East Clandon clay designer Terri Smart’s witty and wonderful creations

PUBLISHED: 12:56 26 February 2014 | UPDATED: 12:56 26 February 2014




Sailing ships on ocean waves, giant blackberries and a couple of disdainful camels are just some of the witty and wonderful creations by East Clandon clay designer Terri Smart. Here, Janet Donin catches up with her for a chat...

When did you first start working with clay?

Twenty years ago, I was living in Hong Kong working as an architect, but I’d grown tired of the rat race so I gave up work and began clay classes where I was inspired by the English pottery teacher. Before long, I was hooked and my designs took off. Having met my husband, we moved to Singapore where I rented space in a studio and under the guidance of a local potter I gained loads of experience.

Do you come from a creative background yourself?

Well, I’ve always been a bit arty. My Dad was an artist so I was encouraged to draw and paint. As a student, I trained to be an architect and was enticed to go to Abu Dhabi to work. A few years later, I moved to Paris to work in interior design and then on to Hong Kong. So yes, my background is rather creative.

What happened when you returned to the UK?

We moved to our lovely cottage in the heart of the Surrey countryside in 1994, where I set up my studio with a wheel and a kiln. In the following few years, I also completed a City & Guilds course in ceramics, which honed my skills in a variety of techniques including throwing, coiling, slab building and slip casting.

Which of those is usually your preferred technique?

Because of my design background, I much prefer working in 3D, so slab building is my technique of choice. I enjoy the slower, more thoughtful pace of the processes as opposed to throwing – I find round shapes rather boring. I was also inspired by a beautiful, curved slab vase by John Maltby, which my father gave me. I like the sharpness of the outline and the graphic nature of the style.

Tell us about the design process?

I like to work with Craft Crank clay, which contains something called ‘grog’ that gives it strength and a grainy texture. Smooth clay just collapses. I don’t have a template; just create each piece by eye. I start by rolling the clay and cutting out the shape I want with a knife. With a lot of the items, I then mirror this with a second shape and place it on top. The sides are then joined by wetting the clay and pinching together. I then ease the two slabs apart to form a hollow shape and make a slab base. Each piece is then fired twice. Before the first eight-hour firing, I’ll add colour to the piece and glaze and oxides are added before the second 12-hour firing.

How did you develop your style?

The first pieces I designed were simple birds, many inspired by the variety that comes into my garden: blue tits, robins and owls. But for my graduation at City & Guilds, we had to create a large 4ft piece. Most people did statues but I was drawn to water, so worked on a horizontal shape of waves. They looked a bit empty when finished so I put a sail boat on top and that was the beginning of my boats series. I’m also drawn to organic forms like fruits and seed heads, which I enlarge to become garden sculptures.

What are you working on now?

Each year, I try to develop a different theme. I quite like the idea of a safari series so at the moment I’m working on a large giraffe. Because of its streamlined shape, I’m working with paper clay, which is a mix of clay and paper pulp. The paper gives the piece more strength so I can create more minimalistic forms. Perhaps I’ll also try an elephant, leopard and cheetah.

Tell us the best thing about your job?

I’m fascinated by the feel of clay and the fact that I can turn it into something quite easily. The adventure of experimenting with new techniques and the excitement of taking the finished article out of the kiln is always a joy.

How do you like to relax away from work?

I enjoy playing badminton and walking in the countryside. I’m also a keen birdwatcher. And I’m involved with a cooperative I set up a few years ago called Kaleidoscope, which brings together a variety of artists with different skills. As we tend to work alone, it’s great to come together and exchange ideas.

What’s the best thing about living in Surrey?

After living and working abroad, I just love the quiet and solitude of working in my studio with its views over the surrounding fields and yet I’m just a few miles from Guildford. I couldn’t be happier.


For more information on Terri Smart, call 01483 222710 or visit terrismart.co.uk. You can also see her work at Guildford House Gallery, Guildford; The Wey Gallery, Godalming ; and the Bourneside Gallery, Dorking.

Latest from the Surrey