This month I had the pleasure of meeting up with the lovely and very talented Kate Russell of Skratch Ceramics.
Locally Sourced – An Interview with Kate Russel, Skratch Ceramics
Kate Russell is the name behind Skratch Ceramics, which produces the most stunning handmade pottery products. Having recently set up the business in 2017, her products are already in high demand with customers from Wales and further afield. Kate is a huge hit on Instagram too with over 13,000 followers already.
Originally from Cumbria, Kate went on to study History of Art at Warwick University. Having first lived in London and Amsterdam she settled in Wales four years ago, after her Welsh husband convinced her to move here. Kate now lives in Llanblethian in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband Duncan and two little ones aged 7 and 4.
Kate, you set up Skratch Ceramics in 2017, can you tell us more about it?
I make pottery in my home studio, which I sell direct to customers online. I have a bright, graphic, illustrative sort of style, using white stoneware and contrasting coloured underglazes. My patterns incorporate geometrics, landscapes and references to welsh culture. Whilst my ceramics are food safe and can be used in the kitchen, as the emphasis is decorative they are mainly bought for display.
You’re clearly very passionate about Pottery, but how did you first get the pottery bug?
I’d had the odd encounter with clay in the past – I did a little in Secondary school and I took a couple of evening classes on throwing a few years back – but it was in 2015 that it really clicked with me. I signed up for a short course at Cowbridge Community College, taught by the lovely and talented Pam Jones, which was one morning a week and focused mainly on hand-building.
From the outset I was keen to try sgraffito again, which was a decorative technique I’d tried in school, and as soon as I started scratching away at the clay I was hooked. I continued with classes there for 5 terms, but I’d gradually been making increasing amounts of pottery at home, so early in 2017 I decided it was time to get my own kiln and try selling my some of my work.
What techniques do you use to make your hand-built stoneware?
All of my work is hand-built, rather than thrown on a potters wheel. I use the whole gamut of hand building techniques – most commonly slab-building and pinching, but occasionally slump moulding or coil-building larger pots. All of my pieces are decorated using a particular technique called sgraffito. That means I paint a layer of coloured underglaze over the unfired piece and then scratch out the design by revealing the white clay underneath. It’s a time-consuming process, especially given that a lot of my designs are very detailed, but I absolutely love it. For me the big draw is the decoration.
There seem to be lots of different techniques for pottery making, which do you prefer? Or are there any you haven’t tried but would want to?
As I’ve said, hand-building is where my heart lies at the moment. The techniques I use are very simple, but hand-building offers almost infinite possibilities in terms of form. When that’s combined with the endless options in terms of clay, decoration and glazes, I can’t imagine I will ever get bored of what I do!
Having said that, I wouldn’t rule out throwing in the future. It’s a skill that takes a lot of patience and determination to master, and at the moment I feel a little too impatient…or maybe it’s simply not my bag. One new technique I’m planning to learn in the coming months is slip-casting. This will give me to option to reproduce some of my ceramic forms with relative ease, leaving more time for decoration and hopefully increasing my production levels a little.
You have such gorgeous patterns on your stoneware, what inspires you to come up with your ideas and designs?
My style has evolved very organically, but I can certainly see the influence of folk art. Our house is full of textiles, ceramics and other artwork from our travels around the world and within the UK. The common themes that link them all are geometric pattern, stylised florals and simplified human forms. I can certainly see those reflected in my work, especially my Welsh Lady range. We lived in Amsterdam for a couple of years and the trademark Dutch blue and white delftware is another influence. More recently I’ve been researching welsh quilt patterns for design inspiration.
I’m currently making a lot of pieces with landscape designs too. I’ve always loved the natural landscape, especially mountains. I have a real soft spot for the wilder regions of the British Isles, and although my landscapes are usually fictitious, if they were located in the real world, then I think they’d be the Scottish Highlands and Islands. I’d like to fit in a trip to Snowdonia this year, though, so perhaps some more truly Welsh landscapes will make an appearance.
How can people get hold of your pottery products at Skratch Ceramics?
Currently, other than the occasional market, I sell my work exclusively in my online shop at www.skratchceramics.com. I release my work in small batches periodically throughout the year. The next sale is scheduled for 23rd March. I use Instagram and Facebook to keep customers informed of approaching updates, or it’s possible to sign up for my newsletter.
What advice would you give to anyone who is looking to set up their own business?
It’s very early days for me and I’m still learning the ropes, but the one thing that has been a massive factor in my progress so far, has been social media. Instagram and Facebook have been my only form of marketing/advertising, but I’ve had such a fantastic amount of interest through them. Other than the time you need to set aside, it’s free!
I know opinions regarding the influence of Social media are mixed, but it really has done wonders to open up an international market to creative business owners. For product based businesses, such as mine, it’s a simple way to get instant feedback on new designs. Plus it’s a brilliant way to connect with other craftspeople and small businesses, to gain advice on all aspects of your trade. Without them it would have been so much harder to successfully launch Skratch Ceramics.
You’re not originally from Wales, what brought you to live here?
My husband grew up in Cardiff and he was always quite keen to move back to the area eventually. We lived in London for many years and then Amsterdam. When it came to deciding where to ‘move back to’ in the UK we started looking around Cardiff. We wanted somewhere more rural, but not remote as I can’t drive and that’s a really limiting factor.
As soon as we viewed our house, we were sold. It’s a lovely old place with lots of outdoor space and is walking distance into Cowbridge. We’ve been here four years now and I’ve found it such a friendly place to make home. It’s great having the city amenities of Cardiff so close, but beaches and hills in striking distance too.
As you know, Welsh Cakes and Wellies is all about promoting what’s in our local area. So we’d love to know where are your favourite local haunts?
My top local day out is a walk down to Monknash beach. The kids love exploring the rock pools and I can’t get enough of those expansive views with their dramatic cliff backdrops. One of our favourite local restaurant for meals out with the kids is Aboreal for their wood-fired pizzas and for a more grown-up treat The Hare & Hounds in Aberthin has really great food.
Great choice of restaurants, we recently featured both on our top 5 restaurants in Cowbridge!
If you’d like to find out more about Skratch Ceramics visit:
All photos provided courtesy of Kate Russell