still as magical now as it was then. In the early 90s – when courses were free – I completed an Arts Foundation, specialising in ceramics, followed by a degree at Harrow (University of Westminster). This course was titled ‘Workshop Ceramics’ and its aim was to give you the skills you needed to run your own pottery. We learnt how to throw, mix our own clay and glazes and build our own kilns. The wheel I still use today was made from kit form at the end of my degree.
We were fortunate to have some amazing tutors such as Kyra Cane and Mo Jupp and also a variety of visiting lecturers such as Grayson Perry, Kate Malone and Edmund de Waal, to name but a few.
After leaving Harrow, I had a studio at The Chocolate Factory in Stoke Newington, North London, and remained there for a decade. There were around 20 of us working across various disciplines and it was a special time – my ultimate goal was to have my own garden studio, but I think straight out of university I needed the support of others around me.
I moved to Surrey when I was expecting my first child and as I am an all or nothing person, I didn’t touch clay again for four years, immersing myself instead in all that motherhood entailed. It was only when I helped my daughter’s infant school buy a kiln and volunteered to help the children that my passion for clay resumed.
I was heavily influenced by Robin Welch at Harrow and have always been drawn to matte surfaces. I must have mixed hundreds of glazes and not really liked any of them, but then I discovered engobes (slip with a bit of flux added). At first, I brushed them over handbuilt pieces, which then became lighting designs (thrown lampshades and handbuilt bases).
I then started experimenting using engobes with paper resist. I am a bit of a perfectionist and this way of working suits my tendencies, I love the crisp clean lines that can be achieved. Originally, this was done with newspaper, but after a helpful suggestion from Richard Phethean, I changed to plain newsprint.
When I returned to clay, I didn’t want to go back to creating lighting. Before I stopped to have children, I had started making vessels, so that seemed the obvious place to start again. I have been developing my resist technique for around 20 years now – my designs slowly evolve through making rather than sketching.
There is so much you can do with clay that sometimes it can become overwhelming – I think that by choosing a certain area to concentrate on leads not to narrowed choices, but in fact to endless possibilities. I have achieved my ultimate goal and now work from my garden studio
in the beautiful Surrey hills.
For details visit georgiegardiner.co.uk; @georgieceramics
All photography by Layton Thompson