Kate Clark from Gilbert and Stone lives in a small village in the middle of Cornwall, where she splits her time between cycling down to Pentewan beach and making ceramics from the shepherd’s hut in her garden. We caught up with Kate and found out more about her background, where her ideas come from and how it all began with a pair of tartan flares…
Can you tell us a little bit about Gilbert and Stone?
Gilbert and Stone has been going just over two years. We design and handmake bright, modern ceramics with a handmade feel from our little studio in Cornwall.
Have you always been a maker?
Yes. My mum and gran taught me how to knit and sew when I was little, and I’ve been making things ever since. The brown corduroy trousers I made when I was 11 were a particular early highlight – they had tartan flared bits stitched on to the bottom (this was at least 10 years after the Bay City Rollers, so I don’t even have that excuse!). Fortunately no pictures exist of this monstrosity.
How did you become interested in ceramics?
Growing up, we had a caravan in Wales and our favourite rainy day thing to do was to visit Piggery Pottery in Llanberis (I believe it’s still there). They had all kinds of ceramic bisque to choose from which you could paint with acrylic paints and I think my interest started there. I also did ceramics at school and I’ve taken various night classes and courses since then, but I’m mostly self taught from books and online resources like YouTube and Ceramic Arts Daily.
How do you start a piece and where do your ideas come from?
I get most of my ideas in the middle of the night. I’ll wake up and jot them down in the book I keep at the side of my bed. Sometimes I’ll mull them over for weeks before I actually model a prototype in clay, metal or wood. Once I have a prototype I’ll put it in the kitchen and keep looking at it, making adjustments until I’m happy with it. This stage can take a long time – I’ve got one prototype for a new egg box shape sitting on the counter at the moment which has been there for at least two months. It’s definitely not a quick process!
Where do you look for inspiration?
I read a lot of interiors magazines where I get ideas for colours and general trends. Pinterest is also a great source of inspiration. I’m always looking for ways to put a new spin on old shapes, like the personalised pint mugs.
Can you talk us through one of your pieces from start to finish?
The majority of my pieces are slip cast, so the process starts with me making a plaster mould either from a prototype I’ve made, or from the form I want to replicate. Mould making is an art in itself and I’m definitely still a beginner! Once I have a dry working mould, I cast it by pouring slip (liquid clay) into the pour holes. The plaster absorbs the water from the slip and a layer of clay starts to build up on the inside of the mould. Once it’s reached the desired thickness, I tip out the surplus slip and leave the mould to dry. As the clay dries, it shrinks away from plaster walls, which makes it easier to open the mould. You’re then left with a cast piece which needs to be cleaned and smoothed to remove the join lines left by the casting process. It then needs to be dried completely before firing. After the first firing the piece can be glazed – I apply any underglaze colours by hand, then dip in a clear glaze before a final firing.
Are you working on any new ideas at the moment?
I’m working on new ideas for Christmas. I love Christmas, so I don’t mind working on it for nine months of the year! I’m experimenting with some new techniques using powdered glass and a blowtorch, which is great fun.
Can you describe your workspace/studio?
I work from a shepherd’s hut type cabin in the garden. It’s great to have my own dedicated space as I’m quite messy. Before the cabin I worked at the dining table, which really wasn’t ideal.
Is your house a very creative space?
I try to keep my work out of the house as much as possible, but my eldest son (he’s six) is really creative and loves to requisition bits and pieces from my stash, so there’s usually a couple of projects on the go in the house.
How would you spend your perfect day?
My perfect day would start off with a (childfree!) morning spent catching up on orders in the shed. I’d leave the morning’s work out in the sun to dry while I spent the afternoon on the beach with the family – we love to take the bikes and ride down to Pentewan, a beach near St Austell, to swim and look for sea glass. Back at home with the kids in bed, I’d finish off my now dry pieces and spend a couple of hours working on new ideas. I really like working at night in the shed, with the owls, neighbouring sheep and Planet Rock Radio to keep me company.
Is there a strong creative community in Cornwall?
There really is, and you don’t have to look hard to find it. There are galleries and fairs all over Cornwall, showcasing some amazing work. I love to go to St Ives and poke around all the little galleries and shops that sell local work.
Finally, do you have a favourite piece and why?
My favourite piece is usually whatever I’m working on at the moment! So for now, it’s my berry punnets which are modelled on a traditional punnet shape, with heart-shaped holes in the bottom to act as a colander.