Geology is at the core of Bridget Macklin’s ceramics: Working with porcelain she makes hand built vessels using slabs and flattened coils, mixing found materials into the clay and scraping back to reveal fantastic and colourful strata.
Bridget will be showcasing on our stand at Decorex from 16th – 19th September. Design-Nation caught up with Bridget recently and she told us about her practice, inspiration and future plans.
Design-Nation asked: Can you tell us about your practice and how your business began?
Bridget Macklin: I started using porcelain after a short course on mould making & slip casting at Bath Spa University and found that I was immediately hooked. Shortly afterwards I signed up for a course at City Lit College in Holborn. One thing led to another and I became more and more infatuated with clays, particularly the contrast between the pure, white, luxurious feel of porcelain and the grungiest materials that I could lay my hands on. This has remained my practice to date. It involves massive risks with materials and fantastic surprises when I open the kiln.
DN: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?
BM: That’s a really difficult question. Without Simon Taylor at Weston College in Weston super Mare I would never have discovered my love of clay. Without Robert Cooper at City Lit I would never have learned to take such risks with the materials. Without Annie Turner (also at City Lit) I would never have become so fixated on my attention to detail. If I had to pick one it would be Annie because I never work on a piece without her voice in my ear urging me to look again at its edge.
DN: What inspires you and your work?
BM: I adore being outside in a wild landscape absorbing the way that space wraps around me: Whilst the big picture is of grandeur and majesty, close up you see cliffs forming layer upon layer of different colours or textures. These really light my fire. I should have been a geologist like my grandfather – maybe it’s in the genes.
DN: Can you tell us a bit about your design process?
BM: It’s about shapes that work with the materials. Sometimes I make open vessels: at other times I create jars or tall cylinders. I don’t often begin with a sketch: I am more inclined to begin in 3D and go for what feels right given the landscape that has inspired me and my mood on the day. I listen to classical music whilst working and this affects the way I integrate the found material with the porcelain. So the folds, spirals and twists are often a response to the music as well as the landscape.
DN: What is your workspace like?
BM: I am so lucky! We recently moved to Cornwall and I now have a purpose-built studio at the back of the house. It is quite big and there is space for everything that I currently need. What’s more, we have constructed double doors between the studio and garage so if I ever want to expand, the space is there. When the puppy came along I bought a huge playpen for Molly so that she could be with me in the studio but not get in the way. That didn’t work so now I work inside the playpen with Molly and the playpen protects her from the chemicals and from my finished work.
DN: Do you work hard on your PR or do you work with others on marketing?
BM: I am on Facebook and Instagram and I used to write a weekly blog. To be honest I am not sure that it makes a great deal of difference. I think the best form of marketing is to do events which enable you to interact with the public. I do have over 700 followers on Instagram but I am not aware that any of them have become customers.
DN: What are the main challenges in your practice?
BM: I take huge risks with the materials – you are not supposed to abuse the purity of porcelain with the kinds of un-purified clays which I add – so I get a great many failures. Sometimes, if I am working to a strict deadline this can be quite stressful, so I have to be strict with myself about keeping going. The worst thing is when something explodes in the kiln and that impacts on other work which comes out looking fantastic apart from debris that has stuck to it. It is difficult to factor all these failures into the finished cost of successes so I find it hard to strike a balance between charging a fair price for my work and getting sufficient sales.
DN: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?
BM: I love working with customers to create a piece that they will love so I would like to be doing some really large commissions. I don’t want to leave the lovely little gallery which sells my work in on the Roseland in Cornwall: Tregony Gallery has really supported me so I shall make for them as long as I am working but it would be amazing to have a solo show somewhere prestigious.
DN: If you could collaborate with someone who would you like that to be?
BM: Kurt Jackson. He is a Cornish landscape painter who uses huge amounts of texture, often incorporating debris and found objects into his work, and writes directly onto his canvases. I love his spontaneity and the way he interacts with the landscape he is painting. I also love that he is based in Cornwall which has been my spiritual home for many years. Doing an exhibition with him would be a dream come true.
DN: If you weren’t a designer what would you be?
BM: Retired! I was a special needs teacher for many years and so I would probably still be one if it wasn’t for my discovery of a love for clay and my wonderfully supportive husband who suggested that I give up teaching to follow a dream.
DN: Why did you join Design Nation? What do you enjoy and find helpful from being a member?
BM: I was invited to join Design Factory, as it was then, when I was a very new maker and it was great to have their endorsement and to benefit from their mentoring and support for joint ventures such as Handmade at Kew and Top Drawer. When you are not sure what the big shows are about it is extremely helpful to have other people around from the same organisation whom you can learn from. I have also enjoyed taking part in some of the CPD events run by Design Nation: these have inspired me to strive for the next level and have enabled me to meet fellow makers with similar attitudes.
DN: Have you got any exhibitions, commission or event coming up you are taking part in?
BM: I am taking part in an exhibition run by London Potters in Battersea which is part of the London Design Festival during September. I am also part of the Design Nation team that is going to Decorex at Syon House. I usually have a couple of commissions on the go: I am just beginning a new piece which is a surprise 50th birthday present from a customer to his wife.
Interview by Rhea Clements