Turning "lumps of mud" into creative pottery with Milford’s Claire Waterhouse

PUBLISHED: 18:22 10 June 2016 | UPDATED: 18:41 10 June 2016




Instilling magic in ‘lumps of mud’ has been thrilling Claire Waterhouse for 30 years. Janet Donin meets this creative potter at her Milford studio to discover more about her work – which can even be spotted at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village, if you look hard enough...


Originally published in Surrey Life magazine May 2016


Tell us a bit about yourself…

I am a bespoke potter with a degree in ceramics and I specialise in throwing on the potter’s wheel. Whilst I relish the time that I spend in my studio developing my own style, I equally enjoy sharing my skills with others. More recently, I have expanded my business and offer one-to-one tuition in my garden studio.

How did your interest in the potter’s wheel first begin?

At art college, I noticed a potter’s wheel in the corner of a studio, but when I asked my tutor if I could have a go he responded: “You’ll never be any good at that!” With the gauntlet thrown down, I set my goal to prove him wrong and, 30 years down the line, the magic I am able to instil in a lump of mud continues to thrill and excite me.

How would you describe your style to us today?

My style is precise, defined and intricate. When I make batches of pots, I weigh out my clay, down to the gram, and stretch it out as thinly and finely as I can. This helps when creating ranges of stock, in the interest of uniformity.

Where do you find the inspiration for your work?

It’s all around me. I can be browsing the web when an idea pops into my head, or I’ll be inspired viewing other ceramicists’ work in galleries. Sometimes, clients inspire me with new ideas and I will strive to create their exact plan.

Describe the creative process…

My true love will always be the potter’s wheel, but I explore a wide variety of techniques and styles. I like to experiment with processes such as slip trailing, pit firing, faceting and wax-resist techniques.

What’s the most important part of throwing a pot?

Undoubtedly, it’s the preparation of the clay prior to any actual throwing. It’s important to wedge the clay, in the same way you’d knead bread. This eliminates air from the clay ensuring that it doesn’t crack or split in the firing process.

Which is the most unusual thing you have made?

By far the least run-of-the-mill project was the bespoke chimney cowls commissioned by Watts Gallery for Limnerslease house – the home of GF and Mary Watts in Compton. I found these incredibly challenging, as it was critical for the measurements to be exact. I was very excited to undertake the challenge, though, and feel proud that my skills have been put to such prestigious use.

So when did you start your Portable Pottery Company?

Initially, I sold my work at craft fairs and took my wheel with me in order to teach people who fancied a go, there and then. I soon realised just how many were enthralled by pottery. Since the recent BBC programme, The Great Pottery Throw Down, everybody wants to have a go at throwing on the wheel and my business has expanded greatly. I also take my wheel to private parties and team-building exercises for businesses.

Describe your studio for us…

Essentially, it’s divided into three sections: a lounge area, where I keep a coffee machine, stereo and, most importantly, cake; the middle, where my two Shimpo Whisper potter’s wheels are found and the magic happens; and, on the right, my kilns, tools and clay etc. The garden surrounding my workshop is a pretty courtyard.

What is the best thing about your job?

I love sharing my passion with people, and seeing their faces light up as they transform the piece of clay between their hands into an individual piece of work.

Finally, what do you like most about living in Surrey?

My favourite thing about the county is the landscape with the hills and valleys, meandering paths, trees and ancient forests, all of which I find awe-inspiring, and prove beautiful for walking my little Staffordshire bull terrier, who is my potter’s mate!

• For more on Claire Waterhouse, visit her website at theportablepottery.com. See her work during the Surrey Artists Open Studios event from Saturday June 4 to Sunday June 19 or visit by appointment. An introductory two-hour pottery lesson for two people sharing costs £50

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