HOLLY JOHNS |  MDes 3D Design & Craft

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Tell us about yourself, your work, and your career path so far.

As a 2017 graduate from the University of Brighton my work takes an abstract approach to portrait making. I have been interested in abstracting print of the body for quite a few years and this concept thrived throughout my final two years at Brighton where I was able to investigate and challenge this idea more. I am very interested in abstract expressionist qualities, with the instinctive nature of how the work is produced on instinct and is a direct mark of the movement from the artist.

When I had finished my foundation year, I was unsure at what I wanted to do – even if I wanted to complete a degree so I took a few years out of education before deciding to attend Brighton University. This was one of the best decisions I have made as it allowed me to be more focused and driven whilst completing my degree and finding out that this is what I really wanted to do. 

Now I’ve completed my degree I currently work in a painting pottery cafe as a Studio Assistant and Potter, whilst exhibiting my work, finding a studio and making a name for myself. 

Describe your first encounter with clay?

My first encounter with clay was in my foundation year at Exeter College. One of our first classes was to make a cylinder, then manipulate the form by dropping the cylinder and once we had done that we then built up from this new distorted shape. This inspired me through process of working with a material that can continuously change. The piece can evolve whilst you’re making through the plasticity of clay, connecting with the piece and using your hands to really make something and to also get a bit dirty! This is what inspired me and lead me to end up specialising in ceramics.

Why did you choose ceramics? 

I chose ceramics as it is such a diverse material, you can do so much and push the limitations with clay by challenging and investigating form, surface decoration and to experiment with glazes and different firing processes. Its manipulability allows you to interact with the clay to really feel and understand the material which allows you to create a connection between yourself and your work/clay, and due to the restrictions of clay, when you’re building something on a large scale you need to take time over it. The process of making and interaction is why chose ceramics.

Where do you find inspiration? Places, people, objects, music... 

My inspiration is drawn from abstraction of the human body and philosophy.  The core of my work is inspired by the quotation ‘You do not have a soul, you are a soul, you have a body’. This can be translated into the idea that your body is a vessel for your soul. From this initial concept I investigate, challenge and research to create a strong concept behind my work.

What are the tools of your trade that you can't do without? 

My hands are the most important tool, especially as I hand roll coils, and use my hands to blend the form.  A whirler is extremely important in what I do, due to working on a large scale its essential for me to be able to move my pieces around in order to attach the coils, a whirler allows for easy movement and to see a piece all the way around. Finally a metal kidney, this is to help me smooth out those coils, blend them perfectly and to help manipulate the clay.  

What is a typical day in the studio like? 

A typical day would start off with a cup of tea, followed by slab rolling and then creating very large coils, from there it would be the case of building with the coils as high as I could. Once a piece needs to dry I would then move on to another piece which would either be a new vessel or continuing with a piece that has already been started.

To end or sometimes to start the day I would do some wedging, this is one process I deem to feel like a chore, but at least your arms get a good work out!

During drying times, I may create some test tiles for surface decoration or do some rough drawings and brainstorm ideas. 

What do the next 12 months have in store for you? 

Over the next 12 months I will be exhibiting alongside other Brighton graduates at Art in Clay Hatfield, as well as exhibiting in the British Ceramics Biennial 2017 as part of their FRESH exhibitors.  I will be focusing on setting up a studio fully whilst continuing to work on new pieces and to create new projects. 

What advice do you have for those currently studying ceramics in further education? 

My advice is to be brave if you want to do something unusual, have faith, take opportunities, work hard and be prepared to take a risk – now is the time to do it!