Meet the Maker: Lorna Gilbert Ceramics
Lorna Gilbert is a potter who makes ceramics designed to nurture your soul and evoke a sense of escapism. She is inspired by those moments you can’t put into words: sweeping horizons, vast open spaces, the beauty of a fern slowly unfolding. But for Lorna, clay is also therapy. Working with it, and accepting its imperfections, allowed her to forgive what she saw as her own imperfections, and rediscover her creative voice. Here, Lorna talks to fellow Folksy seller Nell Swift from Hem: Handwoven about her ceramics, her family and why she believes it’s important to make pots that can be held, used and enjoyed.
To celebrate being our featured maker Lorna is offering a 15% discount on all her ceramics until 25 May 2020 – just add the code Folksy15 when you check out. Click here to visit her Folksy shop >
I want to make ceramics that make your heart sing. I want to make pots that evoke a sense of beauty and escapism.Lorna Gilbert Ceramics
Hello Lorna. I’m a huge fan of your ceramics and prints and very pleased to meet you. Could you tell us about yourself?
Hi Nell. Thank you so much, it’s lovely to meet you too. I’m Lorna and I’m a potter living in Leeds, West Yorkshire. I run my business, Lorna Gilbert Ceramics, from my garden studio, where I make small-batch, wheel-thrown ceramics.
How did you get into ceramics? You have a fine art background, so how did you find your way to clay?
I’ve always made things and from an early age had a creative voice working away at things. I was quite a tomboy as a child and could often be found at the bottom of the garden making fires and mud pies or trying to design pulley systems, but it was during my fine art textile degree that I first felt the pull of ceramics. I wasn’t ready to let go of clay after art college, so I attended a part-time pottery course for many years while also working as a florist.
When my second son was born we found out he had Down Syndrome. My creative voice disappeared overnight. During that first year clay became my therapy and the place I felt like me. I was coming to terms with making a baby that wasn’t perfect while creating pots that weren’t perfect. There were many tears and a lot of soul searching during this time. As I forgave myself and accepted my imperfections I fell in love with my son and heard my creative voice waking up. The following year I was lucky enough to be gifted a wheel. I began throwing more and more and working on my throwing technique. This, along with a growing sense of peace and freedom, made me realise that I needed to see where clay could take me. My pots are as much about the process of making as they are the final piece.
My inspiration comes from the smallest unfurling leaf in spring, a sweeping horizon and huge open space. It comes from those moments you can’t put into words.Lorna Gilbert Ceramics
It was your colour palette and your use of matte and gloss glazes that drew me into your work. They remind me of the sea and big skies. Tell us about your inspiration.
I want to make ceramics that make your heart sing. I want them to evoke a sense of beauty and escapism. I’m an outdoors girl and love to be in nature, by the sea or out in the wilds. My inspiration comes from the smallest unfurling leaf in spring, a sweeping horizon and huge open space. It comes from those moments you can’t put into words.
I love the fact that I never have total control and that every single pot I produce is unique.Lorna Gilbert Ceramics
I can completely relate to your love of big open spaces. How does this influence your work? Does it affect the vessels you make?
I make a range of oval pots with undulating rims that cast shadows and reflect light differently throughout the day, which hint at views across the hills. I work with glazes that take on their own magic in the kiln and I try to use them in a way that gives a nod to natural horizons. But I also love the fact that I never have total control and that every single pot I produce is unique.
In my next life I would like to come back as a printmaker. I often draw incision lines into clay before firing. The quality of line I’m after is that of an etched printmaker’s line.Lorna Gilbert Ceramics
How does printmaking fit in to your practice?
Printmaking is my second love. It’s the quality of line, the chance marks and the endless possibilities. In my next life I would like to come back as a printmaker. I often draw incision lines into leather-hard clay before firing. Once it’s been through its first firing, I paint underglaze over the whole surface, then dry rub the surface with a soft cloth. The underglaze that’s sitting in the incised lines stays and the rest is rubbed away. The quality of line I’m after is that of an etched printmaker’s line.
My tools belonged to an art teacher and still have his initials on them. When he died, he left them to a family friend who kindly offered them to me. I think he would have been pleased they’re all still in use.Lorna Gilbert Ceramics
I’m curious about your working environment and the tools you use. What are your favourites and how do you manage things like firing? It all sounds so perilous.
My studio is my haven. It’s in our converted garage so can be very chilly in winter and hot in summer but I love it. My dog loves to be in there with me too, especially if my log burner is on. I have lots of tools but my favourite and most used are some that came with my wheel. They belonged to an art teacher and all still have his initials on them. When he died, he left his wheel and tools to a family friend who kindly offered them to me. I think he would have been pleased they’re all still in use. The batt system for my wheel is also a treasure, as my father-in-law custom made them for me. It’s a set of square wooden boards that fit into a wooden form that sits over the wheel head. This means I can take the freshly thrown pots off the wheel on the board without disturbing it. It makes life so much easier.
Having gone through a fine art degree, I often felt frustrated by the exclusivity of art and things being put on a pedestal. I think that’s why I now mostly make things that can be used.Lorna Gilbert Ceramics
I’m really interested in your thoughts about the use of handmade ceramics. They are so precious and fragile. With my weaving, it’s important to me that they are worn and used. How do you feel about the place handmade ceramics have in the home?
I love this question. I’m a true believer in things being used and touched. Having gone through a fine art degree, I often felt frustrated by the exclusivity of art and things being put on a pedestal. I think that’s why I now mostly make things that can be used. It’s important to me that my pots can be held and enjoyed.
We live in a fast-moving society where little attention is given to feeding our souls. We ought to be treating ourselves with love and respect and putting value into the small things in life that give us pleasure: using your favourite cup for your first coffee of the day or taking five minutes to sit outside in nature. Beautiful handmade things can help reconnect and add to those precious moments that can fill our souls with love.
We ought to be treating ourselves with love and valuing the small things in life that give us pleasure, like using your favourite cup for your first coffee of the day.Lorna Gilbert Ceramics
I love craft that has a sense of place, and being derived from the environment that produces the raw materials. Do you have a favourite clay to work with? Where does it come from and is this significant in your practice and sense of place?
Like you, I love the act of turning a natural raw material into something beautiful. There’s something very basic about working with clay and fire. The earliest fragment of pottery stem from 400 -1200 BC, so there’s a sense of linking with the past.
My studio time feeds my soul. I crave to be in there and am rarely happier than when I’ve got clay in my hands.Lorna Gilbert Ceramics
I mainly use white stoneware clay, which is a gorgeous clay to throw with as it’s so smooth. As a contrast, I do enjoy hand building my birdbaths out of Raku clay. This is a much more robust, gritty clay and can weather outside much better than white stoneware.
How does ceramics fit in with your family and work life? How does creating make you feel?
My studio time has to fit around my family commitments and vice versa. I feel very lucky to have my studio at home, as it means I can be very flexible with my time. I can often be found in my studio first thing in the morning or last thing at night with my PJs on checking the kiln or covering or uncovering pots. I try to save my paperwork to do sitting at the kitchen table when my sons are back from school. My studio time feeds my soul. I crave to be in there and am rarely happier than when I’ve got clay in my hands.
My head is always rumbling with new ideas and designs, so I can’t wait to see some of those coming to life when lockdown is lifted.Lorna Gilbert Ceramics
And lastly… what future plans do you have? Where do you see your ceramics taking you?
This year has seen a lot of my plans put on hold, but I’m delighted to have a few new galleries lined up to stock my work when the lockdown is lifted. My head is always rumbling with new ideas and designs, so I can’t wait to see some of those coming to life.
Enjoy 15% off all Lorna Gilbert’s ceramics until 25 May 2020 with the code Folksy15
Meet the Interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is Nell Swift from Hem: Handwoven. Nell is a weaver based in the Hope Valley in the Peak District, who works on a restored 100-year-old loom originally used by a utopian community led by Eric Gill. Read our interview with Nell here – https://blog.folksy.com/2020/04/27/hem-handwoven