We had an awesome chat with ceramisist extrodinaire Libby Ballard. She gave us a very detailed look into how she makes each of her pieces, explaining how they get their lovely, unique individuality and how the colours and techniques are inspired by nature.
Tell us a bit about yourselves. Can you recall how and why you became a maker?
I have always loved making, it probably started from when I was tiny playing on our local beach for hours, digging, building and making a mess really! I was really lucky to have a fab ceramics tutor during GCSE times who was also a sculptor and made amazing life-size ceramic sheep. He was always so passionate and really encouraged us to experiment and try out different techniques.
What are your main inspirations and influences for the work?
The coast where I grew up on the Isle of Wight has always been my main inspiration. I just find any coastline so calming and inspiring and love watching the sea during different times of the year. This calming feeling I get from watching the sea I try and replicate in my products so that they have a similar effect when you use them. I love the colours and textures of the coast and always try and bring this through in my work.
What is the process?
Wedge up a blend of 2 stoneware clays to get the speckle effect I am after. Weigh out the clay balls so that I am starting with the same amount of clay and once again wedge up so they are all a consistent texture and ready to throw with, without any air bubbles.
-I then throw onto a wooden batt on the wheel head which I have engraved space to place small white kitchen tiles into so that I can remove each tile from the wheel without having to touch the wet work.
- Each piece is thrown by centering the clay, throwing a cylinder first and then gently pulling out to the correct width. They are then left loosely covered overnight to stiffen up.
- The next day when they are leather hard and can be touched without losing their shape it is time to turn the bases and stamp. This involves taking away excess clay from the base so that they are all smooth and uniform. This also helps to compress the clay so that cracks do not form.
- I then leave then to dry slowly covered lightly with plastic. If they dry to fast and uneven the rim dries fastest which causes pressure on the base which can result in cracking.
- Once fully dry they go into first firing to 1000 degrees over 10 hours and left to cool slowly in the kiln which can take up to 24 hours.
- They are then removed from the kiln and any rough parts sanded off.
- My glazes I mix up with a range of raw materials and oxides for colouring, I often play around with new glazes and test out different percentages of colour. Each glaze when mixed up needs to be left to settle for at least 1 hour and then sieved 3 times through a specific size mesh.
- I then pour clear glaze into the inside of each pot and wipe back and dribbles around the outside rim.
- They are then dipped up to the rim in my light green glaze and left for the glaze to soak in and dry.
- They are then dipped again in my deep blue halfway up the pot.
- Each pot then needs the glaze on the base wiping back with a clean damp sponge and 1/2 cm up the side as the glaze melts in the kiln it will stick to the kiln shelf if enough glaze not removed.
- Once all bases have been check I can then load the kiln for 2nd firing as my work is all fired to stoneware temperature it goes up to 1260 degrees over 11 hours and again left to cool for about 24 hours before they can be removed.
- When removed they are checked once more and bases sanded back where necessary.
- Then bubble wrapped and sent off to their new homes!
Where are you based and how does that affect your work?
I am now based at The Pound Arts in Wiltshire, I love being back in the countryside having recently moved out of London. Although I am not by the sea, I still find just having open space around me so much easier to be inspired and productive. Having moved out of London I can now afford to have my own studio space and this in itself has given me the opportunity to expand my business and create and experiment more!
What do you enjoy most about being a maker?
That every day is different! Even when making a big batch for an order and throwing the same form, there are always different factors. I just love making and having a practical and creative job, couldn't imagine doing anything else! It is also great meeting new makers at different markets everyone is always so friendly and it always great to get out of the studio and talk to like minded makers!
What is your favourite thing about Christmas?
Family and Food! It is always amazing when I get on the boat home to the island after my busiest months leading up to the hectic christmas selling period! This is always my put my feet up and chill time, the only time of the year I take a good few days off and don't feel guilty about being lazy!
Thank you so much Libby!
Libby Ballard Ceramics
Check out Libby's updates on Instagram! I'm paticularly drooling over this lovely looking hot choc...
Elsa, signing off for now!