Olivia Fiddes on making bespoke pieces, the potters’ struggle when it comes to sustainability and ‘groggy’ clay.
Her pieces are chunky, friendly and should be held regularly. Scottish ceramicist Olivia Fiddes hand builds homeware full of warmth for gentle moments, whether it be a squeezed mug, sliced cup, tea strainer or a plate made for sharing. In complicated times, solace can be found in a simple vessel moulded, slowly with much sensitivity.
On her process…
“I create designs using pottery hand building techniques. This gives them their recognisable playfulness and imperfection. I mostly ‘pinch’, ‘coil’ and ‘slab build’ – these are very traditional and quite slow ways of making pottery but they are the methods I enjoy the most. I use quite gritty or ‘groggy’ clay because I hand build. This gives it a solid structure and holds the shape well.
I like to sketch out ideas first and then I work on a first piece/sample. This tends to be the most time consuming part as I figure out how best to build the shape, such as which technique to use and how to make the structure stable. If I’m working on a large piece to very specific dimensions I might draw it out to scale but generally I eyeball it and measure as I go. I like to keep designs pretty understated but incorporate a lot of warmth and character. For me, I enjoy a balance between a certain amount of ‘messiness’ or disorder and simplicity.”
“I hate waste! I reuse all of my clay – you can rehydrate dried out clay and use it again. I keep the smallest bits of clay so I can keep adding to it until there’s enough to reuse. I have also been using the very same tools since I started!
Packaging is something that I know a lot of potters struggle with when it comes to sustainability. We need to be sure pieces will survive travel but not at the cost of the environment. I keep and reuse packaging from large clay orders. I’m working to move away from bubble wrap too (unless it’s reused) and use biodegradable alternatives.
More broadly, my work is very much inspired by the environment and historical practices or traditions associated with the environment, so it’s always something that’s in my mind when I work. For the past two years I have donated 5% of my profits to Survival International, a charity supporting indigenous peoples’ rights and protection of their lands.”
On her collaborations…
“I’ve been lucky to work with some incredible people and brands this year like Å Journal, Faye Toogood, Johanna Tagada and the Modern House. From the beginning of the year I worked on a large dinner set and decorative pieces for the Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh. These are on display in the historic Feasting Room of the new Barony Street gallery. I was so grateful to be asked to be a part of such a prestigious contemporary art gallery, and it being in my home city made it all the more special.
A big part of this year was put into producing bespoke pieces for Heckfield Place, an incredible new hotel in a former Georgian family home in Hampshire. I worked with BWT to create decorative pieces and a great number of the lamps in the space. It really required me to push myself and also branch out into working with mould makers and slips casters to produce on a bigger scale. It really helped me to learn about working with other craftspeople and making to very exact measurements and requirements.
I was also pleased to work with Aesop to make pieces for their Richmond store – specifically for their beautiful Seasonal Metamorphosis dinners. I really enjoyed developing a new design and finish in-keeping with the site there and in the spirit of the plant based events. It was great to work with their visual team who trusted my ideas – that’s always a great boost of encouragement.”
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