Meet the Maker – Clara Castner
Clara Castner makes vessels in clay that cry out to be touched. Her pieces are inspired by geology and natural surfaces – rocks eroded by time, bark, water – and each one is carved into by hand to create tactile patterns, accentuated by beautiful glazes that pool and settle into the spaces left behind. Here Clara talks to Jess from The Whimsical Marbler about her making process, why she chooses to mix her own glazes and the proudest moment of her creative career so far.
Treat yourself to 15% discount off all Clara’s pieces – just add the code CLARA15 when you check out before midnight on 22nd November 2020. Click here to shop https://folksy.com/shops/ClaraCastner
I make stoneware ceramics inspired by natural surfaces: rock surfaces eroded by time, bark, water. I want the surfaces to invite you to feel them.Clara Castner
Hi Clara, I love your work! Would you like to introduce yourself?
I’m Clara and I actually squeaked when I was asked to be featured maker! Clara Castner. I live with my husband of eight months and our very pretty, but very aloof cat, Lola. I make stoneware ceramics inspired by natural surfaces: rocks eroded by time, bark, water. I want the surfaces to invite you to feel them, to touch the cool surface. I also adore colour. I use photographs taken from walks to inspire my carvings. With my vases, I am combining my love of all things floral with my love of colour and texture.
How did your ceramics journey start and why did you choose to do a ceramics degree?
I hadn’t had anything to do with clay until I studied an Art & Design Foundation Course. I’d been doing lots of City & Guilds with textiles and wanted to step up a level with my studies, hence the foundation course. I was certain I would be taking what I learned and using it in my textile practice. Instead, I met the most wonderful teacher, Robert Cooper, who introduced me to clay. I applied to Central St Martins for their BA (Hons) Ceramic Design course and was accepted.
Share with us your making process and what drew you to slip casting in particular? What is your favourite part of creating your work?
I hadn’t even heard of slip casting until I started my degree. It fascinated me. Lots of multiples, simple shapes and the ability to alter the cast. I was hooked. I make my own moulds. They are not beautiful moulds but they do the trick. More recently, I have been having models 3D printed and making moulds of the prints. I’m currently having a 3D printer built for me, so I can experiment with more complicated moulds, shapes and textures.
My process is simple but time consuming. Liquid clay is poured into the plaster mould. The timer is set and, depending on how thick I want the piece to be, the clay sits in the mould with the plaster pulling out the moisture from the clay, until the excess is poured out. The cast is left in the mould for a while, letting it firm up enough to be handled. I then take the mould apart, and remove the cast.
Once the cast has firmed up a little more, I carve each piece by hand. The rims and bases are refined and then the vase is fired for the first time, also known as the bisque firing. Once the piece has had its first firing, I often give the work a sand, so that the base has a lovely satin feel, and sand the rims just to give them a nice finish. The work is then washed, left to dry, and glazed inside and out. It is then fired again, for its high firing, which is usually at least 1250 degrees celcius. Then, if I am adding a gold or platinum rim, the piece has a third firing.
I love adding texture, thinking about how the glaze might settle into each carving and how it will pool and run over the pieceClara Castner
It’s hard to pick a favourite part, but I think it is probably the carving. I love adding the texture, thinking about how the glaze might settle into each carving and how it will pool and run over the piece.
What’s your studio space like?
I work in half our cellar. I share it with all the bits and pieces from the house that we don’t need right now or can’t bear to part with, but it’s so amazing not to be working outside in the garden, which is where I used to work, even in winter, before we bought this house. I’ve slowly made it into my own space, working out what works well… and fairy lights make everything so much better!
Making your own glazes is a bit like making your own bread. You can tweak the recipe to your own ends and create something just for you.Clara Castner
I absolutely love your glazes, particularly your cobalt blue ones. You clearly have a love for glazes too. What is it you love so much about making your own and what do you think constitutes a good glaze in your eyes?
You have a lot more control when you’re making your own glazes. I do still use ready made, for example, all the clear glazes on the inside of my vases are bought ready made in powder form. But it’s a bit like making your own bread. You can tweak the recipe to your own ends and create something just for you. A good glaze for me is one that works every time, so you can rely on how it will behave in the kiln.
Who or what inspires you and you work?
Inspiration is everywhere. I’ve found I return a lot to my geology A Level, as I look at mineral surfaces and rock erosion patterns. Who knew that A Level would prove so useful in later life! I also spend a lot of time photographing bark patterns and lichen on rocks and am very lucky to have a very tolerant husband, who waits as I try and get the perfect photograph.
I have to say one of my biggest inspirations is Linda Bloomfield, whose work I followed during my degree and whose glazes I use – a lot!
Inspiration is everywhere. I’ve found I return a lot to my geology A Level, as I look at mineral surfaces and rock erosion patterns.Clara Castner
Like many other makers, I love playing with other materials. Do you enjoy creating in other mediums too?
I absolutely love patchwork and quilting. I have made the best of lockdown and have worked my way through my UFO (Un-Finished Objects) pile, finishing one large sampler quilt in particular that I am very happy with.
Without doubt, my proudest moment is appearing on the back cover of Linda Bloomfield’s amazing glaze book Colour in Glazes.Clara Castner
With regards to your work, what’s your proudest moment to date?
Without a doubt, it’s appearing on the back cover of the second edition of Linda Bloomfield’s amazing glaze book Colour in Glazes. I also appear inside the book. I was absolutely lost for words and thrilled.
2020 has been a tough year. Has what has happened changed your approach to the way you work?
I’ve found it quite hard. I am not so good on the social media side of things. I did a face-to-face market once a month, and didn’t really have to advertise I was there and would still do well. Now it’s all about showing up on “social” and holding on to the fact that your posts are often buried by the algorithm, and that, while you are shouting into the ether of the internet, different people see different posts. It’s been hard, but I’m finally getting there.
What is the one piece of advice you’d give to someone looking to start up their own creative business?
Do it. If you don’t, you will always wonder ‘what if’. Yes, it can be hard. It is also hard being brave and attending markets face to face or putting your face on social media. But it can also be immensely rewarding, and is definitely worth it.
Enjoy 15% off all Clara’s pieces with code CLARA15 – valid until midnight 22 November 2020.