Sunday Makers Session with Ceramicist Rebecca Ridley

This Sunday marks the start of what we hope will become a continuous insight into the practice and lives of the wonderful makers and artists here at Florence and Blank.

The first maker we would like you to meet is Rebecca. She is a ceramicist working from a characterful and cosy studio in Northumberland's countryside. We chat to her about her inspirations, working process and find out what craft she would have wanted to master if ceramics hadn't been her calling first.

What drew you to ceramics initially?

Being dyslexic I've always been drawn to more creative subjects and, as soon as I picked up a lump of clay, I was in love. Clay is such a versatile (and most of the time forgiving) material, you can colour, throw, hand build, slip cast, texture, smooth and then, if it all goes wrong, recycle it and try again. It's the perfect material with which to switch off your brain and focus on the clay and working with your hands.

Is ceramics a full-time career for you, or do you work in other areas too?

Ceramics is currently a part-time career, with plans to, hopefully, make it fulltime in the near future. However, in the meantime I also work part-time as a waitress in an ice-cream parlour, with an amazing team!   

Tell us about your workspace; what do you love about it and where is your studio located?

I’m currently working from a home studio in the Northumberland countryside, sharing it with my sister who is a recent textiles/weaving graduate! I love the freedom that working from home gives me (and no commute!) but I do sometimes miss the community of working in a large studio.  

What or who are your main inspirations in ceramics?

The materials themselves are my main source of inspiration. The shapes and forms that they flow in and out of during throwing are what I use to push my making forward and develop new forms. For color schemes, I draw inspiration from the countryside and coastline around me. I also find the continuing opportunity to learn and develop ceramic skills extraordinarily exciting! 

You have mentioned previously 'the importance of handmade products in the current climate of mass production', can you expand on this and tell us how this value is reflected in your making?

I believe handmade craft (digital craft too) has such an intrinsically important value in the current climate. Environmentally, it helps fight the ‘throw away’ culture; when I buy a handmade item I always feel that it has a greater value, someone has invested time, money and energy in learning and honing a craft. You're much less likely to toss that item away when you realize the effort that has gone into making it.

Moving away from mass production for non-essential items, also means helping stop the exploitation of people at the bottom of the raw material/manufacturing line. The lower cost of mass-produced products means lower wages for those making them, and bigger profit margins for the large-scale companies, which never sits right with me. On a slightly lighter note, it's also a fantastic way of supporting genuine people and helping to keep old crafts alive! 

Can you give us some insight into your making process? In particular, how you make your lovely colourful vessels?

I really enjoy the freedom of creating ceramics in a fluid way – allowing me to design as I make – which I believe results in completely unique and charming objects.  

Staining clay for my coloured vessels can take up to a week to make before you get to throwing! It involves drying out the white clay body till bone dry, crushing it up a bit to help the slip form quicker, adding the stains and water then leaving it to ‘slake’ until the clay has dissolved into a slip and the colour fully dispersed. The next step is to dry out the slip on a plaster batt until it forms a workable and wedgeable consistency, and you can start throwing! (For step by step photos, pop over to my saved highlights on Instagram). 

Which of the vessels in your collection is your personal favourite, and why?

My favourite is one I've just thrown, a marbled teal and white jar vessel. It's not even finished and I'm already debating whether to sell it or not. 

Finally, if you could be a master in another craft what would it be?

Definitely silversmithing! I have great appreciation for anyone who can successfully solder metal or set a stone.