Why and when did you decide to start your business?
I started Blank Earth during the pandemic, after we relocated from Singapore to Suffolk. I’d been learning and practising pottery in Singapore for about four years while also working as a research scientist and totally fell in love with it. Moving back to the UK gave me a break in my science career and it really felt like the perfect time to take the leap and become a full time potter.
What had you done previously?
Before Blank Earth, I was a research scientist at the University of Singapore working on cutaneous biomedical engineering, which basically means I was developing artificial skin in the lab that we hoped could become an alternative to animal testing. Before moving to Singapore, I’d spent time in London doing my undergraduate degree, masters and PhD in Biomedical Science and Cutaneous Biology. During this time I was involved in science communication through the arts, so I always had an outlet for my creativity – I even ran an art-meets-neuroscience exhibition called ArtNeuro.
Are there any cross-overs between your life working within science and as a ceramics artist?
There are definitely similarities – I actually always think of pottery as the perfect mix of science and art! It might sound a bit boring, but the biggest skill I learned as a scientist that’s helped me greatly as a potter is taking methodical notes. Like with an experiment, there are many stages over a long period of time to making a pot and at each one of these something can go wrong, or change a little, that will affect your final piece. I’m always thanking my past self for writing everything down in case something comes out of the kiln not as I expected, so I can find out what went wrong or repeat it if it’s a result I like!
I also think my basic knowledge of chemistry (I’m by no means an expert) has been really useful when making glazes to finish my work. The colour and finish of a glaze, in basic terms, is a chemical reaction on the surface of your pot and looks completely different before firing in the kiln. I’ve always found testing new glazes the most exciting part of pottery – opening the kiln to discover what new colours you’ve made is so inspiring!
How would you describe the brand’s ethos?
I’ve always had a passion for antiques and traditional pieces, ones that have a story to tell or have been loved for generations. I wanted to bring this inspiration into the ethos of Blank Earth and create unique and authentic ceramics reminiscent of when things were ‘made to last’. My hope is that these pieces will become modern heirlooms and treasured for years to come. This way of thinking also helps us work towards a more sustainable future; most of our ceramics are made to order so that there is no waste, and our more unique hand-carved pieces are produced in very limited quantities due to the time it takes to make them – a refreshing change from mass-produced homeware.
Can you tell us a little about the processes used to create your work?
I think I’m lucky that I learned and developed my pottery skills whilst living in Singapore because it gave me an insight into Asian ceramics and different ways of approaching pottery. I visited Japan many times and fell in love with their way of working and the ceramics they create. An ethos they have there that resonated with me was finding beauty in imperfections, which are particularly celebrated in a traditional technique called kurinuki – the process of slowly hollowing and carving away clay to reveal a unique pottery form. I make a lot of my work using this technique and I love how each piece is one-of-a-kind, never to be repeated again. In contrast to this, I also make pottery by throwing on the wheel, which is how I make my tableware to order – I love how different these techniques are and how I can switch from one to the other so I’m never bored.
You are inspired by working with clay, can you tell us a little more about why you love working with this medium?
Clay is a fascinating medium because it’s soft and malleable when wet, then as it dries it becomes stiff and brittle, which means you can create such an array of forms with it. I often think of throwing on the wheel as drawing in 3D; if I have an idea in my head I can quickly make it on the wheel to see if it’s going to work, and that’s very exciting to me. I also find it very tactile to work with, and often like to leave subtle touches to show my hand in the work, such as the swirls in my dinnerware range or a squeeze of a handle to make it more ergonomic to hold.
Which is your most popular product? Why do you think that is?
It’s hard to say, because I have two quite distinct ranges. My Kurinuki Collection which gets released periodically throughout the year is made up of unique one-of-a-kind pieces. I always have lots of interest in the cottages I make for that collection, especially the incense and wax melt ones. It still surprises me how much everyone loves them but I think there is something really personal and comforting about the idea of a home.
My Core Collection consists of functional tableware and decorative ceramics that are made to order and more classic in their form. In this collection the most popular product is definitely the Everyday Bowl. I think it’s because the shape is so classic that appeals to lots of people and the size is just right making it very versatile. I glaze them by dipping them at an angle so you can see the raw clay at the bottom which makes each one a little different and special.
Hard question: do you have a favourite?
The kurinuki cottages are my favourite to make! I love getting lost in the meditative motions of carving clay and choosing all the different glaze colour combinations. I rarely make pottery for myself because I prefer to collect and use other potters’ work but I would say the initial mug is my favourite – I’m always a sucker for personalisation!
What does a typical day look like for you?
Annoyingly, I always wake up at about 6.30am whatever time I go to bed so I start with a cup of tea, of course! Then I pop to my garden studio to check how wet my pieces are which determines if I will trim or carve them that day. At the same time the kiln usually needs unloading or loading, which I like to do at the start of the day so I can quickly tick it off the list! Then I come back to the house and write my to-do list for the day and do any computer bits like Instagram, emails, or editing.
I usually have an early lunch so I can work through the rest of the day in the studio. If I’m in the flow I don’t really like taking breaks and I’m always covered in clay so I try not to bring that in the house.
Studio tasks vary from day to day. It might be throwing or trimming on the wheel, glazing, or carving clay – I love how varied my days are. After I’ve finished everything in the studio I take off my clay-covered apron (I’m a very messy potter) and have a long relaxing soak in the bath then see what’s for dinner.
Sounds lovely! How does your location inspire you?
I live in the Suffolk countryside surrounded by woodlands and always pick up seed heads or fallen leaves on our walks to press into my cottages to decorate them. I’m always inspired by the beautiful architecture of period buildings in this area. Our Kurinuki Stone Cottage was inspired by the traditional Suffolk flint cottage we live in and is very close to my heart.
How do you approach PR and marketing?
PR is something I’m still learning and trying to dedicate more time to, but I try to do a little each week – I use PR Dispatch that I really recommend to small businesses. I find the lead up to Christmas much easier as there are more opportunities because of the number of gift guides getting released. I would say most of my marketing efforts go into Instagram, and to a lesser extent Pinterest and Youtube – because we make ceramics it made sense to focus on visual platforms.
If you were to share any words of wisdom with readers looking to start a creative business – what would you say?
I’d really stress the importance of building a mailing list at the very beginning – before you start your business even (if possible), so that when you do decide to take the plunge you know you have an audience waiting that wants to buy your work. I know this is easier said than done, but we found linking our mailing list sign up to our Instagram right from the start before we had a studio to actually make and sell work really helpful. Growing your audience on Instagram of course feeds into this and I would say don’t be scared to share how you make what you make or the process behind it. When I started to share videos on how I make my pottery that’s when my posts started to get shown to more people so if you feel comfortable doing that I would go for it!
What’s been your highlight so far?
Honestly, just being able to earn a living working for myself doing what I love creating pottery everyday from my garden studio is the biggest highlight, and I’m not sure anything will beat that feeling of freedom!
And finally, what’s in store for you over the coming months?
We’re getting ready for the Christmas rush! I’m really excited to release our Christmas Cottage tree decorations in November that we’ve been working on for a long time. They’re modelled on gingerbread houses and I’ll be adding gold and silver touches to make them extra festive!
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS
Describe your work in three words: Rustic, authentic and unique.
What are your creating rituals? Going for a walk and letting my mind wander.
Tea or coffee? Tea.
Mountains or sea? Mountains.
Night owl or early bird? Early bird
I wish someone had told me.. That brows would become a thing so I knew to step away from the tweezers!