The deVOL Ceramics Studio
29th May 2018
I’ve been at deVOL almost 2 years and I’ve realised I haven’t contributed anything to the deVOL Journal yet, so for my first entry I thought I would give you all a little insight into the deVOL Ceramics Studio, the low-down of what I get up to on a day-to-day basis, the not so glamorous jobs we do, how much coffee is consumed, and so on…
The deVOL Ceramics Studio (we’ve moved right next door but this is still used for our kilns)
Firstly, in case you are new to deVOL and have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll give you a quick introduction into who makes up the ceramics team and the products that we make.
Kat is our newest member who joined in July 2017 with a degree in Fine Art. She graduated having specialised in ceramics and now makes our new Porcelain Pendant Lights, the latest addition to the deVOL lighting range. These have gone down an absolute treat with our customers already after only a few months of them being on sale and they were also on display with the beautiful new deVOL Haberdasher’s Kitchen, which was revealed at Clerkenwell Design Week last week.
Kat working on some porcelain shade prototypes
The new deVOL Porcelain Pendant Lights
Next we have Hannah, who makes all of our beautiful range of handmade tiles for our sister company, Floors of Stone. With a degree in Decorative Arts from Nottingham Trent, Hannah was originally only working one afternoon a week in the studio whilst also working as a sales advisor, but gradually needed more and more time making to fulfill all the orders she was getting, and so began working full time with us in October 2016. Since then, she’s literally made thousands of tiles and has sent them all over the world – she’s even had her tiles on display in Paris!
Hannah rolling flowers into her Cotes Meadow tiles
Cotes Meadow Tiles
And lastly, there’s me – I’m a Loughborough graduate with a degree in 3D Design, specialising in hand-thrown ceramics. I joined deVOL in July 2016 and I now design and make all of the tableware that you see in our showrooms and on our website. Some of the pieces have come with me from university and I’ve refined them and continued to make them, other bits have been added to the collection since being at deVOL. I also make the Crackle Pendant Lights and the Emerald Green London Tiles which are on display in our St John’s Square showroom and most recently, the new Crackle Metro Tiles, which we installed in the new Millhouse showroom at Cotes Mill this spring.
The deVOL Tableware Collection
So that’s us in a nutshell! The Ceramic Angels, as we’ve been known to call ourselves! I think it’s really important to have a good group dynamic when you’re working around other people all day. We have a good laugh, there are lots of jokes and heaps of laughter; it’s a very happy and positive place to work. We all bounce off each other, whether it’s for creative ideas or helping each other solve a problem… or whether me and Hannah have just had a bit too much caffeine!
I think it can be a little unclear sometimes what it is that ceramicists and potters do besides ‘making pots and bowls’ and a lot of the time we aren’t actually making physical work. A huge chunk of our time is spent doing all those silly little jobs that aren’t quite glamorous enough to Instagram or Boomerang or to write blogs about. Housekeeping takes up more of our time than you might think; making sure all the equipment and tools we need are clean and ready to use when we need them, doing regular stock takes of materials and glazes, kiln repair and maintenance, loading and unloading firings, packing orders, assembling light fittings, washing batts, regular vacuuming, emails, quotations, the list goes on! A lot of hard work goes into running the ceramics studio, and all of these things need to be constantly monitored in order for the studio to work successfully and as smoothly as possible.
Unloading one of the kilns
Most of my days differ depending on what I’m making, so I never have a set timetable. Either way, I like to get into the studio for about 8am, it’s a quick cycle from my flat to the Mill and I’ll always head straight to the kitchen to make a strong coffee to start the day. I also have to start the day with a to-do list, it’s essential for me and I feel a little lost without one. I find this just helps keep my days better directed and it feels so much more organised if I can see exactly what I need to get accomplished. Lists are not for everyone, but clay is a material that has lots of various working stages; points when it has to be completely left alone to firm up and points where you need to get a move on and trim the forms before they dry too much to work on again. For example, the Crackle Pendants are slip cast, a process where liquid clay is poured into a plaster mould and left to set, the water from the slip is absorbed by the plaster and a clay wall is formed in the mould. This process involves a lot of waiting for the clay to be at the right consistency and not a lot of working time, so I have to work around the various stages of this process and fill the gaps with other little jobs.
Slip cast pendant lights | Drying in the mould after drainage
My favourite days are when I know I have lots to throw on the wheel, whether it’s for customer orders or to replenish the stock in any of our three showrooms. I’m most productive on the wheel first thing in the morning, before I have time to think about anything else I need to be doing. I tend to find if I just get on with it then that’s when I make some of my best work. Pottery is kind of cool like that, I can sit down for an hour or two and churn out a board of 40 or 50 mugs, some music or a podcast in my headphones and just zone out and drift off somewhere else. It’s not that the process is monotonous in any way, quite the contrary, I sort of leave my hands to it and the muscle memory kicks in and they just do their thing… It’s difficult to explain, but you almost learn the steps to a dance and once you know it by heart; you can just crack on with it without thinking too much about it.
The hardest part for a lot of potters is the final firing of work, letting the work go that you’ve spent so long ensuring is just how you want it and leaving it to the fate of the kiln. Whilst we use an electric kiln in the studio and these are programmed to ramp at a certain speed to a specific temperature, as with any firing process, there is always an element of unpredictability and a risk that something will go wrong. It’s just the nature of the material and you have to learn to accept that you cannot have complete control over the final part of the pottery process. We all still get a bit nervous before we open every kiln load after a firing. Whilst we know what we are expecting and hoping to find, there is still always some sort of emotion; excitement, surprise, relief, disappointment.
All we can do is celebrate the successes when we have them and learn from the mistakes that we make along the way. Our products are constantly refined and adapted every time we make a new batch of work and I think that shows the determination of our little ceramics studio, our desire to make the best products we can for all of our customers and to keep growing as makers and designers.
Tableware on display at Cotes Mill
deVOL Tableware in the Strawberry Hill Kitchen
Anyway, that’s all from me for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a little bit of an insight into what we get up to in the ceramics studio.
I’m going to try and write something again really soon, but in the meantime, you can keep up to date with what I’m doing at deVOL by following me on Instagram @claire_fowler_design for behind the scenes photos, videos and of course lots of silliness from the three of us!
If you’d like to see more of our ever-growing collection of ceramics just follow the links below:
– The deVOL Lighting Collection
– Handmade Ceramic Tiles by deVOL
– deVOL Tableware