Drawing on the craft skills she learnt from a young age, Sue tells us why she loves experimenting with clay
In her final year of university Sue took part in a national competition and won a travel bursary to see production techniques in factories in Europe, and a work placement with Wedgwood, which led to a full time position as a junior shape designer. She now runs an award-winning design consultancy specialising in tableware and homeware products. You can visit her website here.
What sparked your interest in ceramic design?
I hadn’t worked with ceramics until taking my A-levels at school and I had to choose between print making and ceramics. There was less of a queue for ceramics, so I opted for the quieter route. It was the engaging tutor who got me hooked. I left college to work in a local pottery in rural Lincolnshire where I helped to prepare the clay each morning, and learnt how to production throw.
Where and what did you study and how has this influenced your work so far?
I studied Ceramics at Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University) which gave me a solid grounding in pottery making. I don’t think I picked up any design skills or industrial expertise while studying, all of that came afterwards while working in industry. I spent half of my second year on a placement at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam where I started working in plaster, making models and moulds for slip casting, and this is also where I began making tableware. I then spent part of my third year in Germany on a ceramics symposium where I learnt how to make coloured glazes using triaxial formulas.
You first worked at Wedgwood. How did this experience stand you in good stead and what did you learn?
Wedgwood was such a rich environment to work in with access to 200 years of expertise. I worked there just before digital processes were introduced, when everything was handdrawn. This was when you’d design a shape and then you’d go off to the modelmaking studio. There were about 20 highly skilled model makers working in the studio at the time, so a huge resource to draw upon. I still work in the same way now, shaping a form in plaster to get a feel for the shape in three dimensions.
Can you tell us more about your first collection?
After I graduated with an MA from the Royal College of Art, I set up a studio in Clerkenwell to produce my own range of ceramics. I wanted to produce a range of functional tableware pieces in coloured glazes.
Can you talk us through your design process?
The initial process is sketched, although I usually have a firm image in mind before drawing. Then, I use Adobe Illustrator to draw up the form and model the initial shape in plaster. I work with a few model and mould makers to complete the process as they’re far more proficient when it comes to the production stage.
What material do you enjoy working with most and why?
I really love working with slip casting liquid clay because when it’s poured it takes on a very controlled form. It’s like an Easter egg in consistency, very pliable when it’s not set but snappable when it is firm. It still remains malleable until it’s fired, so it becomes very forgiving if there’s a blip or a pin hole that needs to be filled. There’s an understanding I have with the clay that, through years of working with it, I take for granted. It’s only when you work with a different material that you realise that if you take too much off you can’t put it back on, or if you need to shape it you can’t do that with your fingers like you can with clay.
What is your approach to using colour?
I work in the same way that I used to as an in-house designer, always being aware of the trends for each season, building style boards and colour pairing with shape and textures in mind. I believe that colour direction is mostly intuitive and I can build a few tweaks into my range seasonally to offer freshness or beautiful pops of colour.
How would you describe your aesthetic and what you try to achieve with your collections?
Simple, pared back and functional. My intention was for my designs to have a familiarity to them so that they’re not audacious but have fluency and sit comfortably and effortlessly. Last year I exhibited with Tim Parry Williams, the weaver who curated a show for us with the title Beautility; a combination of beauty and utility which sums up my intentions well.
Your ceramics are beautifully shaped and have a delicate design. What do you hope they bring to other people’s homes?
I really wanted to create my own collection of objects that sits comfortably in other people’s homes. Pieces that aren’t awkward and that reveal the beauty of their crafted and handmade good looks.
If you could choose one, what would be your favourite design piece of all time?
I’d have to say the Procopé teapot designed in 1955 for Arabia, Finland.
Do you have any new product ranges that you’re working on that we should look out for?
I’m launching new colours this spring and there will be new shapes coming in the autumn.
Photos by Yeshen Venema Photography
Article by: Emma Foale