Katie Robbins - Studio Tour
Words: Jo Dowsett
Photography: Carolyn Carter
Katie’s silver wood clad studio exudes a sense of calm. The quiet, serene space is a short walk from her beautiful family house and yet once inside, it feels like you have been transported to an oasis of tranquility. The view from the south west facing, dual aspect windows is one of mature trees, green foliage and perennial planting. Such a calm, quiet space is reflective of Katie’s delicate, honest and intricate work. Her ability to create with porcelain is instinctive. The simplicity of her forms and the depth of colour her glazes generate result in beautiful vessels that are so accomplished they have the ability to stand alone as pieces of art. The luminosity and beauty of her porcelain pieces belie their strength. Sometimes her glazes undulate, following the natural curves of her vessels, elsewhere, they blend and define the piece.
Katie’s studio houses a large table at one end, overlooking the garden and behind this sits her potters wheel. Shelving holding pigments and glazes is towards the back of the studio along with her drying shelf containing current projects, past vessels and a vast array of moulds for her slip casting pieces. Planting is everywhere. String of pearl plants sit on shelves and in hanging porcelain pots suspended by intricate macrame and an abundance of delicate feather like fern paintings sit amongst Katie’s creations. The foliage is reminiscent of Katie’s exquisite glaze application and the palette of colours and depth of tones she uses is so true to those in the natural world, it’s as if porcelain and plants become one.
Small fragments of surface-textured porcelain line up like jewels on the windowsill demonstrating how the glazes sit and pull on the surface. Katie’s tonal preferences all work so beautifully together, it is so easy to think of the ocean and the natural colours we find all around us. The harmony of her colour palette is delightful and it is this along with the tactile form and application of colour that has us swooning over which one we should have in our own space.
The form of Katie’s pieces demands your attention. They are meant to be touched. The smooth, cool porcelain is a joy to hold and the size of many of Katie’s wares fit perfectly into your hands. Other pieces are punctuated with tiny and delightful details which compel your eyes and fingers to explore further. There is a charming satisfaction in experiencing the detail and throwing lines showing the hand of the talented maker.
Katie’s first foray into pottery was at school during her A Levels where she experimented with clay hand building. After completing her European Studies degree at Manchester University, and a whirlwind year teaching English in Madrid, she returned to the UK and began her career in PR. During this time, Katie participated in several evening classes, but it was only after having children that she returned to the Mac (Midland Arts Centre) and found a tutor who specialised in the intricacies of porcelain and slipware.
Katie lives with her partner, Simon and two sons in Birmingham.
How does your studio make you feel?
Katie has had her garden studio for around 2 and a half years. She has created her own ‘little world’ where she is able to ‘lose herself’ in the making and exploration of her work. She feels that her work has given her a ‘sense of purpose’ and although she loves the entire process, she has also been given the opportunity to find her voice. Through social media, and particularly Instagram (Katie can be found @ceramicmagpie) , she is able to share her work with other makers and with those who appreciate handmade and all of the stories and joy this gives. The appreciation and delight in her work is far reaching and a little bit of Katie’s world originating from her very own Birmingham studio now sits on shelves and windowsills in homes all around the world.
What is it about the medium of porcelain and ceramics that attracts you?
Over the years, Katie has always revisited her love of ceramics and it is the tangible sense that attracts her. She feels that ‘creating with my hands is really relaxing and is as much about the process as it is about the finished article.’ Having been encouraged to exhibit some of her early work at an open exhibition, she sold a piece and this allowed her the realisation that people like, admire and desire her work. This experience gave her the impetus to sell, explore and experiment further.
How do most of your pieces come to life? Is there a certain routine you pursue from the original idea or does it flow organically?
‘During my studies at the Mac, I found myself drawn to natural inspirations, particularly the Victorian works of Ernest Haeckel, a German naturalist. He carried out observations of microscopic sea organisms and to me, they looked like sea urchins.’ Katie continued her research and undertook a detailed exploration of Haeckel’s findings and how these could be incorporated into her porcelain work. Her resulting body of work to date following this initial theme has included very beautiful, organic and tactile shapes.
Another love Katie has is botanicals. Her desire to make plant holders and surround herself with botanicals and flora stems from her own Mother’s love of foliage and plants.
Katie was once in a class and dropped a finished vessel on the floor. To her dismay, the piece was damaged and the fall caused the vessel’s rim to have a crinkled effect. Katie realised there was beauty in this as the damaged vessel was opened out to display the internal walls and she decided ‘there can always serendipity in failure.’
Describe your work in three words.
‘Organic. Sensual. Serene.’
What are the top three places/ people you look to for inspiration?
‘The coast.’ Katie has always been attracted to the ocean and the coast. ‘I love the sea; the blues and greens and the holes I create in my porcelain are sometimes reminiscent of sea foam. The glazes I use are like the sea.The creams and pinks are like the inside of a shell.’
Katie has also been inspired by American art icon and pioneer of twentieth-century art, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 - 1986). ‘I saw her exhibition in London a few months ago and was interested to note her beautiful colour palette of soft pinks, pale blues, sage greens, greys and creams.’
Katie also appreciates the work of ceramicist Linda Bloomfield who designs and makes tableware based on thrown porcelain.
What is the process of slip casting?
Katie has a number of moulds she uses for her slip casting process. She dampens the inside of the mould with a wet sponge, binds the two sides together and pours the chosen porcelain into the opening at the top. She will then pour out the excess, leaving a ‘skin’ of beautiful porcelain inside the mould which will need to remain in situ for a day to commence the drying process.
Once the mould has been removed, Katie is left with a vessel in it’s raw form. She keeps it damp and in her cold storage to prevent any cracks appearing. Once Katie is ready to embellish, add detail and work with the vessel, she does so at her table and leaves it to dry on the drying shelf. The next stage is the firing process which takes place once Katie has enough wares to fill her kiln. She will stack the kiln and carry out the first firing overnight at 950 degrees celsius. She will remove her wares and check for any cracks or damage caused by the kiln. At this stage, Katie will sand down the porcelain, ensuring the finish is smooth and apply her sensual glazes. A second and final firing for 24 hours at 1250 degrees celsius is carried out.
Katie never tires of the ‘magic’ of the kiln and how her glazes result. She ‘enjoys producing pieces to be used and admired but there is still so much to learn.’
She starting to concentrate more on shape and form with her throwing pieces.
Do you look at each piece as an individual, stand alone item or are pieces formed to create a series?
In the past, Katie has created series of works for exhibitions. With her current body of work, she feels that she ‘naturally creates a series because each piece is a subtle variation of something I have already done.’ She is enjoying the journey of exploring themes in a different way but enjoys the fact that her entire body of work ‘sits together.’
Do you ever get the equivalent of writer’s block? If so, how do you push through it?
‘Yes.’ When Katie experiences this, she makes sure she does something completely different such as ‘flower workshops, creative retreats or going for a walk.’ She finds it cathartic at times to ‘recharge and step out of my creative bubble’. Katie also finds these activities helpful because as a self employed artist, it is ‘hard to work by myself ‘ and she finds she is ‘spending less and less time making’ because of all the demands involved from photographing her work to packaging and delivering it.
How has social media influenced, assisted and empowered you?
The Instagram window has truly empowered Katie as an artist, as an individual and as a woman. The friendships she has forged and the words she hears from those who enjoy creating, making and sharing help her with her own ambitions and buoy her when self-doubt creeps in. She loves the ‘real conversations, the community and the diverse network of women’ she communicates and touches daily with her beautiful work, immaculate pictures and insight into her creative journey.
Katie’s successful hashtag #wipsandblooms allows makers to share their works in progress and their love of botanicals. Anybody can join the community and Katie delights in experiencing all the joys this online group has to offer. Katie feels that the actual ‘physical process of making is interesting to others because, for example, these are my hands and these are my tools…’ Katie’s gallery is subsequently a curated showcase of her art form and often that of others whose images have been chosen by her, or indeed a guest judge, to reflect the essence of the wipsandblooms hashtag.
Katie’s latest hashtag #leaf_ladies revolves around her talented Instagram friends who are artisans in macrame, himmeli, botanical prints and illustration. This empowering group of women are based in far flung corners of the world from New Zealand through to the USA, Canada, Germany and Sweden.
Katie is an incredible artist and inspirational woman who creates, collaborates, encourages, helps, inspires and raises awareness of others. She is a woman quietly trailblazing and is brave enough to open doors to her creative world while helping others do the same.
Keep going Katie. We are excited to see what happens next.