To complement ’20 Makers, 20 Objects’ showcase we are interviewing exhibitors to gain more insights into their work and practice. Here we talked to Ceramicist Katie Lowe, a contemporary designer/maker in the field of slip casting ceramics.
Design-Nation: Please tell us about ‘Eleven’, your object for the ‘20 Makers 20 Objects’ showcase and how it came into being?
Katie Lowe: My object for the 20 Makers 20 Objects showcase is ‘Eleven’, which is eleven blue gradient slipcast ceramic vessels in a beech wood frame. ‘Eleven’ is the perfect example of my work with gradients of colour and really shows the range of blues from soft pale shades to deep dark tones. This design also has the hole through the wooden frame, so that the vessel can peek out underneath. This playful addition gives a further sense of movement alongside the tessellating vessel shapes in various sizes to portray my inspiration; the sea and sky.
I have always loved repeat and multiples within my work and been inspired by other artists who work this way. Once I found slipcasting I knew this was going to be the process for me and the more I developed it I knew I was going to create lots of miniature forms. This led me onto my degree show of ‘360’, 360 hanging gradient blue vessels in a wave like formation from a steel frame and mirrored acrylic. I had already started developing an interior range of wall pieces to sit alongside my installation at university so when I launched my studio practice I knew my first step would be to develop these further. ‘Eleven’ was the first piece I created, and now I have many other smaller pieces as part of the same range.
DN: How did the particular shape of these vessels come about? And the decision to “frame” them? How do you decide on the colour gradations and is it difficult to control in the making?
KL: I first developed and made my shapes in my final year of university. I loved the process of the wood and plaster lathe and wanted to create shapes that showed repeat and tessellation. Creating three different sizes was another way the shapes could sit together, still replicating each other but adding levels and movement, which works particularly well in the framed pieces. Alongside my installation I always knew I wanted to create the framed wall pieces; I wanted to play with how your eyes move across the piece due to the shapes, heights and colours.
I first started experimenting with colour gradients because of my fascination with the sea and sky and how many variations of beautiful blues they bring! Lots of testing different percentages of oxides and stains went into getting the perfect shades and tones of blue. Sometimes, depending on what shelf of the kiln you fire the individual colours on, it does give slightly different shades of the blue it’s supposed to be, but I guess that’s the joy of ceramics!
DN: How has your own background and training informed the development of the piece?
KL: I will admit I am quite a perfectionist and I do think that shows within these pieces; the clean lines of the frame, soft colour gradients and composition of the vessels all harmonise together. My love of colour has developed the piece into a new monochrome version: I’m still playing with the shapes, sizes and gradients but giving the final work a more symmetrical feel by using black white and grey.
DN: How is the object made? Does anyone else get involved in the process? Are there many stages? How many do you think you have produced to date?
KL: Ceramics and mould-making definitely isn’t an instant outcome process. From creating the model, making the plastic mould, casting, firing, finishing; there are a lot of processes before you see your finished piece! I am very lucky to have an uncle who is a joiner; he makes all my wood frames and plinths for me and is also based in Nottingham.
As ‘Eleven’ is the biggest framed piece I make, I think I have only made around six or seven so far. They are all unique pieces, due to the composition and shades and tones of the vessels. My pieces are really customisable and I love that my customers are able to pick the shapes and colours they are drawn to when creating their sets.
DN: What is the trickiest thing about the development and making process, and what is the most satisfying?
KL: The most satisfying part of my making process is seeing the finished pieces, I love how all the shapes and colours sit together and you don’t get to see that until the very end. The trickiest part is knowing if the vessels are going to come out smooth and evenly coloured, the clay has the be well mixed and hit the mould evenly to get that perfect smooth surface.
DN: Tell us about your workspace.
KL: I am very lucky to have a shed at the bottom of the garden to call my workshop, although I am very quickly outgrowing it. I have been in there for just over three years now and I have accumulated a lot of stuff. I have recently been looking into getting a second shed for storage so I have more room to work in my current one: a kiln, big table and lots of clay and moulds are all I’m hoping to be left in the end! There are definitely a lot of pros working from home, jumping in and out when you have a few spare hours are handy because I have a part time job too. The one disadvantage I would say is it’s very quiet and I do miss the interaction with other makers, bouncing ideas off each other and being in a creative space.
DN: Do you have a favourite tool or process, and is it used in the making of this object?
KL: I love the processes my work goes through but my favourite part is colouring the clay slip and creating the subtle gradients. When testing new colours I am always excited about lifting the lid of the kiln and discovering what colour it’s turned out. I remember when creating the blue gradients within ‘Eleven’ I had to be quite selective and restrain myself from testing more and more, the possibilities of mixing oxides and stains were endless and I loved all the wide variety of blues created!
DN:What ambitions do you have for the future of this product and work like this?
KL: I would love to develop this product further, not only with colours but with composition, heights/levels and wood design. I am constantly inspired by products and interiors: I have so many ideas it’s difficult to choose what to experiment with first.