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