Miniature versions of things are hard to resist. There’s probably a scientific reason why Lilliputian houses tempt us with their small chimneys, while little clay owls seduce us with happy eyes and teeny-tiny beaks. Ceramicist Jessica Catherine believes that in this world of bigger is better, small things are precious and can have a magic to them. We talked to her about making in miniature and her kiln ‘Rhonda’…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?
I’m Jessica and I’m ceramic artist. I make mostly decorative pieces of pottery, little trinkets to cherish at home and give as thoughtful gifts to well-loved folk. My work is very feminine, inspired by light, love and vintage lace. I’m self-taught and I’ve got no formal training in art or design – I fell in love with clay after taking an evening class. After a few weeks of night school I knew I wanted to do more with ceramic making and I blew my savings on a kiln!
Is that where your romance with ceramics began?
Yes. My partner bought me the set of evening classes in pottery as a Christmas present. I had never worked with clay before, except a few lessons at school. I had a great teacher that showed me the basics and quickly let me go off the lesson plan and make whatever my heart desired. I stared out making tiny animals and experimenting with oxides.
Where did you go from there?
I took eight weeks of night school classes, the rest I have taught myself and learned along the way. Working with clay feels really natural to me. I find it hard to explain but it’s like drawing with my hands. If I can imagine a 3D object, my hands can just figure out how to shape it! I am always, always learning and I push myself to try new techniques and experiment. The hardest learning curve was around glazing – ceramic glazes rarely go on and come out the same colour. Everything I made in the early days came out a horrid sludge-brown colour.
How do your pieces come into being?
Usually pieces come into being from playing with a lump of clay. I let the material lead the way. Most of my ideas pop out of nowhere, messing about with clay and a shape forms, then an idea develops and I make a rough first sample. I often then go back to paper and map out a clearer design in my sketchbook. I make a lot of notes when developing new designs. I then make a trial batch, four or six items to get good consistency going and work out design kinks. I test my items in my own home before I sell them to ensure there are no glaring safety or design flaws. I doodle and take lots of photos in day-to-day life and I think this acts like visual fuel for new ideas to rumble round in my mind and pop out as potential designs.
Quite a few of your pieces are teeny tiny. What draws you to working in miniature?
Working small comes really naturally to me, I love the whimsy and magic of tiny things. One of my first designs was a line of miniature penguins. Totally impractical but really wonderful at the same time. In a world where bigger is better, I like to work small and make precious objects. Little trinkets that feel good to hold and sit in a tiny, magical place in your home.
Are there any artists, designers or period that particularly inspire you?
I love artists who use a lot of texture – like Anselm Kiefer and Anthony Whishaw. I also love bold illustration and design like Marimekko, totally contrasting influences! I take heaps of inspiration from anything antique, aged and vintage. I use lace to build texture into my work and I try make pieces that would slip easily into a clean modern home, or a cosy cluttered cottage.
What else influences your work?
I am really influenced by nature. I love being outside and I find that shapes and textures from nature weave their way into my work. I come home from walking the dog with pockets full of treasure, worn bits of pottery that I fish out of the stream, grasses and dried flowers that I press into clay.
Where do you work? Can you describe your studio?
I have just moved to really rural Weardale and I’m working on building my dream shed studio in the garden. It’s going to be a pale blue summerhouse with lots of windows, stacks of bunting and all kinds of mobiles dangling from the ceiling. I collect clutter and I’m quite a messy worker. At the moment I’m working in the eaves of our tiny cottage in a makeshift set-up. This will become the office side of the studio when my dream shed is finished. I have an electric kiln called Rhonda and I’m a bit too sentimental about her! Buying the kiln was a pure gamble and really marks a moment where I decided to go after the quiet whispers to follow my creativity.
What’s the best thing about being a maker?
Working for the simple love of making something beautiful. I get to spend my days living in a remote wonderland, making whimsical pottery. I am unbelievably lucky!
Can you tell us a few of your favourite things?
I love tootling about with my rescue collie Abby Lou, drinking steamy hot cups of tea, wearing cosy slippers and eating tiffin. Autumn adventure days are my absolute favourite, going off to find a forest, stream or a waterfall and coming home after a long walk to a hot bath and a toasty fire.
Look out for our Shop Talk interview with Jessica