Ockley designer JoJo Rowley produces striking ceramics
PUBLISHED: 16:39 13 September 2013 | UPDATED: 16:39 13 September 2013
Working from her Ockley studio in the heart of the Surrey Hills, JOJO ROWLEY produces striking ceramics that are inspired by the beautiful local landscape. Janet Donin went to meet her there
How did your interest in ceramics first start?
I worked as a dietician in the NHS for a number of years and just dabbled with ceramics as a hobby, but when my husband’s job took us to Washington DC and I was unable to continue with that career, I joined a studio and took working with clay more seriously. Then, the year before we returned to the UK, I was lucky enough to be awarded an ‘Emerging Ceramic Artist’ grant to have my own studio within an artist complex and turned my hobby into a new career.
So what’s the difference between a ceramicist and a potter? Essentially we are the same as we both make pottery. However, I work with porcelain clay, which is finer and whiter than natural clay, and refer to myself as a ceramicist as I think it suggests a slightly more artistic approach and outcome.
What was it that drew you to working with porcelain clay?
Although porcelain clay is quite difficult to throw because of its smooth ‘cream cheese’ nature, it offers me the texture and purity of colour that I want. I love the challenge of taking a basic natural product that’s essentially a lump of mud and then, through a series of careful stages, turning it into a pleasing object.
How did your work evolve?
Initially, I was like a kid in a sweet shop working with different kilns, mixing my own glazes as well as trying out a variety of styles and finishes. Gradually, I developed a more cohesive look to my work and a style that pleased me – and others too as my first solo exhibition in the States was a complete sell-out.
What happened when you returned to Surrey?
I was determined to continue with my new career and had a studio up and running within months. Then, in 2011, I took part in the Surrey Artists Open Studios, which was great fun and I was lucky enough to be contacted by a couple of local galleries who wanted to represent my work. From there, it’s gone from strength to strength.
Tell us about the process that’s involved?
I hand-throw each piece on my wheel to create the basic shape. It’s then left to dry until ‘leather’ hard – which means it won’t fall apart when handled – before excess clay is trimmed away. When it’s completely dry, it has a first ‘bisque’ firing for about 13 hours in my electric kiln. I like to keep the outside of my pots unglazed so a lot of time is spent, at this stage, in wet-sanding the pieces so the outer surface has a lovely tactile, almost ‘eggshell’ feel. I glaze the inside of many pots with a single striking colour while others have a clear glaze. The second firing lasts for eight hours to finish the piece.
Describe your signature work…
I really love my perforated pieces. To create these, I use a hand drill to create a series of holes into the clay before firing. It’s quite labour intensive as the holes are different sizes to create a pattern and each one needs to be smoothed with a wet cotton bud. Depending on the size of the bowl or vase, it can take me a day to complete. Do you work in any other way? During the Open Studios month in June, we did some pit firing behind the house. We dug a big hole in the ground, filled it with organic material like cones, banana skins and coffee grounds before topping with wood and lighting. Pots were then put inside to fire. The smoke and the various materials interact with the clay to produce random colours of pink, grey or blues. You never know what’s going to happen, which is surprising and fun.
Where do you find the inspiration for your work?
Living where we do, it’s all around me. In the bluebell wood behind my studio, a leaf, a bud, even the bark of silver birch trees. But I got the idea for the perforated styles from a sea urchin shell found on the beach.
What’s your favourite thing about your job?
Not being woken by an alarm clock to work nine to five. I do work long hours but I love the solitude of living and working here in the country where my ideas are not influenced or disturbed by passing cars or people – just the occasional visit from one of my cats. I listen to Radio 4 during the winter but in summer I’ll leave the doors open and just listen to the natural sounds.
Have you anything new planned?
I like my work to have a function as well as being decorative. However, I have started to develop a more organic style, drawing even more on the shapes and forms in nature.
Finally, have you ever had that ‘Ghost’ moment?
You mean like in the film? It’s a lovely idea and although my husband Nigel is right behind my work, throwing pots is a solitary occupation that needs endless practice, but it makes me happy.
For more information on the work of JoJo Rowley, contact her on 01306 627157 or visit jojoceramics.co.uk. You can also see JoJo’s ceramics at The Art Agency, Esher, and The Art Shed at The Medicine Garden in Cobham