Ceramicist Little Birdy on how playing with clay is like therapy and how Instagram has helped her build her business in the way she wants
Bristol-based ceramicist Little Birdy is a bit a craft enigma. Hiding away in her studio making wonderfully unique and interesting pottery pieces, Little Birdy prefers to keep her identity a secret and let her makes do the talking.
Splitting her time working alongside other makers and artists at Maze Ceramics Studios and her cat-friendly garden studio at home, she confesses that to the untrained eye her making may look slightly chaotic, but the results are stunning. We meet up with Little Birdy to find out why she thinks “squidging clay and scribbling” is a therapeutic way to spend your day…
Why do you like working with ceramics and how did you learn?
I first tried ceramics at college when I was 18 and I found it very therapeutic and relaxing. There’s something gratifying about squeezing clay between your fingers and getting messy! It was only when I started thinking about making to sell a few years back that I became more serious about it. I mainly learnt through trial and error, although I’ve been lucky that I seem to have a natural ability with working in 3D. There’s something really satisfying and relaxing about letting my hands do the ‘sculptural thinking’ while I let my mind have a wander. Unfortunately I’ve never mastered using a wheel to throw pots – the few times I tried I ended up with strange abstract shapes that were no use to man or beast!
Describe your workspace and why it works for you?
In my garden studio I have a large drawer trolley with large tools and moulds and a large storage tin, which is full of bags of clay. I have all my glazes on the shelves behind me along with work in its various stages of drying (and a massive 1980s ghetto blaster I bought recently for tunes!). My desk is where are all my sculpting tools, spray bottles and wire racks are kept and on the floor is a cat bed made from an old suitcase and a ‘cat wigwam’ for my little feline friends who are a dreadful distraction!
Can you explain the process you use when coming up with new designs?
Some days I sketch something out first, but others I have no idea what I’m making until it’s done. The other day I had some clay in my hand that started out as a cat mermaid figurine, then turned into an oyster shell, then a bowl, before finally ending up as a peculiar little jug without a handle that looked like some sort of bird pig hybrid! Illustration is a more stressful process because I’m such a technophobe. It’s normal for me to draw and redraw a design 60 times then go back to the very first sketch!
What’s the first thing you ever made?
I remember making a paper television when I was six. I drew ‘film reels’ that I would pull through the screen in a very unconvincing way! The first ceramic thing I made (after the obligatory coil and pinch pot) was a life size trout that was covered in colourful glazes.
Why is Instagram so important to you?
For me it’s been the best social media outlet for raising awareness of my work and helped connect me to customers. Because it’s so visual and uncomplicated people seem to engage with artists creative output more easily. I used to be on all the social media sites, but this year I decided to stop spreading myself so thinly and put my all my energy into Instagram. I’m really pleased that I did as so many opportunities have come my way and I have more time for creating.
You’ve collaborated with Toby I Like Cats, but who would be your next dream collaboration?
My collaboration with Toby was meant to be a one off, but it’s been so popular we’ve carried on doing it a few times a year. I’d love to collaborate with printmakers Louise Lockhart and Sarah Young and textile artist Lizzie Needles too.
What’s your favourite thing to make and why?
At the moment it’s probably animal head wall planters or perhaps Narwhals, but it changes because I’m always making new things!
What’s next for Little Birdy?
I’ve been having a much needed break from producing for shops and customers this year, so that I could get my home and life in order to help me achieve a better work and life balance. I’m planning on rebranding with a new name that better reflects my work in the new year. Before that there will definitely be some pre Christmas making (hopefully including some collaborative cats with Toby) and I have an exciting project in the pipeline, which if it happens will mean that I’ll be able to tick off one of my life goals!
What does making mean to you?
Not to sound too dramatic, but it’s a bit like breathing – I couldn’t imagine it not being part of my everyday experience. I have so many ideas that if I didn’t let some of it out, my head would pop like a piñata!