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Modern Makers: Q&A with Katherine Staples

19 January 2022

Katherine Staples’ large sculptural ceramic pieces are showcasing at Gabriel Scott’s London Showroom, as part of our Modern Makers series.

Katherine Staples makes sculptures out of clay in a variety of colours and glazes. Inspired by the natural world, the sculptures capture nature’s energy, movement and forms. Her work does not replicate nature, but has similarities. More specifically natural forms that have an association with the sea and items washed up on the beach.

Contemporary shapes are hand built using traditional methods with an emphasis on form and fragile flowing edges, creating a personal interpretation of natural forms. Energy flows directly into each piece incorporating spirit and mood, swallowing emotions and thoughts as each piece grows. Katherine’s ceramics are all fired in electric kilns that are powered 100% by solar energy.

We had the pleasure of speaking to Katherine about her craft, deep diving into her making process and discovering the inspiration behind her work.

GS: What's the main inspiration behind your work?

KS: My main inspiration comes from coastal landscapes and I am especially inspired by the formation of waves, whether crashing or lapping the beach. I also love to discover natural objects like seaweed and shells, as well as markings on the sand that have been left behind by the sea.

GS: When did you start making & why?

KS: When my eldest son started school I needed a new direction for myself so I applied for a fine art degree at De Montfort Uni, but was shown the BA Design Crafts workshops and that was me sold. We got to try so many 3D materials but I was very quickly taken by ceramics.

GS: What's your background in?

KS: Fashion. I used to be a fashion buyer.

GS: How do you see your work progressing?

KS: The next step for me is to really push my sculptural work. When I did my masters I made use of the large kilns to work on a larger scale and now I'd like to revisit some of the ideas, but push the boundaries of clay even further to its limits.

GS: Are you interested in exploring other materials or crafts?

KS: Within my degree we got to experiment with glass, wood, metal, plaster, textiles, plastic, printing, welding and much more. I love wood and use it for my wall pieces. I have a small collection mounting up of driftwood and interesting pieces from the wood yards that I visit and sometimes design a ceramic piece around a particular piece of wood. However, stone is my new venture. I'm going to try stone carving next month and can't wait to explore new material and different techniques.

GS: What does the making process look like for you?

KS: I start with a bag of clay and a wooden board to work on. I have to measure out before I start making as my largest kiln is 70cm diameter and I am always tempted to make bigger than my kiln allows. I then work from the pieces that are inspiring me the most at the time, whether it’s a piece of wood, a shell I’ve collected from the beach or simply the formation of a wave. All of my work is handbuilt using the coiling technique, so I let the rest happen naturally during the physical process of manipulating the clay with my hands.

GS: How long does the making process take?

KS: My large pieces can take weeks to make. Once a piece has its basic shape, it needs to dry out before I can refine it. Refining is done using kidney tools and involves scraping back the clay for hours until I am happy with the smooth flow and tapered edges. I will normally return to each piece to refine it on a few occasions as the clay continues to dry out more. Once pieces are completely dry they go in the kiln for a biscuit firing. Then glaze is applied, normally at least 4 coats, this process takes a while as you have to allow for drying time in-between each coat. Then the piece goes back in the kiln for its final firing.

GS: What do you find the most difficult & enjoyable part of making?

KS: Clay is fantastic, the possibilities are endless and you never stop learning. I listen to music while making and get totally engrossed in my pieces. I'm often quite exhausted when I've finished a piece as I put all my energy into creating it. I also teach classes in my studio and seeing all the wonderful creations that my students make is so rewarding.

However, clay can also be very frustrating when it doesn't go to plan, especially when working on a larger scale. The larger the piece, the larger the risk of something going wrong. You'll often hear people who work with clay say that once work is in the kiln it's over to the kiln gods to work their magic. Opening the kiln door is like Christmas Day, especially when a piece outperforms all your expectations.

GS: What does your work say about you?

KS: I consider myself to be a free spirit at heart and the flowing forms hopefully go some way to bringing joy and positivity to the hearts of people who view and buy my work.

GS: Do you have a favorite piece in your collection? If so, why?

KS: My favourite piece is my first large sculpture that I made on my degree course. This piece was the result of a lot of heartache and soul searching at the time and when I produced it I surprised myself. Since then, my large sculptures have developed and grown and I will always be thankful to that piece for igniting my passion for creating large scale ceramics.

GS: What are five collections/art pieces you have been looking at lately?

KS: I love the work of Mark Stopforth for the way that he captures light. I have just discovered and love the simplicity of Jaume Roig and the textures in his pieces and paintings. Eva Hild's sculptures are fantastic and I love that she has moved into public sculpture using bronze and metals for her large-scale outdoor work. I love the journey that Rebecca Appleby is on right now and her latest sculptures that have been made into bronze.

GS: Where can people see your work?

Instagram: @katherinestaples_

Exhibiting at: Gabriel Scott London Showroom - 12 Old Burlington Street, Mayfair W1S 3AH

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