For our latest chat, I am truly delighted to introduce you to another of our regular artisans, a fabulous personality who creates the most joyful and beautiful of Raku ceramics. Her work is so exquisitely crafted that one of her Wild Cornwall pieces was featured on the BBC Two’s The Great Pottery Throwdown as a ‘perfect example of Raku’.
So let us find out all about
Playing with fire with Catherine Lucktaylor
Catherine, Hi, Things are improving a little now as far as the pandemic is concerned, although we are not yet out of the woods! I hope you are well and keeping safe… Just to inform our friends out there, could you say a few words about yourself? I’m originally from Liverpool and my love of making has been a continuous theme throughout my life and it was my creativity that was a lifeline for me throughout my childhood as I struggled to find my place in the world. I grew up the only black person in my family with a white English mother and a black Ghanaian father.
From my first time making a coil pot on my Foundation course in Huddersfield I was hooked. I discovered that it came naturally to me and felt that I had finally found something that connected me to my African ancestors.
I went on to gain a BA (hons) in Ceramics from Wolverhampton University. I had a studio at the Phoenix Gallery in Brighton for many years and was a member of Earth Kilns, a group of friends who got together to do Raku and smoke firings, build kilns and support each other in exploring a range of low fired ceramic techniques.
After the birth of my son in 2007 I relocated to west Cornwall and made the decision to specialise in Raku fired ceramics.Moving to Cornwall had a major impact on my ceramics and led to the creation of the Landscape Series which takes inspiration from the stunning land and seascapes of far West Cornwall.
Apart from the time you spend as a professional artist, do you also have other occupations, such as part time lecturer/tutor? For many years I worked part time and spent the rest of the time developing my practise. I am lucky enough to have been working full time as a ceramicist since 2009. I also teach Raku courses from the studio and at the end of last year ran a Raku Masterclass at Penwith College.
Where do you work? Do you have a studio/workshop? Tell us a little about this special place. I do have a studio which I love! It is a big old cart shed on a farm which I rent from Bolitho Estates near Penzance in west Cornwall. It is quite cold and damp in the winter but glorious in summer! I have outside space where I can do my Raku firings and the Estate supplies my sawdust, which they had trouble getting rid of before I came along! I am so happy when I am in my studio and immersing myself in my work. Hand-building has a slow meditative quality which I love.
How did the lockdown affect your time in the studio/workshop? I had to close up my studio when lockdown started but I did bring some clay and tools home with me so I could carry on making on my dining room table (another advantage of hand-building!). As I am still home-schooling my son I am just starting to go back to the studio part-time. I haven’t been able to do any firings so I am excited to be getting back to Raku.
Describe a “typical” approach to your work practice I am so inspired by nature, and I live in a pretty wild part of the country.. I feel that Cornwall has a kindred spirit in the Scottish landscape. I love the wildness of where I live and often find images flash into my mind as I walk on my favourite beach. Sometimes it’s the shape of the waves or the colour of the sea; at other times it is the rock formations and the colours in a pebble or a shell that will capture my imagination. At this time of year the hedgerows are bursting with wildflowers which all contribute to my designs. I have a sketchbooks full of shapes of pots I want to make. I use these drawings as starting point and, as I slowly build up the piece with coils of clay the pot can take on a life of its own. New ideas emerge as I make too.
Are you a “must have total silence” kind of creative person, or do you listen to music whilst working? In the studio I generally prefer silence, Radio 4 or a business podcast! I also have chill out playlist which I sometimes put on.
What is your fave music you like to work to? If I do listen to music it is usually something that I can zone out to. I love the album by Guru called Jazzmatazz which is a cross between jazz and hip hop
What did you listen to, last? Last?… Big Calm by Morcheeba
What is the main subject of your inspiration? I’d have to say the main subject of my inspiration is the sea and rock formations along the Cornish coast.
Left: a beach rockpool, inspiration for Catherine’s collection of Rockpool small bowls and ring dishes (middle) and Spiral bowls (right), each and everyone totally unique!
What medium and techniques do you use to translate your creative ideas? Tell us a little about your creative process. As I mentioned earlier I love traditional hand-building techniques and I usually start each piece as a pinch pot and add coils to create the shape I want. I use metal kidneys to refine and smooth the shape. Some of my pots are burnished with a beach pebble to give a soft smooth sheen.
I specialise in Raku fired ceramics. This is an ancient Japanese technique which basically means ‘Enjoyment’ and was originally used as part of traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. Glazed pieces are fired to around 950 degrees centigrade and carefully removed from the kiln whilst red hot. The cool air causes the glaze to crackle and the pots are plunged into sawdust and smoked from 20 minutes to 1 hour. Once removed from the sawdust, cooled in water and carefully cleaned the pieces reveal their vibrant glazes and gorgeous smoked areas.
Top to bottom and Left to right: Two of Catherine’s Horse hair Raku pots Removing the red hot pot from the Raku kiln Plunging the cooled pot back into firing saw dust
Some people have ‘studio pets’. Do you have one? What’s their ‘contribution’ to your creativity? I don’t have a studio pet, but I do have a cat at home who takes great delight in jumping in the boxes I use to pack up my ceramics.
What did you do at first to try and adjust to this new ‘lockdown’ situation? When lockdown first happened I focused on making sure my son and I had everything we needed and spent the time reflecting on my work, reviewing my website and spending time on all those jobs that I never usually get round to. I’ve been getting my systems in order and started using Artwork Archive to help me keep track of my ceramics, which is brilliant and a job I’ve been wanting to do for ages
What is your favourite pastime? Has the pandemic impacted on your ability to enjoy this? I love walking and swimming in the sea, so the pandemic has impacted on this a bit as I have been restricted to my local area. Having said that, I have got so many amazing walks on my doorstep, including the south west coast path, that I have been enjoying discovering new local walks.
Can you while away the hours with a “good book”? or do you need to do something more active. Any particular title you would recommend as a “must read once in a lifetime”? I love reading and one thing that has kept me sane has been being able to lose myself in a good book. Over recent years I haven’t been reading much fiction, but that is what I have turned to in recent weeks. I have been re-reading one of my favourite books by Jean M. Auel called The Clan of the Cave Bear.
What about films? What is your favourite film of all? One of my favourite films is Frida, which is all about the life and art of Frida Khalo.
Tell us of one of the most beautiful or happy moments in your life? Well I think that has got to be the birth of my son. I only have one child and always knew that I wanted to have a water birth at home. I was so lucky that it went exactly according to plan and was such a special time. The only hiccup was when it came to filling up the pool. We didn’t have enough hot water so my son’s father had to run to the neighbours to fill up buckets of hot water!! At least it gave him something to do!
What inspires you in life and in art? The natural world every time. I am always happiest when I’m outdoors.
Who is up there in your esteem in terms of artistic excellence? What is/are your favourite artist(s)/artisan(s)? I really admire Magdalene Odundo; her work is exquisite and I was delighted to meet her last year. She is such a lovely unassuming woman and very approachable.
Any pet hate? – we all have one, it’s OK to say it. I’d have to say any form of discrimination. I suffered a lot of racism when I was young and it has had a great impact of my ability to put myself out into the world. It can be so damaging and I despair when I hear from young people who are still experiencing today what I went through in the 70’s.
As a 3D artist, do you have a favourite form? I love round bellied forms.
It has been said that creatives are often great cooks as they know how to balance food colours, flavours, texture to create that perfect taste buds experience, do you like cooking? What is your signature dish? I haven’t heard that one before. I love making curry, I really enjoy blending and mixing spices. I don’t use a recipe I just do what feel right.
What are you exploring at the moment, artistically speaking? I’m experimenting with some new glazes and mixing oxides in with the clay at the moment and have also been working on a project incorporating Ghanaian Adinkra symbols..
What makes you laugh/cry? I’ve recently discovered Romesh Ranganathan; he is hilarious! I am so emotional I cry at the slightest thing, whether happy or sad!
What is your favourite tipple? Definitely gin and tonic.
What is your “naughty but nice” comfort? I have a weakness for cake. If you could travel, where would you go? I have always wanted to go to Egypt and see the pyramids.
Finally, going forward, what would you hope we could learn as society/humans from this pandemic. What is your message to the world? I hope that we will learn to be kinder to each other and remember how our communities really came together to help each other. Also to take better care of the earth. It has been incredible to see the natural world thrive during this time and I hope that it will make us think more about how we can look after this wonderful planet that we are so lucky to live on.
THANK YOU so much CATHERINE for sharing these thoughts with us. I hope our readers would have enjoyed listening to you.
As for myself, I cannot tire of the beautiful round curves, smoked lines and bright and upbeat colours of your ceramic. Each pot, bowl, small dish has a presence beyond that of its size; one can feel the real pleasure you had in making them – In the true spirit of Raku, your work exudes pure “enjoyment” – so, no wonder one of your pots was featured as the best example of Raku by the BBC 2 Great Pottery Throwdown programme! If you want to know more about CATHERINE or view the work we currently have of hers at the gallery, please go to her page (click here).
And of course, feel free to send us any comments/ questions at CONTACT US
Thank you for reading and please do stay safe!
ps: Our next episode of THE FULL PICTURE will be published on 23rd August 2020