Don’t you dare give me an ash tray for Christmas!
…were the words from my mum when I told her I was taking a pottery course. I had decided to have a dabble in a weekly evening class, as I thought it would be novel to own a few of my own pieces. At the time, I was in a tempestuous relationship with an artist and needed a little respite from the chaos of our life. The result is that I now have several pots that perhaps not even a mother could love. But did I find respite? I did – and I also found an amazing tutor, who I am now lucky enough to call my friend. A lady with a grace and an attitude that is exemplary. Louise Waller, despite her own expertise in ceramics, never ever discouraged my work and even saw the positive in what, I must say, was at times terrible.
I am pleased to own one of her pieces in my home, Treeview. The main quality that Louise Waller has is that she doesn’t know how fabulous she is. ten million hardbacks decided to ask her some questions about her work and life.
10mh: What was the first ever ceramic object you created?
At secondary school in Sheffield we had a kiln which was like a big mysterious object in the corner of the room, it was rarely used. There were two projects in school, however, when the kiln was used. My dad still has one of the outcomes in his garage, it is a smallish tile cut and shaped like the front of our old house with the number 59 on it. It was slab built and glazed with watery yellow and greens, as far as I can remember. That was my first experience of clay.
10mh: What is Baltic Clay?
Baltic Clay is a shared studio run by Chris Turrell-Watts, it opened in November 2015 and I am one of 12 studio members. Chris runs evening and some weekend classes. Wendy is another studio member and she also runs children’s classes. The rest of us just get in as often as possible to make our work. We pay a monthly fee, have storage space, share facilities and the support of 11 other like-minded crafts people developing their practice in ceramics.
10mh: Can you describe a typical session in the studio?
Depending on the day and time I go I can usually have a fair guess as to who else will be working. There is usually just three or four of us, including Chris. We shuffle up if more people then arrive. I think we are a very supportive group and although we all work independently of each other there are trends in the gallery whether we all interpret a similar shape or work to a similar scale but it is done in a very unconscious and positive way.
Quite often, one of us will ask for support with development of a piece and this is always really valuable. At the moment there are a lot of big pieces being produced, prior to that a few of us created variations with holes, bottle-shaped vessels that taper in at the top have also been a theme that a few of us have explored in our own way.
10mh: Sometimes when I am working in my ‘Blue Room’ writing studio I play music. Do you use music in your creative process, if so, what do you play?
In the studio we have Radio 4 on, I’d never listened to it until I started at Baltic Clay, but I’ve since been to a live recording of Brain of Britain and know all about The Archers. The news has been interesting this year and we’ve had a lot of discussion in the studio. The plays and fiction-based pieces are probably more relaxing.
10mh: Who are your ceramic and pottery idols and why?
I am inspired by the approach of the minimalist artists. Through working at the Tate I am exposed to artists who don’t work in clay but quite often the way they work, or how they approach their work inspires me. I feel it is good to be inspired by things outside pottery as it helps keep my work unique and fresh. Saying that, Art Deco is my particular ceramics era and Susie Cooper would probably be my favourite. I especially love the geometric patterns produced in the Art Deco era. The exhibition at the Walker Gallery about 10 years ago Art Deco and the Age of Jazz on Art Deco ceramics was fantastic.
I have A Potter’s Book by Bernard Leach but it still feels quite unrelatable in the way that someone doing a perfect yoga pose does. I am hundreds of hours away from being able to fully appreciate this. Lucie Rie is another favourite. She is probably the potter whose work I would most like to own.
10mh: What are you currently working on?
I’ve always got several things on the go. At the moment. I’m working on teapots and milk jugs for Ryde cafe as I love cycling and having a cycle cafe as our neighbour in the Baltic Triangle is very exciting.
I’m also working on a series of tree vases. These are a good thing to have on the go alongside the technical teapot project as they are more creative and sculptural. They are quite popular and will be in Love Saves the Day (a vintage and wedding shop) in New Brighton in the next couple of weeks. One idea I’ve been developing with them is to carve into the vessel a heart and couple’s initials or anniversary date as you may see on a real tree.
A massive tree vase is in production as well. It is for Melody’s Cottage Crafts – a local crafts person who wants a huge tree on which she can display her textile and other decorative crafts. I have thoroughly enjoyed scaling up and adapting my design to suit the clients’ needs.
10mh: What is your favourite food or drink to have to hand when working?
We are lucky to be in the building with Fruit and Fibres Canteen. Hannah’s coffee keeps us all going. I remember getting the first mug I made this year filled with coffee and it was so nice to drink out of one of my pieces.
Oatcakes are good to nibble while working as you don’t notice how much clay you probably eat as they are quite dusty, anything quick like bananas are also good to eat when you are on a roll with your making and don’t want a break. I often work until my eyes glaze over and then I know I need to eat something quickly.
10mh: What would you like to achieve in 2017?
The first thing in 2017 is to complete the teapots and milk jugs for Ryde. I’ll have a little celebration when that happens!
I also need to make at least six functional and elegant soup bowls as we are organising an event for the Whitechapel Homeless Charity in Liverpool. Its called ‘Scouse in a Bowl – is good for the Soul’ and people will buy a bowl of Scouse from Fruit and Fibres Canteen and the proceeds will go to the Whitechapel Centre. This is taking place on Friday 24 February from 6-8pm and visitors will be invited to select a bowl for their Scouse to be served in. They will keep the bowl so one of us will be on washing up duty.
I also hope to continue to collaborate with other local artists and venues to create new and exciting work.
10mh: Finally, any advice to people who would like to try ceramics?
Be aware that it is addictive! You can lose yourself in concentration but I almost disagree when people say it must be so therapeutic, as it can actually be quite tense. However, you are tense as you are focussed on one thing and I guess this takes you out of your everyday life and real worries and stresses. I’ve been known to lose sleep wondering what’s happening inside the kiln.
For more information on Louise Waller’s work, take a look on Instagram.