Richmond ceramicist Isobel Allan-Lowe has an inimitable style
PUBLISHED: 14:20 31 July 2014 | UPDATED: 14:31 31 July 2014
Based from her studio in Richmond, ceramicist Isobel Allan-Lowe produces her dramatic wall art, textured lamp- shades and delicate decorations, all in her own inimitable style
Tell us about your background...
Although I come from a very creative family, I didn’t have any formal artistic training. In fact, I graduated in catering management. But while being a full-time mum, a friend introduced me to working with clay and I became hooked. I was so fascinated by the whole art form that I persuaded my husband to convert our garage into a studio and bought a kiln on eBay. Two years later, when things were going well, he bought me a bigger and better kiln for my birthday.
What kind of things did you start off with?
I started by working on female busts in porcelain and stoneware. I thought the pieces were quite innovative but my three sons were embarrassed to see them dotted around the house when their friends came over. So I took elements from those designs to create decorative objects such as spikey vases, textured lampshades and wall art.
How about the materials you use?
I actually work with porcelain paper clay, which is porcelain clay with added cellulose fibres – usually paper. It sounds odd, I know, but it makes the porcelain much lighter and more pliable so easier to work with. And as I hand-build everything, rather than working on a wheel, I can achieve really unique results.
Describe the process to us...
I treat the clay rather like pastry or royal icing by initially rolling it out flat with a rolling pin. Because paper clay is so pliable, I can then cut it into strips and fashion it between finger and thumb into a variety of shapes, such as ruffles, or press it with fabric to create unique patterns.
Where did the inspiration for the ruffles come from?
I had a beautiful dress with a ruffled neckline, which inspired me to emulate something similar in porcelain paper clay. It’s a bit of a stretch, I know, but I’ve always loved fabrics, and ruffles have now become my signature style.
How do you create them?
Having rolled out the clay to about 2mm thick, I’ll cut it into irregular shapes then pucker and twist into individual ruffles. When the clay is dry, the first bisque firing takes place. Each piece then has glaze applied before a second firing. I’ll then paint the edge of each ruffle with gold or platinum for a distinctive sparkle, before the final firing. The creative part is placing and fixing the ruffles to a board to create a continuous and unique pattern.
What about your other designs?
I use the same principle for all my designs so the wall art is as wide as my imagination. My pod designs are individual organic forms spaced to create a pattern. I love the way light casts shadows creating a constantly evolving picture. More recently, after a visit to Australia, I’ve experimented with frangipani style flowers in various sizes to create flowing designs. I just love the simplicity of their five petals. I’m also working on tiny circular shapes with rosettes in the centre, which are simple yet quite intricate.
How do you decide on the presentation for the wall art?
Everything is either mounted on flat boards or within frames. The boards vary from circles to hearts but one of my favourites, called Ying and Yang, is two curved boards forming a circle. The framed pieces are usually rectangles in a variety of sizes but I never cover them with glass as I think this would confuse the 3D effect of the works.
What about your lampshades?
These are all cylindrical and imprinted with fabric. Basically, I press textured fabric into the rolled out clay to create a design. Lace, crochet or embroidered fabric are perfect for this. The tricky bit is moulding the cylinder on to the base, which I often feel needs six pairs of hands because if the clay is too dry it cracks or too wet it can collapse.
Do you still work from out of your garage?
I split my time between two places. There’s my garage studio, where I escape to think and work, but it’s a bit insular so it’s good to come to my space at the Wimbledon Art Studio, which is a great environment for ideas and inspiration from other artists.
Any plans for the future?
I’m now working on an installation of veined leaves, which I plan to suspend on transparent wire so they look like they are falling from the ceiling. I’ll probably glaze them with pearl for a shimmering effect.
What’s the best thing about living in Surrey?
At home in Richmond, I’m close to the park, Kew and the River Thames, so it’s one of the best places I could wish to live! And I love visiting art galleries in Surrey and London.
• For more information about Isobel’s ceramics, visit her website at isobelceramics.co.uk. You can also see her work at Wimbledon Art Studios’ Open Art Show this November. Check out wimbledonartstudios.co.uk for more details