Meet the Makers: London Clay Collective

BY Taylor Rebhan

The ceramics industry has a history that dates back to 24,000 BC. It’s impressive to think how far the art form has come when viewing the pottery masterpieces of today. “There’s a certain immediacy to clay…it’s easy to make ceramic objects and sculptures, but developing the skills to make them well can be extremely difficult,” ceramicist Sophie Alda says. We sat down with Sophie, one of the founding members of Clay Collective, to hear what it’s like being a 21st century ceramicist.

Join us Wednesday, Oct. 12 from 7-9:30 p.m. at our London store for an evening of clay, craft and conversation. Create a ceramic mug under the guidance of London ceramicists from Clay Collective. Please RSVP, here.

Even if you can’t join us for the London workshop, check out our interview below. 


Describe your workspace in detail, what about it is inspiring to you?

Clay collective has a beautiful glass fronted workshop right next to Hackney Downs. The front of our space is a display and occasional shop area, and the rest is a working studio. Our walls are lined with shelves and we have a large communal work table in the middle which we share. It’s a space that is simultaneously very social and conducive to concentrated work, which can be easily converted to a teaching and sharing space.

What kind of special equipment do you use, and how has it changed your technique and craft?

Potter’s wheels, kilns, slab rollers, extruders, quite basic hand tools. Clay is a medium which is easily manipulated.


Did all 12 artists know each other before this collective was formed or how were they selected?

We started the group and space as a group of five people who knew each other to varying degrees. We did an open call and chose a group of equals who shared the same ideas of how a space should be run, whose work “clicked”, and who would create a balanced space usage pattern. We are a working group and functioning co-operative, we operate democratically, pay equal studio rates and own much of our equipment communally. The aim is that we all contribute to and benefit from being part of the collective. We all work with clay as part of wider practices and our skills compliment each other.


Why do you think collaboration is an important part of being an artist?

Collaboration is more important to some artists than others when it comes to their actual practice. However, collaboration in relation to shared spaces and equipment is an excellent way to spread and share costs and labor when working in expensive cities, a practice which is becoming more of a necessity as we face the increasing pace and spread of gentrification. The resulting community we form is also extremely valuable and a real focus of our practice at Clay Collective

Do you exhibit together?

Yes, a main focus of ours is to provide a platform for our work.


How does working with clay enrich the human spirit?

Whilst some of us work full time with clay, most of us work in different parts of the art sector in addition to our ceramic practice – there is a certain immediacy to clay, which I think we all appreciate. It’s easy to make ceramic objects and sculptures, but developing the skills to make them well can be extremely difficult. It keeps you coming back. There is almost no limit to what you can produce.


Are the clay properties different in the UK than in America? If so, what kind of geological attributes does European Earth have?

Wild clay is different between each bridge on a river, let alone from continent to continent. Commercial clays are mined and blended with impurities removed for consistency. All ceramicists and potters will have favorite clays, but I’m afraid data about their origin isn’t generally available.

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