Jo Davies is a ceramic artist based in London.
Growing up in rural Herefordshire, the home of many of the UK's best studio potters, it seems only fitting that artist Jo Davies felt an immediate connection to clay when she was first introduced to the material at school. Choosing to pursue this interest at university, Davies gained a first class degree at Bath School of Art and Design and a Masters in Ceramics and Glass at Royal College of Art. However, despite her long association with ceramics she feels like she only fully 'graduated' to porcelain a few years ago and is still "continuously unpacking its material qualities in order to make new things." Now working from her studio at the Chocolate Factory N16, an artist-run studio complex in East London, Davies employs traditional processes, "many of them dating back thousands of years", to hand make her beautiful, contemporary designs. We sat down with her to find out more.
what is your design background?
I have worked as a ceramicist for all of my professional life having discovered it at school and allowing it to take me on my journey through higher education at Bath School of Art and Design and then the Royal College of Art. I grew up in a house where building work was going on a lot and discussions of practicalities and visual considerations were happening weekly. This must have rubbed off on me and the interest in working out how to make things grew and grew. After a while, making things with clay seemed like the best way forward for me. Twenty years on and I'm still exploring it as a medium. I feel like I fully 'graduated' to porcelain a few years ago and am continuously unpacking its material qualities in order to make new things.
What do you love most about your craft?
I love the satisfaction I get from making something, being in the moment of the process, particularly when developing something new, and watching it come alive. There is even more satisfaction when I can share what I've made with other people; another person wanting to have something that I have made is a unique experience and one that's hard to beat.
I also feel incredibly lucky to be in my studio full time, with my own schedule, my own company and my own choice of radio station. I always enjoy a studio visit from friends, customers, bloggers, (whoever really, I am always happy to take a break and put the kettle on!) but the time I spend on my own is really precious to me now. Having time to think, be creative, to research and be myself without the risk of being seen to get things wrong, is a really important part of the creative process, but it's something that I have always struggled with when I am at all overlooked. I'm a closet perfectionist.
how would you describe your work and the processes that you use?
I wheel-throw porcelain as well as using modelling and hand-building techniques in combination. Many of the processes that I use are traditional and date back thousands of years. However, the equipment has, thankfully, improved in that time. My aim is for my work to never be traditional, even though the process is. Although some of my work is elegant and simple, there is a portion that inches closer to the elegantly absurd.
how do you surroundings and local community affect your work?
Having a pleasant environment that you want to go to every day is vital for any creative person. I worked from very grim studios in the early days with not many people to talk to but we have a great community at the Chocolate Factory. The cobbled courtyard and hanging baskets maintained by the couple who own the buildings also help to maintain a sense of calm. It can feel a little opposite to some of the grittier Hackney streets nearby but it's heartening to be in a place that is well cared for. Also having other ceramicists around to help if things go wrong, as well as sharing a cup of tea and a gossip with anyone at the studios, is a great thing.
WHat does your creative process look like?
I usually don't sketch my ideas but recently I have been drawing out the scale of my new work, with heights and diameters, taking into account clay shrinkage etc. In some ways they are more like technical drawings. I feel that this is a very unglamorous thing to do but, as I have been developing some work on a larger scale recently, it felt necessary. However, I am very intuitive about my work and I don't like being too constrained by the numbers so if something promising starts to emerge whilst I'm making I'll keep on going, even if it has moved away from my original 2D plan.
I can become very focused on a detail and will then make as many variations of that detail as possible, changing one element of the object at a time to find the right thing. At development stage I will often recycle a lot of pots to be made back into clay in order to be used again. It's a little time consuming to develop this way but there are elements of three dimensional work that I could never draw, like weight and texture. A drawing may even take longer to do than sitting at the wheel; the exact curve and voluminosity of a shape are immediately in front of me when I've made it rather than drawn it. Lastly there is the part of the process that is entirely about seeing something appear as you do it that is a balance of intuition and intention.
WHAT do you love about teaching your craft to others?
I enjoy talking about ceramics with people so teaching is a perfect outlet for this. It's important to me that people understand the joy and the complexities of this medium because it is such a satisfying and fulfilling way to make. As I see it, I'm just part of a chain of knowledge that's been going for thousands of years. Clay seems to have a continuing appeal, from one generation to the next, and it's great to be part of that.
What is involved when creating a bespoke piece?
By it's nature, each one is different. Sometimes a client will come to me without being quite sure what they want. They will just have an approximation of it and a function they want the object to fulfil, or even a space they want it to occupy. Sometimes it will simply be a case of changing the scale of an existing design and sometimes it's a case of sitting down together and talking, firstly about the practical requirements then about the creative and spiritual requirements. More often than not, clients come to me with the germ of an idea and the knowledge that they like my work as a starting point. If someone is thinking of commissioning a piece then it's important for them to find the maker whose work they like and respect; creativity should be on both sides of the commission. For instance, I don't take on commissions that are fully formed ideas and that essentially relegate me to a fabricator.
An example of a lovely commission was a client who asked me to create a funerary urn for her mother's ashes. My client is a highly creative individual and wanted an urn that was special enough to play the part of an urn whilst also being beautiful and non-traditional. To begin with, we talked for about 2 hours at the studio while I mapped out ideas in my sketch book and presented examples of my existing work in order to make more decisions on what it would look like. The final vessel took around 8 weeks to develop and create. It was a very personal project and really lovely for me to do.
Whic ceramic artists do you admire?
What does success look like to you?
Success for me is a rolling schedule of fascinating projects with interesting collaborators and clients, continuing to be relevant, and for my work to be wanted. It is also being free to make my own timetable, take time off for myself, my family and friends.
Which women do you admire?
I go through phases of admiring different female public figures. I like to find contemporary women to look up to as I find it gives me hope and a healthy aspiration. At the moment I really like Dr Lucy Worsley who is a brilliant example of intelligence, humour, professional success and glamour.
Ever wondered what a week in the life of a ceramicist looks like? Well now you don't have to because Jo is taking our Instagram until Sunday 28th August and sharing snaps from her daily life. Follow her here.
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Gilded Speak Vase in Black
Original Twist Pendant
Speak Vases in White
Flared Twist Pendant Light