Maker Spotlight: Meet Emily Hughes, a Welsh Ceramicist to Watch!
Today, the First of March maker spotlight is on Emily Hughes. Emily is an incredibly talented, emerging ceramicist with a love for handmade craft. Her passion for Wales is evident and successfully showcased in her work.
We sat down with Emily Hughes to hear all about her latest collection and plans for the future!
What sparked your interest in the craft world?
From an early age, I was obsessed with making and handmade items – they always felt so precious to me. I suppose this was because my mum treasured anything I would make, from as early as I could pick up a crayon! I simply always felt a connection with work that had been made by hand. I first got a glimpse into the craft world and the idea of ceramics at secondary school. We had a small kiln and an older student was making a large coil pot, I watched her take a bag of clay and turn it into a beautiful wide bellied vessel. I was completely entranced by it. I realised then that I had to get my hands on that muddy stuff!
You initially studied at North Wales School of Art and Design. How did you finally decide on becoming a ceramicist?
During the first year of my BA in Applied art at North Wales school of art and design, we were able to try out three different craft disciplines: Ceramics, metalwork and glass. We took classes in each area and at the end of the first semester, we had to choose the one that we wanted to focus on. The decision for me was hard, but looking back on it, it was a fairly obvious one. I do love metalwork and glass, but I found that clay was much more my field. It was malleable and instant, and so incredibly versatile. I found that the possibilities were almost endless once you had learnt all of the techniques. The unpredictability of ceramics is always a worry, but it’s also the addictive part. Not knowing what the kiln will hold for you when you open it is one of the very best and worst parts of the process. You could say I became a bit obsessed with the surprises!
How does your creative process begin and unfold?
I first start with my key sources of inspiration, which is my home village and a sense of place. I will usually take first hand photographs and sketch directly from view. I also make notes of shapes, colours and marks that I see on my walks up the mountains and our local coastal paths. I then gather all my thoughts and ideas in my sketchbook before heading to my home garden studio to prepare the clay. I treat the surface of the clay like a canvas, applying the brushstrokes and etching marks into the surface to capture my drawings in the clay, like a time capsule of that day and landscape at that period in time.
What is the average timeframe for creating one of your stoneware vessels?
Before I begin on the construction of my stoneware vessels, I have to prepare the clay slabs and leave them to dry for a while before I start applying the porcelain slip and my mark making to the surface. This can take up to four hours before the slab is dry enough to transport to the wooden formers. Once onto the wooden shape formers, I leave the clay out overnight. The following morning, I will return to the studio and construct the vessel so that it is fully formed and stood flat on the tabletop. At this stage, I usually touch up the surface of the pot with slip and add some additional marks if needed. I then allow the work to stiffen some more overnight, so that it is easier the following day to handle and to refine until the finish is as I would like. The whole building process probably takes about three days to complete. After that, I leave the work to dry out for at least a week to make sure that all the moisture has left the clay, before giving the piece its first firing. After the piece has had the bisque firing, I then glaze the vessel and fire again until it is complete!
How has your childhood growing up in the Welsh countryside influenced your work?
Growing up in a small village in-between the mountains and the sea has greatly influenced my work. Throughout the years, I have noticed a strong link between the contrasts in the landscape around me and the contrasts in my work. For example, I use the clay to represent contrasting smooth and rugged textures of the natural landscape, but I also mark the surface of the clay to echo marks and tracks left behind by quarrymen on the mountains I am surrounded by. My village is a constant source of inspiration that will always be there to feed into my practice.
What has been the highlight of your craft career so far?
My craft career highlight so far has to be taking part in New Designers 2019 in the Business Design Centre in Islington. After three years of hard work on my BA course, we were finally showcasing our work to the public. I met some incredibly talented graduates from across the UK and was buzzing with inspiration for months after.
Since New Designers 2019, I have had so many opportunities to work with various galleries and craft businesses. I’m truly grateful for every opportunity I have been given since that show.
How would you like for your work to develop in the next 5 years?
I would love to continue to work with exciting galleries and businesses that inspire me to strive to achieve more of my goals. In the next year, I will be finishing my masters degree and showcasing with my fellow students, which I am very excited for! I also hope to achieve my teacher training after next year and finally, (and a little self indulgently), I would love to have a solo show or exhibition. That is very much up there as a career goal!
Has there been a certain inspiration or driving force behind your collections?
My environment and the importance of representation of place within my work are the main inspirations behind why I make the pieces that I do. It is important to me that every customer that purchases an artwork from me hopefully also feels that captured sense of place. I strive to invoke feelings of calm and peace. This is inspired by craft that resonates with me as a viewer, such as Nordic ceramics and craft work, and also a lot of Japanese pottery.
Do you have a favourite piece ever worked on?
I’d probably say my large green vessel, but it’s like choosing between children (I’d imagine!). I adored working on this vessel, I had lots of fun with the glaze and oxide application which has led to delicious runny bits and beautifully bold colours coming through. The shape and finish of the piece is very satisfying to me, and visually worked out exactly how I had imagined that it would.
This piece was inspired by seeing the sunlight hitting a grassy patch of the mountain – the vessel catches that very moment and encapsulates it forever in ceramic form. I experience that moment every time the sun hits this piece in my studio.
Can you share some insight on what to expect from your upcoming collection? We’d also love it if you could share how the First of March core values – Hiraeth, Cynefin & Hwyl – connect with you as a maker.
This collection of work is built upon memories and history that has been left visible on the landscape and the mountain side around me. My family worked the quarries which I am surrounded by through three generations, so it is important for me that I reflect this in my work to honour the past. Cynefin to me is home. It’s North Wales and the surrounding areas I grew up in and still enjoy every single day. It’s important to me that my work belongs to where I do. I feel like this collection stems from everything that I have grown up with. Hwyl is what drives my work and ceramic practice. My passion for clay continues every single day. It never fails to surprise and excite me. I lose all control handing my work over to the kiln, but each time I open it it feels like Christmas Day! The ever changing play that you can have with this material is why I continue to expand my knowledge. I hope this collection will bring people closer to Wales, and perhaps bring back memories of the coast that they had once forgotten. For me, this collection represents my home and all the beauty and joy it brings me. My goal is for it to do the same for my customers!