Creative Lives — Practise, practise, practise: Ceramicist Hannah Bould on patience and pottery

Posted 12 September 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

Most of us are consumed by lives spent in front of several screens. But if you ask ceramicist Hannah Bould, she’d tell you that’s something she’s not doing enough of. Despite Instagram being her main shop front, you’re more likely to find her working in a shed-cum-studio in the back of her parents’ garden in north London. Swapping swiping, clicking and liking for throwing, glazing and filling the kiln, her range of stoneware pottery has found its way onto the shelves of Liberty and The Conran Shop. But ceramics wasn’t always the plan; while she credits her illustration BA with helping her establish a style, it was a chance ceramics evening class that created a perfect storm of a physical process combined with graphic elements. Earlier this year Hannah also temporarily relocated – moving her process from the privacy of her shed and into the public eye, setting up shop in Wieden+Kennedy’s Makers’ Residency space. We meet to chat patterns, printmaking and the science of ceramics. 

Hannah Bould

Job Title

Ceramicist

Based

London

Previous Employment

Studio assistant, Paupers Press, Hoxton (2010–2016)

Education

BA Illustration, Camberwell College of Art (2007–2010)

Clients

Liberty, The Conran Shop, numerous independent shops 

Website
Social Media

Hannah Bould

Hannah’s studio at the back of her parent’s garden

Hannah’s studio at the back of her parent’s garden

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Day-to-Day

How would you describe what you do?
I mostly make tableware and functional stoneware pottery. All my work is wheel thrown and fired in my garden studio in north London. I sell my work through my website and do sales but my main orders are wholesale for lifestyle and homeware shops in the UK, Germany and the US.

What does a typical working day look like?
Because my studio is at the bottom of my parents’ garden, my hours are very unusual and often quite long! I try to stick to 9–5 hours but often I’m there late in the evening. It’s hard to switch off, mainly because I’m excited about whatever project I’m in the middle of. Pottery can’t be rushed, so the work dictates how I use my time; usually I’ll throw in the morning and then spend the rest of the day glazing and filling the kiln. Not much of my time is spent in front of the computer, I should probably do more, my website gets a bit neglected!

Where does the majority of your work take place?
In the studio. It’s rare that there’s a day I’m not in there.

“Pottery can’t be rushed, so the work dictates how I use my time.”

How does your project-based work usually come about?
Most of my work has come about directly or indirectly through Instagram, it’s a lovely way for people to see what you’re excited about right now. I’m not sure what makes me right for the jobs I work on, I think it’s just a matter of taste and thankfully some people like mine.

How collaborative is your work?
Not particularly, apart from discussions with stockists about the kind of pieces they would like and what kind of collection will work. I would like to work alongside other makers in the future, it would be fun to mix disciplines. 

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I love the process, so I find a lot of aspects of pottery enjoyable. I like honing and refining my skills, and get excited when I can see the quality of my work improving. I don’t particularly enjoy the general studio maintenance and feel that I’m not that great at the business side of things.

Mugs

Plate

Bisqueware

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I did a residency at Wieden+Kennedy earlier this year, where I threw live in their makers window. It was interesting and refreshing to work in full view of the public as I am so used to working on my own in the comfort of my own space. It was really exciting to exhibit all the work I made whilst there; it was a nice literal depiction of a process from beginning to end.

What skills are essential to your job?
Aside from obvious pottery skills, patience is very important. I’ve realised there is no way to cut corners in ceramics and knowledge comes with experience. I’m quite impatient, so I’ve had to slow down and learn to enjoy the wait, whether that’s waiting for a kiln to cool down or a pot to dry.

Are you currently working on any side projects?
I’m planning on doing a pop-up shop with fellow maker Sophie from Grain and Knot, a south London-based woodworker. I’ve never set up my own sale or physical shop before, so I’m excited to have free rein. It will also be a lovely opportunity to show work that is slightly more sculptural or one-off.

What tools do you use most for your work?
My wheel and my kiln are my most used tools. Up until recently I was using an old 1970s wheel that was given to me by a family friend; it did me very well and saw me through a lot of orders but it was pretty loud because it was so old, so I’m really enjoying the smooth and quiet quality of my new wheel.

“I like honing and refining my skills, and get excited when I can see the quality of my work improving.”

Pieces for Liberty

Pieces for The Conran Shop

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
At a very young age I wanted to be a vet or be a farmer (and have a dog farm?!) but I always went to after-school art classes and knew that I wanted to go to study art at university. Once I was at Camberwell, I was sure I was going to be a printmaker.

What influence has your upbringing had on your choice of career?
It’s had a massive influence. My mum is an artist and did a printmaking MA when I was growing up. She got me in to etching and monoprinting which now influences my work on a daily basis. My parents have always been really supportive of my career and on a practical level, I wouldn’t have a studio if it wasn’t for the surrender of their shed!

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I don’t think I was particularly interested in illustration whilst doing my degree, but the work I made in the print room whilst I was there was extremely useful to my work now. All of my imagery, glazes and patterns are derivative of the prints I was making then. It was useful to have a pre-established style to transpose onto clay, it meant I could focus on the process and let the design come naturally.

Residency at Wieden+Kennedy’s Makers Space

Residency at Wieden+Kennedy’s Makers Space

What were your first jobs?
My first art-related job was at the Paupers Press print studio. I stayed there until I started my own business. Whilst there one of my colleagues told me about a ceramics studio in the same building and suggested I attend their evening class. I started going and immediately fell in love with throwing on the wheel. From there I ended up interning for the teacher, Stuart Carey and then did a bit of paid work for him and fellow ceramicist Nicola Tassie. It was immensely useful to me, I was able to see what it took to run a ceramic studio and their advice and experience was invaluable.

What in particular has helped you the most at the start of your career?
A couple of years ago, I interned for potter Helen Levi in Brooklyn, New York. At the time I wanted to do something that would propel me into doing ceramics full time. It felt like a big monetary risk at the time, and I wasn’t sure I had what it takes to make a business. Whilst working for Helen I learnt a lot of technique as well as how to run a studio but most of all, I gained confidence in my abilities, which pushed me to take the leap upon my return.

“I don’t think I was particularly interested in illustration whilst doing my degree, but the work I made in the print room whilst I was there was extremely useful to my work now.”

Mugs

Mugs and pots

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
Probably my first order for Liberty, making uniform pieces on a big scale was a valuable learning curve. It focused my process and forced me to be more efficient and consistent.

What skills have you learnt along the way?
There’s so much science involved in ceramics, there’s always something to learn and there’s always room to improve. There are many variables that need to be just-so in order to achieve the desired result. Inevitably that means a lot of trial and error to work it out. Certain techniques require specific levels of moisture in the clay and different clays or glazes react differently at varying temperatures in the kiln. I’ve certainly had my fair share of nightmare situations with kilns failing to reach temperature and pieces cracking but there is always a reason why these things happen and it’s satisfying to fix the problem.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
Before one of my very first sales, my shelving unit fell down in my studio, completely smashing months worth of work. I ended up remaking all of the work in a few days. Although this was completely devastating, the work made under that pressure was actually better, and it made me realise that I could work to a deadline.

Is your job what you thought it would be?
I never really planned to be doing this as a job, it all happened pretty organically and at a rate that I felt I could keep up with. If I’m honest it doesn’t really feel like a job, I feel very lucky!

Various pieces

Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next?
I would love to do a residency of some kind and to learn some more, perhaps abroad. 

Could you do this job forever?
Yes definitely, ceramics in some capacity.

What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
Probably creating more experimental work and perhaps a bit of teaching.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a ceramicist and illustrator?
I would strongly advise doing an internship or apprenticeship and just practise, practise, practise.

Posted 12 September 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Illustration
Mentions: Hannah Bould, Wieden+Kennedy, Paupers Press, Stuart Carey, Nicola Tassie, Helen Levi
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