Pots of Inspiration

Leah was chosen in December 2009 as Suffolk Craftsperson of the Month and the following article appeared in The East Anglian Daily Times Supplement. Reproduced with kind permission.

Article and photo copyright Leah Hinks 2009.

Leah

I’m very fortunate to work from home in my Suffolk studio. I only have to step 6 yards to my studio each morning, after waving my 3 children off to school. The studio is set in our apple orchard, which in the Autumn is very popular with the chickens and our rather greedy Labrador, feeding on the windfalls.

We converted our home and studio from a cluster of barns 12 years ago having been a cow barn, a granary, and a piggery. My husband Julian shares the other end of the piggery with me as he also works from home! With Radio 4 for company, I work towards making new pieces for exhibitions, for galleries and commissions.

I work in porcelain: a very beautiful, sensitive and temperamental clay, building pots, pictures, candlesticks and small items of jewellery. I have many inspirations for the colour and forms.

Some of my colours are soft and subtle, reflected in the rolling Suffolk landscape. However, we recently took a family trip to Morocco, where the colours were wonderfully bright, vivid and energetic. In one mountain village, Chefchaouen, the white buildings were painted waist deep in a heavenly ice blue and this contrasted with the multi-coloured pigments, spices, rugs and jewellery on display in the souks. I have loved introducing these new elements and colour contrasts into my work.

The forms are very much inspired by layers and repeated patterns; the spiral of a shell or the immaculate geometric layers of an artichoke, or the repeated scales on a fish’s side. This layering, seen in nature, creates the basis for my work, as for example, I build my pots by layering and wrapping strips of clay.

Chefchaouen, Morocco

To make a bowl, I start by carving textures and patterns into a large flat block of plaster. I then roll strips of the porcelain clay on to the carving, picking up the relief pattern. I then mould the strips into a base, and create the sides by wrapping the strips of porcelain around each other.

After drying, the bowl is fired in the kiln three times:- a biscuit firing at 1,000 degrees C, a glaze firing at 1,260 degrees C and a lustre firing at 750 degrees C.

After the biscuit firing I apply the glazes. I adore the pure whiteness of porcelain, it is a great base for colour.

I really enjoy developing new glazes, providing me with a huge range of colours. I use oxides, glaze stains and glazes I mix myself. I apply the glazes rather like watercolour and at this stage they look dull and powdery. After the glaze firing the pots come to life. The dullness is replaced by beautiful colour and shine. To add a precious quality, I apply touches of lustre. These are precious metal based and very expensive, but worthwhile because opening the kiln after a final firing is always very exciting.

It is a joy to see the lustre glinting and glistening. The pots are translucent, delicate but also quite quirky. Earlier I mentioned porcelain’s temperamental characteristic. This can be shown when making a pot. You may try to have control of its shape by tapping, bending or moulding it to suit you, however the porcelain has its own ideas. It has a memory, and in the kiln it warps and bends back into the shape it is most comfortable with.

Pigments and spices for sale in the souks

I love this characteristic. It means that my pots are free flowing forms which lean and tilt. They are witty and have characters of their own. I enjoy the fact that I work with porcelain and that I don’t try and control it.

When I finished my Ceramics BA at Cardiff University in 1987, I only made decorative pots, but porcelain and lustre have a very precious jewel like quality, and it later became obvious to make jewellery. I love seeing people wearing my necklaces, brooches and earrings. I have to contain myself from rushing over to them in the supermarket saying “I made that”!

People often ask me if porcelain is strong enough to wear. It may look delicate and fragile, but it is more resilient than it seems. Because it is fired to such a high temperature is one of the strongest clays. This is why our sinks and tableware are made from it.

My pots are also no longer only just decorative as I love to add a practical use. I make cups, jugs, candlesticks., plates, salt dishes and spoons.

My work can be seen in permanent galleries at the Market Cross in Bury St Edmunds, The Crooked House in Lavenham, The Taplin in Woodbridge, and at Pin Mill.

It can also be found during the summer at the Peter Pears Gallery in Aldeburgh, and at Helmingham Hall. You will also find me at Rougham Barns Christmas fair, and throughout the year at the Suffolk Craft Society’s shop in the Ipswich Corn Exchange.

I was recently chosen to exhibit my pots at the Handmade in Britain exhibition at the old Chelsea Town Hall on the Kings Road, which sounds a bit grand for the potter from the piggery!

Leah works from her home based studio at The Granary, in Great Bealings, and examples of her work can be found on her website: www.leahhinks.co.uk