Inspirations and Background

Tom Butcher Tom Butcher Tom Butcher Tom Butcher Tom Butcher Tom Butcher Tom Butcher Tom Butcher Tom Butcher Tom Butcher

Inspirations and Background

What inspires your work?

The Loch Long Stoneware range is largely inspired by books from my childhood, books that got brought out again when our own kids came along - the linear illustrations by Quentin Blake, and the Mr Men series in particular.  I started tapping into the unspoiled simplicity of a child’s concept of ‘what a jug should look like’. Mr Small’s tea cup needed companions, so the large mugs appeared, then the butter dish.... and everything else followed.  Form, for me, follows function.

On another level, eastern influences have always been incredibly strong. I have a deep love of Japanese art, design and ceramics. I am inspired by the wabi-sabi aesthetic, the characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty.  An aesthetic led by asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, and importantly for me, maintaining the integrity of the materials. Some individual pieces are particularly inspired by Japanese designs, such as the garlic pots whose design was led by Japanese lanterns.

The ‘ethical pot’, championed by two of my pottery heroes Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, is a style of pottery and an associated theory first coined to describe a 20th century, back-to-basics pottery movement that endorsed plainer utilitarian styles over fine art and expressive pots. Pots in this style are also called ‘ego-less pots’ or ‘utilitarian pots’. Ethical pots should be made to look natural and hand crafted, and should derive from "Oriental forms that transcended mere good looks." Unknowingly I seem to have become a maker of the ‘ethical pot’.

The rocks and water of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park that surround me also play a large part in the natural simplicity that embodies my work. Escaping into the wilds of the Arrochar Alps on my mountain bike helps me balance life, work and family, and helps me to focus on new designs and processes.

Why specifically work with ceramics, why not another material?

I previously worked in large scale metal / fabrication. I went to Art School on the strength of this work where I continued to study metal, alongside ceramics. Metal eventually fell by the wayside and ceramics became my material of choice.  I also work a lot with wood, designing and building furniture, tools and so on, but not on a commercial basis.

How did you learn your craft?

Art Foundation then Art School, then four years at Brighton University resulting in a 2:1 in 3D Craft & Design in 2000.  I continue to learn daily through experimentation, trial and error and by studying others in the industry.

How do you choose the colors you use to finish the pieces?

Stoneware is glazed pottery that has been fired to temperatures in excess of 1200oC.  At this temperature, the clay body and the glaze fuse together to become vitrified and entirely non-porous.  It has essentially returned to a stone-like state. My colours are led by my love of all things natural, and I have chosen a particular clay and glaze that particularly beautiful inherent properties that remind me of the stone which surrounds my studio. The simple oatmeal dolomite glaze was chosen as it breaks nicely over rims and edges and results in a visually pleasing bleed over the edge.  Because of the reduction firing process, both glaze and body do alter in colour slightly depending on where they are positioned in the kiln. This adds to the natural beauty, charm and individuality of each piece.

What do you enjoy most about pottery?

The Loch Long Stoneware range is made by a process known as extrusion. Clay is forced through a wall-mounted device, producing long even sections shaped according to interchangeable die plates.  These sections are then cut down to specific sizes and assembled whilst still wet with handles, bases, spouts and so on. I enjoy the industrial aspect of this process; the fact that it relies on metal to form it, and the fact that it is very personal to me. It is not a technique usually suited to producing tableware, and I enjoy this individuality.

I enjoy the mental challenge of designing a new product. It can take years from the initial concept to production of a pot that I am satisfied with. You can’t force it. The end result looks utterly simple and rustic, but it takes a long time to ensure the dimensions are perfect or a product can look clumsy and crude.

Can you please tell me a little more about the wine cup, the garlic pot and the salt cellar, and how you came up with the shapes?

Wine Cup: The wine cup was inspired by camping trips to France as a youngster with my parents. The French love to drink out of cups, not glasses with stems, on a day to day basis. I believe wine and pottery work together – the rustic simplicity and earthiness makes wine taste good!

Garlic Pot: Directly inspired by Japanese lanterns, the shape pleases me. Always following the mantra of “form follows function”, the two holes in the pot allow air to circulate around the garlic, giving it a longer shelf life. It fits three heads of garlic happily which is how they are often sold .... so it looks good, and it is practical too.

Salt Cellar: The ultimate in simplicity, a little rustic stoneware pot to keep your sea salt flakes in. It isn’t a complicated concept, but works perfectly on a  practical and aesthetic level.

© Tom Butcher Ceramics 2019
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