SIMPLE SHAPE'S 14-DAY HOLIDAY GUIDE

DAY NINE: Coffee shots. The key to surviving the festive season (and the arrival of a 9-week old puppy...)

Standing in the frozen garden at 5am trying to sound excited about pee...by the time it gets to 11am the struggle is real and there's only one thing for it. C O F F E E.

Caffeine measure;  2.5oz   Espresso Cup, £18.50

Caffeine measure; 2.5oz Espresso Cup, £18.50

I think this is a marriage made in heaven...actually it's more of a threesome, so perhaps not. A thick dark espresso in the perfect 2.5oz Espresso Cup resting on our brand new Origami Concrete Coaster. Very nice. A wonderful way to serve the elixir of life. 

Single shot; Espresso Cup on an  Origami Concrete Coaster, £17.50

Single shot; Espresso Cup on an Origami Concrete Coaster, £17.50

Plus sugar; the syrupy elixir of life

Plus sugar; the syrupy elixir of life

Good for all early starts, what ever they may be brought about by (puppies, enthusiastic toddlers, Santa...) 
Both the espresso cup and the coaster come boxed so they look nice and they're easy to wrap!

DO NOT TOUCH MY COFFEE

DO NOT TOUCH MY COFFEE

SIMPLE SHAPE'S 14-DAY HOLIDAY GUIDE / day 02

This is the second day of our seasonal guide. Today, ceramic gifts.

DAY TWO: Conversation crisis? Ceramics to the rescue!

The transformation of clay, from waterlogged mud to considered, useful design, bearing the visible signs of the makers hand, make ceramics a really wonderful, individual gift.

Conversation piece, tea pot, pourer and strainer by Sue Pryke

Conversation piece, tea pot, pourer and strainer by Sue Pryke

The days of the 'dinner service' are long gone which is a huge relief, because now, no-one knows if you chipped the plates or broke the lid for the sugar bowl. It means that tables are free to look collected and interesting.

Naturally tactile and visibly one-off, pottery made in small batches - wheel turned or slip cast - seem to me to be in the 'perfect present' category.  Gathered pieces chosen specially make a unique, individual gift. Who doesn't want to unwrap something like that?  
(...and the bonus of giving & receiving pottery is of course, if the dinner-party conversation dries up, at least you can tell the stories about where your pottery was made and by whom!)

Open Pour, the perfect pourer

Open Pour, the perfect pourer

White Christmas, hand-thrown crucible by Luke Eastop

White Christmas, hand-thrown crucible by Luke Eastop

Pimp your pottery, just add food

Pimp your pottery, just add food

Sweet like...Jono Smart sugar bowl

Sweet like...Jono Smart sugar bowl

Taking the strain, ceramic tea strainer

Taking the strain, ceramic tea strainer

The Maker Interview. MOOR MAKING...Feldspar Studio on fresh air, open space & tree houses

Dartmoor National Park, built on a bed of granite of which 'feldspar' is a main constituent.

Dartmoor National Park, built on a bed of granite of which 'feldspar' is a main constituent.

It's been quite a while since our last Maker Interview, but a few months ago we added Feldspar to the Simple Shape stable of Makers, their intriguing name alone warrented further investigation. We asked Feldspar's Cath and Jeremy Brown 10 questions...

The Out Takes
1 WON'T...compromise on any aspect of the design process
2 NEED...fresh air and moors for perspective (& coffee. Of course coffee)
3 DON'T...subscribe to any trends
4 MANAGED...with no phone signal, landline, internet and tv
5 INTEND...to dig clay from surrounding fields for new ceramics collection

Cath & Jeremy swapped a basement flat in London for a thatched cottage in Devon.

Cath & Jeremy swapped a basement flat in London for a thatched cottage in Devon.

"We started messing around, making the things we needed"

"We started messing around, making the things we needed"

"...when we decide an idea has 'got legs' we will start sketching, making paper models, prototyping in whatever materials we’re considering..."

"...when we decide an idea has 'got legs' we will start sketching, making paper models, prototyping in whatever materials we’re considering..."

Coffee break, critical ritual to working life " it's no coincidence that our first product was a coffee mug   or that we were particular about it’s size!"

Coffee break, critical ritual to working life "it's no coincidence that our first product was a coffee mug or that we were particular about it’s size!"

Useful tools (not necessarily for new products though...perhaps handy for a larch-clad tree house...?!)

Useful tools (not necessarily for new products though...perhaps handy for a larch-clad tree house...?!)

Q1: Feldspar. This is an unusual name...what does it mean, where does it come from and why did you choose it?
We started Feldspar after moving to the middle of Dartmoor National Park - which sits on a bed of granite. Feldspar is one of the main minerals in granite, and is what give ceramics and glass their strength - as well as making up a huge percentage of the earth’s crust. We were intrigued as we’d never heard of it. We liked that it was so ubiquitous, yet so mysterious and it just felt right. The ‘F’ of our logo is also - coincidentally - very similar to the ancient rune for ‘Ash’ and ‘Oak’, which is what surrounds us and also what we’re looking to work with more in the future.

Q2: Feldspar Studio - you’re a husband and wife team. How did you begin working together? What are you professional backgrounds?
Our backgrounds are both in design. Jeremy worked for the UN building ethical and sustainable supply chains for fashion houses and so was constantly travelling, and I was working in central London as an architectural designer. We had both been frustrated at having to compromise in our previous fields of work. For example working with clients who want to say they’re supporting ethical manufacturing while grinding prices down to unfeasible lows. So, we decided to set up a design brand that doesn’t compromise - where we could be in control of every aspect of the process from the initial spark of an idea to the finished packaged product.  

We moved from a small basement flat to a farmhouse with no straight lines or floors, and had the luxury of having a lot of space in which to set up a pottery wheel and build our kitchen table, we started messing around with making things we needed and wanted. Working together was something we had talked about doing in the future, but then we figured there’s no time like the present...

Q3: You’re based in Devon. Tell me about that decision to leave London?
It was actually a pretty easy one! It came about when our son was born, we both took a step back and realised that we didn’t want to bring him up in London - we wanted fresh air and open spaces - so we moved when he was a couple of months old, to a house on Dartmoor with no phone signal, no landline, no internet, no tv… it was a great time, lots of walks on the moor and cooking and just hanging out with our son - albeit quite a shock initially!

Q4: What are the guiding principals of your studio and your work?
We want to make good things, properly. We are inspired by items from our grandparents have - be it a fine bone china coffee cup from the 1700s that's still in perfect condition, or an old kitchen aid machine from the 1950s that still works perfectly. We love the notion of something that is made properly, using the finest materials we can find locally, by highly skilled craftspeople. Our objects don’t subscribe to any trends or fads - they’re intended to be beautiful and functional objects, ones that last! Our tag line is ‘objects for life’ - they’re designed to be used everyday, but to last lifetimes… 

Q5: How do you divide your time? Do you both have different roles? Is there a ‘typical’ day for you?
There isn’t really a typical day - some days we’ll be in the workshop, some days just sitting around the kitchen table emailing - all the while our now 2 year old son and our new puppy are running around! Jeremy probably spends the most time in the workshops, and I spend more time sketching or doing graphics. It’s always changing though!

Q6: You prototype your work yourselves but use small British industry to produce your designs. Is it important to keep production in the UK ?
It’s important to us to support traditional industries - where there is that generational knowledge and highly skilled craftspeople - which is why we have our fine bone china made in Stoke-on-Trent - because that’s where all that expertise is, and to us it’s important that these artisan hubs keep on going! So it’s more important for us to have things produced where there is a history of that material being produced, rather than specifically keeping things within the UK. 

Q. 7 - Where does an idea for new work or designs come from? What’s your process?
It’s normally something we have been talking about for a while - an idea we’ve had that has just grown and then when we decide it’s got legs we will start sketching, making paper models, prototyping in whatever materials we’re considering. We prototype everything from our home and studio in Devon, and then visit our manufacturers to discuss production. 

8 - Are there tools or objects or rituals maybe, that are critical to your working life?
Coffee breaks, probably! We were sure we’d miss good coffee when we moved so we acquired a broken coffee machine and fixed it up to make delicious coffee (normally Monmouth) in the kitchen. It’s no coincidence that our first product was a coffee mug, or that we were particular about it’s size! Other than that we find it invaluable to be able to just walk out of the studio and into fields, forests, and moorland - to gain some perspective or hash out ideas.

9 - Do you have a dream project in mind?
We have hundreds! Right now, we are in the middle of building a tree house. Ostensibly for our son, but in real life it’s really spiralled out of control. The sides are being clad in charred larch, and we’re planning to build a sink from clay we dig up in the garden - both of which I think will be lost on a two year old.

We are looking forward, in the near future, to expanding our ceramics range using clay that is dug from the surrounding fields - it is , we think, a mix of terracotta and china clay, so is a beautiful deep orange red colour but is much stronger than traditional terracotta. Our local farmer is conveniently digging a lake for his cattle, so very soon we will have tonnes of it to process and turn into objects.

10 - What’s at the end of the rainbow for Feldspar?
Not sure! As long as we can keep on creating objects from our studio in the middle of nowhere, we’ll be very happy!

Picture credits: Matt Austin / Feldspar / Yeshen Venema

Gradient: A weekend of Pottery & People

Simple Shape's first exhibition Gradient: Experiments in Clay happened as part of South East Makers Club and the London Design Festival. It was a weekend of pottery and of people. A combination that turned out to be truly wonderful.

Simple Shape Studio: We have officially moved in. If the beautiful ceramics aren't proof enough, the sign on the door says so.

Simple Shape Studio: We have officially moved in. If the beautiful ceramics aren't proof enough, the sign on the door says so.

The exhibition came about, as things so often seems to, by accident. Over coffee with Jono on a chilly Sunday in early spring I commented that the test tiles, the gradients of his colour palette, that were nailed to the wall in a perfect grid were so beautiful together, they were like an art work. A seed lodged, and an idea began to unfurl (these things happen in spring!).

Luke Eastop: Creme Anglaise

Luke Eastop: Creme Anglaise

Jono Smart: Anatomy of Greys

Jono Smart: Anatomy of Greys

The resulting exhibition was an opportunity to display the incredible work of two of our talented makers, Luke Eastop joined Jono Smart and Gradient became an exploration of their different approaches to ceramics, to tone, colour, size and scale.

It also gave us an excuse (and a deadline!) to open the doors to our Studio for the very first time. And it provided a moment to meet hundreds, quite literally, of lovely, interesting and creative people, who successfully tracked us down, tucked away on Ashby Mews (sorry, we must get better signage for our dirt track...)

Small scale: The miniature barman opened 26 bottles of Prosecco (not bad for a beginner!)

Small scale: The miniature barman opened 26 bottles of Prosecco (not bad for a beginner!)

Crowd scene: view from the 'mews'

Crowd scene: view from the 'mews'

We held a 'Private View' on Friday night, as a sort of 'launch' and a celebration. It was a resounding success, largely down to a number of unwavering (and marginally underage) bar staff, and the generosity of local Greenwich business, Meantime Brewery, who so kindly supplied the beer simply to support a local business.

The weather was beautiful all weekend, the doors were wide open and people came: locals, artists, makers, families, Instagram followers, collectors, designers, friends (and quite a few dogs) made the journey to Brockley to find us. I've never spoken to so many interesting people in such a short space of time in my life.

Still Standing: Jono Smart & Emily Stephen

Still Standing: Jono Smart & Emily Stephen

Invisibility Cloak:  Firsthand Collective  disappear into the room and quietly record what they see. This, one of their 'live illustrations', is easily one of the coolest things about the whole weekend.

Invisibility Cloak: Firsthand Collective disappear into the room and quietly record what they see. This, one of their 'live illustrations', is easily one of the coolest things about the whole weekend.

Keeping Up Appearances: I temporarily forgot the basic rule, 'don't believe your own PR', and had a rapid reminder lesson and reality check... when the vinyl 'titles' were installed the conversation went like this: "...this isn't a mews, this is a dirt track". "Yes, but a dirt track with a gallery, right. Come on!" "If you insist love."  

Keeping Up Appearances: I temporarily forgot the basic rule, 'don't believe your own PR', and had a rapid reminder lesson and reality check... when the vinyl 'titles' were installed the conversation went like this: "...this isn't a mews, this is a dirt track". "Yes, but a dirt track with a gallery, right. Come on!" "If you insist love."
 

White trainers: Not obligatory.

White trainers: Not obligatory.

The weekend was such a fun and rewarding (and exhausting) experience. The seeds have certainly been sown for future projects, quite what yet, I'm not sure! But that's the fun. 


And finally, I cannot thank all those involved enough for the relentless hard work, time and effort that was put in to make this happen. Jono, Luke, Emily, Sophie, Jay...(and the miniatures E, S & F)...thank you all.

Getting Perspective: my favourite photo from the whole weekend. It's not perfect but it says so much, taken from the side window, in a 'before the madness' moment.

Getting Perspective: my favourite photo from the whole weekend. It's not perfect but it says so much, taken from the side window, in a 'before the madness' moment.

The Maker Interview. THROWING IT OUT THERE ...Jono Smart on his days with clay.

Clay. Jono Smart is really quite new to this. But he's really very good at it.
We asked him 10 questions, enjoy his answers.

The Out Takes
1. DIDN'T go to a gallery until age 20.
2. NEEDS coffee and a list to start the day.
3. SURPRISES happen on the wheel not on paper.
4. COLOUR or texture or adjustments in form cause a buzz.
5. WANTS to make tiny, unusable pots.


Working with clay, on balance a good decision.

Working with clay, on balance a good decision.

Turning Earth, Shoreditch London

Turning Earth, Shoreditch London

Essentials, coffee cups lining up

Essentials, coffee cups lining up

'Centre' collection, for Simple Shape

'Centre' collection, for Simple Shape

Treasures, water bottle by Takashi Endo

Treasures, water bottle by Takashi Endo

Q1. Begin at the beginning…were you destined for the creative arts, does it run in the family?
Some days I wish it was true that I’d spent my youth drawing, painting and making. But I didn’t. I grew up in suburban Berkshire, without much contact with the art world. I don’t think I went to a gallery before I was 20 and didn’t enjoy one until I was at least 25. I didn’t learn to to enjoy learning until my mid 20s when I studied garden design. It changed my mind. I could feel the way I saw and the way I felt change, and pretty rapidly. 

Q2. You’re a relative newby to pottery - when and how did you start working with clay?
I learned pottery at a wonderful place, Turning Earth in Shoreditch, London. Stuart Carey was my teacher and is now my friend. It started with a 10 week course in January 2014 and I was soon spending every spare minute I could there. We were supposed to have a 20 hour limit per week, but I helped with the cleaning, gardening, kiln loading, anything I could to earn extra hours. I was soon spending 50-60 hours there. Later that year I bought a kiln!

Q3. What does a typical Jono Smart day look like? Do you have a work-day routine that you follow?
Hmm. I want to say, yes but know I should say no. I’m hard working but not strictly disciplined. I tend to arrive at my studio between 9 and 10, drink coffee, think about the day ahead, panic a little, write a list down, feel better and then get to it. Pottery has its own work flow that dictates my working life. From the moment I throw a piece it begins to dry and needs constant awareness. Once I start a project it's difficult to take any days off until everything is fired. I try and be careful not to work more than 10-15 days in a row but it is sometimes necessary. 

Q4. Where do you draw your ideas for new work from?
I’m still leaning on my background as inspiration. I feel very fortunate that during my time working in Garden Design I worked for a genuinely talented designer in Luciano Giubbilei. He could have worked in any type of design, from fashion to architecture and been brilliant. He taught me to live my work and to observe. I also got to work with and meet many British sculptors. I can feel the influence of being exposed to their work in my own.

Q5. Do you work on paper first or do you prefer to experiment in a trial & error way with the clay?
Back and forth between the two. It used to be paper first, then on to the wheel. Now it tends to be wheel first, and then paper for refining an idea. Surprises happen on the wheel, not really on paper. I’ve noticed that I’m now designing using words. I write myself a quick note outlining an idea and jump straight into working with clay. 

Q6. Do potters get creative block? How do you over come the equivalent of the 'fear of the blank page’?
I find that I forget that other people don’t see my work anywhere near as much as I do. Whenever I’m feeling fatigued of my own ideas, I try and remember this. It only takes something small to get me buzzing again. A new colour, texture or adjustment to a form. Small experiments are always part of my work and keep it feeling fresh to me, even if I don’t show all the results.

Q7. What do you listen too when you’re working?
In short, SO much. In answering this, I realised I listened to 4 audiobooks just last week. I go through phases of binge listening to podcasts, listening to albums I loved as a kid or finding new music. These phases can take weeks or months to pass. 

Q8. How do you switch off from the ‘noise’ of the world?
Since I set up my studio, I’ve discovered an attribute that I didn’t know I had. I am so focused. I can go weeks working without distraction. I have to be really careful to balance this with the rest of life. So it’s not so much a question of blocking out the noise from the rest of the world, but remembering to let some of it in.

Q9. Do you have a treasured possession?
There are pieces of pottery from people like Takashi Endo and Florian Gadsby that I love having in my life.

Q10. What’s in the pot at the end of the rainbow?!
First of all, lets be clear, this is a greyscale rainbow right? It changes. Right now I want to make tiny, perfect unusable pots. Pots that are more ideas of other pots rather than pots themselves

 


JUST TO REMIND YOU...
We are hosting Jono's first exhibition of work Gradient: Experiments in Clay alongside the work of another Simple Shape potter, Luke Eastop.
Simple Shape Studio Workshop, Ashby Mews, London, SE4
Saturday 24th & Sunday 25th September 2016
Exhibition details are here