The pottery wheel has always seemed a mystery to me, and despite taking lessons with it, I’m still not sure how I feel about that spinning metal disk. It’s true that it takes time to perfect the technique and it’s definitely something anyone can try their hand at but respect does have to go to those who have made it their craft and can use it to tame clay into the smoothest of shapes.
Jess Jos is definitely one who deserves that respect; not just because she makes throwing on the wheel look like child’s play but because her work clearly shows how much she loves pottery – she was even asked to produce work for Kensington Palace. She is nothing if not passionate about the craft, having grown up in a family full of potters, now with her own workshop adorned with pieces she’s made herself and the work of her students, all of which it was clear have been sculpted with the utmost care, attention and love. With all this in mind, and having met Jess before for a pottery class myself, I knew without hesitation that she was definitely a person to inspire would be potters.
How did you come to pottery originally?
I have been making things with clay for as long as I can remember, both of my parents are potters and it has always been a part of my life. I was lucky that I could incorporate ceramics into my GCSE Art and even take a Ceramics A Level. This led me to a degree in Ceramics at Camberwell College of Arts. The great thing about my degree was that we were taught so many different techniques but it was up to us to decide how to use them whether it was figuratively, sculpturally, to create a statement, or even just a bowl, and I incorporate this freedom into my teaching. There is a set of rules to begin with of how to make a piece, but it is up to you to decide what you want to make.
I started teaching very shortly after graduating and setting up my first studio. It felt like a natural progression to start passing on the skills I had learnt from various teachers over the years. As my business has grown and I have moved to a bigger studio I now teach up to six people at all levels from complete beginners to those wishing to up their game, and I love it. Pottery makes people happy; it is such a rewarding feeling eating or drinking from something you have made.
Many people do pottery simply as a hobby – what made you decide to make it your career?
Having grown up in a pottery household it never really occurred to me to just make a hobby out of it. Being my family’s main income I always took pottery as seriously as my parents did. I love pottery and what better way to make a living than to do what you love?
What’s the most fun thing about your job?
The most fun thing is teaching people to throw on the potter’s wheel. It can be challenging and messy but it is also a lot of fun, and you just have to laugh when it all goes wrong. But that makes the ones that make it so much more special.
How do you get ideas for your work?
From all over the place really; from restaurants, friend’s houses, Pinterest etc. But mostly from what I feel I need in my kitchen. Most of the pieces I make are made for use. I love cooking, and eating and drinking and the possibilities are endless. On my making list at the moment are fermentation jars, coffee pourers and planters.
Tell us about the project you’re most proud of...
Probably the commission for Kensington Palace. I was asked to design and make 21 pieces by Coney who was redesigning some of the interior to reflect past residents. It was great to delve a little deeper into the history of the palace, work with conservators and challenge my practice.
How do you ensure when doing commissions that your work fits the clients’ brief?
Communication is key and I try to keep clients up to date every step of the way. I’m quite lucky being based in London because most of my clients can come and visit the studio to discuss things like glazes and form.
What’s the hardest thing about pottery to master?
I think the teapot has to be up there. There are just a few different elements but each with its own challenge; each element is made separately, the body, the lid, the spout and the handle. On the following day these are neatened up, assembled in a way that is both pleasing and practical. Finally, after firing and glazing, the main thing is it’s got to work. No one wants a drippy teapot!
How much of working the wheel is art and talent and how much is technique?
I don’t believe that anyone has a natural talent; some people who work with their hands may have a slight advantage but it is all down to you. The three P’s are crucial, Patience, Practice and Perseverance.
Is it easier to make things just using your hands or with the wheel?
It is easier to make things with your hands but less easy to make things look as even and regular as if they were made on the wheel. Often when you make by hand you are left with dimples and thumb marks, which is unique and great to have that personal imprint, that connection with how it was made. Initially throwing may be a little bit harder to grasp but you can soon make more even, rounder and smoother, elegant pieces.
Which artists inspire you?
Lucy Rie, a potter who has such simply forms that make you drool. Maryanne Moodie, a weaver for her use of colour and texture.
What advice do you have for people who would like to give pottery a go but might be a bit scared?
You have absolutely nothing to worry about. Everyone can make something and even if you can’t make a perfect dinner set on your first attempt you will have had fun trying and be one step closer to doing so.
Lastly, how often do you get people referencing THAT scene in Ghost on your courses? (We’ve been taking bets in the office and we reckon at least once per class!)
Not as often as you might think, only once in a while. I did once have to take a photo of a couple re creating ‘that’ scene which was a little awkward!
That does sound awkward. Thanks for settling it though! Whether you’re a fan of Ghost or just want to try your hand at making a few bowls, have a look at the full range of pottery classes on offer. Or, if you want to learn from Jess herself, check out the courses she runs at Stepney City Farm.