In the first of a new series celebrating independent makers we talk bud vases, and ‘striving for joy’ with Hastings-based ceramicist Pip Wilcox.
We caught up with Pip on the eve of her latest release of ceramics – a beautiful range of bud vases – and the first collection to be created in her new home studio. ‘I’m on a bit of a high today; I’m excited about tomorrow’s sale, and the first batch of my Ceramics Club Member pieces have just been sent out, so it’s all very exciting.’
The route to a creative life has not been straightforward for Pip, who has worked as a financial advisor, therapist, and humanist funeral celebrant, and didn’t discover her love for pottery until 2008, “The organisation I was working for at that time gave their employees a budget for personal development,’ she explains, ‘and I managed to convince them that I should attend a pottery course!’ Pip’s love for pottery was instantaneous, but there followed a difficult time in Pip’s personal life, with the traumas of IVF, miscarriage, and bereavement in close succession. ‘For a while I was broken. I’m grateful for this now because, without hitting such lows, I don’t think I would have found my way to where I am today.’
Taking time away from the pressures of work, brought Pip back to making, and to pottery. ‘There was a pottery class down the road, and I just started going. It wasn’t a huge epiphany, more of a slow unfolding as I gradually became more absorbed in what I was making. It’s played a big part in allowing me to totally overhaul my life, rather than tweak around it’s edges, and this way of life I have now, is one in which I am unapologetically striving for joy.’
That joy is definitely spreading – glance at Pip’s IG feed and it’s clear to see the love people have for her ceramics. It’s easy to see why – her work has a clean, spare beauty, but beyond that Pip’s open and warm approach on social media, and Instagram in particular, has gained her many fans. This emotional connection which she has with the people who buy her work, is important to Pip. ‘Previously in my life I’ve chosen work that involves building relationships with people and I had assumed that being a potter would be largely devoid of that. It’s been such an unexpected joy to realise that sharing with others a thing I’ve made with my hands (and heart) can result in something far beyond exchanging an inanimate object for money. I feel very fortunate that owners of my work often get in touch to generously share with me their response to it. I’ve received many wonderful, moving messages and each and every one touches me greatly.’
So, what’s the best part of making? ‘The creative process aside, I love being part of a community of makers both on and offline. The spontaneity is wonderful too – of being able to come up with an idea and put it out there – as I did with the Ceramics Club.’ Pip is keeping Ceramics Club Membership small for now – in return for their subscription, members receive four pieces a year, plus discounts on other work. ‘The Club is great for me – while I have no desire to become a production potter, it does enforce a certain discipline, without being overwhelming.’
Freedom is a word which comes up often in conversation, and is clearly important to Pip, both in terms of her approach to the making process and to selling her work. ‘I don’t tend to sketch the work first, I just sit down at the wheel and feel my way. I’m very protective of my freedom both in terms of what I make, and the volume of work I produce. Becoming a ceramicist came from difficult circumstances and – although I don’t want to sound precious – it’s very easy to stop loving what you do by piling pressure on to be commercial, to produce lots and to work quickly, so I’m mindful of this.’
Inspiration comes from a range of sources. ‘I get a lot from living by the sea, and having a daily stomp along the beach. I’m also inspired by pottery studios such as Leach and the work of sculptor Barbara Hepworth. When I’m making I actively avoid looking at contemporaries’ work- I don’t want to absorb their ideas and designs. When I first started becoming interested in ceramics I created a Pinterest board to collate work by my favourite potters, and other designers – which I now studiously ignore!’
The length of time it takes for Pip to create a piece varies. Once the piece has been thrown it’s set to one side ‘to reach the leather hard stage before I get to work carving and faceting,’ she explains, ‘then it’s put on to the shelf to dry out – this can take weeks in winter or just a few days in summer. When the piece is bone dry, it’s placed in my kiln for biscuit firing, which takes twelve hours, but I have to wait another 16 hours before the kiln has cooled enough for me to open it. The next step in the process is glazing, followed by a further firing in the kiln – which again means another 28-hours before the kiln can be opened.’
It seems there’s quite a lot of waiting involved in the process; is patience is a virtue for a potter? ‘Definitely! I often can’t wait to open the kiln door, for that reveal of whether everything has gone to plan, but the process forces a certain slowness which I’m embracing. It fosters mindfulness and creates ritual around making.’
Pip has also found a way to use her skills for good – auctioning several pieces on Instagram and raising over £500 for CalAid in the process. ‘Like many people, the migrant crisis and Brexit, left me with a horrible feeling of powerlessness. Auctioning my work seemed like a small way of helping, I’ve been blown away by the response – people have been incredibly generous.’
So, what does the future hold for Pip Wilcox Ceramics? ‘I’m planning to incorporate some new designs into my work – and to revisit making larger pieces, mugs, and lidded vessels. I’m hoping to keep slowly expanding the Ceramics Club Membership. I’ve also got some collaborations with other makers in the pipeline, which I’m excited about. Beyond that, I’ll continue settling into my new studio – it’s wonderful to have this space of my own – and enjoying the creative process. It’s taken a while to get here but I feel so fortunate; I needed a way to fall back in love with my life – and pottery has provided that.’
Describe your work in three words: Tactile, warm, organic
What are your making rituals? BBC Radio 6 Music has become my constant companion; I keep the studio as serene, uncluttered and clean as is practical; I love the ritual of having a small vase of fresh flowers on my work table; and evenings in the studio are a good excuse to light an Essence + Alchemy candle.
Tea or coffee? I miss the little cups of macchiato with demerara sugar that I used to relish. My metabolism had enough of that so it’s breakfast tea with milk (and no sugar!) for me now.
Mountains or sea? That’s very easy. Sea, sea and more sea.
Night owl or early bird? I’ve always been a night owl but in the past year or so I’ve been waking up super early. I haven’t yet adapted by getting myself to bed at a better time!
I wish someone had told me…. To be kinder to myself and that it’s OK to place importance on incorporating joy into my life