By Kate Marsden
One of my favourite places to sell my work, and to go shopping, is Farnham Maltings in Surrey. Back in the autumn I was taking part in their annual Festival of Crafts when I met potter Justine Jenner. Justine’s colourful work really caught my eye (yes the yellow was my favourite!) and we chatted about the campaign (along with how much I needed a yellow pot…). So this week we’re heading down to Hampshire to find out more about Justine and her long term love affair with clay…
Tell us a little about you. What do you do?
Living in the heart of the South Downs National Park in Hampshire, I’m a potter who designs and makes contemporary, earthenware tableware. Throwing pots on the wheel is my favourite part of the creative process.
At the tender age of 14 I fell in love with Dartington Pottery and was fortunate to do an 18 month apprenticeship with them after university. Having then worked for a lustre ware potter in Berkshire I moved to Rome and made Majolica ware. Then children arrived. 14 years went by bringing up 3 children before I returned to pottery and established my small business, 6 years ago, in what was once called the ‘garage’ at the top of the garden!
What does a typical day involve?
A typical day involves dashing out the door as soon as my youngest has trudged to the school bus stop so that I can have a quick walk, wake up and catch up with a friend before getting in to the studio. There is always an unrealistic list of tasks to be done each week: emails, accounts, admin, social media posts and marketing, applying for fairs, following up new sales & workshop enquiries, packing and posting pots to galleries, photographing finished work, updating my website, workshop & equipment maintenance (lots of clearing and cleaning up!), meeting with other artists and makers, teaching workshops and, most importantly, MAKING POTS. The latter can involve 2-3 days of intense throwing followed by turning (trimming) the thrown pots, making and adding handles where necessary and, once fired, glazing. All these activities have sub-activities that make them possible: wedging, preparing and weighing clay, making glazes, waxing the bottom of pots, packing and unpacking kilns, sanding the finished bottoms of pots, recycling clay and (did I mention?) CLEARING UP AND CLEANING.
Somewhere in the midst of this to do list, I have to make sure I put aside time to be creative and experiment with new designs and glaze finishes. This is easier said than done.
Where do you work? What is your studio space like? What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
As mentioned previously, I am very fortunate to have a garage for my workshop. It’s a basic, single breeze block construction with an uneven, rubble-concrete floor that used to drip condensation from the roof in the winter, which is not ideal for pottery. I know, get the violins out. However, an insulated roof and a wood burner have transformed it in to a cosy, fairly sound proof, workable space. So many potters start out in cramped, cold, undesirable spaces but will put up with a lot of discomfort in order to make pots.
When not at work, and aside from family life, I love singing. I joined a local community choir last year after listening to a Radio 4 programme about the decline in communal singing. It is such a joyful activity and a good mental as well as physical work out.
Going to the theatre to see plays or musicals is also one of my favourite things to do, as well as walking – up mountains, along the coast or through local heath and woodland. Don’t ask me how this happened but I’m also an avid reader, on the QT, of the subject of quantum physics. Do I understand it? Not really, but it’s fascinating.
What do you consider to be the main challenges facing designer makers at the moment?
It seems that craft is experiencing a resurgence of interest, both from potential makers, buyers, shops and galleries. This is in large part to both a movement which rejects mass, disposable consumerism – ‘peak stuff’ as the founder of IKEA said - and the advances in the popularity and reach of social media, particularly Instagram, which is a fantastic marketing, advertising and selling tool for small creative businesses. However, challenges still exist for makers, mainly in the sheer affordability of making any kind of living from art or craft. House prices and the rental market are largely unaffordable, never mind having access to an affordable workshop space. I would imagine that the majority of artisans supplement their income with extra jobs, which, for example, may include teaching, or are lucky enough to be supported by a partner’s income or financial help from family.
What ambitions do you have for your business over the next few years?
You’ve caught me at a strange point to talk of future ambitions as I never thought I would have achieved the business I’ve built so far, so soon. I’m definitely in a period of consolidation, maintaining the level of business and making of the past year. I would dearly like to make better use of the shop on my website, which requires a good set of stock photography and setting aside time to keep it updated. I could also do with getting out more to meet and encourage/be encouraged and inspired by other potters and makers. I am working towards applying for a ceramics show, rather than mixed craft, and maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to show my work abroad.
Do you have any tips for fellow designer makers/small business owners who are reading this and may be just starting out?
Be confident in what you’re making. It’s too easy to contrast and compare in this age of social media.
Get your pricing right from the start (I didn’t) – the Design Trust has a great step by step piece about pricing.
If you’re not confident to go in at the deep end and show your work at national, prestigious fairs then go low key and local. I started off at school, charity and Christmas fairs. I learnt a lot about display, interacting with customers, pricing and making to a deadline.
Don’t be afraid to approach galleries with your work. Do a bit of research first so you can say why you think your work might fit well there.
When your expertise runs out, it’s worth paying an expert. This is always tricky as it is so hard to part with your hard earned profit, but it pays for itself, believe me. Having occasional marketing help has been fantastic for me. I’m about to use a professional photographer for some stock imagery after years of doing it myself.
Please share any favourite independent shops/galleries and tell us why you like them.
A L’Etage 2 - Owned by jewellery designer, Tine Bladbjerg, this shop sits at the top of the hill in Crystal Palace with the most amazing view of the City of London skyline. It is packed with high quality ceramics, prints, paintings & jewellery, all selected by Tine whose exuberant enthusiasm for the work she selects and her interest and care of the makers are exemplary.
Handmade Happiness - a local art & craft shop in Petersfield, Hampshire that is a tiny jewel, dedicated to the promotion of all that is handmade. Jenny Stacy, the owner, was the first business woman to promote my work and encouraged me to aim higher.
Brook Gallery - A very well-established print gallery in Budleigh Salterton, Devon, that I first came across when attending the town’s annual literary festival. The gallery window is used to display ceramics from a wide variety of styles and makers. It is both thrilling and humbling to have work on display there as you may be lucky enough to have it placed next to a Mike Dodd or Tina Vlassopulos pot with a Henry Moore print on the wall in the background.
VK Gallery - Established in St. Ives, Cambridgeshire in 2014. I particularly like the variety of contemporary ceramics on display and the juxtaposition of some of the work with the paintings. Well worth a visit.
The BRILLIANT aspect of all these galleries and shops is that they sell cards and small, affordable items by designers and makers as well as more expensive pieces.
Had you realised the Just A Card campaign message suggests cards as an example of a small purchase - we're about encouraging all sales as they keep businesses afloat?
I realised that the Just a Card campaign was about more than just the promotion of buying cards once I looked at the website and read Sarah Hamilton’s (founder of Just a Card campaign) statement. The message is so obvious and simple but Sarah has galvanised us all under the banner of her campaign.
How important is the Just A Card campaign message to you and your business?
The message of supporting artisan makers, independent shops and galleries by buying small, affordable work chimes well with my business. I have a range of Tiny Two-Tone jugs that are £18 each and are very popular, as people who like my work, but can’t afford the larger higher priced items, still feel able to afford the jug and take home something special that they can use every day.
Where did you hear about the campaign and which Social Media platforms do you use most frequently? What do you think people can do to support Just A Card, and how will you be doing so?
I first saw the campaign under a hashtag on a potter’s Instagram account. Once I saw the logo I started recognising it on other creative’s Instagram accounts, display stands at fairs. It takes time for new movements and campaigns to sink in to the consciousness and I realise how vital it is to keep plugging the cause.
To this end I will start including #justacard at the end of my Instagram posts and, after I’ve written this, I’m off to the Just a Card website to buy a badge, a car window sticker, download the poster for my workshop and fair stand, and copy the logo on to my website. It’s a start.