Meet the Maker: Heather Richards
Potter Heather Richards describes herself as a star-gazing dreamer… others have described her as a “quirky imagineer”. Looking at her handmade ceramics painted with hares on motorbikes, socks hung up on a washing line in pairs by an eager husband on laundry duty, and fluttering bunting strung out by the imaginary Mrs Digby’s to brighten up a gloomy day, it’s not hard to see why. We talked to Heather to find out more about her creative, and beautifully chaotic, life…
Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
I am a primarily a ceramic artist. I slip cast, hand build and hand paint my ceramics, but I also sculpt, play with mixed media, do life castings, work in plaster and resin, love Sculpey and, given spare hours, I love a really good draw. In a life dedicated to sticking and gluing, I am the Chief Mess Maker, Chaos Queen, spontaneous ‘let’s-doer’ (sometimes resulting in burned dinners), lego sorter and wiper of sticky surfaces.
I keep three vital elements working: children, creative business and house. Sometimes I manage all three successfully and simultaneously, sometimes not!
In a life dedicated to sticking and gluing, I am the Chief Mess Maker, Chaos Queen, spontaneous ‘let’s-doer’, lego sorter and wiper of sticky surfaces.
Did you have a creative childhood? Do you think things are the same for children today?
Absolutely! My childhood memories are of endless summers, planishing copper things with Dad in the garage, having free reign in the shed, pottering about and making things – knitting, fabric, flower potions, paper – drawing and basically twizzling about in what seemed to be one loooong summer holiday! We seemed to spend every weekend at fêtes with fluttering bunting, where Dad would judge stationary engines. Bunting and the smell of traction engines sends me to a very happy headspace.
My children, equally, have every resource available to them for every creative whim they have. My husband jokes that there is not one artistic or crafting medium I don’t have! We love school events where they get to dress up, World Book Day and Roald Dahl Day especially! They help me make their costumes – and know I get enthusiastic. But my children, I guess, are not the norm.
My childhood memories are of endless summers, planishing copper things with Dad in the garage, having free reign in the shed, pottering about and making things.
When did you start working with clay?
My love of clay started in secondary school. I loved it so much that I set up a lunchtime club for younger students and another club for profoundly handicapped children and young people from the local home where I volunteered. I got my first kiln when I was 18 and was utterly delighted that I could do the entire process independently. I used to take over my parents’ greenhouse and I’d work in there with the tomatoes. (Just for the record, a greenhouse is not ideal!)
I worked as the creative adult education teacher in a psychiatric home, doing all sorts of wildly creative things, before working in a creative capacity in Youth Services. Fifteen years ago, I gave up my day job to be a rural artist and managed to get my work into galleries but it wasn’t enough to live on, so off I went back to ‘proper work’. I had to work so hard that it was the end of clay for a while, but we will call this a ‘grown-up sabbatical’. I’m much better now!
I did a pottery painting party for my niece and loved it – 20 children all creating and getting a real buzz from it. So I slowly developed the ceramic painting just to ‘fill up the kiln’. It’s those ‘kiln fillers’ that have now taken over.
How did you find your own style of decorated pottery?
It comes back to the children again. I did a pottery painting party for my niece and loved it – 20 children all creating and getting a real buzz from it. I felt so fired up! So I slowly developed the ceramic painting just to ‘fill up the kiln’. I can’t stand waste, so I only like to fire up a kiln if it’s stacked to the gunnels. It’s those ‘kiln fillers’ that have now taken over and I don’t do as many hands-on art sessions with children.
I started out selling my pottery at local farmers’ market and local events, but most of my sales now come from word-of-mouth recommendations, which is very lovely. I currently supply two shops: the fantastic Diss Iron Works and Hedgehog Gardens in Bury St Edmunds.
I have an overactive imagination! Ideas pop out all over the place and I’m ‘easily distracted’.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I have an overactive imagination! Ideas pop out all over the place and I’m ‘easily distracted’. My work has a strong sense of narrative. There’s a back story to everything I make, like the hares riding motorbikes. The floral walled gardens pieces come from sitting on my Nana’s back door step, looking out into her garden while dipping chopped apple in hundreds and thousands. I illustrated a story called ‘Bernard the Badly Drawn Hare’ for my little boy to try to encourage him to read, perhaps one day I’ll finish that for him.
I illustrated a story called ‘Bernard the Badly Drawn Hare’ for my little boy to try to encourage him to read, perhaps one day I’ll finish that for him.
Where do you source your clay and materials? Is it important to try to be as local as possible?
I use companies in Stoke-on-Trent for clay, colours, equipment and slip. I realised that I’d been ordering from Chromartie for 27 years, which made me feel a bit long in the tooth! It’s hugely important to me to try to use only recycled materials for my packaging, so I’m delighted to have rescued a ‘Belingo-full’ of bubble wrap and protective fleece from a local shop refit. That will keep me in packaging for quite a while!
My perfect day would be at least 48 hours long – and in sepia, smelling faintly of traction engines.
Can you describe your studio?
My pottery studio is in my renovated garage, which was previously a Grade 2-listed cow shed (of all things!). It’s a quick dash across from the house to fill the moulds as I do breakfasts with the family, set the timer and pelt back to pour out the slip.
My pottery studio is in my renovated garage, which was previously a Grade 2-listed cow shed of all things!
I have two kilns – Big Bertha and Martha who is smaller for instant orders – two long benches of slip moulds and a huge collection of tools and equipment, materials and ‘things to do things with’ or ‘objets trouvés’ as I like to address the piles of seemingly random clutter. I would love to say that my pottery studio is a dreamy and idyllic work space, but it’s a frenetic mini industry, and at busy times the state of it reflects that. Because of the diversity of what I do I’ve had to take over the shed for storage and I do all the painting and admin in our front room, which I share with the children’s creative play, lego, drums and homework ‘office’, so I can be painting hares while they get on with their things.
No matter what I wear, the ‘badges’ of what I do will show on my clothes, like a record of my daily activity.
What do you do in a typical day?
My day is a production line on a mini scale, so it can be filled with slip-casting, pouring moulds, tipping out, de-moulding, fettling, drying, stacking bisque kilns. I constantly underestimate how long glazing takes; big orders take forever; packing and unpacking kilns is a ‘day eater’; labelling and packing is another…
No matter what I wear, the ‘badges’ of what I do will show on my clothes, like a record of my daily activity. If it’s slip casting, I have splatters up my jeans. If I’m primarily painting commissions or Folksy orders, the rule of tempus fugit applies and I will often forget to have lunch. I do get into a bit of a zone. If I’m lettering on wedding plate I find it hard to breathe at the same time. You’d think I’d have the hang of multi-tasking by now.
The hardest thing about making ceramics? Simply time – I never seem to have enough!
What’s the hardest thing about making ceramics?
Simply time – I never seem to have enough! I have so many ideas and never manage to finish a list. Perhaps my lists are too long?
What’s the best thing about being creative for a living?
It’s just that! It’s a creative life. I truly love being able to create things that make people smile and coming up with bespoke ceramics for perfect wedding gifts, producing family memory pieces and making things that people treasure. I get lovely emails from people who have received one of my pieces as a gift, and have loved it enough to contact me directly – that makes my day!
My works makes sense of who I am. I’m a star-gazing dreamer, a quirky imagineer.
If you weren’t a maker, what would you be?
Bereft! My works makes sense of who I am. I am a star-gazing dreamer – or a ‘quirky imagineer’ as someone once described me.
Stoke your creative fire with good coffee, great music and smile – lots! And when it all gets too much, which it will sometimes, throw it all down and stomp round the woods with the dog – if you don’t have one, borrow one!
What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
Put your passion into top gear and dive in! Trust your instinct, work hard and do it if you like it. While it’s incredibly useful to get advice, some advice can feel like critique and can have a dampening effect. Stoke your creative fire with good coffee, great music and smile – lots! And when it all gets too much, which it will sometimes, throw it all down and stomp round the woods with the dog – if you don’t have one, borrow one! Make a new list – it will all still be there when you get back. (There, I have given advice – the irony is not lost!)
My sock jugs are an ode to my husband, who took over laundry duties nine months ago. He’s stunningly good at it and hangs the socks out in pairs, which means I have to do a little chaos dance to restore some equilibrium. Don’t tell him but sometimes I mess up the cutlery drawer to restore balance too!
Did you watch the Great Pottery Throw Down? What did you think? Would you ever enter?
I absolutely LOVED it! It’s the potter’s equivalent of Bake Off! I winced in pain when it went really wrong, which is does in every studio! I really loved watching the contestants work – some of the pieces were very, very accomplished and made with such tight time constraints! I don’t generally watch TV at all, but I totally engaged with this. I don’t think I would want to put myself through the stress of it though!
My bunting pottery is inspired by the imaginary Miss Digby, who relished every moment of this bunting. Bright, sunny, yummy colours, all chaotic different lengths. ‘This will brighten the gloomiest of days,’ she thought.
How would you spend your perfect day?
My perfect day would be at least 48 hours long – and in sepia, smelling faintly of traction engines. The studio sprites would have come in overnight and reconstituted all my clay and set out the work space beautifully. I would be able to leisurely create the stock pieces I need and have unlimited time for sketching and dreaming, then still have time to make the pieces that are still in my head. My labrador Flo and I would stomp round Tyrells Wood for at least an hour. I would remember to have lunch before 2pm.
Oh and I would look like a dreamy 1950s lady, with perfect hair and a clean house with a stunning meal on the table for the kiddlets. We would spend the evening doing happy homework, telling silly stories, dancing to Spotify with the twirly disco light bulb. And then very late at night I would remember to put a tiny thank-you note and a treat for my studio sprites, so they wanted to clear up again that night!
Use code summer for 10% off Heather’s Richard’s pottery – valid until 4th July 2016