We visited Bristol-based ceramist Jessica Thorn in her new studio space at Centrespace, one of the major creative hubs in the city who are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. Inspired by the characteristics and forms of vintage metal tins and growing out of her love for food and passion for cooking, Jessica creates delicate and character-driven hand-built porcelain vessels that enhance the user's dining experience.
Whilst enjoying her delicious homemade cardamom coffee cake, we chatted about her journey into ceramics, her recent artist residency at Mayfield School, her fascination with Victorian kitchenware and her plans of shelving up her studio.
What or who inspired you to become a ceramic artist?
It was during my foundation, I was given an article of Kate Malone’s Tutti Frutti Vessels and it was at that moment when I started to understand the magical process of ceramics. My interest to learn more took me on to study an applied arts course at Plymouth College of Art, where I specialised in Ceramics.
Your creations are both art and functional objects. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I love looking around old kitchens on visits to National Trust properties and have a fascination for the kitchenware in Victorian kitchens. I also am a massive foodie, cooking, eating and talking about food and this has been very much a big influence in my work. I want to make objects that can be used to enhance the user's dining experience from simply drinking a cup of tea to making a special breakfast for a loved one.
Tell us about your fascination with metal tins. What brought this about?
This was during my first year of university, drawing inspiration from their forms, joins and rusting colours. I have a small collection of tins and metal objects, but my favourite is my Hat box which sits in pride of place in my flat.
Tell us about your experience as a Ceramics student at Plymouth College of Art. What did you enjoy the most and what would you change (if anything) about the way your course has been thought?
I wouldn’t change anything about my time at Plymouth College of Art, as I wouldn’t be here today without those experiences I had. I had a very supportive peer and tutor network, and still do today. I love the community that I was able to become part of at the College, being supported by all areas of the college to achieve my creative ideas, such as hosting a pop up shop and using the print room, on very short notice… They have also continued to provide support after graduating and I am very thankful for that.
What has winning the Best New Business Award at the Contemporary Crafts Festival at Bovey Tracey meant for you and your business?
This was just a massive confidence booster, making me know that there are people who believe in my work. Allowing me to feel confident to take my work further and keep pushing it.
You have been selected to be a member of the Crafts Council HotHouse 5, a business development programme aimed at helping emerging makers. How did this influence you as an artist and entrepreneur?
I wouldn’t be here without HotHouse. It gave me support to successfully grow, taking my craft and business seriously. Tackling tricky areas that might not come naturally, such as finance and marketing, by breaking them down to make it feel manageable. It also gave me a network of like-minded craft artists, which is extremely important in quite an isolating job. Most of all it gave me the confidence to go big with my work, take it to the next level and believe in my creativity.
Tell us about your experience as an artist in residence at Mayfield School for Girls.
The Artist in residency position was such an amazing experience for my craft. Being able to spend my whole time working with clay, developing my own work and knowledge of the material was a privilege. The teachers at the School were fantastic, so rich with knowledge and advice, and mainly supportive by believing in me and my craft. I also really enjoyed teaching the classes to adults, broadening my skills to teach and was a privilege to be able to pass on the joy of working with clay to others.
Apart from your client commissions, do you also work on personal projects?
I think most of my work stems from my own personal projects. All pieces are designed from ideas of objects and tools that I would like to own and use, and have naturally come together to make a collection.
Where do you source your raw materials from?
I would love to say that I’m able to source all of my clay locally, however I use two lovely suppliers, both Bath Potters and CTM in Exeter are very knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to all types of pottery related questions.
You seem to be passionate about cooking. What or who triggered this passion of yours?
I have always been passionate about cooking and eating. I think it is just inherent in me. All types of memories from childhood to growing up and even now are mainly based around food. Mainly remembering where I had one of the best Crème brûlée in Brantome in France to sharing meals with my family at my Grandparents on a Saturday night when growing up.
What or who inspires your cooking?
I don’t think I have one focus of inspiration when cooking, I have spent lots of time flicking through recipe books, Nigel Slater being one of my favourite, and looking at recipes and watching cooking programs, which I think has been my main influence. I also love the act of cooking and how things feel when you cook something amazing.
What is your favourite dish?
It would probably be a big dish of moules marnie, with crusty baguette, with a large glass of white wine followed by a Crème brûlée.
Are you using your own kitchenware when you cook?
Yes I do use the kitchenware I make, mainly the seconds and one offs make it into my kitchen, and I also have to test each piece I make to see if it works, and they often don’t leave my kitchen or my mum's!
You seem passionate about vintage kitchenware. How would your dream kitchen look like?
Oooo!! how much time do you have? It would be a big kitchen with a table that can be used for both gathering of good friends and also spreading out so I can cook big meals. It would also have a wall filled with kilner jars of dried goods, spices and cookbooks. I have started a collection of heavy based copper pans and would love to grow this collection, so every pan is a joy to use. The tools would be celebrated by being hung on a wall. It would probably have an aga, as this is probably a kitchen in an old house. And the last thing, probably a cupboard just devoted to tea!
Tell us about your work outfit. What is your “uniform” of choice?
Seeing as it can get a bit chilly in the studio at the moment my uniform of choice would be a pair of dungarees with a polo neck top and a chunky scarf.
What does a typical day in your studio look like?
I start the day turning on the radio to Radio 4 to keep myself up-to-date with the world, and then I start to roll out fresh sheets of clay ready to cut out the pieces I want to make. When those are drying ready to be moulded and joined, I will work on finishing other pieces I have already started or any other odd jobs, such as making glazes, slips, polishing, glazing. I might also make a few experiments throughout the weeks. I will then join the pieces rolled out in the morning, make a list for the next day and give the studio a good clean, ready for a fresh start the next day.
What is your favourite colour palette?
That has to be navy and mustard or navy and orange. Just classic colours with an autumnal punch.
What other disciplines are you interested in or involved with?
I am also really interested in printmaking and have recently been experimenting with ceramics and print to create small still life images. These processes have included mono printing, stencilling and screen printing is the next on my list.
Who do you admire in your creative field?
The lovely spirit and kindness of other makers! Most makers seem to have an honesty about them that I think make the craft world very special.
You live and work in Bristol. What made you choose this location and what do you love about living here?
I grew up just on the outskirts of Bristol in Emersons Green, so was familiar with Bristol as a city. When I moved back from University I moved into the centre of town, and I cannot get enough of it. There is always something going on, an amazing food scene and everybody is just so friendly. Also the network of creative people is amazing and you never feel alone in Bristol. I am lucky to be surrounded by an amazing and supportive group of family and friends, which just makes it even better.
When you are not working in your studio, where is one most likely to find you?
I love exploring the city and mainly it’s amazing selection of Cafés and restaurants it has, where I spend time catching up with friends and family.
What are some of your favourite places in Bristol and why?
The Old Market Assembly is one of my places to go for food, a drink or to feel cultural by watching some amazing and alternative theatre. I also love walking around the dock yards, seeing all of the rusty building and metal structures.
How do you engage with the local community of designers and creatives?
I feel very honoured to have just been given a studio space in Centrespace, which is a collection of Artist studios in the centre of Bristol, who are celebrating their 40th Anniversary this year. This is an excellent place to connect with other creatives. I have always worked in creative places, such as the Bristol Guild of Applied Arts, where I have met and made good friends with lots of creative people.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be and why?
At the moment this is really boring but it would be Bristol. After moving away for the residency I realised that having family and friends close by is what makes a place for me. However if I was to choose another country, it would be somewhere in Scandinavia, they just seem to have the style, the cuisine and the lifestyle that seems just right, as long as I could bring family and friends!
What was the best advice you have ever been given?
It was from my tutor Imogen Aust in my second year of university and it was: “Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do in order to realise what you do want”. I use this for both big decisions and small ones and it helps to sort out all of my conundrums, as I am awful at decision making.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently starting to work on the pieces I will be taking to Ceramic Art London in March. This is one of the biggest ceramic events in the country so will be focusing all of my time to this project, making work I’ve done before and potentially adding new pieces.
How do you think your style will evolve over time?
I’m hoping that I will become more adventurous, with regards to the shapes and size of my work. It is always hard to foresee this as I never see it going too far from what I am doing now.
What about you dreams and ambitions for the future?
My biggest dream is to have a building that is a square U shape with affordable studio spaces for craftspeople on one side. In the middle there would be a space for events, exhibitions and small performances, the other side would be a café with all fresh and homemade produce. In the middle there would be an allotment with chickens where we could get some of our fresh produce. One day…
Can you recommend us:
A song: Facing West, by The Staves.
A book: Shadow of the Wind, by Carl Ruiz Zafon.
A film: If it was my favourite film I would say Amélie. If I had to recommend one to watch then I would say 20th Century Woman.
Thank you, Jessica for welcoming us into your studio, for the delicious cake and engaging conversation about your work.