The Calm of Clay - An Interview with Linda Southwell

March 25, 2017

I have fallen in love with New Tig Makers Linda Southwell's work and we are thrilled to be showing a small selection of it here at Tig! For this blog, we have a chat to Linda about her practice, theory and inspirations, giving you an insight into the workings of this amazing ceramicist!

What training have you had?

I studied for a BA Hons Fine Art and English and graduated in 1995. I studied at Anglia Polytechnic University in Cambridge. I think it's now called Anglia University.

Ceramics didn’t feature in the course but sculpture did. We had a visiting lecturer from America who was incredible and she encouraged me to make some cement fondue casts from clay sculptures. I loved working with clay as a material but didn't at that point see myself working with clay beyond this.


What drew you to becoming a professional ceramicist?

I started my degree as a 'painter' but didn't particularly like my paintings. Although I was compelled to paint I don't think I enjoyed the process - there was quite a lot of angst involved! After graduating I didn't think there was a way of making a living from art and decided to take something up more as a hobby. Three of us from a shared house I was living in went on a pottery evening class and I just loved everything about it.  I carried on at various classes, going to shows, reading ceramic review and I just knew one day that was what I wanted to do.


Did you always know you wanted to be involved in the arts?

I always loved art and craft. My Mum can make anything, she's an amazing sewer, florist, gardener and she could paint beautiful watercolours of horses. I remember finding one as a child and asking her about it and she said 'I would have loved to have gone to Art College'. Maybe the seed was sewn then?

Works by renowned ceramicist Kate Malone.


Do you draw any inspiration from other artists or makers, either contemporary or historical?

I am really inspired by all craft people - I love Instagram and the variety of wonderfully, skilled things makers make. I love Kate Malone's work and think that she was so brave to have worked the way that she did at that time. My sister spent some time in Japan and I am really fascinated by their aesthetic and culture.


Tell me a bit about your artistic practise.

I am influenced by the beauty in nature: in plant forms and organic shapes. I work from my studio on the Welbeck Estate, Nottingham. I hand-build all my work using a variety of techniques: slab-building, coiling and pinching. The tools I use are very limited and basic as I like to feel the clay. My pieces are slow to make and are also at risk at various stages of the making process. Pinching is the first stage of making most of my pots. It’s my favourite technique and a pinch pot is the basis for most of my work.


Your work is so incredibly intricate and detailed, do you make sketches from nature, keep sketchbooks, take photographs, work directly from the landscape?

 I do sketch and take photographs but I never work with them in front of me during my making. I am an avid gardener and spent a lot of time researching plants and I have always thought that I invent my own flowers from my memory of those that I have seen. Sketches I make are very rough and quick and not detailed at all, more conceptual than anything. When I start work, I have a clear idea of what I want to acheive - sometimes during the process that might deviate a little but generally I know what I am working on.


Your work has a fragility to it - how do you cope with the high risk of damage to your work throughout the making process?

This part of my working practice is hard to deal with. For instance, I had finished a new piece not long ago and it was the largest piece I had ever worked on. The petals were made from three different coloured pieces of clay laminated together, so it was very time intensive. It blew up in the kiln and fell over onto the other things in there and destroyed the whole firing! It wasn't a good day but you have to ask yourself what went wrong and try and correct it so that it doesn't happen again.


Do you work on one piece at a time? 

Not usually. You can work with clay at various points in its drying cycle in different ways so you are sometimes waiting for one thing to dry so you can start something else. If they are small pieces I can have up to 5 on the go at any one time but if they are larger, more complicated probably only two.


How do you know when you are finished with a piece? 

To you,  what makes a piece beautiful or successful?

Probably when I can't physically get any more petals on the pot!! I find beauty or success in something that is balanced, well made and demonstrates creative freedom.


Do you spend a lot of time out and about in the natural environment?

I spend a lot of time outdoors. I love my garden and taking the children out on bike rides. We also live very close to Renishaw Hall, which is a privately owned estate with the most amazing gardens - I could quite happily live in those gardens and I'm sure the children feel as though they belong to them.

Linda's Studio


Could you describe a typical day in your studio?

I arrive in the studio at approximately 9.30 after I have dropped my children at school. Classic FM on the radio is switched on, along with the lights and I usually take a deep breath and thank my lucky stars for the fact I have such a gorgeous working space. I usually have something in progress on the table so I will usually unwrap them, check their drying stage and then go and make a coffee!! If Rachel Wood is around (my fellow studio neighbour) we have a bit of a chat and then it's back into the studio to my making. I hand build so the making process is usually hand coiling clay, pinching or slab building. I normally lose myself in this process and the hours fly by! I generally don't take lunch preferring not to stop but just work straight through as my alarm on my clock goes off at 2.30, which means it is time to pack away what I am working on and wash everything down so I can make it in time to pick the children up from school. On a Monday and Thursday grandparents collect the children from school so I stay until around 5pm on those days. These two longer days mean that I can concentrate on other jobs that need doing such as glazing, making samples for my classes, firing work from my classes, photographing my work etc.


What do you want an audience to take away from your work?

Serenity and calm. I think we all need to get back to nature – to connect with a more primitive way of living. Life is so fast paced and demanding and I would like to think my work is a way of questioning that; of stopping and standing still and appreciating what is in front of us.

Linda at the wheel


You talk about wanting people to stop, stand still, consider nature and take a step back from our busy and chaotic lives. To me it sounds like the process of making for you serves this function. Is this the case? Do you teach ceramics to others in order to share this experience?

Yes definitely. Growing up on a farm meant I was so in touch with the land and nature around me and I really miss that. I think we all have an important responsibility to care for our planet. Clay is a physical, nurturing material to work with and I have always wanted to teach ceramics in order for everyone to experience its tactile and comforting qualities. There is something so fundamental about it, coming from the earth and connecting us back to it.


Why do you do what you do?

I love working with clay. It’s such a tangible material and the repetitive and methodical way in which I work is very absorbing. My main aim is to make something beautiful that people are intrigued by how it was made and want to own it.

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