KATIE ROB­BINS

The Ce­ramic Mag­pie shares how she went from PR guru to full time de­signer-maker from her gar­den stu­dio in Birm­ing­ham

Mollie Makes - - In­tro­duc­ing - Words: HOLLY JOHN­SON Pho­to­graphs: RACHAEL SMITH

Katie is one of those peo­ple who makes you ques­tion what you spend your days do­ing. Hav­ing stud­ied Euro­pean Pol­i­tics, French and Ital­ian at uni­ver­sity she went on to work in mar­ket­ing for 10 years, dur­ing which time she also took night cour­ses, trav­elled the world, and be­came a capoeira and con­tem­po­rary dance cham­pion. Oh, and some­where along the way she had two chil­dren, too. You have to ques­tion what’s ac­tu­ally left on her bucket list!

Katie’s love of ce­ram­ics be­gan in school when she stud­ied A Level art, and cre­ated some hand-built ar­chi­tec­tural pieces. “They couldn’t be fur­ther from what I do now!” she laughs. These days, her work is much more freeform – pretty pas­tel-glazed bud vases, sea foam ves­sels in­spired by the ocean, and hang­ing planters held in place by twisted strings of beaded macramé.

These cov­etable pieces have earned Katie an ad­mirably large In­sta fol­low­ing, as well as col­lab­o­ra­tions with on­line stores and a nat­u­ral beauty brand. We met up at her leafy gar­den stu­dio to talk about her love of learn­ing and na­ture. De­scribe your style in a few words. Con­tem­po­rary, pretty and sim­ple. I cre­ate na­ture-in­spired ves­sels, which make homes for small plants, flow­ers and knick-knacks. Tell us about your ce­ram­ics jour­ney. I’d been in­ter­ested in ce­ram­ics since school, but it was only af­ter hav­ing chil­dren and leav­ing my mar­ket­ing and PR role that I started to spe­cialise. About five years ago I be­gan slip-cast­ing in porce­lain, although now I’m try­ing to grow my ex­per­tise in throw­ing on the wheel with porce­lain. What’s a typ­i­cal work­ing day like? It starts with me check­ing into so­cial me­dia be­fore the school run. When I get back, it varies de­pend­ing on what needs do­ing next. There are days when I’ll throw all day, oth­ers when I turn the shapes, and days when I have to sand down and glaze. Some­times I need to do pho­tog­ra­phy, source props, buy ma­te­ri­als, meet new sup­pli­ers, write blog posts or pre­pare for mar­kets. My weeks tend to be quite var­ied! How do you bal­ance work­ing cre­atively with the de­mands of fam­ily life? Now the chil­dren are older – aged nine and 11 – they don’t re­quire con­stantly look­ing

af­ter like they did when they were young, but they still need taxi-ing to their clubs and ac­tiv­i­ties in the evenings. We keep meals as strict fam­ily time, and I turn down a lot of week­end mar­kets as I’d rather keep the week­ends sa­cred for my fam­ily and use my e orts to sell on­line in­stead. Have there been any strug­gles in get­ting your busi­ness o the ground? I think one of the big­gest is find­ing your mar­ket. It can be easy to sell to friends and fam­ily, but get­ting be­yond this point takes ded­i­ca­tion and e ort. Once you’ve es­tab­lished a point of di er­en­ti­a­tion, it’s eas­ier to mar­ket your­self to a niche. Early on I de­cided I wanted to pro­vide ves­sels for flow­ers and plants. I loved mak­ing hang­ing planters and these proved pop­u­lar with other artists – I did a cou­ple of swaps with in­ter­na­tional artists, which re­ally helped build my In­sta­gram fol­low­ing. Be­cause of my back­ground in mar­ket­ing, I re­alised In­sta­gram was a good plat­form for me to grow my au­di­ence. I’m quite so­cia­ble and loved the sense of com­mu­nity it o ered.

“I cre­ate na­turein­spired ves­sels, which make homes for small plants.”

Was there any­thing else that helped you to grow your brand? Mak­ing sure I meet like-minded peo­ple in per­son has also been im­por­tant to me; it makes mar­ket­ing your­self more fun when you’re just chat­ting with your mates about your work. I also made the de­ci­sion early on that good pho­tog­ra­phy is key to hav­ing a good brand and point of di er­ence. I took a Make­light pho­tog­ra­phy course about two years ago and chose to be­come a mem­ber re­cently, which has given me the ben­e­fits of a sup­port­ive com­mu­nity. How did you hone your craft? I’m al­ways learn­ing. I try to work in a shared clay com­mu­nity space and al­ways pick up tips from fel­low pot­ters. YouTube is great, and I’ve planned a trip to the Tor­tus Stu­dio in Copen­hagen, where owner and thrower Eric Lan­don is run­ning work­shops us­ing stoneware and porce­lain clay. Share the most im­por­tant busi­ness les­son you’ve learnt. One of the key things I’ve learnt is a throw­back from a mar­ket­ing diploma I took, which high­lighted the im­por­tance of de­light­ing your cus­tomers. If you make the buy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence a pos­i­tive one, peo­ple will re­turn. I’ve taken great care on my brand ex­pe­ri­ence. When I send out an or­der, I make sure it’s pre­sented in a way that I’d find ex­cit­ing to open. I

al­ways in­clude a thank you card too. I think peo­ple wel­come these per­sonal touches which re­mind them they’ve bought from an in­de­pen­dent busi­ness rather than a cor­po­rate iden­tity. Also, your cus­tomers can be­come your best mar­ke­teers, and I al­ways en­cour­age peo­ple to share what they’ve bought on so­cial me­dia. What’s helped you achieve your goals? Hard work, time and pa­tience. Some­times we’re our own worst critic, but it’s good to eval­u­ate what you’re mak­ing and the di­rec­tion you’re go­ing in. I also strongly be­lieve that sur­round­ing your­self with cre­ative peo­ple is key. I wouldn’t have started my busi­ness with­out the gen­tle en­cour­age­ment of my friend Sarah; my pho­tog­ra­pher friend Iza Kor­sak helped me with my first web­site images and took some lovely portrait shots; and my pot­tery buddy Hol­i­day’s ad­vice on glazes was in­valu­able to me. And, none of this would have been pos­si­ble with­out the sup­port of my life­long part­ner, who en­cour­aged me to fo­cus on mak­ing my dream a re­al­ity.

“I strongly be­lieve sur­round­ing your­self with cre­ative peo­ple is key.”

Can you de­scribe your dream project? It would be lovely to make a back­drop of planters, filled with green plants and pink blooms, to be dis­played in a ho­tel lobby or posh Lon­don restau­rant. I’ve also ex­per­i­mented with pierc­ing and pat­tern, so I’d love to make a porce­lain light which casts the most beau­ti­ful pat­terns. What are you cur­rently work­ing on? I’m ful­fill­ing or­ders – beakers and bowls for Lewes Map Store, and in­cense hold­ers for Hon­est Skin­care. I’m also about to do a fun col­lab­o­ra­tion with Sue from A Pe­tal Un­folds – she’s made an exquisite pa­per blos­som which I’ve teamed with a bud vase. Last month I started a new hash­tag on In­sta­gram – #cre­atein­spring – and we’re go­ing to launch a photo chal­lenge for peo­ple to win ‘spring in a bot­tle’. I’m also ex­tend­ing my range of bud vases and am play­ing with spring colours: blush pink, sky blue and mint green. Fi­nally, what’s the best piece of cre­ative ad­vice you’ve ever been given? My friend Emma Hardicker once told me: “Don’t com­pare your be­gin­ning to some­one else’s mid­dle.” It can be hard, es­pe­cially at the be­gin­ning, to see how your busi­ness will evolve and grow, but build­ing up a strong cus­tomer base is in­valu­able.

Learn­ing and grow­ing with…

02 01 03

01 col­lec­tion Katie’s own of ce­ram­ics, in­clud­ing test pieces and gifts, sits along­side her seashore finds. 02 Plain white bisque beakers and mini bowls are lined up on a shelf, ready to be fired. 03 Na­ture was the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind this strik­ing two-tone sky blue and grey plant pot.

01 mar­bled pots and frame the Pas­tel gar­den. the bud view vases of 02 Katie turns a new bowl on the wheel in her stu­dio. 03 This col­lec­tion of mini ce­ramic stamps is used to add tex­ture to new pieces.

02 01 03

01 Fresh f low­ers and fo­liage pro­vide colour and in­spi­ra­tion to Katie’s workspace. 02 This el­e­gant spring bud vase de­sign has been treated to a mint green glaze. 03 Katie’s test pieces are used to ex­per­i­ment with tex­ture and colour.

01 This handy peg­board is used for stor­ing ce­ram­ics tools, in­clud­ing a tex­tured rolling pin. 02 Not ev­ery piece is a suc­cess, but ‘fail­ures’, as Katie calls them, make beau­ti­ful shelf fod­der. 01

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