I used to work in a shed in my back garden – a real grotty outhouse – but I outgrew it so moved in here. It’s good to be away from the house; I was forever going inside to tidy up or check my emails so this way I get some work done. It’s relatively expensive and I can feel a bit isolated but it’s so convenient to where I live. If I rented somewhere cheaper I’d spend the difference in petrol getting to another studio and lose two hours travelling time. I’ve got lots of space here and can have a display area – it’s really nice to have studio visits.
What’s your daily routine?
I get my sons to school and spend an hour at home answering emails and other admin stuff. Then I come here. I’m here by about 10am – sometimes I just walk in, shut the door and say “aaahhhhhhhhhh…” After that I’m free to crack on with whatever I like. That lasts until about 4.30 or so when I’m back with the family – dinner, judo etc. It can get a bit isolated here, though there’s another potter just down the road which is nice to chat. I’ve started doing Teach Yourself Danish to stop my brain from turning to mush – I love all those Danish TV programmes. I’ve also joined a choir – it’s an all-abilities one – which is great. It’s got lots of people there who work for themselves – I think, like me, they must appreciate a chance to express themselves outwardly, not internally.
When did you go full time?
2005. Before that I was part time, able to work when my youngest son was at nursery. Once he was at school I gradually built the business and moved from the shed to here. I’d made my name as a trade ceramicist, supplying tableware, and I took on staff to help try to keep up with demand. It got to the point where, despite the extra help, I couldn’t keep up with demand – I was just throwing all day and not doing anything else. A lot of the money went straight to wages. I started to think that this was not what I left work for and went to see a business adviser who broke it all down in a maths-y way. It turned out I was working for less than the minimum wage and the people working for me were making more money than I was. After that meeting I sat in my car and cried for half an hour. It was never going to work, it was going along without me and I was chasing it along like a snowball down a hill. So I took control.
What did you do?
I spoke to a friend and mentor and together we applied for Arts Council funding for a year of creative development. I wrote to my trade customers and explained that I wasn’t going to do the old work anymore, and I laid the staff off. Now I’m only doing exhibitions and basic sales. I still get some trade orders – I’ve just had one come in from somewhere prestigious that I can’t turn down – but it’s easy to get sucked in so I don’t do too many.
I spoke to a trusted gallery who’d stocked my work before and they organised an exhibition. I spent three or four months making new work, which included 2D work – I started painting too. The gallery found the customers and leave me to do whatever I want. It was really good fun and we sold out at the first one. Now I’ve got some more exhibitions lined up.
Tell us about the Arts Council grant
The grant is essentially money for thinking extremely hard. It’s enabled me to take time out of production and focus on new work in an open ended way. There’s no conditions on it so I don’t have to produce a body of work at the end, which is great, though I have been keeping a blog about it which can be used as an evaluation of the process and a resource for other artists.
I do feel like I’ve changed the way I work through the creative development work. I’ve been looking at an artist called Hylton Nel who uses details of his own life in his ceramics. The personal details make it more accessible, people aren’t frightened by it, it’s got a lot of meaning in it. It’s got me thinking a lot about the creative process, how connected I am to things I remember and notice. That’s the most creative I can be – when I try to recreate something I’ve noticed, raindrops, for example. I try and reproduce it within the limitations of what I’m working in.
I’ve been researching how you can design tableware for factory production – it’s not ideal as you have to be really sharp to avoid the pitfalls of working with manufacturers. Instead I’ve joined Design Nation as they look like a better deal – they can be an advocate for designers.
You can see more of Katrin’s work at her website. Thanks a lot to Katrin for her time and tea! If you would like to appear in this feature, then please contact us below or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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