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January 24, 2020 —

Meet The Maker: Carla Sealey of Natural Clay Ceramics

Happily creating natural-style ceramics, hand-built from her Bedfordshire studio, ceramicist Carla Sealey is living proof that leaving a longstanding career for a much-loved vocation can be well worth the (scary) leap.
Shelley Welti
91 Magazine online content editor,
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We spoke to the woman behind Natural Clay Ceramics to hear about her love of pottery, embracing a new career path and doing what makes you happy…

Hi Carla. First things first, why and when did you decide to start your business?

Naked Clay Ceramics started in 2017 as an offshoot of a sculptural project I was doing, handbuilding and slipcasting vessels in various clays and leaving the clay bare after firing.

I’ve been buying handmade ceramics for about 20 years and I have a collection of handmade mugs, pourers and bowls that I love and use every day. Eventually it dawned on me that maybe I should start making my own range using those techniques.

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What had you done previously?

I originally qualified as a geologist and chemist and spent 14 years working as a scientist in environmental protection. A storm of personal, domestic and work crises within the space of 18 months found me reassessing what I was doing and why. I pressed reset, sold my house, left my job and took myself back to university to do an art degree.

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Can you tell us a little about your style?

Minimal, natural. It’s about being able to appreciate the look and feel of the clay in it’s fired state.

You’re renowned for your minimal style – where did your love of paired-back style come from?

I’m not really sure! I remember the first time I saw an exhibition of Edmund de Waal’s work about 20 years ago. It was like a meditation. I felt so peaceful. I think I just wanted to recreate that feeling. It also introduced me to the idea of multiples, that you can actually make more of an impact with lots of small things than with one big thing.

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How do you create your work?

I use a combination of handbuilding from solid clay and slipcasting liquid clay into my own moulds. I made a conscious decision from the beginning not to throw my pieces. Apart from having a bad back, I’m very conscious that cuts and injuries to hands and arms could have a disastrous impact on my ability to make. I wanted a sustainable practise that allowed that, if necessary, I could get other people to help me with parts of the process.

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Which is your most popular product?

The mugs and bowls are the most popular on the website. At shows though, the wildflower vases are not only best sellers but they seem to act as an invitation for people to start a conversation with me. Which is great. I think because they’re small they’re accessible. You can always find a little space for a single one and a set is a little collection that, again, doesn’t take up too much space. And of course there’s the potential to keep collecting!

Do you have a favourite?

No! I have wildflower vases, mugs and bowls (admittedly only the seconds) at home and in the studio so I use them all everyday.

Where do you create from? Does your location inspire you?

I’m inspired by the natural colours and textures of the earth. I tend to sketch my ideas with words rather than images. My process involves making, refining, discarding, modifying in a sometimes continuous loop until I reach the thing that’s sitting somewhere in my head. I know I’m there when it feels right. I’m fortunate that my studio is on an old plant nursery in a slightly wild but lovely, peaceful, natural environment!

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Sounds gorgeous! What does a typical day look like for you?

It varies. When I’m in the studio I usually get in before 8am. I work in cycles so it could be a period of making where I’m rolling out clay, making my liquid clay, casting, attaching handles or loading the kiln. Or I could be preparing and hosting the workshops that I run. Two days a week I also teach silver jewellery making classes at a local arts and crafts centre so I also need to fit my schedule around that.

How do you approach PR and marketing?

I’ve found Kayte Ferris, Sara Tasker and Jen Carrington’s podcasts and blogs really invaluable. Instagram and the internet have been game changers in providing a platform where so many of us can get our work seen by the people around the world who share our visual and lifestyle values. I also have an email newsletter that you can subscribe to on my website.

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Do you have any exciting plans you’d like to share for 2020?

I’ll hopefully be doing events again in Wakefield, Birmingham and London. I’m also hoping to add some more London events and I have my eye on a very special one! I’m planning to add some one-off items to the range. I’m definitely feeling the need to include some sculptural work.

If you were to share any words of wisdom with readers looking to start a creative business – what would you say?!

Make what makes you happy, not what you think other people will like.

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What’s been your highlight so far?

Just being able to connect with other creatives and people with a similar mindset. When you’re a maker it’s easy to become isolated. However close your friends and family, they rarely ‘get’ what you do, so it’s a great to be able to share time with other creatives whether online or in person.

Quickfire questions…

Describe your work in three words: 

Tactile, quiet, intentional.

What are your making rituals? 

Music – ready, scented candles – steady, clay – go.

Tea or coffee? 

Coffee.

Mountains or sea? 

Both! My bolthole in Snowdonia is part way between the two so I can get to both.

Night owl or early bird? 

Both. I’m an early riser and I love to see the sunrise when I can but if I’m doing something I’ll happily keep going into the early hours.

I wish someone had told me…

It’s ok to be you. Take care and nourish your mind, your body and your soul. They’re the only things that are truly yours, don’t let other people claim them.

See more from Carla at nakedclayceramics.com and on Instagram.

Photography by Katia of Gourmand Pixels

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