Taking his turn
Florian Gadsby was hooked on pottery from his first throw, he shares why it's so important to get the right education, to represent your work in the best possible light and the enduring pleasures of eating from something that you've made yourself...
Potter Florian Gadsby is a man who has considered his craft. Having left school knowing he wanted to make functional ceramics, he sought out the most fitting education; a place to learn the practical skills of a working potter, followed by two years refining them in an apprenticeship at Maze Hill Pottery. This single-minded approach to his creative career, alongside a dedication to sharing his ethos, process and pots on Instagram has led him to an engaged community that support and buy his work…
What first drew you to clay?
I went to a Steiner school, and in Kindergarten we would dig up clay deposits to sculpt little creatures and cook them, essentially, in an outdoor bread oven. But I didn’t realise I wanted to do pottery until I saw my GCSE teacher throwing on the wheel; I’d always been more interested in graphic design and drawing. I still have a strong interest in this. It’s a cliché, but I was hooked on potting from the first time I threw on the wheel.
I left school knowing I wanted to make functional ceramics. At 17, my mum would drive me around to pottery shows and places like the Leach Pottery, where I did a placement. I looked at all the major universities but thought the courses were lacklustre for throwing – everyone was slipcasting, mould-making or handbuilding. Potters recommended Thomastown in Ireland, which seemed perfect for me. It really teaches the practical skills; people starting out don’t always realise how important it is to know about firing and glaze technology and how not having this grounding can hold them back.
You were Lisa Hammond’s apprentice at Maze Hill Pottery in London for two years. Tell us about this experience?
An apprenticeship is the perfect way to drive skills home. They’re very hard to get today in Britain and there’s no official qualification, it’s a verbal contract between apprentice and potter. I saw mine as two years of honing my skills and, crucially, learning the business side of making.
I also had no idea how heavy the workload was going to be –Thomastown was hard work, but going into the apprenticeship was easily three or four times harder. For the first time, what I did really mattered: if I did something wrong, the workshop would not function properly. You have to mix all the clays and glazes, make sure the students’ work is looked after perfectly, and so much more. I remember thinking it was a two-person job. But you adjust, Lisa left me for two months to travel to Japan, which in hindsight was the best thing she could have done. There was no fallback, no-one to ask advice from and it forced me to step up. By the time she came back, I was transformed. Now I do what I did in five days in three. I would wholeheartedly recommend at least a year’s apprenticeship post-study.
Your Instagram presence is enormous – how has this affected you? Instagram is my second job. What Instagram has done is allow me to skip the early stage of selling and be able to sell both unique pieces and a standard range without having to split proceeds with a gallery or pay fair fees. People today prefer to buy from another person rather than from a brand. Building an online presence has been crucial – that’s partly why I choose to be so open about my work on social media. Before I joined Instagram, I thought I would have to take the difficult path many potters had warned me about, saying ‘You maybe a good maker, but you’re not going to sell your pots for years.’ I’m very glad to have proved them wrong.
On Instagram, people also really respond well to hearing about the technical processes, details and stories about how ceramics are made – this information is often hard to find. After two and a half year of writing a paragraph every single day, I enjoy writing more and more. I see it as a facet of my teaching work (I teach a few workshops and evening classes).
I do recommend investing time in how you represent your work though. Lots of artists who make beautiful things take terrible photos – why would you share something special through a bad iPhone snap? Photography, like writing, is an area I’ve learned to enjoy and gain skills in for this reason.
Who or what inspires you to make?
My favourite work as a student was always by dead Japanese or Korean potters. I used to love historic pottery such as Sung Dynasty and Guan ware, alongside the classic Anglo-Japanese potters like Lisa Hammond. These days I don’t actively seek out makers for inspiration.
It’s mad how popular ceramics have become in the last few years. It’s undoubtedly a reaction to contemporary life and the world of desk jobs – people want to reconnect to the excitement of making something with their hands. It’s special to have objects around you that mean something, and it’s bloody marvellous to eat from something you’ve made!
What’s next for your work?
I would love to collaborate with craftspeople I respect. Jono Smart and Alex Devol and I are talking about doing a three-way show in London where people could watch us make in a gallery space, then we’d have another show afterwards of the work created. I also want to make fifteen teapots, all with small lugs, and invite fifteen people from different disciplines – such as jewellery, woodwork, leatherwork – to make handles.
I'd also love to work on a book, but it has to be the right project. I would like to write more discursive narratives about making – much like Nigel Slater’s recipe books – accompanied with my hand-drawings. Nigel collects my work; he has a huge Edmund De Waal vitrine on one wall of his kitchen, and the other has shelves filled with my pots. He’s been incredibly supportive.
And, I can’t wait to set up my own studio and be able to focus wholeheartedly on my own work. Hopefully I can do this in the next year. I’ve been living with my parents and putting in every penny I can to make it possible – equipment is expensive. I’m hoping to set up in London because of the community of makers, but the cost here is so high. It will probably turn me into an anti-social hermit, but the freedom to experiment away from anyone else’s eyes will be wonderful.
Interview Isabella Smith
Photographs Lizzie Mayson