Nest: The Great Pottery Throw Down with Katharina Klug
Let’s start at the beginning. Were you destined to take a creative path in life?
My family has been running a pottery in Austria for more than 40 years, so I grew up in this creative environment. Running your own business and being self-employed was the norm, so that was the plan for me too. I went to art college with a focus on ceramic, but I did also apprenticeships and work placements to gain experience.
How did you discover your talent for working clay? And what makes it your ideal medium?
As children, we were very much encouraged to make things out of clay. Working with this material has become second nature. It’s more than learning about its properties; it’s about the feel and understanding of how it changes in different stages. It starts very soft and malleable, but after the firing it’s one of the hardest materials and can last centuries. A lot of what we know today about ancient civilisations comes from the figurines and pots they left behind.
What inspires your designs? Tell us a bit about your process.
Anything that has a shape or pattern can spark an idea. I see a lot in architecture, nature, fabrics. . . but I also study historic and ancient craftsmanship by going to see museum collections. I sketch up first drafts and then workshop the designs on the wheel; only in 3D are the finer details revealed in the porcelain. Once the shape is established and dried, I fire for the first time. After that, I apply the surface pattern with a unique technique that I developed myself. Then I glaze and fire for the second and final time - to 1,270C.
Handmade work is trending now, isn’t it?
Whether it is weaving or spoon-whittling, all things handmade are on trend. True craft is enjoying a renaissance: lots of people are having a go at making themselves and there is a new appreciation of items that are designed and made and have a story to tell. Rather than buying something that comes from a factory, produced for a mass-market, buyers are being drawn to individualism and the custom-made.
Are there any ceramic artists you especially admire?
There’s Lucie Rie, a fellow Austrian whose timeless work gives me great inspiration; Rupert Spira, with his beautifully simple-but-elegant vessels; and my mentor and friend Chris Keenan, whose celadon work I love, to name just a few. The UK has great wealth in its history of studio pottery – you just have to visit the Fitzwilliam Museum for wonderful examples.
What's the reward of creating - and selling - your own ceramics? Is it a full-time enterprise?
I have been running a professional full-time business since 2011. Each pot someone chooses to buy to give to friends or to live with themselves fills me with pride, because I have designed and made each one. I am very happy the way my practice has grown, and I can see a future with further space and new projects.
Where do you work? Give us a visual.
I built my own workspace in our garden. It looks a bit like a skiing chalet painted sea green. It’s full of machinery like kilns and wheels, worktables, shelves and finished work.
And I can watch my garden change through the seasons while working. It is idyllic, but it’s also very physical work that goes beyond the 9-5. As a self-employed person, you can't count the hours; working evening and weekends is not uncommon. But I can't see myself doing anything else.
Prices range from £15 for small items to £1,500 for a statement piece. Katharina’s work can be found in 15 galleries across the country, including Cambridge Contemporary Crafts on the city’s Bene’t Street. She also opens her studio for Cambridge Open Studios each summer (camopenstudios.co.uk) and has an online store, too (katharinaklugceramics.com).
Pictures by Zuza Grubecka