Black Star Ceramics officially opened in May 2016 and has since gone on to sell hundreds of handmade pottery pieces. They aren’t just popular with people in the UK, but also ship products regularly to customers in New Zealand, Australia and America.
According to Ian, the “bright, modern and eye-catching glaze designs” are the reason that they have gained such a great reputation. “Our pieces are handmade from start to finish using traditional techniques such as hand throwing and slip casting. This means that our customers can come up with an idea and we turn them into bespoke pieces.”
Ian has worked in the ceramics industry for many years and first discovered pottery whilst studying 3D design at college. “The course was designed so that students work with a number of different mediums, such as wood and metal, but as soon as I found pottery that was it. I spent so long in the pottery studio that one of my lecturers actually forgot I was a student and thought I worked for the college!”
After finishing his education, Ian then went on to work for many years at companies such as Royal Doulton and Beswick. “I was lucky enough to work my way through many of the different jobs including mould maker, blocker and caser, fettler and figurine assembler, so gained a huge knowledge of many different processes. This meant that I could hit the ground running with Black Star Ceramics and quickly produce a wide range of products.”
Typically, each ceramic piece takes a minimum of 3-4 weeks to make but this can be longer depending on the size and scale of the project. Ian told us that; “there is a huge amount of effort and time invested to produce a finished product.”
“Throughout the process so much can go wrong. During the firing alone there is massive stress on the work as it expands and contracts in the heat. It can sometimes crack or even explode.”
“Day 1 is spent making the shape, day 2-3 is assembling and refining the shape. The following 7-10 days are spent drying and cleaning the work. It’s then placed into the kiln for 36 hours. The glazes are built up in multiple layers. Each layer must be dried for about an hour between layers. Many of our pieces have 8-15 separate layers of glaze so this alone can take days. Then it’s back in the kiln for a further 36 hours. If it survives everything that could go wrong, finally it emerges from the kiln as the finished piece.”
Out of all the products that Black Star Ceramics make, the most popular are the handmade yarn bowls, which are perfect for knitters, and illumination spheres, which are tealight holders used to add light to your home.
“My jumbo mugs and tea pots are also great sellers. One of the things that turns our customers into regular customers is the variety of items we make. A customer may start by buying a mug and then the following month a vase as a gift. They then go on to have a bespoke diner service made for them.”
We asked Ian where he gets inspiration for his next project and he said that “most of the shapes are inspired by nature or by the things I see when I travel but I often get inspiration from my customers. They usually start the conversation with them asking “can you make?” and quite often I say, “yes I can!””
An example of this is when a customer asked him to make his first yarn bowl. “After finding out what it was and listening to the issues she had with others being too small or too light, I came up with my own unique design. This is now one of my best-selling products.”
“The purpose of the object also inspires the shape of my design. I don’t want to just copy someone else’s design, instead I start from scratch. For example, if I’m making a mug I will think about how much liquid should it hold, how the rim fits to the lips as you drink and how it feels in your hands as you hold it. The whole experience is used to create my design. Only once I have a shape do I start to imagine what colour it will be.”
On the Black Star Ceramics website, it says that they support local businesses and source materials locally. We were interested to find out why this is so important and Ian told us that “local businesses are vital to the local economy.”
“Sourcing materials locally means that I can respond quickly to a bespoke request from a customer. The advice I receive by talking to the staff in the local suppliers is priceless. It also means I meet many other local potters and can network with other artists. Many of these encounters have resulted in new places to sell my work and even a radio interview.”
Another interesting thing that we noticed about Black Star Ceramics is that they let people share the experience of pottery making through Facebook live videos. “Thousands of people tune in each week to watch our Live pottery throwing and kiln openings on our Black Star Ceramics Facebook page.”
In the future, we can expect to see the company continue to grow and the addition of exciting new products. “I currently sell my work in 5 shops and galleries and would like to expand this to more. Pottery making is an endless learning experience. There are so many different techniques or glazes to experiment with. Whilst my pottery journey has already been 25 years long, there are so many things I want to try. I also plan give classes and teach pottery to the next generation of potters in the next 12-24 months.”
Black Star Ceramics regularly attend craft fairs and events. Our final question was why it’s so important to have insurance cover, like the policy that CraftCover provide. Ian told us; “it’s important that as a business we are insured against things that might happen. We see hundreds of customers each time we attend a market. Hopefully nothing will ever happen but at least we have the confidence that we are protected.”
Not only does it ensure that crafters are protected but many events organisers require you to have insurance. “At every event we attend, the organisers stipulate that we must have insurance before they will allow us to attend.”
CraftCover want to thank Ian from Black Star Ceramics for taking part in our Crafter in the Spotlight, we wish you all the best for the future!