Hi Katie! What inspired you to set up Illyria Pottery?
It was a mixture of events and people in my life, that nudged me to begin the business. I was an art student and the final project of my graduate degree in studio art was a public exhibition. All the pieces were for sale, and to my surprise, I nearly sold out. For the first time, I thought I could really make a go of it, not only as someone who creates but also as someone who sells. This was a turning point for me. My husband, Micah, has always been the one who has helped me think bigger and has given me the mental scaffolding for dreaming big.
What is the story behind the name Illyria?
Well, it’s simply a word I liked the sound of at first and thought it matched the shape of my work. But then I did a little digging. The name has origins as an ancient province (modern-day Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, and surrounding areas across the Adriatic from Italy). I’m not from that area, which many people assume (I’m actually from the States), but I enjoy the extra layer of significance for my brand to harken back to a region where people would have used pottery in everyday life. Illyria is also referred to in both Shakespeare and the Bible – several different significant threads of meaning for us.
What sort of space do you work in?
Before I had my little girl, I owned a studio and shop in Jericho, a neighbourhood in central Oxford, for nearly eight years. But in order to be a mum, I knew I needed a change in the balance of things – I knew I couldn’t sustain the production to fill that huge shop space and care for her in the way I wanted to. I had a solid online following by that time, and we assessed that online sales could support the business. We bought a tiny thatched cottage in the countryside, and I now work from my garden studio that overlooks a peaceful field. As much as I loved my shop and our Oxford community, I’m so glad we’ve made the move.
How valuable is the online community to your work?
Invaluable. I could only do what I do because of the support of my followers all over the world. Most have come to me through Instagram, but I still have strong online connections with my Oxford and my South Carolina communities through an e-newsletter. I’m incredibly grateful for my loyal collectors and regular customers, some of whom have been with me from the start.
Working as an independent maker – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?
Everything rests on me, so I have to follow through in every way. From coming up with designs and creating each piece to having the packaging supplies I need and shipping everything out the door. The flip-side is the freedom that this affords, which is ideal for me as a mum. If I know we need a quieter time at home, I can dial things down. I can plan the collection launches for when I want them to be.
Is there an element of your work that you love the most?
The clay itself. Time alone in my studio. The making. Oops, that’s three things!
Where do you find creative inspiration?
In the natural world. As a Christian, I believe God created the earth and filled it with stunning, immense, intricate, and ordered beauty. I love the frail textures of a decaying leaf, or the patterns represented by colonies of crustaceans found clinging to the rocks at the seashore. It’s those kinds of surfaces that I enjoy bringing into my work. These organic sources of inspiration allow my work to point back to a greater creator.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
My husband and I are a team on this. He photographs my work, and designs my newsletters and website. He used to be a copywriter, so that helps too. Most of the social media side is down to me, and I’ve invested a significant amount of time in building the brand and connecting with people.
What have been your business highlights so far?
Where my pieces live. It’s exciting to think of their afterlives, once they’ve left my studio. From Hôtel de Crillon in central Paris to a farmer’s kitchen, the breadth is remarkable, and I’m equally pleased with both.
Where do you sell your work?
Since closing my bricks-and-mortar shop, I’ve sold exclusively through my website and social media. I used to hold events in the States, but I now focus almost exclusively on my online shop.
Do you have any creative pastimes or hobbies?
My work is rather all-consuming – it’s a blurry line between business and pleasure for me. But I do love to garden.
Any good advice for makers who are just starting out?
Work hard. Fine-tune your craft. Be excellent. It’s worthwhile to make things that you really like – ask yourself, “Would I want to buy it, would I want to live with it, do I think it’s valuable?” Rather than asking, “Will this sell?”.
Describe your work in three words: Tactile, elegant, useful.
What are your creating rituals? Start with a clean space. Podcast or music. As much light as possible.
Tea or coffee? Coffee. Always.
Mountains or sea? Sea…especially if it comes with sunshine.
Night owl or early bird? Kind of neither. I love sleep. Never get enough especially now that I have a little one.
I wish someone had told me… To take more holidays.