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2023 AWARD WINNER | De Montfort University

Posted on - 27th October 2023


SOPHIE WOOTTON De Montfort University | BA Design Crafts (First class degree)

Recipient of the Potclays Graduate Award in 2023 as part of our Educlaytion programme


Tell us about yourself, your work, and your career path so far.
I am a designer maker specialising in ceramics. I throw all of my pieces on the pottery wheel because I love the immediate response your actions have on the clay. Transforming a ball of clay into a fine-walled structure never fails to excite me. As a designer-maker, I am fascinated by the connection between maker and material. It got me thinking about how I could physically leave my mark in my work which could create a connection between myself and the consumer. The designing side has always fuelled my work which has driven my interest in homeware design. Being able to bring my designs on paper into physical objects that people can enjoy is inspiring for me. During my second year of university I won a live brief set by Habitat which gave me a week’s work experience in their homeware design studio. This was an amazing opportunity for me, and it gave me a great insight into the industry and designing for the consumer. Since graduating I have bought my own pottery wheel and have set up a small ceramics studio in my garden. I hope to continue to develop my ceramics business and to continue to further my knowledge in the world of clay.

Describe your first encounter with clay?
My first encounter with clay was only 3 years ago when I started my degree in Design Crafts. I had never worked with clay before but I instantly fell in love with it. I found it fascinating that our hands can turn a ball of clay into anything we desire. The first thing I made was a pinched pot teapot. I remember feeling so proud of what I had created.

Why did you choose ceramics?
Before my degree I wasn’t sure what route to take in my creative career. I began my degree in Design Crafts where I had the opportunity to try a variety of different materials. This is where I fell in love with ceramics and decided to specialise in it for my final year. I chose ceramics because I love the immediate response your hands have on the clay. I find it fascinating how you are able to turn a ball of clay into anything you want. I love how ceramics gives me a focus, I could spend hours on the wheel just practising the same thing over and over. Being able to practise and refine a craft is something I feel really passionate about.

Where do you find inspiration? Places, people, objects, music…
I have always enjoyed mark-making as a form of expression, although I sometimes struggle to find inspiration and purpose for it. I then discovered my late grandma’s paintings when visiting her house. I suddenly felt this connection to her that I wanted to translate into my work. I have always felt like she had left her mark on me since passing away last year so I wanted to turn this into a personal and positive project. Having this connection with her work allowed me to become excited and passionate about the work I was creating. I started by using her paintings as a source of inspiration for drawing and mark-making. Muted pinks, greys and green tones were evident in many of her paintings across her lifetime, this heavily influenced my choice of colour pallet as well as it being a colour pallet, I tend to lean towards myself. The connection I felt to her is one I have tried to replicate by leaving my mark as the maker in my work, hypothetically or physically.

What are the tools of your trade that you can't do without?
A pottery wheel has to be the obvious one, but tools which I love using on the wheel are pin tools, diddlers and ribs. Pin tools allow me to tidy up rim and give such a clean finish to a pot on the wheel. Diddlers are sponges on sticks which are perfect for removing water inside a pot on the wheel or even to shape a pot from the inside. More recently I have been growing my collection of rib tools, including making some of my own. I never appreciated them until recently, but I have found them to be the prefect tool to enhance shapes on the wheel as well as defining a foot ring and tidying up access clay at the base of the pot.

What is a typical day in the studio like?
I love going into my studio in the morning, putting the radio on and getting started on the wheel. During the summer months I open up the double doors of my studio shed and let the sun shine in. I love throwing in the sun with the sound of the birds in the trees above. In the afternoon I tend to work out ideas and designs in my sketchbook. Designing is a really important process in my making. I love sketching as I feel like it allows me to work through my ideas and develop different areas before turning to the clay. I always finish a day in my studio by cleaning everything. I cant leave my wheel over night without cleaning it. I hope I can stick to this good habit for as long as possible.

What do the next 12 months have in store for you?
Since graduating, I have bought my own pottery wheel and set up a small ceramics studio in a shed in my garden. I am currently focusing on how my work could develop and become unique as well as continuing to practise on the wheel. I have also recently been practising my hand building skills as this is something I didn’t do much of at university. I hope I will be able to combine hand building and throwing in some way to develop some new ideas. In the next 12 months I hope to take part in a few shows and craft fairs with my ceramic tableware. I am taking part in Bevere Gallery Graduate Show in 2024, which will be my first show since graduating.

What advice do you have for those currently studying ceramics in further education?
My advice would be to keep going. I definitely found when I first began studying ceramics, I made so many mistakes. It can sometimes feel like you aren’t making any progress, but you are! Every mistake you make you learn from. Without making those mistakes you won’t know what not to do next time. I think you learn so much more from making mistakes than things always going right, especially in the early stages of learning. I would also say to absorb as much information from everyone around you. Whether that is your peers, technicians or visiting artists. Everyone in the ceramic’s world will have tried something different or has a better way of doing something. Being able to record and learn from others will prove to be so valuable to you when you are learning and discovering your own style.

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