Intrigued by the clever ways she combines clay, silver and organic textures, we caught-up with Rhiannon Evans, the young, talented and resourceful ceramicist and jewellery designer behind 1280°Ceramics. Based in a village located in the heart of the idyllic Cotswolds, Rhiannon is working in a shed and greenhouse surrounded by unspoiled countryside, a secluded creative bubble where she is crafting beautifully detailed, one-of-a-kind pieces of ceramic jewellery and vessels using locally sourced, high quality materials as well as natural textures from organic objects that she collects during her walks around the Cotswolds and her strolls along the beach of St. Ives.
Rhiannon showed us some of her latest pieces of ceramic jewellery and we chatted about her enriching experience as a student of Ceramics at Cardiff School of Art & Design and the ideas behind her final graduate project, the Crystalline Collection. She then gave us a tour of the beautiful town of Nailsworth, which has a reputation for its many independent shops and fine eating houses, continuing our conversation about her creative process, sources of inspiration and her ambition to collaborate with fashion designers.
Who is Rhiannon, the creative mind behind 1280°Ceramics?
I am a 22-year-old ceramicist and jewellery designer from the Cotswolds with a strong ambition to have my own successful jewellery business! There is nothing more special to me than someone picking up a piece of my work and wanting to own it. Making jewellery and ceramics work together is my aim! I want to show people how diverse clay can be and why it works so well as jewellery. I also make porcelain bowls that reflect my jewellery through process and colour. I graduated last summer from Cardiff School of Art and Design where I completed a Ceramics BA course which I highly recommend! I now work in my shed and greenhouse at the top of my garden which I find is the ideal place to escape from everyday life and get lost in my own little creative bubble.
Are there any other creatives in your family?
Yes, my dad is very creative. He achieved distinction at Art college studying technical illustration. He now owns his own business designing products for English Heritage. In his spare time, he designs and constructs laser-cut sculpture robot lights which are very popular! My dad is a massive inspiration to me and has taught me a lot about design and owning your own business. It helps me having someone to talk to about creativity because I work alone in my studio and need critical feedback to help my work grow.
Why ceramics? What attracted you to the medium and what are the biggest challenges when learning ceramics?
Being creative is who I am, I have never been that academic so when I had the opportunity after finishing school to do a BTEC in art I jumped at the chance! I learnt lots of different creative disciplines but decided working purely with my hands was what suited me best. I spent the last year specialising in 3D design working mostly with sculpture. I liked downscaling some of my sculptures to wearable sizes. This is where I gained my passion for jewellery making.
I started University on the Designer Maker course because I still wasn’t sure what material I wanted to work in. We got to experiment with lots of different techniques such as bronze casting, 3D printing and ceramics! It was at this point I fell in love with clay!
I moved onto the ceramics course in the second year to be totally immersed in the subject. This move was challenging because I was still fairly new to ceramics and had missed all the technical lessons which were given in the first year. This didn’t stop me though, because I was keen to prove I could learn fast and keep up with the other students.
I was lucky because my tutor let me drop into theory lessons with the first year students. This really helped and by the end of the year I felt at the same level as the other students and enjoying every minute of it.
Tell us about your experience as a student at the Cardiff School of Art & Design. What did you enjoy the most about the way that your course was taught?
As a student at Cardiff Met I felt I was pushed to my best creative potential. I was always being challenged which is what I needed! In the second year I had the chance to do work experience which was a brilliant opportunity to see how professional artists and creative businesses function. As a student it opened up lots of doors for me and I got to work with four different creative businesses which really helped me understand what I should be putting into place to get to that position. All my tutors at university were extremely helpful and I always felt comfortable putting forward my ideas and concepts.
My favourite part of the Ceramics course was how free you could be with all the materials and processes! I would do endless glaze testing trying out as many glaze colours as possible! This experimenting was crucial for the second year when understanding the material of clay was key.
Who do you admire in your creative field?
It has to be Claire Curneen! Her work is stunning in the way she captures the human form in ceramics. The details she adds with glaze and texture is exquisite not to mention the meaning behind each of her artworks. Claire was one of my tutors in my final year at Cardiff and was very helpful with making a final project that I was really proud of. Claire really helped me focus on what was important to me as an artist.
What was the most meaningful learning curve you have experienced during your studio residencies at La Perdrix, France?
La Perdrix is a very special place! It is owned by Ingrid Murphy who was one of my tutors in the first year. The French house is perfect for residences. It has a very large barn which Ingrid has made into a studio with three throwing wheels. There is also a raku kiln and an electric kiln. It was a great experience for me because here I learnt how to throw for the first time! We would roll the throwing wheels outside into the garden and sit out all afternoon throwing different forms, learning new techniques and methods. I also got to do a raku firing for the first time which was really exciting! One of the challenges set for the week was to create a sixteen piece raku dinner-set we could eat off on the last day!
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Working in a greenhouse is ideal for finding inspiration as nature and wildlife is literally all around me. I look out from the greenhouse onto rolling hills; I couldn’t think of a place I would rather be. I go on lots of walks in the Cotswolds, always taking photographs of nature’s patterns and the landscapes that I find along the way. Another main inspiration to me is St.Ives in Cornwall. I have visited this coastal town since I was a child and still do every year. I find it has influenced my work with the glaze colours I use and the forms I create. I like going down for the weekend visiting the Tate and beachcombing for objects that could be made into something wearable.
What is your creative process?
If I am starting something new I like to look back at the photographs I’ve taken and look in my sketchbook at old designs. This helps trigger new ideas and gives me a starting point. I find my work is process led. I have precise methods I use to make my jewellery and bowls, but while I carry out these processes I like to give the clay its own freedom at different stages. I never quite know how the glaze will come out after the firing due to the ways in which I place my work in the kiln. It’s always a surprise when I open the kiln door! Sometimes I can never achieve the same glaze colour again which makes some of the bowls and porcelain stones even more special.
Where do you source your materials from?
I source my raw materials from Bath Potters because they are extremely helpful. I purchase my jewellery equipment from Cooksongold as they are very speedy with delivery and sell top quality products. I have also sourced clay from the banks of the River Severn which produce rich red earthenware pottery.
What are the most challenging aspects of running a creative business?
The most challenging part of running a business for me is prioritising my time. I get lots of ideas about what I want to achieve but sometimes spend too long on one project and the other plans get forgotten. I want to strengthen my ability to spread out my time evenly.
Do you wear or use the pieces you make?
Yes I do! I wear my own earrings, necklaces and rings. I enjoy wearing my work because I can then talk to people about ceramics which people are always interested in. Each time I am selling at a craft show I always wear my jewellery because the customer then has a visual example of my work.
Your final graduate project, Crystalline Collection, is an experimental project that pushes the boundaries of Ceramics. What inspired this collection and what are the directions that you would like to explore in the near future?
Towards the end of the second year I felt I had pushed the experimental side of ceramics to its working limits. I knew I wanted to consolidate and produce a collection of work that showed the extent of my ceramic knowledge and show what potential ceramics can have! As most of my experimental outcomes had been based on ornamentation for the body it felt only natural to carry this on making three large catwalk pieces. I want them to be ambitious pushing my ceramics, silversmithing and construction skills to their limits.
Ideas on forms, colours and textures for the the collection came from research I did into clay molecular structures. I found the structures to be geometric in form which I wanted to recreate by slip casting bold shapes that I could then layer up into large structures that conform to the body.
In the future I would like to work on a larger scale, collaborating with a fashion designer, creating a collection that shows what ceramics can achieve, putting ceramics at the forefront of fashion.
You currently live and work in the Cotswolds. What made you decide to move here and what do you love about this area?
After much thought I decided to return home to the Cotswolds after graduating because I knew I had my shed studio that I could work in straight away. If I didn’t have my own studio, I would have continued at Cardiff Met for another year on the Inc. Space programme. Inc. Space is a studio space you can use that is run by the school of management and helps artists like myself to start up their businesses.
I feel very lucky to live in the Cotswolds, not just because of its beautiful countryside but also because it is full of talented artists. Stroud has its own creative hub with many art exhibitions, annual Open Studios, markets and showcases taking place all the time. The fact that I live near Stroud helped me feel less worried about moving out of a city because I knew I would still have many opportunities.
What does a regular day look like for you?
I head straight up the shed where I set up my workbench, getting out the tools I need for the day. I place out the porcelain in the shape of the design I want to make, thinking carefully about how the silver will hold the ceramics in place. If it’s not raining I will move outside to the greenhouse to work on my plaster moulds. I also like to sand and polish outside in the garden if the sun is shining. If I am stuck on something I like to walk up to the top of the garden and just sit and watch the wildlife. It is very relaxing and gives me a clear head for new ideas.
Creating in a greenhouse and in close contact with nature may sound like a dream to many artists. Can you tell us how the relationship with this environment is influencing your creative process?
I am forever being influenced by my surroundings living in such a beautiful, untouched part of the country. When I am stuck for ideas in my studio I just have to step out into my garden and I have inspiration all around me. I often find interesting organic objects on walks which become part of my creative process. I bring them back to my studio to observe further. I sometimes use the textured objects I find to imprint the outside of my bowls!
Where can we find you when you’re not working in your studio?
I work locally part-time at a builder’s merchants to help pay for my materials. I go to London exhibitions throughout the year which helps with new concepts and links me to what is current now. I always come away from an exhibition feeling inspired and keen to get on with my next project. You can also find me walking in the countryside, taking photographs, and sketching.
How do you engage with the local community of designers, makers and other creatives?
I am part of the Stroud Valleys Artspace (SVA), a community membership which is set up for artists like myself. The SVA team run workshops, exhibitions, music nights and theatre performances, getting together like-minded people. I find it really helpful attending these events as I get to meet other artists living in the area and finding out about local opportunities.
What would be your dream collaboration?
My dream collaboration would be with Polly Wales, the award-winning jewellery designer. I have followed her from the day she set up her business through to her move to LA because she used to have a studio down the road from me! I admire the way she focuses on finding the beauty in imperfections. Her work is very rebellious by process yet delicate and elegant with the beautiful gems she uses. To meet up with Polly to share ideas would be the ultimate dream!
What advice would you give to a young person deciding to pursue a creative career?
Do it! If you have a passion for something don’t let it go. It is hard work but if you are willing to put your all into it you will see the rewards. You have to stay really focused and have goals you want to achieve. I write a list of what I want to achieve that year and tick it off once I have completed it. I would also say communicate with people. When I attend shows I try to talk as much as possible about my work as people want to know the background story just as much as seeing the final piece.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working on a new collection called Porcelain Stone that consists of handmade porcelain stones which I bezel set into rings, necklaces and earrings. I am also working on new plaster moulds for a larger range of porcelain bowls that I hope to get into galleries by Christmas!
What are your dreams and ambitions for 1280° Ceramics?
My intention now is to get 1280° Ceramics into as many galleries and shops as possible and achieving more recognition for my work. I would like 1280° Ceramics to be known internationally for unique and beautiful porcelain jewellery.