Spinning the wheels with Stepney City Farm potter Jess Jos.
I’ve been surrounded by pottery my whole life. My parents are potters and I would spend summer holidays helping out and always ate from handmade plates, so I was always immersed in it.
I was always good at art and enjoyed working with my hands, so naturally gravitated towards my own path with pottery. I studied at Camberwell College of art gaining my degree in ceramics and coupled this education with learning the wheel from my father. After I graduated working as assistant potter to other makers.
What inspired you to develop the skill?
I’ve always wanted to learn more about my craft and there is so much to learn. Even now, I’m learning about glaze chemistry and discovering alternative ways to fire.
Because I grew up around pottery, visiting exhibitions and family friends who were potters. I knew how good It could be. I was never happy with my creations and still now am striving to push myself and my abilities.
When did you realise this could become a business?
I was never quite sure it could! But, about four years after setting up my first studio I quit my last assisting job. My classes were becoming more popular. I’d started to work with chefs and was selling my work more.
I don’t always think of myself as a business, because I’m just doing what I love every day.
What challenges were there along the way?
Too many to count!
Ceramics isn’t an exact science and I’ve had my fair share of kiln failures and glaze mishaps. But, the hardest challenge has been an injury, or two. I’ve broken my wrist twice in the last ten years, the second time was last year. Not being able to make had a huge impact on me, as I am a bit of a workaholic. Not being able to work was really hard.
How has COVID-19 affected you?
It’s pretty much-changed everything, I had to cancel pottery classes and close down the studio. My restaurant orders were cancelled and I found myself with an empty order book. But, I’m a small business and adaptable so have been selling online instead.
I’d meant to set up an online shop, but, was always too busy. I’ve been offering up the pieces I usually make for restaurants to people as pre-orders. It’s been a real lifesaver to have some purpose and a good system for finding out what people want to buy.
How important has community support been to you?
Community is really important to me. I’ve had my studio on Stepney City Farm for the last seven years. I’m a big swap fan and at the farm I swap clay for railway sleeper or eggs for pots or pots for coffee. During Covid-19 outbreak, this has become even more useful.
I swapped bread flour with a neighbour for beer! The community has become even more important than ever. Having a support network and building a new online community. I’ve learnt so much from Facebook sourdough groups.
What inspires you creatively?
The process is my biggest inspiration. I’m always wanting to make small changes and improvements every day. Thinking about a change to the foot of a pot, which might mean something stacks better or a thinner lip to make drinking your coffee better. Even before I’ve finished something I’ve already moved on in my mind to make a better version.
Where do you want to take the business in the future?
I’ve enjoyed selling online and will definitely continue to do that in the future. I’d like to work in smaller batches more as well as on one-off larger pieces.
Ultimately I’d like to work with more natural raw materials, such as locally-dug clay and more sustainable ways of firing. I’m not sure how easy this will be in London, so watch this space.
What advice would you offer others who are beginning a similar project?
I think the best thing you can do when trying to learn a new skill is to immerse yourself in it. Whilst studying, and after I graduated, I had to have a part-time job so I sought out other people who worked in clay. I learnt so much about my craft and business whilst figuring out what I wanted mine to look like.