When Catherine and Matt West of Pottery West moved to Sheffield after a year living in Berlin, they could not have predicted the creative journey they were soon to embark on. Matt worked as a baker and Catherine as a marketing manager when they decided to try an evening class of pottery. The rest is history.
Pottery West is now a busy and vibrant studio with a small team creating their own collections of ceramics. Their rich glazes are recognisable as their own – deep layers of colour that you could sit and admire for hours.
Read on to discover Catherine and Matt’s inspiring journey, described here by Catherine.
Can you tell us the story of how Pottery West began?
When we moved back to Sheffield after studying in London and living in Berlin for a year, we both settled down in different jobs. Matt worked as a baker and I worked as a marketing manager/writer at both an architects firm and also a start-up promoting makers. We already shared a studio at the Yorkshire Artspace doing various things – not pottery – but working with craftspeople I became immersed in a new world and we took some evening classes with a potter at the Artspace. Matt especially became hooked on the process of throwing and declared that one evening a week was not enough. We bought the contents of another potter’s studio who was shutting down and Matt, who spent early mornings baking, then spent afternoons throwing and recycling the clay. Then we got a kiln and I started making glazes, and things grew very naturally from there. I should also add that before clay, food had been a big interest for us, and we used to spend many a weekend at David Mellor’s in Hathersage – a cutlery, crafts and food shop – dreaming of, and sometimes buying cooking things, which is where we first became familiar with some big studio potter names like the Leach pottery and Richard Batterham. From the earliest moment, it was always functional tableware that interested us most. Then things grew and we gradually shifted from our part-time jobs to being Pottery West full time – Matt in 2016 when our son was born and me in 2018.
Were you nervous starting up your own ceramics studio?
Not at first because for a few years it was a side project, low risk, never quite a hobby, but certainly we didn’t depend on it for our living. However, there were some nerves when it came to quitting our jobs. For Matt, this came when our first son was born – we realised there was just not enough time to do everything, life is relatively short and there seemed to be a hungry audience for our work. When it was my turn to make the leap in 2018, I worried a lot, but we were armed with a plan and we were a bit too busy to feel any nerves.
It seems important at the studio to nurture and share your knowledge with the team. Is it a shared creative process?
It’s really nice that you’ve picked up on this because it is something that I enjoy about working in a small team. I would say that Matt and I sit in the driver’s seat for developing new work, but certainly tasks are allocated to Luna. She not only works on production, but also often works on prototypes for us and contributes massively to new designs.
What’s Sheffield like as a place to live and work?
You may have heard this before, but Sheffield is like a big village and everyone seems to know one another. We enjoy being here. I like the Brutalist architecture in the centre and the prettier suburbs, and then the dramatic Peak District just on our doorstep. Sheffield was very industrial at one point, and now a lot of the old works are artists’ studios – it’s quite a creative place. We’re part of the Yorkshire Artspace, working in a purpose-built studio right in the city centre. We feel so lucky to have this!
Can you tell us more about how you decide on your colour palette and the development of new glazes and the decoration of your ceramics?
About 18 months ago, I stopped trying to develop specific colours because I always felt really disappointed, and instead I worked on the chemistry of the glaze – trying to ensure its functionality and so on. Then I did ranges of colour tests afterwards, blending oxides, until a very natural palette came together without me looking for anything in particular. Now I try to stick to just a couple of base glazes rather than reinventing the wheel each time. Recently, I’ve been playing around with mark-making, trying to develop an identity and approach that feels natural to me, and Matt is working on some designs with carved aspects and facets – something for next year perhaps. Pottery is a slow craft and we often develop things months or even years ahead of putting them into the world.
Who are you inspired by?
I’m not sure about Matt, but for him maybe he would say Richard Batterham. I feel inspired by so many people but to your question I’m going to answer Margaret Howell, because of her aesthetic style and commitment to craftsmanship and the understated.
What is the best piece of advice someone gave you?
My Mum always tells me to ‘just do you’, ‘drink lots of water’ and ‘keep things simple’, something I’m still trying to do all the time, but it’s hard. And my Dad tells me to keep good financial spreadsheets – that’s how you spot patterns, another thing we’re working on! But I read something full of excellent advice recently- Vogue’s interview with Faye Toogood – it’s a must read. My favourite piece of advice of hers is to ‘have a box for everything’, which I think is a great idea. https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/faye-toogood-interview
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