Meet the Maker – Ink and Clay
Hands are very important to potter Bronwen Wells from Ink & Clay. It’s through her hands that she turns inspiration to creation, forms pots, adds colour to the world, draws and, being deaf from birth, they are also the way she communicates and makes herself heard. In this week’s Meet the Maker interview, Bronwen talks to fellow Folksy seller Sarah Capper from Doodleicious Art about her connection to the natural world, how she discovered pottery and why she enjoys the “restrictions” implicit in making functional ceramics…
Shop Ink & Clay on Folksy – https://folksy.com/shops/InknClay
I’ve been deaf from birth and, at school, art classes were the time I had unimpeded access to a subject. I soon confirmed my love of drawing in pencil and with pen and ink.Bronwen Wells, Ink & Clay
Hi Bronwen! Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
Hello, I’m Bronwen Wells of Ink and Clay and I’ve been described as a “potter and lover of trees”. I certainly love the natural world and I like to work at creating beautiful functional pieces that can be enjoyed in use everyday.
I love the natural world and I like to work at creating beautiful functional pieces that can be enjoyed in use everyday.Bronwen Wells, Ink & Clay
How did you get to where you are now? Is your background in ceramics or did you discover pottery along the way?
I first became interested in art and the creative world while at school in Exeter. I’ve been deaf from birth and, at school, art classes were the time I had unimpeded access to a subject. I soon confirmed my love of drawing in pencil and with pen and ink. I wanted to investigate the boundaries of drawing and enrolled at Plymouth College of Art and Design to study illustration. Most of my course tutors encouraged me to try different things (such as printmaking, which I also find very satisfying), but it was not until the end of my final year that I discovered clay – a simple, natural, foundation material that responded to my handling to form wonderful shapes and surfaces so receptive to my drawing.
There are a lot of factors involved in the creation of a new piece and very often several things combine to show me the shape of pot required.Bronwen Wells, Ink & Clay
Can you talk us through your creative process?
I’ve become deeply interested in the creation of objects that reflect my surroundings while retaining useful function. I also enjoy photography and often wander about trying to capture images of interest, details and the peculiar, which prompt a sketch drawn from memory, real life or the image itself. There are a lot of factors involved in the creation of a new piece and very often the new technique I’m experimenting with will push me toward a particular drawing I’ve done or colour I want to use, several things combining to show me the shape of pot required.
I throw my pots in my studio at Kigbeare, my hands and the clay conspiring together to make a form that sometimes surprises me, but this bit never fails to be a delight. Real, visceral creation of something from a simple base material, in this case clay. I set the pots to dry for a few days before finishing and tidying the clay followed by a couple more days drying. Then it depends on which technique I’m using for decoration. Some are painted with underglazes at this early stage, but most go straight to the kiln for bisque firing, which slowly raises the temperature to dry the pot completely and then fuse the clay into a sinter or ceramic, making it less fragile to handle yet still porous to receive decoration and glazes. Provided I’ve got the drying right there are normally no casualties at this stage, so opening the kiln to reveal the blank canvases for my illustration is a pleasure.
I usually make quite a few at the same time so the kiln is always full and also I have some spare ‘blanks’, just in case. Next, the pots are hand painted and drawn and finally I use a clear glaze over the top. Then it’s back in the kiln for the glaze firing to fuse the colours and glazes to the pot and form the impervious glass film, which makes them practical and safe to use. Then, the bit I find most stressful in the whole process, opening the kiln after a glaze firing! Colours and glazes are very sensitive to conditions in the kiln and you can rarely be sure of the results until the kiln has cooled enough to open up. The whole process is labour intensive but it ensures that every item I make is completely unique.
My creative process is not complete until the mug is full of indulgent hot-chocolate and cradled in expectant hands or the cake stand is presenting a cake for tea-time demolitionBronwen Wells, Ink & Clay
Pretty with purpose, the process is not complete, however, until the mug is full of indulgent hot-chocolate and cradled in expectant hands, the stand is presenting a cake for tea-time demolition or the bowl is offering an olive to a friend. It’s the use of my pots that completes my work.
Most of my influences stem from the local botany… leaves on the garden pond, a new birch plantation growing up with me, the delicacy of the dog-roses in the hedges, and trees, so many trees.Bronwen Wells, Ink & Clay
Your designs are so beautifully decorated. Does your inspiration come from the countryside around you or further afield?
A country girl at heart, I like to be in the glorious countryside that I’m lucky enough to live amongst and I can’t help but be influenced by the intricate beauty, at so many different scales, within the natural world. Most of my influences stem from the local botany with the bees and butterflies to add that extra spark of interest. Leaves on the garden pond, a new plantation of birch trees growing up with me, the delicacy of the dog-roses in the hedges, and trees, so many trees. But snorkelling on holiday in the Mediterranean gave me a fish or two and a wonderfully different colour palette. Inspiration is often random and unexpected but always the best of feelings.
Although I did a short course in the basics of working with clay I am principally self taught. Naturally inquisitive and always encouraged to experiment, learning new techniques is a rich and rewarding process that urges me toward complementary new designs, and continuing to discover more about my craft spurs me on.
I make a range of Christmas decorations and jewellery throughout the year to use up the slip waste from throwing and fill up the corners of the kiln. People seem to enjoy their frivolity.Bronwen Wells, Ink & Clay
Does where you live influence your work in any other way? For example, is there a strong maker community where you are?
I feel very lucky to have discovered Kigbeare Studios and Gallery near Okehampton, where the farmhouse, cottages and outbuildings have been restored to provide a complex of studio workshops and a beautiful gallery set around a landscaped courtyard. I work in the Tack Room surrounded by a community of eight other artists working with a wide range of media – wood, metal, clay, oil paints, water colours, print and soap. The emphasis at Kigbeare may be on clay but the presence of the variety of expressive media is affirming and supportive. Being a self-employed artist can be quite lonely and isolating, so working within a group of other like-minded people is definitely a big help.
I have taken on commissions ranging from customised dog bowls to award platters for sunflower-growing competitions! Often they have stimulated a new design or even range of pots.Bronwen Wells, Ink & Clay
You look like you make most things that anyone would ever need, but do you do commissions too?
I rather like the “restriction” of maintaining purposeful functionality in my pieces, so they tend to be easily recognisable as everyday objects. I love to do my own thing but I do also take on commissions where the challenge of the joint creation process, trying to match up the expectation of the commissioner with my own feelings for the piece, can send me off in delightful new directions. I have taken on commissions ranging from customised dog bowls to award platters (sunflower-growing competitions!) and some larger pots. Often they have stimulated a new design or even range of pots.
I adore colour and find natural colours vibrant and strong: the bright vivaciousness of a beech leaf in spring followed later by its almost shocking orange/brown in the autumn sunshine.Bronwen Wells, Ink & Clay
You have your own beautiful style. How long has it taken to develop that?
I make no conscious effort to work in any particular direction or style, preferring to let my fondness for new interests take me where they will. I adore colour and find natural colours vibrant and strong: the bright vivaciousness of a beech leaf in spring followed later by its almost shocking orange/brown in the autumn sunshine – I could go on and on! So my “style” is just me coming through in my pots.
I like the mellow pale cream of stoneware clay. These are fired at relatively high temperatures but give a strong, durable and chip-resistant pot, which suits my aim of practical utility.Bronwen Wells, Ink & Clay
I see that you are working with earthenware, which looks wonderful. Do you prefer earthenware over other clays?
I am continuing to experiment with the lovely strong, deep, homely colours of earthenware clays and how they influence and even dictate patterns and colours. I have completed several pieces and something will come but I feel the work is still “in development” at present.
My current preference is a lighter base for my decoration and I like the mellow pale cream of stoneware clay. These are fired at relatively high temperatures but give a strong, durable and chip-resistant pot, which suits my aim of practical utility. The high firing temperatures required of stoneware clay can upset colours, however, by making them look a bit “washed-out”, which I want to avoid. It’s a delicate balance and another reason for angst when opening the kiln after a final glaze firing!
I look forward to Christmas, with all the colours and lights and general good feeling that comes about at craft fairs and get-togethers.Bronwen Wells, Ink & Clay
Tell me about your studio.
I work from home in Cornwall and from Kigbeare, depending on which stage of the process is involved. Research, drawing and design work I do at home, where I also have a small work room in a renovated potting shed. The old shed roof fell in and, with a bit of help (well, nagging) from me, its replacement now covers my lovely work room where I decorate pots thrown at Kigbeare, make slip-ware, thread the necklaces and attach the ear-hooks etc. And there are a few shelves of stock too.
What does craft mean to you?
My hands are very important to me and ‘craft’ is the acquired and honed skill and artistry with which I use my hands to turn inspiration to creation, to make something where there was nothing. Being able to express a thought or join in a conversation and make myself heard using British Sign Language, to feel the pot forming between my fingers, to draw the line that crisps the edge of a leaf, to colour, just enough. And not to drop anything!
Will you be having a handmade Christmas this year?
I look forward to Christmas, with all the colours and lights and general good feeling that comes about at fairs and get-togethers. I make a range of decorations throughout the year to use up the slip waste from throwing and fill up the corners of the kiln and people seem to enjoy their frivolity. The wonky snowman that didn’t make the grade or the snowflake that melted too much in the kiln usually avoid the bin by finding a spare branch on our Christmas tree, and plenty of handmade food and drink passes through my hands at Christmas time… via my versatile pottery of course!
Meet the Interviewer
This week the Folksy seller asking the questions is Sarah Capper from Doodleicious Art. You can read our interview with Sarah here and shop Doodleicious on Folksy here – https://folksy.com/shops/Doodleiciousdoodles