What attracted you to glass blowing?
I think it looked completely magical and mysterious and really enticing.

And how did you get into glass blowing?
I was in my early-to-mid 30s then, so I call myself a late bloomer! I was living near a school that had an open day and showed up in the afternoon and was offered the chance to have a go at glass making. I gathered a small bit of glass from the furnace, probably about the size of a golf ball and blew a very, very small bubble with a great deal of effort and I was completely hooked.

What were the early days of your glass blowing career like?
Natascha and I met each other at that same school where I first tried glass making. It was a few years later and Natascha was attending a summer workshop. I just dropped in to see who was there. She had just finished college at Farnham, I think we were both completely taken with glass making. We didn’t have any experience really and so each of us got jobs as assistants at different glass blowing studios. The earliest years of glass making were spent apart, just gaining experience. And after three years we set up on our own. Natascha had been making fashion glass rings for a client in Japan in her spare time. She had so much work on that she could quit her job and I started assisting her full time to make these rings. Slowly, I started making blown glass objects as well.

How did you come to have your own studio?
For a very long time, we hired studio time at a number of different studios in and around London. We would work three or four days a week, very often out in Billericay. We wanted to be glass makers but we didn’t have a clientele. I applied for a couple of different art festivals in the US, over the summer. We just thought, well let’s just try one. We went over to the US and hired studio time to make work for this particular festival. At the end of three days, we had had a great show and we thought, gosh we can make money doing this!

Later that year I participated in the Chelsea Crafts Fair, as it was known then. I was then offered a place to exhibit at a commercial trade fair in the US – our very first trade fair. We had one of the best commercial shows we have ever had. We got an order a few weeks after the show from a retailer in Manhattan that has some shops here in London. It took Natascha and I three months to complete the order. That was the start of our serious endeavour together at creating a studio. Slowly, slowly we built our clientele, and reached the point where hiring studio time at other studios was too difficult so we opened our own glass blowing studio in early 2000.

What inspires your work?
The main thing that inspires my work is marks made in snow. I grew up in Minnesota – very cold in the winter – and in my memory I have windswept leafless shrubs, the light striations across wind-blown snow and also the marks that shrubs scratch into the snow. Also the marks left by flood waters on sand bars are the inspiration behind a lot of the textures I use in my work. In terms of the colour palette I find arid landscapes really, really exciting and also times of the year – early September – or times of the day – early morning or late afternoon when the light is very full.

Interview-Michael-Ruh-Studio-01

So are you drawing on memories when you make your work? Because you are living and working in south London where it’s grey for a lot of the year…
It’s not just about arid landscapes. There is an urban palette, which inspires me too. I have favourite views in London. At the end of the day when the sun is going down, just to look out over the cityscape from the top deck of the 68 bus going over Waterloo bridge, the light and the colour palette of the urban landscape is really amazing. My favourite light is a fluorescent light attached vertically to a cast cement wall at the exit of an underground car-park near Russell Square. I enjoy walking around and seeing different car-parks, for example, with garish neon lights and the light that they cast, or the way coloured objects react or appear under the light of a harsh urban neon light.

Can you describe the process of creating coloured glass?
The colour comes in right at the very beginning of the process. Inside our furnace, we melt only clear glass. We purchase the coloured glass from specialist manufacturers in the shape of what looks like icicles – intensely coloured glass icicles. We just take a small chip of that icicle shape and heat it to about 500 degrees in a separate oven. At that temperature we can stick it onto the end of a blow pipe and then we heat it further until it’s molten. Then we are able to blow a very small bubble of coloured glass. We let it cool down briefly and then we go to the furnace and we coat the coloured glass with the clear glass, so as the bubble inflates it’s a very fine inlay of coloured glass on the interior of the vessel. Looking around the studio, you can see the lovely browns and greys and blue colours. All those different colours are very fine inlays of coloured glass on the inside of each of those vessels.

What do you like about working with glass as a material?
The thing that attracts me to glass as a material is its ability to take up a line and to freeze a shape. Looking at my work, people may say that it looks organic. But the strange contradiction is that it requires a lot of physical exertion to make glass look organic. Molten glass is perceived as this gloopy, nebulous object, but the thing that affects glass the most is gravity. If you blow a bubble and let gravity do its thing to it, it will naturally create a straight-sided object. Glass doesn’t want to be organic and gloopy: it wants to be geometric and have straight sides. I love the idea that a lot of the objects I make look like I was just accompanying them along the way to being natural. But I think the physical exertion required to make a natural looking object is greater than a geometric object or a straight-sided object. That’s funny and appealing to me.

All of the marks you see on your vessels, are they planned?
The lines are intentional but I don’t know exactly where that line is going within that piece. I set out to make marks but the heat of each piece and the force that I use to make those lines will affect how those lines appear. I never quite know exactly what I’m going to get with those lines.

You are making things that are designed to have a function. Do you have to compromise aesthetics in order for the function to work?
There’s will and desire and ability and skill. I set out with a vision in my mind of what I want to create. But I may be limited physically to create that, or there are physical limitations of the glass as a material itself. I think nearly every piece that I make is a compromise in some way, either a physical compromise determined by my skills, or my lack of skills, or physical limitations due to the physical limits of the glass as a material.

It reminds you to be humble. Very rarely do I look at a piece of mine and think “wow, that’s a great piece”. I often look at pieces and think, “gosh, I nearly made it there, that’s nearly what I wanted”, or “what was I thinking when I did that?” With glass blowing you have opportunities to do actions at certain moments, and if you miss that moment you can’t go back. The next chance you’re going to get is the next piece you make. You have to live with what you’ve got or destroy the object.

They are such beautiful objects. Do you want people to use them in their daily lives?
Yes absolutely! I was in the Mid-West selling very small bowls, and a visitor to the stand asked me what I would use that vessel for. And I told her it was a little pinch pot for salt or something. I asked her what she would use it for and she said, “I would use it for pretty”. That’s a really great expression, “using it for pretty”. I don’t want my objects to be used for pretty, I don’t want them just to be looked at. I really want beautiful objects, exquisite objects to be used every day. You might only have one drinking glass of mine but if you use that drinking glass every day, for everything you drink, you’ve got that beautiful object that you’re actually using in your life. I like the idea of that, of using something of exquisite beauty as an everyday object.

When I finished art college I was very into concepts and non-utilitarian objects but the longer I’ve been a glass maker, the more important it has become for me to have utilitarian objects, functional objects that are maybe a little bit more on the ephemeral side of things but still serve a function, a definite function.

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What does craftsmanship mean to you and how important is it to you?
I once heard a poet say that when he reads his own poems publicly, he considers every single poem a failure. For me, each piece is an endeavour and it’s about pursuing and pushing myself to be a competent maker of glass. It’s about having an idea, an aesthetic idea, and trying to competently realise that idea. One needs to acquire the technical skills to give voice to one’s aesthetic and design through those skills. I think the skill of making is about capability and ability and the exercise of those skills. It’s not leaving stuff to happenstance or serendipity. It’s about intention. Skill is about intention and competency and rigour.

What do you enjoy about taking part in the Artists’ Open House?
It’s always great to see who comes in. We have regular visitors who have come to see us every year and we also have people who have lived here for years and years and have come to see us for the very first time, so it’s great to see old friends and to make new friends. I’m very curious, so I like to learn who our neighbours are. It’s also a pleasure for me to see that moment when people are really excited by the idea that there is a glassmaker, somebody doing this sort of thing in their neighbourhood, because I think it’s quite unusual and quite special.

Parade Mews where your studio is in Tulse Hill is a hub of creativity…
This lovely little mews where we are, it’s a pretty amazing world of people making some really cool stuff. I think I’m very fortunate being in that world because we know lots of different people, in different parts of London, who are making really cool stuff. I feel privileged already to know those kinds of people and it’s exciting for me to go down an unknown mews and meet new makers. If we can perhaps introduce ourselves to more people, to a broader public who would enjoy that, I think that’s also really great. That’s part of the excitement for us to be taking part in the Dulwich Festival.

Visit Michael Ruh Studio during Artists’ Open House
www.michaelruh.com
Photos by Dirk Bleicker

Can you tell me who you are and what you do?
I’m an artist, an interior designer, and now a designer. I also teach colour theory on the interior design courses at Chelsea College of Arts. This is my new career. I’ve only been doing this for the last two or three years.

Tell me about your background.
I’ve had a very mixed background. Until 4 years ago I was Head of Marketing and Business Development for a big City law firm. I did that for 8 years. Before that I worked in theatre, producing, marketing, mainly social enterprise. Before that I was a singer in a band and did charity fundraising and all sorts of things. But this is it! This is my career now.

What led you to pursue this final career as an artist?
My O-Level and A-Level art teachers really tried to persuade me to try and earn my living through art. They wanted me to go to art college, but I was academic so I pursued that. By the time I had done my degree and a masters degree I got led into other things. I wasn’t confident enough about my art to do it, because it was my one natural talent and I thought that if I pursued that and it failed then it would be too devastating.

But once I had been working in my corporate career for a while, I became increasingly desperate to paint. During one of my summer breaks I did a week-long course at Camberwell, and that got me painting and drawing every day. And I started getting more and more excited about it. I was working full time at the same time, before having children. It got to the point when it would get to Friday, and I would be just itching to get to the end of the day so I could rip off my suit and paint as soon as I got home. Then I would get up at 6.30am on Saturday and Sunday morning and paint all weekend. I had got to the point where I just needed to be creative.

Then I had kids and I had to stop it all again because I didn’t have time. When I was pregnant with my second child – I had just got pregnant with her – I took a massive risk and resigned from my job. I had decided that this was the moment to pursue my creative career. But then I split up with the kids’ dad, so that’s why it has taken me a while!

I ended up at 41 having to start my whole life again from scratch. I had to sell my house, so I was 41 with no partner, no career, no money, no assets, nowhere to live with a baby and a toddler. It was pretty awful at the time.

So even though you had had such a tumultuous time, you felt happy and able to create joyful images…
This is what I had always wanted to do. The two things I knew from quite a young age that I wanted most in my life was to have children and to be creative. So suddenly out of the disaster of what had happened, I found myself actually with the two things I wanted most!

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What is the significance of your image of the flying bird?
When my son was approaching school age I thought it would be the right time to put out feelers for starting a new creative career, and then within a really short space of time, just as my son started school, I had my first solo show in Dulwich through Jane Newbury, I got my first teaching job at Chelsea College of Arts, and I was offered my first interior design job. I ended up having to paint the whole show in three weeks. I had to think of a theme that would make sense. So for me this moment in my life was being free from all of the rubbish. The flying birds all came out of that. They’re about feeling strong, flying free, doing a new thing, which is why I think a lot of the colours are so vivid. It’s a combination of being really vivid and bright because I was happy and also peaceful and strong because that’s the place I felt I’d come to in my life.

What about the flower images?
I painted the flower images when I still had my house. They were from my garden in East Dulwich. To make them you need a lot of space and somewhere to dry them. When I found myself on my own in this little flat, with small children that became impractical. I had to find a medium that was very quick drying and I could store flat. So I started painting in ink on watercolour paper, because you can do it straight away and you don’t have to store a big thing. So I painted in pen and ink on water paper using Japanese graphic art pens and brush and dip ink. I love ink because it gives a really vibrant colour, it’s different from water colour. You can get a richness and a depth.

How did you develop your work from paintings to homewares?
To create the homewares I make really high quality scans of the image. Then I digitally manipulate the image to make it work on fabric. To make the images work on a rounded surface like a lightshade, I have to duplicate and add to the image. For example on the bird image, I’ve drawn in some extra reeds to make it work. The image then becomes a mixture of my original work and sort of adding and creating on my computer to make it work on a three dimensional object.

This one (Sedum Detail) for example, the abstract one, is a massively big blown up close up of the flower image.

So for this first collection of homewares, you’ve developed a few themes and motifs which you work in different ways, developing them and getting more out of them?
This first collection of homewares was only launched at Olympia in January. Dulwich Open House in May last year was my very first test of them. I didn’t know whether people would like them. They were really successful, so between Dulwich last year and January I have been working on the manufacturing process. Jane (Newbury) stocked some and I had a shop in Scotland. I thought that if I was going to launch to bigger shops and more nationwide I needed to get it all running really smoothly. It’s market testing for me.

I had a much wider range at Open House last year. I was seeing which was the most popular and what worked together as a collection. In January I chose my six designs and I launched those so I’m now in 30 shops across the country. My official launch was only six weeks ago!

This year at Open House I will be showing my new products, including new prints, new designs, giant lampshades and glass lamp bases.

What do you enjoy about being involved in the Dulwich Arts Festival and being part of Artists Open House?
I love the creative atmosphere in this area and the fact that there are so many people making art and being creative around here.

That’s one of the best things about the Artists’ Open House, to have the opportunity to see what’s going on creatively in your neighbourhood, to see all the artists working on your doorstep. That’s such an exciting thing.

I also love being in a shared house with other artists. We all talk to each other and it creates a wonderful atmosphere. I think it’s nice for people visiting as well because you get a variety of work. I love having the chance to meet the people buying my work. I put so much passion and thought into creating the image and the colour that to be able to have a conversation about that with someone is really rewarding.

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How important is colour to you?
Throughout my life I’ve always been very sensitive to colour so I know how much of an effect it has had on me. I’ve always been fascinated by it and now I even teach colour theory at Chelsea College of Art as well. A lot of people aren’t aware quite how much colour affects us. It affects us because of emotional and cultural associations but it also has a very physical effect on our bodies because of the way the rods and cones in our eyes react. Colour has a physiological affect. Colour can either create an effect of real peace and calm or inject warmth and sunshine to an interior. So the very vivid pinks, blues and greens, you put them in any room, it makes a room glow. It makes me feel happy. So I create colours that make people feel happy and peaceful and mirrors the feeling that I want to convey through all the art work.

I can see that the diversity of your work is a process and that one has led out of another. Is there one aspect of your work that you enjoy making the most?
I tend to enjoy the thing that I’m doing as I’m doing it. I’m constantly creating new things. Recently I’ve been doing product design for the very first time for my lamp bases. I’ve really enjoyed it because it’s three-dimensional. And yet at the same time I’m coming to fruition with a particular group of images and I’ll soon be starting to create my next collection, some of which will be at the Dulwich Arts Festival this year. There will be some of the new colour ways. I’m really excited about doing that too.

Can you tell me about the lamp bases?
The lamp bases came about partly because of Dulwich Open House last year, when I used them purely for display. It didn’t occur to me to manufacture them at that point. Everybody loved them. They were also a massive hit at the Olympia Trade Show and so I have now sorted out the manufacturing. My whole brand at the moment is made in Britain. What was interesting about the process of the bases was that because I wanted to respond to the demand quickly, and also make them a very reasonable price, I was advised to go to Poland, which I thought was a good idea. My grandmother is Polish, so I thought that was a nice tribute to her.

For various reasons I ended up deciding to move the manufacturing back to the UK, to this wonderful family run glass works in Norfolk, who are one of the oldest lamp fitters in the country. It’s a big selling point for British manufacturing because the process has been so easy. I’ve been able to travel up to Norfolk, work with the master glass maker to hand blow and we’ve worked together with me drawing and literally creating the perfect shape that work with the shades. The glass is a beautiful high quality crystal glass.

So you will have these all ready for the Artists’ Open House?
They will be ready for the Open House, where you’ll be able to see bases from the very first batch!

There seems to be a lot going on for you at the moment with lots of possibilities and your work taking new directions. What are your professional goals? What are you hoping for in the future?
What I would really like is to create a high quality global brand that is about British manufacturing and has a core of beautiful art and a sense of craft and hand-made about it. I would rather stay more high-end and for each product to be something that is very carefully thought through and designed to work with a whole interiors brand. I want to create something long-lasting, something which is sought after. At the same time I need it to be a successful business as on a practical level I would like to provide security for my kids. As a single parent it’s about supporting my family.

You’ve been on quite a journey…
I think what’s been fascinating for me is the journey. I was earning lots of money in the city, I had my own house and garden. I didn’t really have to think about money or space. And I’ve found that suddenly having no money and living in a small space and having the (delightful) restriction of children, actually has made me far more creative. You have to think far more, it guides you more than when you have everything.

Visit Anna Jacobs during Artists’ Open House
www.annajacobs.london
Photos by Sally Mais & Timothy Soar

When did you first start working with ceramics?
I suppose like everyone, I dabbled in pottery at secondary school, then moved away from that towards painting and sculpture, which is what I felt I wanted to do. Eventually I changed and did my BA in furniture design. After graduation I worked in furniture for 10 years or so before deciding to go back to ceramics.

The catalyst was a small cabinet I made: I used porcelain for the handles and the feet of this little box. Just getting into that process again reminded me of how much more I enjoyed that than the wood and metal I had been working with. I went into it full-time after that. It enhances my daily life. I love doing it so I don’t mind how many hours I’m here, weekends, nights, days etc. My eldest brother David had always had ceramics as a hobby and I think that connection with him also made me want to get back into it.

Did you have to re-train?
I’ve never formally trained in ceramics although I was taught briefly by Emmanuel Cooper whilst on my furniture BA course at Middlesex Polytechnic in the mid 80s. I realised early on that technical books are useful up to a point for information about firing temperatures etc but there is nothing more important than just being there with the material and making your own mistakes and working it out that way. A few people have said to me that my approach is different from what people are told they can and can’t do at college. For example, I started making moulds in the way that I had figured out myself. I thought I should get a bit more professional about it and picked up a book about mould-making. There were so many pages of the terrible things that could happen if you did this, or if you didn’t do that, or if you didn’t make sure that this didn’t happen first, that I thought that if I’d read this two years ago, I would never have even attempted making a mould. It showed me that I could stumble along and eventually come up with my own way of doing things, which has worked well so far.

Can you describe your approach to making a ceramic piece?
It depends on the object. Some pieces I hand-build – these are coiled, more traditional pots made on a non-mechanised turn-table. Then there are the pieces that are made using handmade moulds – the electric kettles, cocoa pods, gourds etc.

I have been making sculpture again over the last 5 or 6 years. I call them Grid Abstractions, sort of a soft geometry. They are made in clay, just little sausages joined together to make 3D grids climbing into space. I’ve also been making mobile sculptures using a combination of ceramics and glass. I was first commissioned by Firmdale Hotels to make these mobiles, which are now hanging in the Ham Yard Hotel in town, just behind Shaftesbury Avenue. They’ve got three of them in a row. They do look really nice. The glass elements in the mobiles are made by a friend of mine, professional glassmaker Roberta De Caro, who makes the glass to my specifications.

I am spending more time on projects like these. Abstract ceramic sculpture is what is most interesting to me right now. I will continue to build large pots and other vessels but would like to explore this further. The unknown element of it excites me.

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Your ceramic pots seem to fall into two categories – the organic forms like the gourds and then the non-organic forms like the plastic bottles, the balls of string. Can you explain the dichotomy between the two.
People have asked me about that and how come they are so different. It’s never really struck me. I mean obviously it’s two very different aspects of an aesthetic –the organic and the industrial. I think I took most of it from looking round the kitchen, where you see milk cartons, blenders, coffee pots, sitting very happily next to apples and pears, pumpkins, natural things… A kitchen was my inspiration and if you go back to your own kitchen you will see all of these things do sit there together. It’s not a conflict.

Some of the industrial things came from going to charity shops. I was thinking that these are the only places where you can see some of these objects. You can’t buy them in shops any more because they are out-dated and obsolete and will disappear one day. I just wanted to see how changing the material that they were made in, in shapes that I think are amazing, would make people perceive them differently. I wanted to turn them into a bit of art. If people see them in porcelain, it changes it up a bit, porcelain being a traditional material that signals that something is important, fragile and beautiful. It’s like a signpost.

Is craftsmanship important to you? Do you see yourself as following in a tradition?
I like the idea that working with clay is so ancient and primal but I don’t like the idea of being restricted by the whole baggage that comes with being a craftsman. I like dipping into all of that and being a part of it, but I don’t want to be boxed in by the whole craft thing. I love it and appreciate it but I’m not wedded to it.

It can be very narrow, spending hours talking about glaze recipes. That’s not me at all. I roughly get the colour I want without getting too bogged down with the technicalities. And I guess that comes from not having done BAs in ceramics so I just approach it a bit more loosely.

You are obviously very drawn to making things with your hands.
That’s important to me, definitely to be in contact with the material. The material is ceramic at the moment.

Some of your objects are for display and lots of them have a function as well. How do you balance something having a function and it looking beautiful? Does the function get in the way of what you want it to look like?
I can give you an example of how my work has been evolving recently. I have been making the stacking cups for about 15 years on and off and they’ve always been vases. Lately, I wanted to make the stacking cups with the cone shape, and felt that the top could easily be closed. I didn’t necessarily need it to be a vase, which was a way of making that tiny leap into sculpture with these.

There can be a prejudice that if it’s a functional piece it can’t be art. Obviously the bowls are bowls and they are designed for that: the glaze in them is food safe, it’s all washable and so that was a prime consideration with me when I started making ceramics. That brings it to life in a lot of ways.

One reason I started making bowls and vases is that I think the table is a very important basic thing for people. I’m interested in people sitting around a table and if they are passing a bowl of fruit to each other and the bowl has a specific importance for them in their family, I think that’s hugely significant. A table full of food and vessels is a lovely thing. It promotes love. I love the idea that one of my pieces could be considered by a group of people as something that will enhance their meal or their day.

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Is that something you were thinking about when you first started making bowls?
I think that was a really important thing. Certainly with the more functional pieces that we are talking about, the human aspect of them is really important. If they can enhance relations between people then that’s a good thing. I do believe that. It was quite central.

And because ceramics are handmade, it’s such an easy thing to connect with. There is a Peruvian lady who collects my work avidly. She is the president of the Slow Food Movement in Latin America. It’s the opposite of fast food, the way that everything takes forever and it’s all beautifully prepared. My mother is Venezuelan so I was also influenced by the importance of gourds in Latin American culture when I first started making my gourd bowls.

What projects are you currently working on?
I’m thrilled to have been asked by Whittard [of Chelsea] to make bespoke lighting in translucent porcelain for their refurbished store in Covent Garden. There will be some nice things there. It is hard to describe, you would have to see them. There will be a little place when you go down the stairs and there will be all these things which relate to tea and coffee – a coffee grinder, tea infuser, things like that. I originally made a few of them solid and then thought again that they should be perforated because it makes it clearer that they are made for lamps. When they are all lit and translucent I think they will work well. They will be hanging at different levels. I’ve taken moulds of things I’ve had for years so it’s been very interesting to use them. The central piece at the entrance of the shop will be a giant chandelier made of individual tea leaves in translucent porcelain.

I was asked towards the end of last year to design the lighting for the restaurant Pedler in Peckham Rye. We kept it very organic. They have lines of translucent cabbages, melons, onions etc hanging down the length of the restaurant. I think it’s been well received by their customers.

I also have some work in a travelling exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, ‘New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art in Latin America’. The exhibition is about the influence of contemporary Latin Americans in the arts. It’s travelling to Albuquerque at the end of this year and then going to Puebla in Mexico. They are showing my Hot Water Bottle, a Milk Carton and Stacking Picnic Plates, all in cast porcelain.

What do you enjoy about being part of the Artist’s Open House?
I think it’s a fantastic opportunity. I’ve been involved for about 5 years, maybe a bit longer. Mostly I show things with Cavaliero Finn [Juliana Cavaliero and Debra Finn] at their Croxted Road address. They have been a huge support to me and I think they are brilliant curators. And the Dulwich Festival is one of the highlights of our year.

Last year I managed to persuade the owner of my local garage, Padwick’s in Oglander Road to allow me to use a part of his premises for the two weekends of Artists’ Open House. It was a shop front filled with old tyres. It was a beautiful turn-of-the-century shop front and he just had pigeon feed because he’s a pigeon fancier, and tyres and old bits of car mechanic stuff in this place. I convinced him to allow me to paint the place, redo it and use it for the two weekends of last year’s open house festival. It went really well. Unfortunately he can’t do it again because it’s his business, but it looked really good as a little pop-up gallery. I shared it with my illustrator and painter friend Phil Hankinson. This year we’re showing at my house; a different setting, so we’ll see how it goes there…

Visit Daniel Reynolds during Artists’ Open House
www.danielreynoldsstudio.com

Can you tell me who you are and what you do?
I have been a designer all my working life. After a degree in graphic design I worked in branding and packaging for many years and I am still a freelance graphic designer. That’s my main job. About 8 years ago, when I moved here and found that I had the space I decided to do a course in screen printing and set up a print studio. I was used to working on computers and I just wanted to get back to doing something a bit messy. I started printing on textiles and really enjoyed it. I started selling a few pieces and I’ve taken it from there.

When did you first become interested in design?
It’s always been around me. My mum worked in the arts and we were surrounded by works of art and design.

What was the starting point for your business roddy&ginger?
About 5 years ago an interiors magazine wanted to do a feature on my mid-century house and they told me it would be a good way of promoting a business. So I had to get it off the ground and up and running with a website and online shop by the time the article came out. The name, roddy&ginger was coined by a friend’s little boy, it seemed like a nice name and now I’m stuck with it! I got a bit of publicity by being in a magazine and it went from there.

Where do the ideas for your designs come from?
I have always been interested in mid-century design and have gathered quite a collection over the years. It’s good, innovative design that has lasted the test of time. It has also become very fashionable again so I could see there was a market for it when I started roddy&ginger. My collections of textiles, ceramics and illustrated children’s books from the 1960s and 1970s are all a big influence on my work.

Your designs are spread across different forms- cushions, trays, wallpaper. When you are creating a design are you thinking about where it will be used?
I’m not that organised, I felt that some of my textile designs were particularly applicable to wallpaper so I decided to give it a go 2 or 3 years ago, I now have a small range of two wallpaper designs which are printed in Holland.

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Do you have any particular favourites of the designs you’ve done, that you think are particularly successful?
Although I still keep printing some of my older designs I am more interested in my current work which tends to be more abstract and geometric.

What are your new products for Dulwich Open House?
I’m hoping to get some new textile designs ready for Open House.
The nice thing about Dulwich Open House is that you can showcase new ideas and get instant feedback. That’s how I started my wallpapers, I printed a prototype length, stuck it on the wall and got lots of positive comments.

Last year it was a new geometric design that sold well. This year it may be something different. I tend to do special prices for Open House and I try to empty my stock cupboards. There will be plenty to buy from as little as £5.00 as well as seconds and miss prints.

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What do you enjoy about being involved in the Dulwich Arts Festival and how many years have you done it?
This will be my 5th Open House, I have watched it grow since I started. I like the fact that you meet lots of people. I use my house as a location house so it has been great to meet journalists and stylists who are interested in my work and the house. I really enjoy taking part in Open house, it gives me motivation to do something new and it’s very relaxed because it’s at home.

Visit Virginia Armstrong during Artists’ Open House
www.roddyandginger.co.uk

Can you tell me what you do?
I’m a ceramic artist. I left college in 1992 and have been working ever since. I’m a self-employed artist working on mainly figurative ceramic pieces for galleries and exhibitions.

How did you first get into ceramics?
I used to do quite a lot when I was at school. We had pottery classes. And then I did O-Level and A-Level and then a diploma course, which you could specialise in either ceramics or jewellery. I think you did a little bit of both for a while, amongst other things and then had to decide which one you wanted to specialise in. So I specialised in ceramics and then went on to do a degree course and then an MA. I studied for quite a long time.

What was it about ceramics that really appealed to you?
I think it took a while for it to really appeal. I suppose once I’d found various skills then the appeal became greater. When I initially started, I think I could have quite easily have gone into graphic design. So the ceramics I did tended to be quite flat and I’d decorate the surface rather than build more three-dimensional pieces. Gradually as I built the skills up and was taught more, then the drawings translated into three-dimensional pieces. With clay, I suppose it’s the way that you can manipulate it and produce characters fairly quickly. It depends sometimes on how I’m feeling. Sometimes, it doesn’t work very well, other days it does work. Then there’s also the glazing, I love the glazed surface, which is something I’ve worked on for a while.

Where do you get your ideas?
Childhood memories have always been quite present and things that I had as a child, say toys, books, television programmes I watched, all that kind of 70s imagery I think is still quite apparent in the pieces. I suppose it changed a little bit when I moved into London. I travel on the tube and watch people. So I note different patterns and characters, for instance businessmen with different patterned shirts and patterned ties.

Do you sketch them?
Not as much as I used to. I think maybe I will make little doodles and notes of ideas but now I tend to go straight into the clay and work out the forms as I’m modelling.

Describe your process of working. How worked out are your images before you start working with the clay?
It’s quite well planned and also you have to be because with the certain pieces, say for instant one of the ones with the birds on their heads, I’ll have to roll out a slab and leave that to dry for a certain amount of time before I can construct it into the body. If you try and do it straight away, it will just sag under it’s own weight

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Can you tell me about the birds. Where do they come from?
People often ask me and I’m never terribly sure other than I’ve always been interested in nature and grew up in a fairly rural area. I’d always be outside drawing and observing. I like to combine nature and the human figure. To me it just seemed an obvious way to do it, having the birds in conjunction with the figures.

The face looks quite similar across the pieces. Is there a particular person or a character that they are based on?
Not so much with the smaller pieces but the larger ones, people do ask me. I’ll show you a photograph of my father and I think that’s where the inspiration has come from with the larger ones. You can see very much the likeness. I’m so pleased I’ve still got this photograph because when people see that they automatically say that it explains everything! I don’t think it was conscious but it is very clear to me now.

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I don’t know if my father saw the connection. I’m not sure that he every really understood what I was doing. He was quite conventional. It was my sister who suggested that I went to art school. He sent me off for interviews with British Telecom. I failed all the aptitude tests, luckily. I came back and my sister said, well why don’t you try art school. Although he didn’t really understand, my father was proud of me for where I got and where I am.

How have you developed the glazing part of your ceramics?
We used to have glazing technology lessons at college, a lot of which went over my head. When you start experimenting and making them up yourself, you start to realise what different things do. It’s chemistry really, what different materials add to certain glazes. I do still experiment. At college I started making little figures, I call them the little men and the little ladies, to test glazes on rather than having test tiles. I still make those and use them to experiment with glazes and test new ones. Now I have a palette that I’m quite pleased with and use over and over.

You know the ingredients of each particular colour that you use?
Of my particular glazes I do. I’m not good enough to say, for instance my friend Lorraine, you could go to her and ask her what to add to make a certain glaze if you wanted to make it whiter for instance. She would be able to do that. I’m not that technologically advanced but I know enough to please myself with what I’m doing.

How much of the process is left to chance in terms of colours. Do you welcome chance things happening?
Usually with me, it would probably be misfiring in the kiln. That’s the only chance really. The kiln could overfire and then you get a completely different colour, if you’re lucky and things haven’t actually stuck to the kiln shelves. Sometimes you open the kiln and think that’s not quite what I expected but you get used to it or other people come in and say that they think it’s gorgeous. But because you had a certain idea in your mind you aren’t so sure. That’s the only chance really.

I’d like to experiment more but also I don’t want to harm my kiln. I lose quite a few kiln shelves as it is already, I’m not a terribly conventional or careful potter. It’s an expensive process having to replace those. I’ve kept a piece in my studio where the ladies are all welded to the shelf because the glaze ran.

There is a lot of humour in your work. It makes you smile.
It’s a quiet humour I think which engages people. I have a lot of people coming back and saying that they are pleased that they brought a particular piece because they look at it every day and it makes them smile. There’s a lady who takes her group of little men on holiday with her. She sent me a photograph of them in France! People feel a connection with them.

There is another lady who brought one of the birds for her husband and she said that it’s really nice, it’s on the side board next to the front door and you can hear him when he comes in from work, where the door opens, he’ll hang up his coat and put his briefcase down and come in and say ‘hello bird’ every evening. I do enjoy that side of it.

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How do you expect your work to be seen when people own them?
I’ve been quite surprised by some pieces. I made a few pieces that were metal, there are metal workers in one of the other arches here and they made me these big crinoline-type skirts and I made the top of the body, female bodies, and they were meant to go in people’s gardens so they could grow flowers in them, so they would have a big flowery skirt. I sold one of them and the lady must have a very big living room because she said it was in her living room with house plants growing up the skirt. I hadn’t really expected that.

I like the fact that they can go indoors or out. People have said that with the larger flowers it’s been nice when they’ve had those in winter and everything dies around them and they’ve still got these little spots of colour in the garden.

How long have you been involved in the Artists’ Open House and what you like about being part of it?
I think I might have been involved for 10 years or so! What I’ve enjoyed is being at Ingrid Beazley’s house, which is a lovely place to be for the weekend. It’s nice to be there with Ingrid and Tom and meeting the other artists. I’ve made good friends from sharing their house with other people. It helps if people can see my work in a domestic setting or in a domestic garden. Not everyone can visualise the pieces in their homes. That helps a lot.

I love talking to people about the work. I don’t have that if I just show through galleries. It’s nice to see people’s reactions, they come in and start smiling, even laughing sometimes. I don’t get that if I just have work in galleries. So that’s a big part of it.

What do you like about living and working in South London?
My workshop in Peckham is the thing that was the main draw, because the space was so lovely. I’m really lucky to have been here for such a long time. I like to work on my own because I like to concentrate but I do get lonely. Luckily enough there are other artists next door.

I like that Peckham is so varied. One way it’s all gentrified and the other side is completely mad. I quite enjoy that, though I did prefer it when it was a bit less gentrified.

Visit Jane Muir during Artists’ Open House
www.janemuir.co.uk