Maker Profile - Clara Castner

Hi! I’m Clara and I’m a ceramicist. My workshop is at my lovely fiancé’s house down in Kent and that is where the making happens.

I’ve been making since I was little. My mother used to make some of my clothes and I have always been fascinated with sewing. As I grew up, it was always textiles that fascinated me: embroidery, patchwork and quilting, dyeing my own fabric. This was always as a hobby, with the “day job” being a legal secretary. I did some City & Guilds certificates and wanted to go on to study at a higher level, so took an Art & Design Diploma at the City Lit in London. I was convinced I would study fine art textiles. However, an amazing tutor at City Lit, Robert Cooper, introduced me to clay and that was it, I was hooked. I was lucky enough to be accepted into the BA (Hons) Ceramic Design course at Central St Martins, and graduated from there in 2013.

It took a while to find my feet after university and I went back to the drawing board in 2015 and looked at all the things I love: colour, texture, everything floral. I had done some floristry certificates and started to look at vessels to compliment flowers. And so, the vases came into being.  

Each piece is made of slip cast porcelain. What that means is, I use a liquid clay that looks remarkly like white chocolate! This liquid clay is poured into a plaster mould, left in the mould for some time, and then the excess is poured out. You are left with what is called a cast inside the mould. The cast is removed from the mould and, at this point, it is very fragile. It is left to dry a little, so that it can be handled safely. I then carve the individual markings into each vase. The vases are then put into the kiln for their first firing. Once they are fired, they are taken out, checked over to make sure everything went okay in the first firing, and given a light sanding. They are then glazed, which gives the glassy finish, and then refired, this time to a high temperature of anything between 1260º and 1290º, which gives the porcelain that lovely satin feel.

It has such a beautiful texture if the clay is left unglazed, a cool satin feel and it’s white, which means it really allows the glaze to pop on the white background.

Inspiration is everywhere, but I do tend to take mine from the natural world. I let people see the patterns themselves, but I must say its lovely when someone says “oh this reminds me of silver birch” when that is exactly what inspired the carvings. I love bark, and lichen and rock, which must hark back to my A Level in Geology!

As for colours, I have this mantra: “everything goes with green”! You only have to look at nature, there are so many different coloured flowers and they all go with green. The idea with the vases is that they can compliment the stems of the flowers they hold, and elongate the flower. I do, however, have plans to introduce some more colours so, as they say, watch this space!

I think I have found my favourite flower, but it seems to change with what’s in season! I think my absolute favourites would be tulips and sunflowers. I do think I’d like to try making one of the stacked tulip vessels that were so in vogue in the height of the tulip mania, but that’s a very long term project (and I’d need a much bigger kiln!).  

My workspace, until recently, has been the kitchen and the patio. However, I now have my own room in which to work - a bedroom that has been converted into a studio. It's only little but it's nice to be able to leave work out to dry and not have little paw prints from our very inquisitive cat! Come the spring weather though, I do like working outside so you will probably find me outside working again!

I couldn’t live without wifi in the studio! It can be a lonely business working away in your own space by yourself, and its great that you can Whatsapp a picture to your best friend and ask for a critique, or share what you’re doing on social media for that little boost.  

Moving forward my plan is to have a different style of vase for each type of flower, in three sizes of each, all based on a round footprint. A new shape is already in development and will be launched later this year. After that, I start on square footprints…  I am also considering making some wider low vessels that can either be used for flower arranging or serving food.

The great thing about the vases I make is, they look fabulous in groups, but they also work singly. I tend to have just one in a shelf, and then the mantelpiece will have three or four grouped together. I will pick one shape, or one colour to unify them, and have just a few stems in each one.

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