Interview: Designer Helen Beard tells us how she fell in love with ceramics

We visit designer-maker Helen Beard in her Georgian townhouse in North London to chat about her work and how she fell head over heels for ceramics.

It's a family home, and to one side of the house is Helen's studio. The workspace opens onto a patio with two wooden deck chairs, handmade by her husband; the room is bright with pottery stacked high on every wall. Helen’s bespoke pottery for private clients, galleries and museums is in high demand, so much so that she recently launched a range of Dailyware studio pottery featuring her signature London-inspired designs.

Tell us how you go into pottery. Has it always been a passion?

No it hasn't always been a passion, I got into it completely by accident.

I trained at Edinburgh College of Art in Jewellery Design (I'd wanted to be a fashion designer, but was advised against it). As part of the Jewellery course we had to choose a second subject, I was given my second choice which was ceramics. I completely fell for the material. I loved its immediacy and the way to moves and responds to your every touch. I soon found myself in the ceramic department in the evenings and at weekends, and in my final year, my Jewellery tutor suggested I consider dropping Jewellery and taking on ceramics full time. It was the best advice, I worked my socks off and graduated with a first in Ceramics.

A couple of years after graduating, I was introduced to Edmund de Waal. I was so fortunate because Edmund was looking for an apprentice and I was desperate to continue making in ceramics. He taught how to throw on the wheel and introduced me to porcelain. I am still working with the same clay today.

Do you think throwing pottery is a natural talent or something everyone can get into with enough practice?

I think, like any skill, it can be learnt with practice. Apparently, they say in Japan that your first 30,000 pots will be rubbish and it's not until 30,001 that you start to make good pots. I've actually been to Japan to study and it's true that in their entire first year at ceramic technical college, you are not allowed to fire a single pot, each piece you make is broken up and reclaimed into recycled clay.

However, I do think some people seem to have an eye for creating a good shape or form, one that is balanced and a good weight and in colours that complement it.

Where do you find inspiration for your illustrations and the characters?

I love people and places, and I love drawing places that are close to my heart, so I get much of my inspiration from my immediate world around me. I go to local markets, parks... places where I can see real people getting on with their everyday lives. I particularly love our local swimming baths, close to Old Street. I like seeing the dedicated bathers, who return again and again to swim up and down the pool 30 or 40 times. The London market traders are amazing too, going out in all weathers. I love the history of the markets, it can feel a bit like walking back in time, so little has changed over the years there.

Do any of the designs tell a story?

I do like to tell stories with my pots. In preparation for Ceramic Art London, I focused entirely on London life and drew hundreds of small characters from all areas of London, I then mapped them out, putting all the hipster Londoners together, the very smartly dressed people of Chelsea amongst taxis and London buses.

Describe your home

We are lucky enough to live in a Georgian townhouse in Islington; it's a lovely family home. We have three children, aged five, three and five months, so there's always a jumble of children's things everywhere. We also have a lot of ceramics - over the years we’ve collected so many pots from friends who are potters or works we admire. Our kitchen and dining room is very open plan. We spend all our family time down in the basement, cooking, eating, reading and playing.... so we decided to make it as open plan as possible. We put in a roof light above the playroom and with a pale wood floor, it feels like a light and airy space.

Do you have a favourite design?

My favourite design of my own work is the swimmer beaker. We use these in our bathroom for keeping toothbrushes in!

I love them because they are based on the Serpentine swimmers. I think the cold water swimmers are amazing, they'll meet every Saturday at 8am and even in the dark months of winter when it's freezing cold. I love the rosy red cheeks they get when they get out of the water, it looks so exhilarating, such a great way to start the day!

Find Helen Beard in ACHICA's Made London Preview.

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Annabel Sheen

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