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An interview with ceramicist Jillian Riley

Jillian Riley has worked in art related professions for many years but the love of ceramics has captured her heart and has allowed her to pull together all her creative skills. Jillian will be exhibiting as part of the Design-Nation group stand at Handmade Oxford. We caught up with her to ask a few questions before this event.

Design-Nation asked: Please tell us about your practice and how your business began.

Jillian Riley answered: My work is a mixture of slip casting and hand sculpting. I make my own moulds from old poison, apothecary and scientific vessels and some shapes carved from plaster blocks. I have a limited colour pallet, mostly black and white and I mostly work in porcelain and parian clay. Black and white illustrations also play a key role in my work. I have a degree in Graphic design and spent time as a bookbinder and milliner before I settled into working in the greeting card industry for over 20 years, so I have only come to ceramics relatively recently. I took up ceramics at my local college at a night class then after a year I enrolled on a second night class at Derby University run by Josie Walter and Andrew Mason. A University Diploma in Ceramics followed, but I never imagined I would or could be selling my work to the public. In August 2014 I finally bit the bullet and did my first ceramic fair, Pots in the Pens in Cumbria and so my ceramic business began.

D-N: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?

J.R: Josie and Andrew were amazing tutors and their course was a fantastic window into the exciting world of ceramics but maybe the most influential person for my business was Rachael Chambers from Ferrers Gallery. Her business advice was key to me turning my hobby into a viable practice. Her thoughtful and comprehensive approach gave me the courage to reach for the stars….and I am still reaching!

D-N: What inspires you?

J.R: There are many things that inspire me but I do seem to be draw to things people love to hate; ravens and magpies, rats and bats, spiders and bugs. I also have a love of wild landscapes which are just starting to surface in my newest work. Trips to New Zealand, Shetland and most recently Iceland will provide, I suspect, years of inspiration.

D-N: Please tell us a bit about your design process.

J.R: I start the making process by finding or creating shapes to cast. I am looking for shapes that will provide me with flat areas for me to either decorate with illustrations or be a platform for my hand-sculpted flora and fauna. Each shape will suggest to me what comes next. I may already have illustrations in mind for pieces or the shape may determine what 3D element I should work on next. I never have a set plan, preferring to let the designs evolve. Sometimes a clear route is there before I get the clay out, sometimes it comes as I am working.

D-N: What is the best thing to have happened in your business to date?

J.R: I would find it hard to say what the very best thing to happen to my business is. In the last five years so many things have happened. I had a wish list of things I wanted to achieve, galleries I wanted to represent me and ceramic fairs I dared to dream to be accepted for. I still have a few to go but I am still slightly shocked that my list is getting shorter and shorter! In my first year I did win the Design Factory / Nation progression award and that was an amazing

boost….yes I am still smiling!

D-N: What is your workspace like?

J.R: I work from home in three main areas. The ‘clean’ space I work in is where all the ideas and inspiration come from. It’s a little like an Aladdin’s cave of treasures, lots of books, found objects and lots of shelves with work from friends mixed in with a little magic…. and my drawing desk and computer!

I have a tiny room where I get muddy and cast my vessels and create my clay creatures and plants and do any finishing, silver-smithing or woodwork.

The last space is in the yard, in a tiny but very real ‘potting shed’ where my kiln lives.

D-N: Do you work hard on your PR or do others help you to market your business?

J.R: As for marketing, I am a one woman band, my graphics degree helps with the promotional material but I am a little slower at the social media end of things….that comes under the heading of ‘ could try harder’!

D-N: What are the main challenges in your practice?

J.R: There are two main challenges for me, one is space, I would love a studio where the making and firing are in one room. The second is time. I do everything myself so juggling making, firing, illustrating, marketing… and general paperwork is all very time consuming. I think I would benefit from an 8th day in the week for development.

D-N: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?

J.R: In 10 yrs time I would love to be in that bigger studio and have room to teach and inspire people to love clay as people have done for me. I would also like to have ticked a few more events off my ceramic bucket list.

D-N: If you could collaborate with someone new who would that be?

J.R: I would love to collaborate with Jennie McCall, we have touched on it so maybe that will also fit into the 10yr plan.

D-N: If you weren’t a designer what would you like to do?

J.R: If I were not a designer I think I would either be working with animals, plants or go back to bookbinding.

D-N: Why did you join Design-Nation? What is helpful about being a member?

J.R: Design Nation has been a great source of support for me, in the beginning I needed to find my feet in what felt like a complete career change, I got that help in full measure. The support from doing group stands at big events has been so helpful, financially and emotionally. I also love the regional groups, finding designers in the local area provides a bonus, sharing thoughts and resources and social days makes it really worthwhile.

D-N: Do you have you any exhibitions, commissions or events coming up that we should know about?

J.R: Things that are coming up…

Earth & Fire Ceramic Festival- Welbeck Estate, Notts 21st – 23rd June

Hand Made Oxford -Waterperry Gardens, Oxford 27th -30th June

Pots In The Pens -Penrith, Cumbria 2nd – 4th August

Art In Clay -Hatfield House, Herts 16th – 18th August

Ceramics In Southwell Market Square, Southwell 25th August

Sheffield Ceramic Festival The Walled Garden, Meersbrook Pk 21st – 22nd September

Crafted By Hand Masham Yorkshire 2nd _3rd Novenber

The Artisan Market Haddon Hall Derbyshire 15th – 17th November


Name not yet finalised ! With the Lincolnshire DN members Sam Scorer Gallery, Lincoln 19th August – Sept 1st

Design Nation ‘Connections’ Lakeside Gallery , Nottingham University October

‘Gothic’ Masham Gallery , Yorkshire 15th November – 31st December

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Laura Jacometti


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