Meet the Maker – Clare Anderson
When you look at Clare Anderson’s ceramics, it’s clear that a plant-lover’s eye, concern for the environment and a bountiful kitchen garden are all influences on her work. There are bud vases for new blooms, stem rings for dried flowers, two-piece display vessels designed to eliminate the need for florist foam, and handmade dishes to serve up home-grown vegetables.
Here Clare talks to jeweller and fellow Folksy maker Marion Miller about her creative journey, running a creative business around three small boys and the pottery studio at the end of her garden.
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I have always felt a connection with the natural world around me. I’m constantly inspired by the pattern, colours, irregularities and shapes of small natural objects and big landscapes.Clare Anderson
Hi Clare. Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
Hi, I’m Clare, an ex-teacher turned potter. I make ceramics in my garden studio in Sheffield and run my little business around being a mum to my three sons. Most of my ceramics are about finding different ways to display flowers and foliage and I hope that my pieces encourage people to connect with nature by bringing more plants and flowers into their homes.
I would love to find out a bit more about how you became a potter. Can you share your journey?
I did quite a bit of ceramics for my A-level art at school, where I was lucky to have an amazing teacher (who once spent a weekend sticking together my final A-level piece after it blew up in the kiln!). After A-levels I did an art foundation course but focused more on photography, so I didn’t touch clay for quite a few years.
I got back into it by doing an evening course at The Art House in Sheffield with a friend. I started by hand building and in the first session I hadn’t really thought about what to make. At the time I had quite a few houseplants, including lots of string of hearts (ceropegia woodii), so I decided to make pots for those.
Next I wanted to try throwing a pot but, to be allowed to use the wheel, I first needed to do a half-day course. After the course I paid a monthly membership to use the facilities. I could only go once or twice a week but it was really nice to have some time doing something for myself – I’d drop my boys at nursery, cycle into town, get some clay and practise and practise.
By then I was pregnant with my third son, and when my bump became too big to reach the wheel I stopped. I knew it was something that I wanted to keep doing after my son was born, so we built a small studio in our garden. Gradually I’ve been able to spend more and more time in there and build it into a business.
Can you talk about the connection between your ceramics and your garden? How do the things you grow influence what you make or vice versa?
My mum has always been a keen gardener and years ago my husband had his own gardening business, so they both have far more knowledge and experience than I do. I am still very much experimental. If I like something I’ll give it a go.
Last year we put in a new bed that was for me to design and plant what I wanted. I thought I’d plan it so that there was colour, texture and various heights through the year. I started doing a plan but then just bought some things that I liked, stuck them in the ground and hoped for the best.
Having said that, I do grow certain plants and flowers that I know I can use either for photographing with my ceramics or to dry and sell with my ceramics. My mum has also started growing flowers in her garden specifically for me to use.
Many of my pieces have been designed for dried flowers. I hope my ceramics will encourage people to find sustainable solutions to imported, mass-produced and chemically grown flowers, which leave a huge carbon footprint and last a matter of days.Clare Anderson
I know you are passionate about the environment. How does that affect your creative business and how you run it?
I want my business to have as little negative impact on the environment as possible. Throughout the process I think about where I source my raw materials from, the water and energy that I use, and the packaging and delivery.
My packaging is either biodegradable or reused and I deliver locally when I can. I would also like to think that my finished pieces will be used and appreciated for years to come.
The flowers bowls I have made are two-part pieces for floral displays, to eliminate the need for oasis foam or other single-use materials. Many of my pieces, such as the stem blocks and rings, have been designed for dried flowers. I hope that my ceramics will encourage people to find sustainable solutions to imported, mass-produced and chemically grown flowers, which leave a huge carbon footprint and last a matter of days.
Drying flowers, sourcing locally grown seasonal flowers from small florists and appreciating a stem found in a hedgerow or grown in the garden are all good alternatives. Although I do sometimes use imported flowers, I only buy ones that I will go on to dry, so that they last months and even years, rather than days. I’m still learning and finding ways to reduce my environmental impact even further.
Can you share your creative process? How do you develop your designs?
I’d love to say that I do sketches and designs of all the things that I want to make, but usually I just have an idea in my head and give it a go. Sometimes it goes to plan, other times something else is created that I may prefer to what I was intending to make. I change designs and shapes by trial and error.
As for glazing, I started by doing lots of tests with different glazes, clays and temperatures. I don’t have a huge space for storing lots of glazes though, so, for now, I’m keeping this part of the process as simple as possible while still getting the effects and quality that I’m after.
I am not looking to create identical objects – I value the uniqueness of each piece. Whilst a batch of vases may all start from the same weight of clay, by the end of the process, sizes, shapes and glazes will vary slightly but this is all part of the nature and beauty of small batch, handmade ceramics.
What inspires you the most and do you have a favourite place to go for inspiration?
Business-wise I’m inspired by other parents and makers who make their businesses work around everything else. For design and creativity, the two main things that inspire me are the natural world, and the work and creations of other designers and makers.
I love looking at a real mix of work by other creatives – from woodwork, ceramics, interiors, garden design and florists. If I’m having a bit of a creative block, half an hour on the sofa with a ceramics or interiors book, Instagram or magazines such as 91 Magazine or Bloom will fill me with inspiration and motivation.
I am not looking to create identical objects – I value the uniqueness of each piece.Clare Anderson
The sea, hills, mountains, woods and my garden have all inspired pieces that I have made. Having grown up in Australia and Malaysia and then, as an adult, choosing to live in the French Alps, the north Cornish coast, and now Sheffield on the edge of the Peak District, I have always felt a connection with the natural world around me. I’m constantly inspired by the pattern, colours, irregularities and shapes of small natural objects and big landscapes.
Luckily, where I live there are lots of inspirational people around, the Peaks are on my doorstep and I have a stack of books and magazines next to my sofa, so really I have no excuses not to feel constantly inspired!
What would your ideal day be like?
My thoughts immediately went to far off places, mountains, lakes, sunshine and remote log cabins but I’ll assume you want a bit more reality, based around my business! Typically, days in the studio are quite short, fitting around school drop-off and pick-up times, so I often feel rushed.
On an ideal day, my husband and sons would be at home in the garden. We’ve usually got some sort of project on the go. Our next one is to build a fox-proof chicken run, after losing too many chickens to our local fox. So, they’d be in the garden working on the chicken house, I’d be in the studio with the doors open so I could hear them mixed with birds singing and either Radio 4 or a podcast. It would be late spring or early summer and I’d look out to see new plants coming up and that bright magical green that you get in springtime.
As much as I love throwing, my ideal day would involve trimming pots that are leather hard. It’s like scraping away at chocolate. I really like this stage because you neaten up the object and make it its final shape before firing. I quite like having a mixture of pieces to do, so I’d maybe do a few large platters, some stem rings and a few vases and bottles. I find this step and throwing really relaxing – it’s like a form of meditation.
After a lunch in the garden I’d have a wander around and collect some flowers to photograph in some of my pieces. I’d also like to get out into the Peak District for a walk, swim or both, and we’d have a picnic dinner with friends and a great view from an edge somewhere.
What does craft mean to you?
To me, craft is about learning a skill that enables you to create something unique. Crafts are about being handmade with thought, time and care. I like the idea that certain crafts go back a long way, and are in many ways still fairly unchanged. I’d like to think that hand-crafted objects would be appreciated and valued for a long time and that they are made with far less of a negative impact on the environment.
Over the last few years there seems to be a real trend against the throwaway, mass-produced consumerism of the past, towards a more meaningful and conscious way of living. Crafts seem to be increasingly popular and valued as more people are appreciating quality over quantity, and trying to live in a more meaningful and sustainable way.
Photographs by Jessica Sommerville Photography and Kit Ryall Photography
Meet the interviewer
The maker asking the questions this week is Marion Miller. Marion is a jeweller based on the small Orkney Island of Stronsay, off the north coast of Scotland. She creates beautiful pieces of jewellery in silver and enamel.