Meet the Maker: Natko Ceramics
Accountant by day, potter by night, Nat from Natko Ceramics is a superhero of craft. She even has a loyal (cat) companion called Skye. Every evening after filing tax returns, Nat disappears to her utility room (which she shares with a washing machine and freezer) to hand build little pots and vases that are full of character, and create decorative ceramic wall hangings and cute clay necklaces. We caught up with Nat to discover more about her double life and her fabulous ceramics…
Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
Hello! I’m Nat, I’m 30 and I live in North Lincolnshire with my partner Kris and our cat Skye. I work full time as an accountant and spend my evenings and weekends making ceramics and running my little business. My current line up of work includes small decorative pots, mini vases, simple wall hangings and beaded necklaces. I hand build everything I make (this means I don’t use a pottery wheel) so every piece is completely unique.
My studio is actually the utility room in our house. I share it with the washing machine, the freezer and usually the cat as she’s a nosey trouble maker!
What was your first experience with clay?
I first started getting my hands dirty in 2015 at a local council-run ceramic sculpture course. I needed something to help me wind down from work in an evening instead of just staring at the TV! I had wanted to have a go at pottery for a long time and I’m so glad I did. The first thing I made was a hideous tribal head sculpture which is now hidden in a cupboard somewhere! The course was a great way to get a feel for clay and learn the basic hand building techniques while being able to experiment with different types of clay and glaze. I did have a go on the wheel while I was there but a combination of weak wrists, tiny hands and a slight bit of OCD about the mess (!) meant that it wasn’t for me. I completed two terms before setting out on my own.
How would I describe my style? People have used the word ‘quirky’ but I really hate that word so I’ll say modern, bold, graphic and fun!
You only started selling your ceramics recently. Were you nervous making that leap from making to selling?
Yes! My first time selling was at The Weekend of the Maker in Sheffield so I was really throwing myself in at the deep end. It was very daunting not knowing how my work would be received but I’d had some positive messages about my work on Instagram so I just went for it as I’ve always wanted to do a craft fair. I’m so glad I did as it was such a successful day and I met so many lovely people.
My first time selling was at The Weekend of the Maker in Sheffield so I was really throwing myself in at the deep end.
How would you describe your style and how did you find it?
People have used the word ‘quirky’ but I really hate that word so I’ll say modern, bold, graphic and fun! I started out making things that I would like in my own house. I love Scandinavian design and I have a lot of white walls, bold prints and pops of colour and so I make things that will fit into my own space. I’m just happy that other people seem to like my ideas! I try to keep my decorative work simple as I think this is most effective, although it’s a struggle sometimes to remember that less is more.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I’ve always been inspired by Japanese culture and design. I was obsessed as a teenager, it’s just a totally different world and it looks like such a wonderful and colourful place. Hopefully I’ll get to visit one day. I also love the outdoors so I try to take inspiration from that when I get chance to escape! Working a desk job, I struggle to get inspired in every day life so I also spend time online looking at interior trends for colour and pattern inspiration.
It’s difficult to get a ‘perfect’ finish on a hand built pot compared to wheel thrown work, but I think a bit of wonkiness adds to the character.
How do you start a piece? Can you talk us through your creative process?
Most of my work is made from flat slabs of clay. I cut a piece of clay and shape it in my hands before using my rolling pin and guides to roll it out to the correct thickness. I then have to leave the slab to dry out a little before I can cut it and assemble it into a pot. This is then wrapped up and left for around 24 hours before I can trim the pot down and make it nice and smooth with a sponge. It’s difficult to get a ‘perfect’ finish on a hand built pot compared to wheel thrown work, but I think a bit of wonkiness adds to the character. Once the pot is completely dry it’s time to decorate with underglaze. This is when my sketchbook comes out and I trawl through all my ideas and decide what pattern to paint. I love simple, repeat patterns so that’s usually what I go for. There are so many different techniques for decorating clay and I’m so excited to start being a bit more adventurous.
Most of my work is made from flat slabs of clay. I cut a piece of clay and shape it in my hands before using my rolling pin and guides to roll it out to the correct thickness.
What’s the best thing about working with clay?
Clay is great for relaxing, it’s like a stress ball! Sometimes its nice to just squidge it around in your hands rather than actually make anything. Of course, the best thing about working with clay is opening the kiln after a glaze firing and seeing all the shiny goodies in their final state. It makes the hard work worthwhile as the ceramic process is so long and there are so many things that can go wrong, it’s just a relief to get to the end point.
There are so many different techniques for decorating clay and I’m so excited to start being a bit more adventurous.
Is there a piece you’re particularly proud of?
I made an owl in my ceramics class which I gave to my mum as a Christmas present. It took a huge amount of time as I cut out and applied each feather individually and did a lot of carving work. The glaze turned out really well too and it’s just a lovely piece, completely different to anything else I’ve ever made. Hopefully I can recreate it one day as I’d love one for myself!
I have a little table where I trim and decorate pots, and some shelves for storing all my supplies and work in progress. My kiln lives at my parents house so I have to transport my work there for firing.
Tell us about your studio – where is it, what does it look like and what’s in it?
My studio is actually the utility room in our house. I share it with the washing machine, the freezer and usually the cat as she’s a nosey trouble maker! It’s quite a small room but there’s just enough space for me to spread out. I have a little table where I trim and decorate pots, and some shelves for storing all my supplies and work in progress. There is also a worktop which runs along the other wall which I use for rolling out clay and assembling pieces. My kiln lives at my parents house so I have to transport my work there for firing. Hopefully one day I will have a nice big studio of my own so my dad can reclaim his garage!
Opening the kiln makes the hard work worthwhile as the ceramic process is so long and there are so many things that can go wrong, it’s just a relief to get to the end point.
What does craft mean to you?
I personally think that craft means celebrating imperfection. I love to see imperfect marks on a handcrafted item, it really shows that you are buying something unique and made from scratch with someone’s own hands.
Natko Ceramics at the Weekend of the Maker, photographed by Kayti Peschke
I personally think that craft means celebrating imperfection.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
A typical week day starts with a rush to get to work for 8.30am where I sit at my desk preparing accounts and tax returns until 5pm. As I do most of my making at weekends, I usually spend the evenings during the week decorating or glazing. It’s very time consuming with most underglazes requiring three coats, so I’m lucky if I get more than one or two pots decorated in a night before I start to nod off! Weekends are a little more relaxed but I like to be as productive as possible. I sit down all day when I’m at work so I like to keep busy on my feet at home.
Decorated clay bead and ceramic necklaces by Natko Ceramics – see more here >
What’s been the highlight for Natko Ceramics so far and what are your plans for the future?
The Weekend of the maker was a huge highlight for me and I hope to do a lot more fairs in the future. I’m planning to start working with a different type of clay that will allow me to make some more sculptural work. I love making basic pots but there are endless possibilities when it comes to hand building and I can’t wait to start experimenting.
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