5 Minutes with Steve the Potter

Ruark Audio discover the inspiration and craftsmanship involved with Salt Glaze Pottery - a timeless craft that ‘Cup Board’ Exhibitor, Steve, is going to share.

Hi Steve, please could you tell us a little about what you do?

I make pots solely to satisfy my own artistic investigations. They are mostly functional and centred around tea – cups, being my favourite thing that I make. Making in a state of mind, free from commissions or end usage, means that my works holds its integrity and artistic value without the intervention of commerce. Ultimately I know the pots have to be sold but at least whilst I am creating I know I’m not making them just for the money.

How did you get into Salt glaze pottery?

My interest in salt glaze started when I was at the Royal College of Art – my mentor, Mick Casson who was a salt glaze potter, was influential and guided me through college and after. We remained great friends until his death in 2003.

Each of your designs is very specific, where does the inspiration for your work come from? 

In my note book there is something I wrote when my children were young – I will share it with you: “The inspiration is here, the inspiration is there, the inspiration is everywhere, if you are not it is nowhere.” Meaning that there are stereotypical conditions that we think evoke inspiration, yet it is everywhere and you just have to be receptive to it.

Talk us through the process of creating a teapot? How long would does one piece take you?

A tea pot would almost take a life time to make in perfect proportion. It demands the highest in aesthetics and functionality. A tea pot starts with a thrown body and a thrown lid, allowing time for it to dry so it can be turned upside down on a chum creating the foot detail. On the same chum the lid can be turned and then a knob thrown on top. During the drying I often press mould several spouts and handles to offer up during the making. This is because I always make with the idea of a tea pot and not the defined form. This ensures surprises and excitement every time I make. I am at a stage in my life where I am able to make 6 – 8 tea pots in a week. They are labour intensive with bosses, porcelain handles, stoneware bodies and even though I am competent, I know I will lose a third in the process of drying, biscuit firing and salt glazing.

What’s your favourite piece you’ve created so far and why?

Usually it would be difficult to answer this question but I have just finished a collaboration with Globe-Trotter making a Travelling with Tea set. One of the porcelain tea sets retains all the elements of serendipity, where the surprise from the kiln was so extreme that it felt like it came from the kiln and not my hands.

You exhibited in London in 2015 with ‘Cup Board’, what was the aim of that exhibition?

Cup board was an extraordinary exhibition. It was the first time in my career that I felt like I’d had a proper exhibition. By that I mean that all the work was pre-sold and I didn’t have to get involved in it being ‘successful’ or not due to sales etc. It was a refreshing change to have a show where everybody could enjoy what I had achieved. It was a turning point.

You work between your two studios, at home in London and at your studio cottage in Wales, how do you find working between two spaces, 4 hours away from each other?

It is difficult to live and work without my kiln by my side. However, I have never been in a position to live with the kiln so I try to see it as a positive. Packing and unpacking the pots has become a part of the process and I do think I tend to evaluate them differently because each one is handled many more times than it would be normally. Also, I do like the idea of the alchemy being a mystery to most people who come and visit me and it does feel quite special that we drive off to another world.

Do you have any exhibitions or projects ongoing which you could tell us about?

Yes!! My most exciting exhibition to date will be held at the beginning of December at the Globe-Trotter flag ship store in Albemarle Street. It tracks my 30-year obsession with Travelling with Tea. This exhibition will travel to Kyoto, Japan in May and then I will travel to Tokyo for my exhibition ‘Big – a study of proportion’ which I have been working on for the last few years. It’s a busy time!

Steve Harrison, the salt glaze potter

Your work is extremely popular in Japan, and some customers even fly from Japan to London just to buy your work and have a cuppa! Why do you think your work is so popular in Japan? 

The Japanese people have a deep understanding of ceramics and historically they have always loved and sometimes adopted foreign potters. My pots reflect who I am as a maker and they are not rooted in anything necessarily Eastern in their form, firing or philosophy. Also, there was very little ‘Propaganda’ written to introduce me to the market in Tokyo. It was the pots alone that said everything.

You have a Ruark R1, what is your music station of choice whilst working?

I listen to Radio 4 and sometimes flick over to the Daily Service even though I am not religious. It is the drone that is important. On odd occasions I will listen to music plugged in through my iPod but this tends to be for excitable fits of making. Predominantly I need something in the background that I can hear well, but that is not intrusive.

You said your R1 is ‘not just a radio, it’s a companion’, what do you mean by that?

As I have said before, my R1 sits next to a now redundant valve radio from the 1950’s. The R1 gives a warm deep sound akin to that. Even the ceremony of switching it on in the morning sets the day ahead. It is such a part of my life that it even travels to the Wales workshop – that is why it is a companion. 

And last of all, when can we come for a cuppa and some cake? 

How does tomorrow sound?

See more of Steve’s work on his Instagram.

Discover our range of Ruark Audio products online now and inspire the inspiration surrounding you.