Spotlight On:

Ashes & Oak

If you’re looking for ways to ways to add character your home, we’ve got the perfect craft business for you to meet! Ashes & Oak is a creator of ceramics and wood turned gifts, as well as delving into pastel drawing and clay therapy.

For this month’s Crafter in the Spotlight, we were lucky enough to get to speak to the woman behind Ashes & Oak, Jo Slesser.

Whilst working as a full-time primary school teacher, Jo saw the benefits of her students working with clay which is when she decided to use her skills in ceramics to help people who were suffering with poor mental well-being.

“Working full-time with ceramics also meant I was able to spend more time on creating larger sculptures of animals.”

“The wood turning is undertaken by my husband and son alongside work and school and they create a wide range of things from delicate ornamental pieces to large chunky resin and wood bowls and traditional wooden toy sets.”

On their Facebook page, Ashes & Oak describe themselves as a “small business producing unique creations using the beauty of nature.”

Jo told us that they choose to use nature in their work because they are “extremely lucky to be living in a small rural village in Lincolnshire and we are surrounded by beautiful countryside.”

“We also want to be as ecologically friendly as possible, so all our materials come from ‘natural’ sources.”

“The wood we use is from sustainable English varieties and our clay is sourced locally and all waste is reclaimed.”

“We are ‘unique’ because everything is handmade, and nothing is repeated entirely the same.”

If you head over to their Etsy shop, you will see that they stock a range of items including bowls, plates, sculptures, vases and pastel drawings.

The inspiration for their products “comes from the world around us.”

“Ceramic sculptures range from the hares running around the farmland around us to the majestic elephants of the African forests.”

“I like my functional pottery to have something unique about it, which is why we are developing a range of kitchen pots with a signature hare featuring somewhere.”

“The wooden bowls often find their own flow depending on the type and grain of the wood being used.”

“My pastel drawings are made from photographs that have been taken on our journeys around the UK.”

We asked Jo what her favourite thing to make is and she told us: “I love making my sculptures, whether they are the small palm size hares or the bigger pieces.”

“I am always amazed at how the clay behaves and becomes the animal I want it to be. I sometimes think my hands know more than my brain!”

“Of all the animals I love making it’s the elephants that really bring a satisfied smile to my face.”

Ashes & Oak also experiment with Raku pieces, which for those that aren’t familiar, “is a traditional method of firing ceramics that has its roots in Japanese ceramics.”

“In our conventional firings we place glazed pieces in an electric kiln that has been programmed to progress through the temperatures to peak at around 1100 degrees centigrade and slowly come back down again.”

“But in Raku we place glazed pieces in a homemade kiln made from an incinerator bin lined with ceramic fibre and use a gas burner to increase the temperature inside to around 1000 degrees C.”

“Once it has remained at this temperature for around 20 minutes, we remove the burner and very carefully remove the piece and place it in a hole in the ground lined with organic matter such as wood shavings, bark, berries, leaves etc.”

“This ignites and then we cover it with a slab which creates a reduction chamber where amazing things happen to the surface of the pots.”

“Pieces are left in the ground for around 30 minutes and then removed, plunged into cold water and then the excess carbon is scrubbed away.”

“This process creates fantastic finishes to the pots and you really never know how the finished piece is going to look.”

Ashes & Oak are sometimes asked to make various sculptures, such as pet dogs and cats, and “fortunately, nothing too exotic yet!”

As well as making beautiful ceramics they also deliver ‘Make it 2 Break It’ clay therapy programs which are designed to improve mental well-being.

When asked why she thinks crafting helps with this, Jo said: “At Ashes & Oak we believe strongly in the calming nature of creating with clay.”

“Looking back over the many years we have worked with clay it is easy to see how it has been a ‘go to’ during the difficult times in life.”

“Many of the sculptures produced in our studio have naturally developed into their final finish through the relaxation of the body and mind once work begins.”

“There is a huge amount of research that proves creativity helps to improve mental well-being. The recent large-scale study conducted by BBC Arts in conjunction with Dr Daisy Fancourt of UCL is the first study to show the cognition strategies used by the brain to regulate emotions when being creative.”

“They found that benefits can be seen from a single engagement in creativity, but also found cumulative benefits from regular participation.”

“Being creative and engaging in a new activity has three benefits to our mental health: It provides distraction from the stress of our daily lives, gives us time to process problems and create a plan going forward, and also Increases self-esteem and confidence through self-development.”

Outside of her craft business and therapy classes, Jo also loves photography and reading when she finds the time. “My husband enjoys clay pigeon shooting too!”

“In reality any spare time we have we spend together as a family, generally exploring the next craft we are going to try.”

In the future, we can expect to see the ‘Make it 2 Break It’ programmes delivered in schools and businesses.

“Beyond that I would like us to produce a range of pieces that combine ceramics and wood.”

Rounding up the fantastic interview, we had one final question for Jo… About insurance!

We asked why insurance is so important for crafters to have and Jo told us: “Insurance is very important to ensure that everyone is looked after.”

“In running a good business both ourselves and our customers need to feel 100% covered.”

“We would hope that things won’t go wrong, but it’s best to be prepared for every eventuality.”