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Tactility in Ceramics: In Conversation With Emma Lacey

Our long-time collaborator and celebrated London ceramic artist Emma Lacey is returning to The Conran Shop with a new and exclusive collection of Everyday Vessels. To mark the launch, we sit down with Lacey to discuss the new collection and her design influences.

1. Welcome back to The Conran Shop, Emma! Please tell us a little about you and what you do.

Hello. It's great to be back launching a new range. My early collaborations with The Conran Shop were real turning points in my career! I am a ceramics designer, maker and educator. I have been working with clay for – well - forever, really, but professionally for at least 20 years. I work mainly to design tactile ceramic tableware, mostly hand-thrown, which will stand the test of time. I also run the second year of a degree in Ceramic Design at Central Saint Martins in London.

2. We're so pleased to collaborate with you again; might you explain your precious Everyday collection to our readers?

The Everyday collection is what I am best known for, and it is, happily, satisfying my ambition to design with sustainability in mind. I have been making the range (which first launched in 2010 with The Conran Shop) for some years now. The design of the pieces has functionality and ergonomics at heart – they need to be comfortable to use and work well. What is different about them is the language of clay that is described in the form and finish. Subtle throwing lines and the signature thumb-print talk about the malleability of the clay when it is soft and, I hope, therefore connects the person using the work to the careful journey of making it goes through. Tactility and attention to detail are so important to me. The everyday range encourages a tactile exploration of the sensual forms and soft satin glazes with the intention of encouraging lasting relationships with the pieces.

3. You studied 3D Crafts at The University of Brighton and Ceramics Design at Central Saint Martins, but when did you first fall in love with the world of ceramics?

When did I first fall in love with ceramics? I first played with clay at the local YMCA as a child and then joined an evening class at the age of 16. It wasn't nearly as cool as it is now to dabble in pottery then, so I do have some respect for the teenage me who stuck at it - hanging out with the mature evening class crew. I discovered Craft as a subject when studying for my Art Foundation at Middlesex (formerly Hornsey College of Art). I was so blown away that 'making' was taken seriously intellectually and as a profession – and that I could do a degree in the thing I loved and was naturally good at!

4. What informs your design aesthetic, and who are your greatest influences?

The aesthetic for the Everyday range evolved over time from my interest in drawing and photographing details of the human form - sensual lines and areas of light and shadow. I’m inherently drawn to modernist and Scandinavian design aesthetics and simple, functional forms which talk honestly about the material they are made from and have little flourish! I think this helps objects to stay relevant in use and aesthetic over time. My greatest influences? My late father, who would draw with me as a child and always encouraged my creative ambitions as he wasn’t able to pursue his. The ceramic material itself! I am inspired by the conversations that happen between material and maker during creative design processes of experimentation and play. And I love the simple celadon glazes and absolute homage to the porcelain material in Takeshi Yasuda’s work.

5. You’ve travelled through the UK and Germany honing your craft; where do you like to work best?

In terms of production, I work best in my North London studio - in a clean, organised environment (the studio set up is informed by the economy of space and functionality of a ceramics factory). When it comes to having ideas, I like to be active and engaged in other environments – e.g. at a lecture, or research trip. I spent an amazing month in Jingdezhen, China, in 2019 on a ceramics residency and revelled in the opportunity to immerse myself in observing and making with no other responsibilities.

6. Do you have any advice for aspiring ceramic makers?

My advice for aspiring ceramic makers is to know your strengths and play into them. Understand what is unique about what you do and try to develop that sensibility. Above all else, practice: try, try and try until you master the skills that you need and start off by sharing studio space so that you can share equipment and knowledge!

7. Now, back to your Conran Shop-exclusive collection; how did you come up with such a considered colour palette, and which hue is your favourite?

I worked closely with the buying team at The Conran Shop to develop the colour palette for the new collection. I was inspired by the orientation mood boards for this season and combined that aesthetic with some new and existing colours from my range. I love the bright coral shade against the muted olive and soft pink, and the slightly off white tone is a classic and goes with everything. I designed the pieces to work as both tall flower vases and pouring jugs so hopefully the muted tones offer something to fit in with a wide variety of uses and contexts. .

8. How long does it take to create each Everyday Vessel?

What takes time with throwing is the preparation and many physical processes that each piece goes through. Each ball of clay is weighed precisely then wedged (kneaded kind of) to make it even and get rid of any air pockets. The throwing tends to be a fast process for me, then the pieces go through a number of stages of drying, manipulating and finishing before their first firing. Overall, from start to finish, each piece takes at least a few weeks to complete, including drying and firing times. Plus, of course, the 10,000 hours minimum needed to hone my craft skills!

9. And what is your favourite design icon at The Conran Shop?

My favourite design icon at The Conran Shop needs almost no thought at all! I'll take an LC4 Chaise Longue designed by Charlotte Perriand, Pierre Jeanneret, and Le Corbusier, please! It is one of my all-time favourite objects and perfectly illustrates my values around honesty of material, ergonomics and comfort. It's on my life-long wish list – I might take the one in Ecru Canvas and Tan Leather come to think of it. Thank you ; )

10. Lastly, what does the future hold for both you and your practice?

What does the future hold? That question seems so different these days. I've been very lucky to be able to continue to work in my home studio all through the pandemic, so long may that continue. I will be showing work at Ceramic Art London in April and am currently working on some exciting student projects at Central Saint Martins, so I'm very excited to see the outcomes of these. In the very short term, I need to stock up on my Everyday Mugs, which flew off the shelves before Christmas and try to carve out a bit of time to think about some sculptural work that I started researching in China before the pandemic. I dream of an eco-studio upgrade, so I'll start drawing up the plans for this (in my head/dreams) with a chill-out zone space for my chaise longue, of course!

Take delight in and shop Emma's tactile collection today, and be sure to follow her on Instagram.