Sunday Makers Session with The Super Sparrow

Welcome to this weeks Sunday Makers Session! We have had a good chat with ceramicist Lilly, the talented maker behind The Super Sparrow. During this session we delve into her making processes, take a look at snippets of her studio space and find out about some of the new and exciting pieces she is developing.

Having visited your studio, and in time discovered more about your intriguing making process myself, it would be great to divulge a little of this to everyone else! Would you be able to tell us a little about the processes involved in forming clay into one of your beautiful products?

I started using clay in order to make little shapes for some animations I was working on. The tactility of the clay got me hooked and I took a short hand building course locally. From that I started practicing hand building and honing my skills. I use a lot of cheap, throwaway materials to help form my work - anything from the cardboard from toilet rolls, to newspaper to foam. I also make my own plaster moulds which I use to form bowls and plates. I research shapes and sizes I want then make individual moulds that can be reused again and again. I love the slowness of hand-building. The smoothing out of the clay as I work is very therapeutic. 

How would you define the style of your ceramics?

It’s definitely on the more minimalist end of the spectrum, but I would say, unfussy. For most pieces, I like reducing them to the essential components needed to function and start from there. There’s a few pieces, such as the espresso cups and milk jugs which have extra details (the handle and the fold) but generally I design them to work comfortably with as little as possible.  

I want a simple, relaxed feel to the work. I’m not a potter who makes each piece exactly identical, but rather like leaving some makers marks to reveal the process and journey we’ve gone on to get the final product. I like them to have personality.

Your studio itself is a wonderful light filled space, and in its South London location is surrounded by other creatives and craftspeople. Do you find that this environment helps you to feel inspired in any way?

I used to be in a studio not far away from where I am now, but I was at the end of a corridor and never saw anyone. It’s been so lovely to meet other makers and designers and it’s a really nice group of potters at the studio as well. One of the reasons for moving to a new space was to have more of a community and I definitely appreciate this. It’s really nice to have other small creative business people to bounce things off and there is a lot of generosity of spirit, skills and support. Some of the inspiration comes through osmosis; you don’t realise what you’re absorbing until it changes your practice or approach.

Your choice of glaze colours, such as sea green and galaxy, are charmingly reminiscent of nature. In opposition to built up South London, is it important for you to reflect and be inspired by our natural environment too?

When I first started using clay I was a bit of a kid in a candy store and bought loads of different colours of glazes. I went through a period of knowing what ‘feel’ I wanted my work to have but not being able to achieve it as the glazes I was using felt too synthetic or bright. Gradually, over time, I pared down the colours to those which reflect nature but also compliment each other. I wanted to reflect a soft, relaxed, unfussy feel to the work, but as you say, have more of a ‘natural’ quality to the colours. It was hard not using colours I liked, but didn’t really fit with the overall feel. I think a range needs to feel cohesive and colour choice is one of the elements that helps bring them together. 

Are you currently developing or working on any new design ideas that you can share with us?

I always have ideas percolating inside my head and some of them see the light of day and some never do. Most are a platform or starting point for something else.

I’ve been working on designing egg cups after a customer asked whether I make any. It got me thinking and I’ve been playing around with a few ideas, working out how big to make the groove for the egg itself.

New work can sometimes take quite a long time to develop and other times the first attempt pretty much sticks. There’s no rhyme or reason. If I’m struggling to make something work aesthetically or functionally or I lose interest in it I don’t worry too much about leaving it or starting from fresh with a new idea. What doesn’t work tells you more than what does, in a way. You learn to whittle ideas down to what is really important. 

I’ve been working on making a cake stand for some time now and my initial ideas just didn’t sit well with me once I’d made it. I wasn’t excited about the final look and it felt a bit clunky. This has lead onto me trying a very new and radical approach to a hybrid product which can function as two objects, which I’m really excited about. I can’t say more about this one yet but it’s much more a concept piece than most of my work.

We love your cheese boards at Florence + Blank as we understand the skill required to fire a piece of clay and keep it flat is extremely difficult! We therefore have a huge appreciation for them because of this! Do you have a favourite piece or design of your own that you have created?

The simple looking pieces can often be the trickiest and those cheeseboards are a good example of that!

I have to say I love my soap dishes so much. They’re a pleasing, simple, organic shape and function really well. The raised area in the inside is all that’s needed to keep the soap dry and the shape reflects the overall shape of the soap dish so aesthetically it’s cohesive. I tried numerous circles, different shapes and sizes and settled (of course) on the most simple. 

Also, it’s important for my work to be entirely functional; I don’t want a soap dish with holes allowing the soap residue to collect on the sink so I made sure my design contained everything in itself without extra pieces to make it more fussy.

I love making the soap dishes as well. They’re quick and can be done in one session and smoothing out the bottoms is more pleasing than I like to admit.

As an already very skilled and talented ceramicist, do you still feel like there is more for you to learn and expand upon within your craft? If so what other skills do you hope to master in time?

Absolutely. I think that’s why I’ve ended up working as a ceramicist - there’s always so much to learn and the materials and process keep you on your toes. 

I want to learn so much more about glazes and getting interesting effects with different materials. Or how you apply glaze can yield such amazing results. I haven’t played around with this very much yet and it’s definitely an area I’d like to develop.

I’ve also just bought a beginner’s wheel. I plan on using it for fettling and finishing off my hand made work to begin with, but am interested in learning to throw too. It’s an entirely different skill and takes years to become proficient at. I’m open to mixing techniques if I enjoy throwing. 

Finally, having built a successful business in ceramics yourself, do you have any advice for other creatives who are wanting to pursue a career in the arts industry? 

Every person’s journey is going to be different, and that is totally ok. It’s alright to feel like you’re floundering about a bit before finding your real passion. In fact, it’s important to try different things and maybe come to it through experimentation and chance.

Also, it’s important to be open to new ideas and new ways of working but don’t put pressure on yourself to think you ‘have’ to work in the same way others do. Find a pace and way that works for you while remaining open to new possibilities. 

Learn to say no to the opportunities that don’t serve you. Not everything is going to be a good fit for your business and that’s ok. Saying no to something you’re not keen on leaves you time to develop your business and focus on those opportunities which you want throw your whole heart into. 

Take a look at Lilly's ceramics here!

All photos featured are by Bruno Rondinelli