Throwing shapes is a ceramicist’s lot

Design/Life with Adam Frew, ceramicist

What’s your background?

I first tried throwing and working in clay at Castlereagh Technical College in east Belfast. I left school when I was 16 and this was the first time I was really excited about something I was studying.

I then did a degree at Belfast Art College in Ceramics, taking a ‘year in industry’ — I went to Winchcombe Pottery in the Cotswolds first for three months, and then I went to work for Judith Kuitunen in Finland for 11 months. This taught me so much about production throwing and I got to know some amazing potters.

After Art College I did a two-year apprenticeship in Greenwich, London, with Lisa Hammond. This was the best training I could have had, learning the daily runnings of a pottery.

What’s a typical work day like for you?

Throwing shapes is a ceramicist’s lot

I don’t really have a typical day, but I have a variety of processes to go through for each piece.

If it’s a throwing day I will have prepared my clay the day before, get my wooden bats ready and sit down to the wheel to throw a batch of mugs.

Then those mugs will need to have handles applied, just at the right moment in the drying process. I may also decorate the pieces on that day. I tend to vary what I throw in a day to keep it interesting for me. The pieces will dry for several days, then be biscuit fired, then glazed.

A glazing day involves me mixing my glaze recipe from the raw materials, waxing my pots to keep areas unglazed and then dipping my pots into a vat of glaze. I will also pack the gas kiln on that day.

A kiln firing day is a long process of keeping an eye on the levels in my gas bottles, watching the temperature and the flame colour and looking through the spy hole at the temperature cones.

There are other necessary activities that aren’t making related, but are vital for my business, such as answering emails and posting on social media.

Tell us about a recent or a favourite design or project that you have worked on?

Throwing shapes is a ceramicist’s lot

I recently worked with Chef Paul Dalrymple of Sleepy Hollow Restaurant in Newtownabbey to design plates specific to the dishes he serves.

Part of the design process involved a delicious afternoon of sampling the menu of Sleepy Hollow on a variety of my plates. This project culminated in a ‘Plate Date’ event in January, a five-course menu all served on my plates.

Working in this very direct way, of specific food for a specific plate, was a new and exciting approach, bringing me even closer to the functional purpose of my work.

What’s your design style?

I’m really inspired by brush marks at the minute. I use a variety of brushes and tools to scratch marks into the surface.

Colour is very important. I always use a light turquoise celadon glaze so I carefully choose contrasting coloured slips.

What/Who inspires your work?

Drawing is still a big influence in my work, although the marks tend to be abstract. My surroundings also influence me, the colours of the wild north coast.

What’s your favourite trend at the moment (if you have any)?

I’m really interested in wood working at the minute. I love really simple and clever designs, like peg board shelving.

What’s your most treasured possession?

My van, it’s a VW Caddy and a lovely shade of teal.

Who would be your favourite designer, or style inspiration?

A favourite painter is Cy Twomby. I’ve always been a fan of Marimekko’s bold patterns.

What would be a dream project/design for you to work on?

I’d love to continue working with top Irish chefs to make plates specific to their restaurant.

Have you any design tips for us?

The best research I do for my designs is actually using my pots.

Throwing shapes is a ceramicist’s lot




Adam Frew is one of 13 home and giftware designers whose products will feature in a six-week pop-up shop in Brown Thomas, Grafton St, Dublin, arranged in collaboration with the Design & Crafts Council Ireland (DCCoI). It launches on Tuesday, July 4, and runs until August 19.


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