When we arrived in Cardiff, dusky grey clouds were dominating the morning sky, leaving transitory patches of blue announcing a rather capriciously typical Welsh September day. Little did we know that behind the door at 24 Tudor Lane we would step into a completely different world, welcomed by Louise with her big smile and delicious carrot cake.
Inspired from an early age by her mother’s eye for interior design and colour, Louise mixes textiles and ceramics, vintage laces and porcelain to create organic forms of seductive subtlety. We chatted about how her Danish heritage influences her creativity and how she found the perfect place to express this creativity at Fireworks Clay Studios. Later on, Louise invited us for a walk to Sophia Gardens, guiding us through a part of the city that we have never explored before, while sharing with us some of her childhood memories and dreams for the future.
For those who do not know you ‒ who is Louise Hall, the creative behind Louise Hall Ceramics?
I am an Oxfordshire-born Cardiff dwelling artist and grew up certain that my future would be within the creative industry. My mother is Danish and so home, family and food comforts play a significant role in my life; my childhood was the definition of the currently popular Danish word ‘hygge’ and my parents’ home and garden is a haven for seasonal style and decorations. My passion and creativity have, to a large extent, been inspired by my mother’s excellent eye for interior design and colour, as well as the wonderful handmade objects my father is so talented at making ‒ not to mention the constant stream of freshly baked goods in their house!
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
That’s a tricky one! I have many beautiful memories from my childhood but one that really stands out is the Wendy House my dad made for my fifth birthday! I opened the curtains on the morning of my birthday to reveal this glorious wooden creation complete with chimney, curtains, a door number (five, of course) and a little stone cat ornament on the front step. I had an inkling that my dad was working on something in the garage in the build-up to my birthday, but when asked he would only say cover by explaining that he was making a small house for a small friend ‒ unbeknownst to me, that small friend was me! Many times after the unveiling my mum, dad and younger sister and I would take our lunch inside the Wendy House, a favourite of which was Danish red hot dogs and potato salad ‒ perfect!
Tell us a little about yourself before moving to Cardiff. What made you decide to make Cardiff your home?
I was nearing the end of my Masters degree in Nottingham and knew I wanted to go solo and set up a ceramic business of my own and build on the knowledge I have gained during my course. I applied to an online advertisement for a year long graduate residency, which would provide full access to the facilities of an established ceramics studio in the heart of Cardiff. I’d never even been to Cardiff before but when I attended the studio’s open day, I simply fell in love with it! I was awarded the residency and have been lucky enough to call the wonderful city of Cardiff my home for 5 years now.
How did it all start? Have you always wanted to be a ceramic artist?
The seed of inspiration was definitely planted when I visited a contemporary craft fair/market in my second year of University. Lustre, set within Nottingham University campus ground (a show I have now exhibited at four times!) is a beautifully set out fair filled with incredible handmade objects created by talented and passionate people. Attending Lustre in 2009 was certainly a bit of a light-bulb moment! Although at that point I did not know I wanted to pursue ceramics (I had gone to University with the textiles industry in mind) I began to dabble in mixing textiles with ceramics in my final year of university. My Masters then helped to consolidate all I had learned and gave me a clearer direction to follow and develop my material-inspired porcelain vessels.
What or who influenced you the most throughout your explorations and experiments as an artist?
I love Margaret O’Rorke’s sculptural porcelain lights, which take porcelain to new heights with ethereal, manipulated shapes. Also, the bold and curious colour combinations of Clarissa Hulse’s textile designs, the subtle, understated elegance of Rebecca Callis’s glaze colours on her porcelain vessels, and the ‘thinness’ and delicate nature of Danish ceramicist Inge Vincents.
How has your Danish heritage influenced you creatively?
My Danish heritage is entwined in my psyche and influences all aspects of my life. I create pieces I love to use; I fill my small flat with design pieces I love and I hope that my designs and products give someone else pleasure like they did for me when I created them. I feel Danish design gives much the same message; objects we use/see daily should give us pleasure and how we decorate our homes directly impacts on our overall well-being.
Porcelain and laces ‒ where does your fascination with these materials come from?
I simply love how porcelain looks when it is illuminated! That’s the bottom line. I love impressing something into clay, especially porcelain, as it means it is a captured moment and frozen forever. Porcelain retains textures really well and I have amassed a vast number of lacy off-cuts for imprinting now; from my Nan’s old net curtains, to a small strip my mum had on a dress as a child, to all the pieces friends have found in charity shops/car boots/their lofts, etc. ‒ they basically need their own wardrobe now! Mixing my two favourite materials together is such a joy and helps to preserve the beauty of both modern and vintage items.
Tell us about your venture into the world of functional ceramics. What brought this about and what was the biggest challenge you had to face so far?
I really enjoy meeting potential/returning customers at different fairs and events, but time and time again I was being asked the same question: “But what can I use it for?” So to fully address this, I put my material knowledge to the test and come up with a range that people could use every day or on special occasions depending on their style choice. I should have clocked onto the idea earlier that drinking tea (or any other hot beverage of choice) really does taste better in a handmade mug! My biggest challenge has been appreciating how truly fickle porcelain is; early on I lost a selection of plates I had made, which slumped in the kiln and then melted onto the kiln shelves. Needless to say I was back in design HQ designing ways in which I could avoid this pretty sharpish! I have now added foot rings to elevate these functional pieces and provide extra stability. My interpretation of ceramic ‘feet’ aren’t whole feet in the traditional sense, so it’s been satisfying to see that area of my design develop and come together.
What is your favourite step in the making process?
I have a real love/hate relationship with glazing. Ask me in the morning of the day I plan to spend with a mask and earmuffs on, spray glazing my pieces and I would say it is by far the most frustrating and temperamental part. But when I come to open the kiln, I have to say it is totally worth it. I love the resultant colours and the movement of the pieces, which happens in the high firing. A bit of serendipity is always at play ‒ most times it is fruitful, sometime not! But that’s one of the exciting things about being a ceramicist.
Tell us about your current workspace at the Fireworks Clay Studios. How did you find it and what do you like the most about it?
I have been in my current space coming up four years in December, and it has certainly seen a few changes. I increased the size a few years ago with my fellow studio artists as we had a slight re-jig of the studio floor-plan. This allowed me to spread out (although you would never know that now as it is so incredibly full!). Most of all, I like the location of my space as it allows me to be close to the kiln and spray glazing room. It does get rather chilly in winter but the room connecting to mine (our photography room) has been re-vamped this spring, which aimed to minimise the draught and damp. At least when it is cold I can warm up in the kiln room when there are a few going!
Are there any new techniques and/or materials that you would like to experiment with?
It is not necessarily new to me, but I would like to become more confident with slip-casting. An example of the usefulness of this method is the mould I made for my wall pockets line. I decided to make the mould because the pockets were suffering from numerous and frequent cracks occurring whilst drying and firing. This was due to the one sheet of folded clay being under too much pressure. They are now a joy to make and I am no longer fighting the clay like I used to. Slip-casting is certainly a method that will help me grow my business as it will allow me to produce my work quicker and by a greater amount than I can when I create each piece individually. In the future I aim to make some bigger moulds to create lights from. And in a dream life, I would love to be able to make my own lace too ‒ that’d be very cool indeed!
Who do you admire in your industry?
I think I admire everyone! Everyone who juggles running and developing a small creative business with generating an income, working other jobs and keeping up with family, friends and home life. In terms of design and creativity, I really admire Amy Cooper, who makes captivating slip-cast lighting, teamed with her illustrations, which are then sandblasted on. I also love the work of Stine Dulong. Stine is a Danish ceramicist based in London and her brand ‘Skandihus’ of simply designed but beautifully made functional pieces are beautiful in their traditional simplistic Scandinavian style.
What’s your take on Hygge?
Although Hygge only exploded into our headlines a couple of years ago, it has always been a part of my family home and life. A friend of mine from University, who always pops over to the house around Christmas time, described our rather nondescript 1960’s semi-detached house as the ‘Gingerbread House’. We discovered later that this was her way of describing our hyggelige home; a comfortable place to relax, filled with (at that time of year) stylish and beautiful Christmas decorations, a log burning fire, copious candles, an abundance of food and our good company ‒ I love it! I can’t wait to create this sort of environment and feelings in my own flat this Christmas as it will be my boyfriend and I’s first in our little flat!
What inspires the choice for your own homeware?
My flat is a pocket sized and colourful space, jam-packed with chosen decorations and creative pieces. Everything is slightly, and delightfully, mismatched; we have a nice selection of Denby pasta bowls, gifted to us when we moved in, which perfectly complement some light grey, lace-esque textured dessert plates I found reduced in a well-known department store. Added to the splashes of red items in the kitchen, vibrant, cheese-grater inspired cushions I made back on my BA and a simple but stunning round glass vase from LSA which always has flowers in, makes the flat feel like a real home we’ve made! I also have some beautiful ceramic vessels on my shelves from different members of the studio, which I bought at various studio open days or swapped with pieces of my own (very handy!).
What is your favourite recipe?
I can’t deny I have a sweet tooth so baking is always something I love to do, but I am becoming very well acquainted with my slow cooker of late! Pinterest is the most amazing site for every sort of recipe out there and we have become quite fond of a paprika BBQ chicken dish!
What about your favourite colour palette?
I love all ranges of colour and so to define a favourite is quite a challenge... I am currently very pleased with the palette I have utilised for my functional ware, which includes mustard, dusty pink, greeny-grey, light turquoise blue and a fresh sea green. My favourite out of that collection has to be mustard as it works so well with heavy colours like cobalt or can be lightened with dusty pinks and greeny-greys. I certainly appreciate the simplicity and tranquillity of whites and very subtle colours that are often associated with Danish design styles. However I equally love to create an impact with colour, especially if it is a ‘pop’ of colour seen only from within a piece. I am lucky the white of porcelain is incredibly forgiving with my experimental love of new glaze colours!
What does the perfect Friday evening look like for you?
A G&T or a white wine with my boyfriend, good food and an addictive box-set! Although, catching up with friends is certainly up there.
What are some of your favourite places to hang out in Cardiff?
I love walking to the Bay, along the barrages and through Sophia Gardens, possibly with a picnic under arm. Brød is also a favourite spot of mine to indulge in some Danish pastries and other delights. Can you see food is often included?! Only last year did I discover the Roath Park conservatory; with its waterfalls and fountains and dozens of huge Koi Carp fish, mini tortoises and ducks galore, it is a lovely and relaxing experience.
What was the best advice you have ever received?
It is a little twee and not something I think I’ve personally been told, but it’s a quote I try to hold on to: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” So basically, work hard, challenge yourself and adapt to progress!
What are you working on at the moment?
Christmas is (dare I say) on the horizon so I am currently working on a mixture of building up stock for Autumn shows and supplying galleries with requested pieces. I’m also working on getting my online shop up and running, so undoubtedly there will be some minor computer based technical frustration ahead!
What are your ambitions for Louise Hall Ceramics?
I would love to see my creations up and down the country, and further afield, in more galleries and shops, and in many more people’s homes. It would be incredible if I could become self-sufficient from my business. That’s a big ambition! But I’m working on it.
Can you recommend us:
A song: “Tears in Heaven”, by Eric Clapton. Just beautiful.
A book: Aphrodite, by Russell Andrews, a super gripping thriller novel.
A film: I went to see The Shape of Water in the cinema recently which I LOVED. I love watching films and going to the cinema, but I don’t really watch films over and over again. There are so many good ones I have yet to see. But The Shape of Water was so stunning.