“I make sure all Art Makers have the freedom to express themselves through their work”

Art Maker Graham creates distinctive functional pottery pieces, often themed around nature. He recently completed this glazed fish-themed bowl and has also created a beautiful tea set as part of our new Festival of Yorkshire window display. We spoke to Graham and pottery workshop leader Maki to find out more about the inspiration for his work and how he and Maki work together to bring his designs to life.

Maki explains how the pottery pieces all start life in an idea session with the Art Makers. “Every time we begin working to a new theme, I challenge the group to come up with ideas around that subject. So for our Yorkshire window display I asked everyone to consider what makes us Yorkshire, and what’s special about living here. We created an idea map of all their different suggestions. Graham came up with a Yorkshire afternoon tea.”

Photo of Graham and Maki with Graham's fish themed bowl

It is Maki’s role to then work  out how Art Makers can build on their skills to turn their ideas into pieces of pottery. “I enjoy working closely with the Art Makers to chat through their designs and think about how to make them a reality. From working with Graham for a while now, I know that he likes making functional products. His bold style lends itself to lots of chunky, practical pieces which is why we chose to create these platter shapes.”

Graham’s distinctive design style is clearly visible throughout all his
pieces. He likes to take inspiration from the natural world. He said: “My designs for pieces are all different but often they are linked to nature – fishes, flowers, and boats.” Here he is pictured working on the fish bowl which he created using clay, broken glass and copper oxide.

Photo of Graham working on creating his fish themed bowl

To bring their designs to life, Maki explains how there are three basic hand building ceramic skills for Art Makers to learn in the pottery workshop – slab making, coiling and pinching. “With every new person I work with, I start by teaching them a basic technique, and then work out how much further they would like to expand their knowledge. I aim to figure out each individual’s ability and interest. Most Art Makers will have a clear idea of what they do and don’t want to do.”

“For example, before we started this project I knew Graham could already coil well, but I wanted to help him add to this technique by adding in slab making. We don’t attempt a big project all in one go but break it down into step by step tasks. So Graham mastered creating a small plate, and then we moved on to a large platter.  Whatever we do, I play to the Art Makers’ strengths- Graham is brilliant at designing so he comes up with the ideas and then I work out how I can support him to turn them into pieces. ”

Once the structure of each piece was complete, Maki also wanted to give Graham the opportunity to try out a new technique. “We introduced mono printing – Graham drew the design in pencil onto a sheet of paper, then followed the outlines with black ink and pressed it onto the clay. Some ink gets absorbed into the clay and the rest sits on top so you get this lovely textured effect which runs throughout his pieces.”

Here he is with the completed afternoon tea set which features the mono-printed flower designs. His cake stand, tea pot, milk jug, cups and saucers are now on display in our shop as part of the exhibition.

Pottery is just one of the workshops which Graham attends at the Arts & Crafts Centre, and he looks forward to his Friday sessions with Maki.

Photo of Graham with the full tea set he has created

He said:  “Pottery is my favourite workshop. I like working with ceramics and clay. Next I am making an ice cream design for our summer window display.”

Maki and Graham discuss the next project together, coming up with ideas to make a functional piece themed around ice cream. Freedom of expression is very important to Maki, as she explains. “Whoever I am working with I know that I am just there to give prompts – I can suggest things but I don’t lead and I make sure all Art Makers have the freedom to express themselves through their work.”

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