Potter Kara Leigh Ford gives us a tour of her shed studio where we spot her ceramics inspired by the coast…
Rather than potting plants, Kara Leigh Ford’s garden shed is used for making clay pots instead. Set in her gorgeous back garden in a tiny village just outside Bath in Somerset, Kara’s shed looks more like a seaside beach hut than your common or garden shed, which matches the aesthetic of her gorgeous clay creations.
Kara, who has also just been shortlisted in the Mollie Make Handmade Awards for Best Start Up Business, says her little shed where she makes and creates is her “haven” and admits that she still has to pinch herself when she tells people that she’s a full-time potter after quitting the rat race two years ago.
We caught up with Kara to find out how she creates her modern yet rustic pottery at the bottom of her garden and why where she grew up inspires her work…
Hey Kara, can you take us for a tour of your shed?
Yes! I predominately work in a 6ft x 12ft studio shed at the bottom of my garden. This is where my wheel, kiln, glazes and tools are. I have a second, smaller shed where I keep my stock, packaging materials, spare glazes and clay. I call this my ‘clean shed’. I currently use our kitchen table as a packing station as there’s not enough room in either of my sheds. I have somewhat outgrown my studio since I began.
How long did it take you to renovate your shed?
I was very lucky as my studio was already built when we moved into this house. I only needed to cover the carpet with Lino (carpet and clay dust do not mix!) and move in my equipment, as previously I was working in our dining room. My husband gave my studio its lovely blue and yellow beach hut paint job as a surprise after I quit my job back in 2015.
How much time do you usually spend out in your sheds? Does the weather restrict how much you can work in them?
I go out to my shed first thing in the morning (normally still in my pyjamas) to check my work, see how things are drying and, if I have had a firing on, to check the temperature of my kiln. I’ll then go back in the house to answer any emails, post on social media and have some green tea. I have never successfully got internet out in my shed I must admit it’s probably better for my concentration. My shed is quite well insulated, so in the winter I only need to pop my oil heater on for an hour to warm it up. My kiln does a pretty good job of keeping it warm most of the time too. In fact in the summer it can get too hot and I have to open all the windows and the door to cool it down.
How do you store your materials?
I have to keep most of my clay outside. This isn’t ideal as in the summer it tends to dry out and in the winter it freezes. I bring in one or two bags to work with at a time. My glazes are in small Tupperware containers, like the ones you store cereal in. Most potters keep then in big buckets, but I just can’t afford the space. I have to make them up in smaller batches, storing them in their powder form in my clean shed.
Where does your love of ceramics come from?
I was a hobby potter for 10 years along side a career in marketing before I gave up my job in 2015 to do it full time. I’ve always loved creating and I did a degree in fine art, but I didn’t actually try clay until after I graduated. I did an evening class to keep my creativity flowing and I was hooked from the first touch. I love how you can turn ordinary mud into something beautiful and useful. It’s truly special to know people use my mugs every day.
What reaction do you get from people when they see where you work for the first time?
Everyone has been so encouraging and positive. It is a charming little space and the view isn’t bad either. When I tell them I work from my garden studio, people always smile broadly and say, “That must be lovely” and I can’t lie, it really is. It’s a dream come true. When I eventually upgrade my studio one of the criteria will be that it can’t be too far from home. Something in the same village would be ideal as well as a nice view. I could never work in a basement or somewhere without lots of light.
What would your dream workspace look like?
The dream is to one day build a large studio where I can have two kilns, a couple of wheels and a separate clean area where I can store my stock and pack up orders for shipping. I’d love to have a space big enough so I can teach too and be able to provide a space where others can play with clay – it’s such a beautiful way to relax and unwind. It’s a very mindful activity. Pottery is the new yoga! I do teach now, but I only have enough room to offer one-to-one.
What inspires you?
My work is influenced by the textures and colours of my favourite Devon beaches where I grew up. I have the happiest memories of playing in turquoise rock pools or jumping in and out of foamy waves. I choose colours and textures for my pots, which reflect those memories. All my pottery is thrown on my wheel or built by hand and individually glazed making each piece unique. I find being by the sea so inspiring. If I feel a little overwhelmed by everything or lacking in inspiration a quick trip to the seaside makes me feel reinvigorated. It’s almost as if seeing the sea resets something in my brain. I’ll often take a lot of photos of the changing seasons – the lichen on a stone, pebbles in the sand and colours of the sky and use them as a starting point for my next project.
What does making mean to you?
Making and creating is essential to my wellbeing. It sounds crazy, but I go to my shed to relax. If someone told me I would no longer be able to make pots that would pretty much be my life over – until I found another way of making, of course!