Born in Norfolk, Florian Gadsby is a young potter who offers more than just beautifully crafted pieces. Everyday, he shares his passion by telling the story and process behind each of his works, giving his followers a true sneak peak into the life and craft of a potter. As we had the opportunity to sit down and dig a little deeper with Florian, we discovered that he is constantly striving for sensibility and functionality in his work, while balancing beauty and a sense of delicacy. Read on to discover his process.
While working as an apprentice with Lisa Hammond at Maze Hill Pottery, in Greenwich, London, Florian has accumulated a dedicated following on Instagram and has just launched his own website to display his beautiful creations (http://www.floriangadsby.com/). A simple glance at his work and process, you will recognize his devotion. Between all the countless tasks required of an apprentice – cleaning, organizing, throwing, firing – he somehow finds the time to sketch out his visions and transform them into reality. Here’s how.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Pottery has always been around me. My father is a collector of ceramics amongst many other things, so I grew up with pots around me everyday. I’m sure he is both surprised and proud that my passion for the craft grew to become my career.
While studying, I took the opportunity to do a work placement at Leach Pottery in St. Ives, assisting Jack Doherty and other production throwers. In 2012, I was successfully obtained a place on the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland’s Ceramics Skills & Design Course.
In 2014, I applied for a two year apprenticeship with renown English potter, Lisa Hammond, which I’m now currently about eighteen months into.
How long have you been working as a potter?
I’ve been working professionally for only about three years.
When and where did your journey begin? How did you end up at Maze Hill, and where were you before?
My first experiences with clay were in Kindergarten, and it’s lovely looking back at that moment. There was a clay deposit in the garden where we would dig up clay, mould it into native animal forms, and fire them alongside the bread we baked in a large outdoor wood-fired oven.
The school I attended was unusual in that there was a fully operational pottery. We went to classes here from a very early age, but wasn’t introduced to the wheel until about fourteen years old. I remember seeing my teacher, Caroline Hughes, move and form the clay with such ease – it looked unnatural. Shortly afterwards, I was hooked, trying my best to figure out how to centre the clay and throw basic shapes. As school progressed, I became more involved with pottery alongside other crafts, such as woodwork and metalwork. Pottery was the subject I enjoyed the most. I would spend all my extra time, even lunch-breaks and after school on the wheel, practicing.
Ceramic courses at universities in the United Kingdom all lacked one key principle I was after – how to throw and produce pottery proficiently.
I attended many open days of various colleges – but nothing drew me in. I decided to attend pottery shows throughout England and visit practicing potters in their studios to bend their ears about what, in their opinion, was the best route. Other than starting an apprenticeship, they all thought the best option was to apply to DCCoI Ceramic Skills and Design Course in Thomastown, Ireland – a course dedicated to teaching the fundamental and core aspects that go into running your own studio pottery. I obtained one of the only 12 spots offered every two years.
Lisa Hammond [of Maze Hill Pottery, in Greenwich, London] was one of those who pointed me in that direction. She worked in London, and I lived there, knowing that she regularly took on apprentices. I had that in mind, when I finished the course. She placed an ad in Ceramic Review, and I sent her an email the same day. During my final term in Ireland, Lisa asked if I would like to do a 2-year apprenticeship with her. This is where I am now. I help run the studio, produce part of the soda fired standard ware she sells, and I also get the chance to occasionally produce and fire my own work.
I really admire how you take the time and incredible effort to explain your process behind each of your posts. Is this something you’ve always done?
It isn’t something I planned on doing to the extent I do now by any means. Initially, my Instagram account (@floriangadsby) was a way of documenting my apprenticeship to show my family and friends what I was up to. As I began posting daily, my following started to build. I started to write about the processes behind the craft, describing in detail my thoughts on the subject and anything else that was on my mind regarding the photographs I posted. It’s now turned into me writing daily, because of the profound amount of interest people seem to have.
It’s a brilliant way to reflect on my daily activities, the philosophies behind making and interacting with all my incredibly devoted followers. I’m amazed and humbled that so many people find what I do inspiring. It was never my intent, but seeing the responses to my pots and photography spurs me on. It’s not only a pleasure to write, but answering all the questions and emails I receive and having opportunities to push ceramics as a craft is brilliant.
Pottery as a business isn’t one so easily established – especially alone. With the high costs of machinery, materials, and location, it can be really difficult. More than anything though, it’s getting your name and pots out there for people to see. By posting everyday on Instagram, this difficult process of becoming an established potter has become one that excites me. All the encouragement and emails I receive about my work makes the future seem so exciting and obtainable. I only have my followers to thank for that.
What does an average day look like for you?
It depends greatly on where we’re at during a making cycle and which shows are coming up. As an apprentice, my main focus is the work I produce for Maze Hill Pottery, with my own particular style taking a backseat some weeks.
My daily tasks include organizing and cleaning the studio, preparing all the clay used to throw the pots, and countless other jobs. We teach classes four nights a week, so keeping their work in good condition and reclaiming a steady supply of clay for them to use keeps me moving most of the morning.
Pots thrown the night before are left out to dry and are usually in a good state to handle, turn and finish at around lunchtime after they’ve been sitting outside in the wind all morning. The afternoons are spent throwing batches of work. If it’s a firing week, the days are spent glazing pots, preparing the large brick soda kilns outside, and carefully loading them. Firings take roughly thirty hours or so, so these weeks tend to be very long and tiring – especially over the winter months. At the end of most making cycles, we’ll attend one of many pottery shows, to sell the soda fired pots made at Maze Hill Pottery.
It’s hard work, but an excellent experience. It gives me a deep and thorough understanding of how a busy, functioning studio pottery is run. I can’t wait to open my own studio in the future.
How would you describe your work & aesthetic?
I’m interested in making functional ware, such as ceramic pens, inkwells, and water colour palettes. Drawing, painting, and design are very important to me. I use a series of subtle glazes that have a complex, crystalline structure to complement the simple forms. Most importantly, I aim for functional pieces, while keeping a delicate and quiet aesthetic. Craftsmanship is another principle aspect, the overall finish of pieces being of great importance.
What is your philosophy or concept behind your creations?
My focus has always been on creating objects that I could imagine myself living with, pots that have an individual use. The Japanese are far more in tune with this as it’s part of their culture to have pottery in the household, each piece having a specific use. Because of this I’ve always found their simplified, unfussy aesthetic far more appealing than over decorative work. I hope to convey a sense of this in my own pots.
Whites, blues, greens, greys and blacks are the earthy, geological sort of colours that I like to use. They relate back to where the materials used come from, more neutral tones. The glazes I use have quite a complex surface so I try to keep my colours simple so as not to distract from the form beneath.
Simply making pots that others find joy in using is such a gratifying experience. I don’t want to make loud, punchy work, pots with a political motive or symbolistic motifs. I want them to be purely simple, quiet and made to enhance the experiences of eating, drinking and creating.
Where or from whom do you find inspiration?
With such a vast amount of information online nowadys I’m constantly finding little pieces of inspiration here and there. Potters from around the world are using Instagram and various other sites to show their work, so simply trawling through photographs often leads to new ideas and concepts.
Working in a pottery with Lisa Hammond has also exposed me to new methods and techniques. Her years of experience have made her pottery production seem so fluid. We attend selling shows together and visit galleries and exhibitions occasionally so I’m constantly aware of what’s out there and meeting various contacts through her.
I’ve always been inspired by Japanese and Chinese ceramics. Some of the best examples are in the Victoria and Albert museum in London. One of the largest collections in the world. On the top floor is room after room of pottery, from every era imaginable and from all over the planet. It’s often void of people, and I find great pleasure pacing the galleries slowly and observing the countless pots.
Can you tell us about some of the tools, techniques, and methods you use in your work?
I use a mixture of different, high-iron, stoneware clay bodies and occasionally porcelain. It’s all thrown on the wheel using traditional tools, techniques and processes. The glazes I use are simple and mainly feldspathic, firing to soft whites, grays, blues and greens in a reduction atmosphere.
Do you face challenges in balancing creativity and sensibility? How do you meet that balance?
I think sensible is quite a good word to describe my pots, in terms of their intention being for functional use opposed to decorative. It is difficult being creative when the pots I make are relatively simple in appearance. I draw a lot, hundreds of little sketches of pots, cross-sections and grouped work. I’m not happy with 90% of it and it’s always the simple shapes that I come back to time and time again. Finding your own voice in ceramics is difficult, there are only so many possible combinations of glaze recipes and form in a functional sense before they come challenging to use easily. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut though, producing the same shapes over and over again. That’s why drawing or experimenting on the wheel from time to time is important to me. There is nothing wrong with repetition throwing and it is an incredible practice that improves practical ability greatly. But occasionally doing something new, or perhaps collaborating with a different craft will open up a range of new ideas.
Any works in particular you are most proud of, or have a great story behind?
Every now and then a really lovely pot emerges form the kiln, glazed in the same manner as hundreds of others, but there’s something about it that’s special. The flames and extreme heat that it’s come from have perhaps let the glaze melt in certain, peculiar way. Maybe it’s flashed from some residual copper in the kiln, or a streak of carbon trapping occurs gives the pot a whole new breath of life. For me, these pots are the ones worth making thousands for, even if they’re just one in a hundred. Difficult to let go of. Sometimes it’s a good idea to live with these pots for a while yourself before you do. I’m sure as the years go on there’ll be pots that do have a great story, but for now I’m happy enough to just carry on.
What makes me the most proud and humbled is when somebody tells me that they use one of my pots everyday for a meal, or that it’s their favourite piece to use. It’s such a strange feeling knowing that something made by my hands can bring such joy to someone. I’m eternally grateful to these people.
Any collaborations you’ve done in the past? Any you wish to do in the future?
I was involved with a collaborative project with the talented woodworker Alex Devol, (@woodwoven), for an exhibition at Goodhood in London last year. I, along with other potters supplied work to have individually made wooden objects for them. It was very exciting and the sort of project I’d like to be involved in again, perhaps with more input or the other way round.
My bowls were photographed with Nigel Slater’s marmalade recently for an article in the Observer Magazine, which was such a surprise and a real honour that I’m hugely thankful for. Again, projects like these relate back to the gratitude I feel when someone uses one of my pieces practically.
I haven’t been able to do as many collaborations as I would have liked to due to my workload as an apprentice, but it’s something in the future I’ll be doing far more actively. Especially collaborative work with other craftspeople from different realms. Pottery combined with wood, glass and metal in different ways is very appealing to me. My dad, (@toftmonkey), is an incredible spoon carver, so I’m sure there’ll be many father and son projects in the future.
What are some projects you are working on now that we can look forward to?
Setting up my own studio, website and producing my own work full-time should be something that’s happening relatively soon. This may make the next year rather busy, but once it’s done I’ll finally be where I want to and will be able to fulfill the many emails I receive requesting work. I have a number of people in mind who I’d love to do collaborative projects with and perhaps even shows.
5 things you couldn’t live without?
Clay, to make pots. Gravity, which allows centrifugal force to exist, making the throwing process possible. Electricity, to make my wheel spin and bisque firing a reality. Gas, the primary fuel for my kiln and my stove. Oxygen, to breathe and without which the flames necessary to heat my kiln would be nonexistent.