Design a site like this with
Get started

Dec’21/Jan’22. More about the makers…

It is a year since we began our ‘Mud and Thread’ collaboration.  This post will take a change of pace and use a Q and A format to reveal insights into Gill and Joys working lives and personal history with their crafts:   

  • How/why did you start working in your chosen medium – what inspired you to work in clay/textiles? 

Joy: I’ve always loved textiles and used to make my own clothes from an early age.  My friend’s mum ran a fabric shop and I helped out there sometimes – the colours, textures and smell of unrolling fabric and the sound of sharp shears cutting fabric on the wooden counter were a delight.

One of the lecturers on my Art foundation course was Bruce McLean and his multidisciplinary approach and his energy had a lasting influence on me. I always feel privileged to have had his tuition when I see his name on the wall at the Tate Modern. I continued to develop my passion for all things textiles and studied Fashion and Textiles for my degree. Chrissie Walsh, one of the New Wave designers of the 80s and visiting lecturer, inspired me with her bright blocks of colour and fun approach to design. 

This led to a long career in the fashion industry as a knitwear designer and childrenswear pattern cutter with the Conran Design Group and design technologist for Mulberry, before setting out on my own. Following on from that I wanted to explore more career options and transitioned into education via a fine art and printing route.  A need to consolidate all my passions led to an MA in Textile Design.

I now work as a Technical Demonstrator in Embroidery at BSU  and love sharing traditional and new skills with the students.

Bruce McLean image credit Rise Art .com Chrissie Walsh: Club to Catwalk V&A 2013

Gill: I left school and home after one term of doing A levels, and drifted about for a few years not knowing what I wanted to do.  When I was 19 a woman who I was working for took me to a friend’s house to see his pottery – this was John Maltby. At the time he was making functional ware, and I fell in love with clay and the whole lifestyle of a potter. This completely turned me around and I started studying for A-levels again, then a Foundation Course and Degree in Ceramics at Cardiff.  All the time I had the goal in mind that I wanted to have my own pottery studio. Another potter, who I met at university, and was also very jovial, very skilled and very encouraging, was Mick Casson.  He taught me to think about throwing pots from the point of view of someone who would be using them.  Although I have had periods thinking that I could be happy working through other media, there is something about touching clay with the hands and exploring its possibilities that draws me back. 

John Maltby Mick Casson

      How have you learnt your skills? What training or informal learning has been helpful?

Joy: I am self taught on many aspects of my practice apart from design and pattern cutting – such a useful skill I learnt under the amazing lecturers and technicians at Middlesex (previously Hornsey Art College). Translating a 2 dimensional surface into 3 dimensional one is a skill I cherish and this also applies to  origami and all sorts of paper folding techniques that are at the core of my practice.

I have also always had a love of ceramics and was lucky enough to have ‘craft’ lessons at school and learnt the rudiments of clay processing, later picking it up again at night classes in London. During my MA I used this time to experiment with materials and introduce digital technology into my practice  alongside handmade assembly processes

Hand cut paper and refracted light,  laser cut panels in interlining and assembled bottle tops

Gill: My ceramics degree course was very practical and I developed throwing skills, and learnt about glazing and firing kilns. This meant I was able to set up my first studio at the end of the degree(1978) and sell work through galleries and craft fairs. Looking back on it I had to gain business skills as I went along, for example how to do accounts and create publicity.  I learned a lot informally from talking to people at potters’ meetings and craft fairs, and from gallery owners indicating what they expected from me.    

I was happy to throw domestic ware in porcelain for many years, but by 1994 I was feeling a bit stale and jumped at the chance of doing an MA in ceramics at Cardiff.  I thought I would be developing more skills in throwing, but actually my whole outlook changed and I began making sculptural work.  I learnt different clay techniques particularly hand-building and mould making.  This led to me taking freelance model making work with animation companies for the next 15 years in conjunction with exhibiting my own figurative work.   I learned about a wider range of modeling materials including resins, metals and sculpting waxes and knowledge was shared generously around teams of model makers so that everyone could keep up with the work.  I constantly felt that an understanding of effective rhythms of work, that I had learnt through production throwing, was beneficial. 

In 2011 I started a PHD with a studentship from Loughborough University.  During the next 8 years I was more immersed in animation and gained confidence in digital skills.  The research I undertook at this time, engaging with environmental and ecological issues, has enabled me to see and articulate broader connections for my work.  This is still developing in recent years when I have returned to ceramics as my main medium. 

      1980’s and 90’s – throwing domestic ware; 1995-2010 – sculptural ceramics;  present day – return to throwing

     How have you set up a workplace – what equipment is important to you? 

Joy: My workspace is a studio at home – very compact as I am constantly changing the way I work and the materials I work with.  Fine art materials sit alongside textiles, easels, nuts and bolts and cutting mats and admin.  I see myself as a polymath bridging many disciplines and finding connections between them – paper folding, fabric manipulating stitching, cutting, marking , printing. Tearing, cutting, sewing, painting any surface. I become very easily distracted and make every effort to keep focussed  

Gill: I have had many moves and many workshops, and at various times have worked in a garage, in a basement, in a spare room –  wherever I could find a suitable space to make the sort of mess that a ceramic studio entails. At the moment I work in an old conservatory attached to my house, which can be too cold or too hot depending on the seasons, but I love the light and open feeling looking out to the garden.  I have always used Cromartie top loader kilns as I have found them cost effective and their advice service is excellent. Again at various times I had large kilns, particularly when I was making production work. At  the moment a small, plug in kiln that I have had for over 30 years is very convenient, and I will use a firing service for bigger work if I need to.  I have a  small wheel, with a  detachable seat, which was ideal for fitting into my car when I used to do demonstrations and residencies.  Also essential are a  very sturdy wooden table , a couple of banding wheels, my scales and weights for mixing glazes and coloured clay.  Several  plaster bats are useful for reclaiming clay.  

      Tools of the Trade – what are your favorite tools? 

Joy: This has to be my Bernina sewing machines – my Desert Island must have.  Such trusty workhorses.  Alongside that will be sharp shears, a selection of hand sewing needles and I would add knitting needles to that too.

Gill:  I am particularly fond of the hand tools I have accumulated over the years because I find many sculpting and turning tools too large and clumsy.  So I have a set of wooden handled turning tools that are a perfect weight and size for my small hands, and some very fine sculpting tools that I first came across when I was working on animation models.  I make some of my own tools that look a bit cobbled together, using hacksaw blades or strips of steel tape measure strapped to old wooden handles – I find these are perfect for intricate turning of small porcelain forms.  I use steel ribs and old credit cards that I have cut into a range of shapes and sizes.  

  You both seem to be ecologically minded in your practice.  Can you say more about this? 

Joy: Having worked in Fashion for a number of years I am well aware of some of the less than ecological practices and this is one reason why I stepped out of the industry. Now I use materials that I already have or can find.  I recycle waste threads and reassemble fabric offcuts using techniques such as boro, patchwork and kantha. These pieces will end up as bags, pots, cushions for myself and as gifts. I have recycled bottle tops too. I find myself questioning new purchases, checking their composition, original source and what their final destiny will be. This questioning and need to be resourceful led me to use teabags as a fabric.

Gill: I think I have always been interested in trying to ‘tread lightly on the earth’.  Certainly, running my own business led me to develop an ‘every penny counts’ mentality, and work out efficient use of resources.  I recently signed up for the ‘Green Maker Initiative’, set up by Plymouth University and ‘Make’ (Bovey Tracey) which is encouraging me to view every aspect of how I work in terms of ‘eco-responsibility’.  I reclaim all the clay and glaze I can.  For our ‘Mud and Thread’ collaboration particularly,  I have been using clay that I reclaimed from projects with schools undertaken some years ago, and I also use clay dug from mine and my neighbors’ gardens. 

Lumps of clay dug up in my garden, refined into terracotta clay and slip 

Because I  do not have a sink in my studio, I am very careful of the buckets of water I carry, and will re-use over and over after allowing a settling out of materials.  I fill the kiln as much as possible for each firing and will use a single firing process when I can to save on electricity.     

I am also interested in making connections between ecological thinking and craft making practice, for example examining the value of making by hand to psychological well-being, and investigating links between environmental aesthetics and aesthetics of craft making.

●       What thoughts do you have about future developments?  

Joy:  I’m really enjoying working with Gill as a collaborative partner.  We both bring something different to the table; our skills, our interpretation of inspiration and our love of arts and crafts. 

There are similar terms and processes in both our specialisms such as coiling and experimenting with the processes has unlocked a new spectrum of possibilities.

 We are both producing work that we would not have conceived outside of this partnership and I’m excited to see where it leads us

Gill:  The collaborative work with Joy has allowed me to explore a range of ideas in clay that I would not be doing on my own, for example moving into larger sculptural pieces and thinking more deeply about combining  particular qualities of different materials and finishes.  This will now always have an effect on any work I do.  I feel that looking at opportunities for exhibiting our collaborative work in the future, has expanded into different ways of thinking –  only possible because of the support of a working partner.   Our joint  practice has opened up a new avenue of research for me and I am interested in writing about craft based collaboration in the future.    


2 thoughts on “Dec’21/Jan’22. More about the makers…

    1. Thank you for your comment Bronwen. I see you are a seasoned blogger will be interested to look back through your posts. Hope our paths will cross in the future. Gill

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s