Nest: Behind the Mask with ceramics guru Clare Sutcliffe
Firstly, tell us about Cambrolino. . .
Cambrolino is the ceramics studio of designer and maker Clare Sutcliffe - that’s me. I create beautiful modern ceramics with personality and style intended to bring a smile to your day and be a joy to use. The name Cambrolino is made up of our family nickname for Cambridge (Cambro) and a word reflecting geometry and lines (Lino). I started the company in July 2018 and by September I’d had a message from Kettle’s Yard shop saying they would like to stock my work. It was a great start and now I’m on a roll.
Were you destined to take a creative path in life?
Definitely. I’ve been a maker since I was very young; I was always creating, drawing or inventing something in my spare time. I went to art college in Leeds and then on to study graphic design at university in Bath. I worked as a graphic designer for years before starting a charity that teaches children to code in after-school clubs – it’s called Code Club and we create games and websites. So design has always been very important to me.
How did you discover your talent for working clay - and what makes it your ideal medium?
My mum was a ceramicist when I was growing up. I used to sit with her while she worked and I would make little clay snails. She had a studio in the attic and a kiln in the cellar, so I’ve always felt confident around clay and the equipment. A couple of years ago, I then took up an evening class and grew in confidence from there as I learnt more and more.
I love working with clay. It’s just such a different material to the screens I spend a lot of my time working with - it’s so primal to use your hand to manipulate mud then use fire to form a finished item. I love the science behind it too, and recently spent a week learning how to make glazes from scratch.
What inspires your designs? Tell us a bit about your process.
I love looking at masks from around the world. I spend a lot of time in the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, sketching bits of masks to see how I can incorporate them into my designs.
I hand build all my work with slabs. First I build the basic form and then, while it’s drying and then in the kiln, I turn to my computer where I use a vector design programme to design the pattern that I’ll apply with glaze. When the piece is back from the kiln, I use thin washi tape from Japan to mask the neat lines required to create my designs before applying three to four layers of glaze for a solid finish.
I like to give the pieces with faces even more personality by giving them a name and writing little stories, which I post alongside a photo on Instagram (@Cambrolino).
What's trending in the world of ceramics? Is handmade work on the rise?
I see a lot of slip-casting work. I think it’s a great way of making work quickly, but it can sometimes feel like it’s made in a factory. What I like about handmade work is the little imperfections that can only be created by fingers!
I think the medium of clay itself is making a real comeback - there are so many new young artists and designers using clay in ways we’ve not seen before. It’s very exciting. A great book to check out on this is New Wave Clay by Tom Morris.
Are there any ceramic artists you especially admire?
I really love the work of Katharina Eichler from Germany, who hand-builds her work using different coloured clays layered in coils, sanding them after firing to create a really striking look. I bought one of her pieces last year and it takes pride of place in our bedroom.
Where do you work? Give us a visual.
I’m lucky enough to be able to share a studio with ceramic artist Paula Armstrong in north Cambridge. Paula teaches from the studio so it’s very well equipped and I benefit from Paula’s 20 years of experience in working with clay, too.
What’s the reward of creating - and selling - your own ceramics?
I also work with social impact start-ups, helping them to grow, so making ceramics is a part-time enterprise. It gives me a relaxing break from the digital world and the opportunity to express myself and make work I love.
It’s a great bonus that other people like it and want to buy it. I love the idea of my work going to live in other people’s homes to be useful to them and hopefully bring them a bit of joy each day.
Cambrolino ceramics are available from the shop at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge and Clare’s online store at cambrolino.com. Prices start at £20. Clare also takes commissions – email
firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.