For the second instalment of our new series, The Artists’ Journal, we interview the potter behind Studio Brae, Tokes Sharif. Studio Brae’s objects, such as vases and candle-holders, are all made by hand from clay in a palette of neutral and earthy tones. Tokes studied product design at Edinburgh College of Art, and began moving towards ceramics in 2016. In autumn 2020, he moved to a new studio in Stockbridge, to the north of Edinburgh city centre, an area with a village feel and Bohemian vibe, and home to many people working in the arts. The founder of Artists and Objects, Adam Watts, asked Tokes how he got into ceramics.
How did you get into ceramics?
Even though I grew up in a city, Glasgow, I’ve always had fond memories of being connected with nature. My childhood memories are of being fascinated with the outdoors and with earth, and I would often be found digging holes with twigs, collecting bugs and building dens in the garden. Until recently discovering pottery, I had never put ceramics and nature together. Now I get a sense of comfort working with clay that harks back to my childhood.
My journey to ceramics began in 2016 when I started local pottery classes, and there was an instant connection with the material. Having a background in product design and furniture design, I absolutely loved the way I could make a physical object quickly and fairly easily.
When did Studio Brae begin and what led you to create your own brand?
Studio Brae came about at the beginning of 2018 after two years of exploring clay. I set up Studio Brae as I didn’t know what direction the ceramics would go in but had a clear idea of them being based around nature. Brae is a Scottish word for hillside or a steep bank.
What’s Edinburgh like as a city for supporting the arts?
Edinburgh has the International Festival, the Fringe and the Art Festival as well as other big festivals, usually occurring over the summer months. These attract a huge following but are mainly geared towards visitors.
What’s the Edinburgh creative/independent scene like?
Edinburgh has often lagged behind Glasgow in terms of the creative/independent scene, but it is now really beginning to stamp its own mark on the scene. More creatives are moving to Edinburgh and with this there are more studios, independent exhibitions and pop ups than before, and a real creative buzz has been generated in the city.
You’ve just moved to a new studio, how will this affect your daily working and output?
Since September 2020, I have been in my new studio and it has made a huge difference. I was previously sharing a studio with three other makers, and while I thoroughly enjoyed my time and am extremely grateful for the experience there, having my own space is marvellous. I now have the space separated into different zones – a zone for making, a zone for exhibiting/photographing my work, and an area for admin, planning and designing new pieces. I also have lots of shelves for drying my pieces. Being able to have these defined spaces has really helped with my focus, my daily organisation and my productivity.
Can you tell us more about your use of heavily textured/natural oxide glazes which can be seen in the Crater Moon Jar and Amphora works which are unique to Studio Brae?
I am drawn to a natural aesthetic and forever trying to discover how to create something as if created by nature itself. I found when learning about ceramics that ideally I would like to fire works in a wood fired kiln or at the very least a gas fired kiln. When using these methods of transforming clay/glazes in a reduced atmosphere, the lack of oxygen from the flame and wood ash create a wonderful unique patina, vibrant colours and depth to the finished ceramic. Sadly, I’m unable to have access to a wood fired kiln in the city and have access, instead, to an electric kiln. It’s difficult to get much depth from oxidised firing, hence this led to me exploring unusual glazes.
The glazes I use for these works are in ceramic terms defective glazes. Usually it’s required to have a smooth glossy surface – potters tend to hate pin holes, glaze crawling etc – but I encourage these defects with additions of silicon carbide and a combination of glazes to create exciting nature-inspired finishes.
Can you paint us a picture of your home?
We have carefully and slowly renovated our home room by room. Unlike with my ceramics, we have chosen quite bold, earthy colours for the house but have also tried to keep it pared back with a mixture of contemporary and antique furniture and artefacts. We are avid travellers and always seek out unusual handmade souvenirs to furnish our home from our travels – souvenirs that tell a story.
Who are you inspired by?
I am a big fan of Brancusi and Hepworth’s sculptural forms. I find inspiration in ethnographic artefacts and art.
Best bit of advice someone gave you?
Be mindful of your body and your health. It is the greatest tool we have.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on several wholesale orders for shops mostly around the UK and some further afield. I’m also working on a new collection of work which I hope to have ready for autumn.