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

Ceramic Review Issue 328

July/August 2024

Ceramic artist Helen Beard takes us step-by-step through the unique decorating process she uses on her thrown pieces

I fell in love with clay while I was at Edinburgh College of Art studying for a degree in Jewellery Design. I never intended to learn about ceramics, as I thought it would be more glamorous to work in contemporary jewellery or fashion design. However, it was the immediacy of clay, its ability to move and react to your every touch that, in the end, resulted in my moving classes. Unable to let go of my aspirations to work in fashion, I specialised in making huge wearable ceramic dresses. I focused on the surface pattern of clay, trying to recreate elaborate embroidered textiles for my wearable art. It was here, taught by Clare Twomey, that I researched and developed my own method of drawing and painting onto clay, a unique form of relief print using newsprint and underglaze stains. After art school, I was fortunate to be offered an apprenticeship with the celebrated potter and writer Edmund de Waal. He taught me a huge amount including throwing, glazing, firing and all the skills you need to run a ceramic studio. Perhaps most importantly, he showed me just how exciting a career in ceramics could be. De Waal introduced me to porcelain, explaining that if I learnt to throw in porcelain, I would later find it easy to throw with any type of clay – I was immediately hooked and I’m still using the same clay today.

Photography of Helen Beard for Ceramic Review masterclass.

Photography of Helen Beard for Ceramic Review masterclass.

It was a very natural progression for me to draw on pots – I couldn’t resist the urge to paint them. Already a keen sketcher and painter, I had sketchbooks filled with illustrations from everyday life, depicting people and places that had struck a chord in me. It was during my apprenticeship and learning to throw in porcelain, that I realised I could use my pots as a canvas. I found it exciting and a revelation to draw in 3D. I could expand my illustrations to the inside and outside of pots, telling stories around the pieces. I could even use multiple pieces to capture different parts of a scene and create a narrative across a collection of different pots. It is a laborious and painstaking process printing my line drawings and then hand-painting washes of colour. The larger pieces can take days or even weeks to get right, but I do have fun. I work from my studio in Islington, North London, where I make, draw, design and sometimes teach. I love the local area and find it inspires much of my work. There are all sorts of characters who crop up again and again in my sketchbooks and on my pots, from swimmers in the parks to traders at the local markets.

In recent years I have expanded my ceramics to include a production range of illustrated pots. The skills involved in a more commercial range proved quite different to those I had developed over the years doing studio pottery. It has been a steep learning curve, but I have been fortunate to work with some of the experts in the field in Stoke-on-Trent. I call these production pots my Dailyware range. They are slip-cast and decorated with lithographically printed decals. Creating this range has completely liberated the way I work. I have been able to hand over the production to the factory, Duchess China 1888, and it has freed up my time to work on other projects, such as making one-off, hand-painted pieces. With the production line creating a steady income for my business, I now have more freedom to experiment, try new things and have fun with my handmade pieces. I am enjoying making new things, such as tiles, handbuilt objects and playing around with different ways of creating stories through the medium of clay. Helen is currently working towards her largest installation piece to date, which will be unveiled in autumn 2021, she is grateful to the Craft Pottery Charitable Trust for their support of this project.

For details visit helenbeard.com

Photography of Helen Beard for Ceramic Review masterclass.