British ceramicist Josie Walter talks pottery, design inspiration and tricks of the trade
What kick-started your passion for pottery?
In the early 1970s I had a job teaching in a secondary school where I was timetabled
to teach a period of pottery. As I had never taken art at school I panicked a bit and enrolled in a pottery evening class. From the first moment that I touched clay I was smitten!
Does your creative process start from a certain image in your mind, or do you seek inspiration as you progress?
New ideas can begin from a variety of sources; a drawing or painting I’ve seen in an exhibition or from historical artefacts in museums. I look at lots of home and interiors, style and food magazines to discover colour and object trends.
It can also be a collaborative process with clients who request a bespoke pot for a particular use. Otherwise it can be completely random such as a range of baking dishes I recently made that were inspired by an oval yogurt pot from a supermarket.
Tell us about the techniques involved in creating your earthenware pottery. What are the challenges that you encounter and the skills that it requires?
Most of the work is thrown on a momentum wheel, which I made at Chesterfield College of Art and Technology in the 1970s. I enjoy the relaxed rhythm and the quietness of the flywheel, as it is the only way to hear Radio 4 without interference. The wheel is built to exactly accommodate my frame so it’s extremely comfortable.
The pots are decorated either with thin white slip, which lets the colour of the earthenware body through, or with thick slip that is brushed on to the pot while it is rotating on the wheel.
Over the past years I have experimented with combinations of paper resist, first cutting and then tearing the paper to give a softer effect, then using colour infill and slip trailing to decorate with. At present I am using paper to mask an area to decorate, which gives a greater flexibility for variation and experimentation. Using brush marks, highlighted with scraffito has created a greater sense of movement and a fresh perspective.
All the pots are made in earthenware clay, decorated and finally raw glazed at leather hard before being fired to Cone 03 (about 1085°C). I am still using the original 12 cu. ft. electric kiln I bought in 1978, which I have lugged round with me ever since. Hopefully it is in its final resting place now I have moved into a workshop at home in the garden.
What advice would you give to an amateur ceramicist?
Join a pottery group so you can learn together and enjoy each other’s enthusiasm. If you feel drawn to a particular technique, then look for a more intensive course with a professional potter. There are lots of courses advertised in the back of Ceramic Review for learning about throwing on a wheel, handbuilding and slip casting. Also visit lots of pottery fairs to see what is possible. Potters are very generous people and are willing to share their knowledge and expertise.
You’ll be behind the pottery wheel, throwing clay and teaching customers at The Conran Shop on Saturday 5th April. Tell us more about this exclusive event.
This is a great opportunity for The Conran Shop customer to see the pots being made on the wheel and to ask questions about all the processes. Although I have done quite a few demonstrations, this is the first in-store so I’m looking forward to this new experience and relieved it’s not in the window!
Watch British ceramicist Josie Walter behind the pottery wheel, throwing clay and teaching her techniques at our exclusive in-store demonstration between 2pm and 4pm on Saturday 5th April 2014 at the Chelsea store.