Jack Welbourne is a ceramicist and sourdough baker living and working in Cardiff. We caught up with him at his pottery studio located at One Fox Lane, where he makes a wide range of rustic hand-thrown tableware and runs pottery classes, to find out more about his journey into ceramics, his creative process and the community projects he’s involved with.
Who was Jack 10 years ago?
I certainly wasn’t a potter. I was trying to work out what I wanted to do, and really I only knew two things at that stage. I wanted to be working within the arts and I didn’t want to go to sixth form. I was lucky that Plymouth had a specialist art college, it offered me such a wide range of creative options I was spoilt for choice.
Have you always been interested in ceramics?
I have had an interest in the visual arts since I can remember and clay came along as part of that. When I was about eight or nine my dad borrowed a potter’s wheel from my uncle and made pots in our garage for a summer. I remember standing near the wheel, feeling the dry slip coating the wheel and surrounding tables. I think that’s when my interest in pottery/ceramics came about.
Tell us about your experience as an Erasmus student in Sweden.
I had a great time, I met some amazing people, learnt so much and played in the snow! The course offered an amazing level of freedom and had opportunities that I really connected with, especially wood-firing.
What were some of the strongest impressions you came back with?
That there is a lot out there to do and see and feel.
What would your advice be for someone about to begin their journey through Art school?
I feel that art school should be about time and space for you to grow as a creative person. Do what you want, be confident in what you care about and value. Go meet people, phone up your favourite artist and tell them you want to visit their studio, go on exchange, and say yes to everything.
Is there an underlying philosophy that informs your work?
The things I make, pots and bread, can be seen as mundane or even totally invisible to some people. Even though the majority of us use pots, or eat bread every day. If we can get enjoyment and enrichment from these things, then maybe the everyday wouldn’t be so mundane. The everyday can be art.
How do you strike a balance between functional and aesthetic?
For a pot to be successful it has to work properly. If it functions well but isn’t successful aesthetically, it’s still a mug, that’s one of the nice things about making functional objects. My aim is to make pots that express an energy and life through their making. I focus on form, technique and materials to do this. They are aspects of the making process that allow for a lot of expression whilst going hand in hand with function.
What’s your favourite step in the making process?
It has to be throwing the pots on the wheel. It’s drawing in air and leaving a vessel behind.
Where do you source your materials from?
My throwing body comes from a small clay pit in Cornwall, near St Agnes called Doble’s Clay. I would make my clay if I had the space and equipment to but I don’t currently. Some of my glaze materials I collect and refine myself from my surroundings. These can be clays, sands or wood ashes. I find it interesting to work with raw materials, even if it takes more time.
Tell us a bit about your experience working as a production thrower at Smith & Jennings.
It was hard work physically and very cold over the winter months but I learnt a lot during my time at Smith & Jennings. It’s worth stepping out of your normal field of making and seeing how something works on a different scale with a different vision.
Who do you admire in your field?
Richard Batterham stands out as being a constant source of inspiration. He has been producing some of the most magnificent studio ceramic for 50 years and is still working in his eighties. His work is totally without pretension, he just makes pots for use, but they transcend that.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
My hands, they’re the tool that translates my brain into physical stuff.
What other projects are you involved with?
Currently I’m involved in Riverside Sourdough and Global Gardens Project. Riverside Sourdough is a cooperative sourdough bakery and café based at Cathays Community Centre. We make a range of sourdough breads and pastries we sell to local shops and at the farmers markets, as well as vegan lunches from our café.
Global Gardens in a community project aimed at bringing people together through growing food and creativity. The garden’s looking great, the produce is delicious and we are running pottery courses as an activity.
How did you come to work at Riverside Sourdough?
A friend of mine was joking one day that he would love to be a baker. When he said that, my girlfriend mentioned she knew a bakery that might be looking for a new baker, she asked them and they were. My friend decided that mornings weren’t for him. So I applied and got the job. It suited me well, it involves working with your hands and I don’t mind early mornings.
Did you have any experience in bread-making before that?
Only a little during my pottery apprenticeship. I found I couldn’t keep it up when I got back to student life. It was a great foundation for things to come however.
What’s the secret of a successful starter for sourdough bread?
Consistency and good flour. Have a routine and stick to it. It’s easy to miss a feeding, or put it in the fridge and forget about it. If you want to make good sourdough look after your starter properly and the bread will come with a little practice.
What is your favourite dish?
That’s hard to say. I often find myself getting into flavours or ingredients for periods of time. There is a smokey beluga lentil chilly I love and keep coming back to. I would definitely recommend people to try out beluga lentils, they’re the caviar of the pulses.
What are some of your favourite places to hang out in Cardiff?
Global Gardens is a great spot to meet lots of interesting people and learn new skills. I love cycling round the barrage and walking along the beach between Cardiff and Penarth. Or the Embassy Café, I’ll often bump into someone I know there and have a nice chat over lunch.
Going back to your pottery, what was your most exciting commission?
All commissions are exciting.
How is your work received by the local market?
It’s hard to say, some people like it, some don’t. There is in my opinion a real resurgence in people wanting hand made. But within this, there is a trend for very clean, minimal pottery that I’m not subscribing to. Lots of people say my work reminds them of the 70’s. I’m fine with that, I’m not about to start making something I don’t like myself to please someone else.
How do you engage with the local community of artists and makers?
I go to shows and events ‒ Cardiff has a growing art scene. I am also lucky, as artists sometimes approach me looking for help with ceramic projects.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m always building on ideas, some of which I’ve been exploring for upwards of 5 years. Almost all my work takes the form of domestic pottery and right now I‘m trying to pin down my range. This should make working with shops, cafes and restaurants easier and give me a chance to get to know my forms better through repeated making.
How do you see your style evolving in the near future?
I see it staying really quite similar for a long time. Progression in your head is always quicker than in reality. I do want to cut back on the number of glazes I use and focus on just 2 or 3. Get them working well and think about what I want to do with them.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?
Hopefully I will still be a potter and a baker but out in the country somewhere with two buildings at the bottom of my garden: one a pottery for making and teaching pots. The other a micro bakery, so I can make and sell sourdough bread and a few croissants every Saturday morning.