Inspired By The Everyday: The Story Behind My Ceramics Business
by Helen Beard
I have been working with clay since my art school training at the start of the millennium. I started out as a studio potter, making one off pieces on the wheel and hand painting each piece. It is a laborious and very time intensive process hand painting every pot that I have made. I found that popular demand was forcing me to work like a factory, making the same things again and again. Frustrated that I couldn’t develop new work, I asked the question: could I change my process and create a brand of ceramics produced on a larger scale while retaining the quality of my one-off pieces? The answer was, yes.
Once I’d decided to start my Dailyware collection, I went to the ‘Potteries’ in Stoke on Trent, where I was guided by true experts in the field through the process of creating production-ware ceramics. Using beautiful white English bone china, we found that we could bench cast shapes of my wheel-thrown pots using moulds of my original designs. This technique of casting is by hand and so allows each piece slight variations in shape and weight, making them completely unique. Once fired, the pots are hand decorated using special screen prints of my illustrations (ceramic decals) and finally fired again to allow the decal to melt in to the glaze. The whiteness of the clay really allows the illustrations to sing with a vibrancy of colour that I have never achieved using other clays.
I like to find inspiration in the world around me. A lot of my sketches come from my local area in North London. I always try to sketch from life, making quick line drawings which I then paint with colour later. I draw what I see. I find charm and wit in our everyday activities no matter how mundane: the school run or trip to the grocery shop. Things we take for granted can often be beautiful things. I have places I like to return to such as outdoor markets, parks, swimming ponds and lidos, I’m often drawn to the characters I find in these places.
My most popular subject is my swimming ponds – whether it’s a large bowl with swimmers diving in or individual pots with a swimmer on each. I think people relate to how human my swimmers look, every shape and size, and they always have pink cheeks and limbs from the cold temperatures of swimming outdoors here in the UK.
My husband and I also love to travel and take our kids all over the world. It’s a challenge to find time to sketch with 3 young kids in tow but I always try to make a bit of space for myself to go off alone with my sketch pad and camera.
It wasn’t a conscious decision to start my own business, I found something that I enjoyed and stuck at it. I think if you really love doing something, you will never regret the hours you spend on it. Having your own business requires a huge amount of hard work and commitment, but it is worth it, if the result is doing something you feel passionate about.
Working for yourself can have advantages too. I have a family and had to adapt my hours as a working mum. There are times when the children need more support and home schooling was a challenge, but I do have more freedom from working for myself. Of course, there are compromises along the way, but as my business grows and with a supportive team behind me, I find I enjoy my work more and more, and I can focus on new projects as an artist working in clay. The regular income from the Dailyware collection gives me the security and breathing space to play as an artist. I have an exciting year ahead working towards the British Ceramics Biennial showcasing my largest installation to date of clay pots and objects, documenting the world around me and turning it into a stop motion animation.
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