Meet the Maker – Kate Cooke Ceramics
Kate Cooke makes handmade stoneware pottery in her converted garden shed, with glazes and textures inspired by the landscape of the Peak District. Her pieces are thrown on a potter’s wheel, which requires discipline, practice and an appreciation of shape and design. Here Kate talks to fellow maker and Folksy seller Sarah Law from Sarah and the Wolf about her love of clay, her commitment to running an environmentally friendly creativity business, and how she’s learning to let go of her inner critic and embrace the mindfulness of making.
Treat yourself to 15% off Kate Cooke Ceramics with code FEATURE15 – valid until 31st January 2021. Shop Kate Cooke Ceramics on Folksy >
This is a journey I never thought I’d have the courage to take but I’m absolutely loving it!Kate Cooke
Hi Kate! Lovely to ‘meet’ you. Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your business?
Hello, I’m Kate and I’m a potter in Sheffield South Yorkshire. I live with my husband Simon and our three children, as well as Bracken our whippet lurcher. I have always loved being creative and first discovered pottery at school but it wasn’t until six years ago that I went back to it at a local pottery class, and got totally hooked.
My love of exploring the natural world led me to a degree in zoology at Aberdeen University and a career as a biology teacher and outdoor education. But just over a year ago I had the opportunity to take a sabbatical from teaching and I decided to spend it making pottery. It’s a journey I never thought I’d have the courage to take but I’m absolutely loving it!
What drew you to choose ceramics as your medium?
I think that ceramics is quite magical. You start with a lump of mud and with the alchemy of chemistry and fire you turn it into something beautiful. Opening the kiln is always exciting. I think it uses the ‘sciencey’ bit of my brain but also allows creativity and learning.
Connecting with my creative process is about giving myself permission to have time to play and dream.Kate Cooke
What drives your creative process?
I find that connecting with my creative process is actually more about dropping what drives me and allowing creativity to happen – giving myself permission to have time to play and dream, letting go of the inner critic. Having said that though, it makes me happy so that’s why I come back to it each time.
Watching you work, it looks like a meditative process. Is it as relaxing as you make it look?
For me, throwing on the wheel is a form of mindfulness. There are hours of practice in my hands now and I do find it really relaxing. When you throw a pot, the first thing you have to do is centre the clay and if I’m tense or distracted, it’s often when the clay just doesn’t work!
Each time I swim it leaves me feeling more energetic, alive and connected with wild spaces, nature and other people.Kate Cooke
I see that you’re a fan of open water swimming. What made you get into this and what motivates you to get into the freezing waters?
It does seem a bit crazy, doesn’t it? My sister has been a big inspiration to me. I’ve always enjoyed swimming in the summer but this is only the second winter I’ve been swimming regularly. I’m really lucky that I live in an area with lots of beautiful open water spaces. Each time I swim it leaves me feeling more energetic, alive and connected with wild spaces, nature and other people. I love it.
Your work has beautiful clean lines and I love how influenced you are by the colour blue. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Thank you, I really appreciate you saying that. I find colours from the landscapes that inspire me and try to bring those into my glaze palette. As a family, we love to explore and spend most holidays having little adventures around the UK.
I’m really passionate that my pottery should feel handmade – that you can see where my fingers have been. I hope that the texture of the pottery connects people with the slow process of making it and the natural resources that have been used. That’s often why I leave some of the clay exposed. Partly to make it look more like the landscapes I love, but also the texture is similar to the gritstone of the rocky outcrops that surround Sheffield and are so tactile.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m really bad at a typical day! I initially thought it was a bit of a kick back against a professional life as a teacher, where bells ring every hour and the pace is often really fast. Now I think it’s part of who I am and also juggling the needs of family life with running a creative business (not to mention the times we are living in too). Making pottery involves lots of stages, often with critical drying time between each step, so it’s really handy having my studio space at home in the garden. It does mean that I find it very difficult to go a whole day without just popping out to my studio for a moment.
I’m really passionate that my pottery should feel handmade – that you can see where my fingers have been.Kate Cooke
You write that it’s important to you that your creative business operates in an environmentally friendly way. What are some of the things you’re doing to reduce its impact on the environment?
Yes, this is so important to me. I think firstly the way I run my studio. Working with ceramics involves many precious finite elements. I have traps on my sink so that clay doesn’t get washed away into the water system. I also recycle my clay, so that very little gets wasted. I’m increasingly selective of what I fire in the kiln and making sure the kiln if fully loaded. I use an electric kiln at home, which is very insulated and run on renewable energy, but I’m constantly looking for ways of being more energy efficient.
I have found packaging my pottery for the post challenging. Getting the balance between the pot arriving safely, looking appealing, as well as environmentally friendly. But I now have a system where I use biodegradable packaging and my neighbours all collect their packaging for me to reuse, so where possible I will reuse packaging.
Probably my favourite pieces are the early very wonky pots I made that each felt like little steps of discovery.Kate Cooke
What’s your favourite piece you’ve made and why?
That’s a tricky question. One of the things I’ve loved about selling my ceramics is seeing them go out into the world and be used. I’ve had customers who have never bought handmade pottery before and that feels really special. Probably my favourite pieces are the early very wonky pots I made and which I still have scattered around our house and at friends’ and families’ that each felt like little steps of discovery.
What are your goals for 2021?
To continue to enjoy the journey! I have met such inspiring potters who after 50 or so years of pottery are just as excited about opening the kiln and their new projects and that is very much part of my inspiration. I also intend to go back to basics on glaze chemistry and spend some time really getting to know how they work and experiment to find some new textures and colours that I like to work with.
To celebrate being our featured maker Kate Cooke is offering 15% off all piece in her Folksy shop until 31st January 2021 – just add code FEATURE15 when you checkout.
Meet the interviewer
The maker asking the question this time was Sarah Law from Sarah and the Wolf. Sarah is a metalsmith and jewellery designer based in Glasgow. You can read more about Sarah in our Meet the Maker interview here and shop Sarah and the Wolf on Folksy here – https://folksy.com/shops/SarahandtheWolf