Meet the Maker | Sue Ure July 01, 2014 11:00
British ceramicist Sue Ure works from her studio in South West France where she relocated in 1994. Her collection includes a range of tableware and vases with simple clean lines in a choice of soft or more vibrant colours. As well as her own collection Sue works on collections for specific projects. For her second collaboration with Tate Enterprises Sue has designed a collection to accompany the current exhibition Henri Matisse: The Cut Outs showing at Tate Modern until September 7th 2014.
We recently caught up with Sue and asked her a few questions to find out more about her work and influences...
When did you decide to become a potter?
I started learning how to throw when I started my Art A level and by the end of the course I knew I wanted to carry on – much against the wishes of my parents!
Where do you work from?
I work from home. My workshop is the former cowshed attached to the house and very fittingly, the veterinary inspection marked on the doors was the year I was born. Work has expanded into the house as well though. A vast amount of space required for cardboard boxes and bubblewrap, show exhibit furniture, show collections and office space.
Can you describe the processes involved in producing a piece and how long does it take to produce the finished piece?
If I’m making a shape I’ve already included in my repertoire, I’ll consult my notebook in which I’ll have noted the weight of clay required, what clay mix I’ve used and what size it needs to be wet. Then I’ll prepare the required ball size; the number of pieces I’ll throw in a day depends on the size and complexity (or not) of the shape. The larger the object, the less I’ll be able to make. 15 – 20 would be a minimum, but I rarely exceed 50 of anything, even small. Throwing is day one, the pieces will be returned to the wheel, either for a next thrown section if they are large pieces or for turning (i.e trimming away surplus clay to give a better form). This is usually a bit faster than the throwing stage. When the pieces are sufficiently dry, they can be biscuit fired and then glazed and fired again. This all sounds fairly rapid but in fact each firing takes 8 – 9 hours and 24 hours to cool down. It normally takes me 2 – 3 days to glaze enough pieces to fill my kiln. If drying conditions are good and I’m not producing only small pieces, I would expect to be able to have the finished object ready in 4 weeks.
Can you tell us a little about your glazes?
My palette of glazes is a very important factor in my work. I do as much testing and experimentation as I can, though when one is often rushing to fulfil orders, adding in tests is to add at least half a day’s work into the planning and that’s not always possible. At the moment, all my glazes colours rely on oxide additions, but I think I’ll have to use some commercial stains if I want to expand the colour choice. My desire to keep my glazes with a non-shiny surface makes obtaining certain colours more complicated. Glaze chemistry is a subject on its own and I wish I had a greater grasp of chemistry!
What is a typical day?
I spend far too much time on the computer! Answering enquiries, doing bills, packing boxes and taking photos all seem to take up a lot of time. However a typical day will start with checking e mails and then going into the workshop. I try and get paperwork out of the way in the morning – otherwise it just preys on my mind! I’ll often stay in the workshop until fairly late. I have a target for the day of things that need to be done. I don’t always achieve it, but it helps me structure my work.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your work?
That’s a hard question. A lot of the time one’s just absorbing stuff without necessarily consciously searching. It’s quite funny, for me the resurgence of mid-century design – it’s what I grew up with and the very best of it is very good indeed. I do like simplicity, strong shapes, clean lines. I do like cooling towers, wind turbines, um and plants! It was really great fun to be asked by the Tate to come up with some ideas for pieces for the Matisse exhibition. There you know what you’re drawing inspiration from!
Which other potters do you admire?
The list is very long for potters I admire. I was first drawn to ceramics by Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie, Shoji Hamada. At the same time I discovered Emmanuel Cooper, Richard Batterham, John Maltby and lots more. I don’t see enough other makers work as I visit the UK always in a hurry for trade fairs and family commitments. Linda Bloomfield, Emma Williams and Sara Moorhouse are just a few of many people whose work I’ve admired.
A selection of Sue’s tableware and vases are available from Oggetto, find them here.