If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might remember one of my original blog features; Man Crafts. In the feature, I interviewed male makers and crafters from all types of creative industries. Well, after a bit of a break, this feature is back! 🙂 And I’ve got a pretty cool comeback guest… the master potter and star of BBC2’s Great Pottery Throw Down, Keith Brymer-Jones!
I first crossed paths with Keith at the Handmade Fair earlier this year. He was talking on the main stage just after my live craft challenge, so I bumped into him backstage in the greenroom. I said a sheepish “hello”, but the circumstances weren’t right for a full-blown introduction and chat. Luckily, I met Keith again at the recent Mollie Makes Handmade Awards, where he was a judge. I chatted with him a few times through the day and quickly realised how much of a dude he is! His love of pottery (and crafts in general) was absolutely infectious – it was impossible not to be inspired by him! That’s why I’m so excited to have him here on the blog, sharing his story and advice.
Hi Keith! First up, let’s learn a bit more about you. How would you describe your artistic style – in just three words?
Simple, minimal, and contemporary!
It goes without saying that you’ve had an incredible career in pottery. When did you first decide this was something you wanted to do with your life?
Literally at the age of eleven, when I was in the first year of secondary school. It was an epiphany; a calling! Ever since then, I’ve loved it!
Your company, Make International, seems to be going from strength to strength! As the company grows, how do you ensure that each item stays true to their original hand-thrown designs and prototypes?
When developing new shapes and design concepts I am in constant dialogue with my team in China. And then once any product goes into production, every single piece is checked at least three times before it leaves the factory.
Have you got any new releases planned for Make International?
Yes! There are a few new ranges coming through and being launched for autumn. One is a range of mugs for the National Trust and the other is for Tatty Devine. Both equally exciting, but very different in look and finish.
What is wonderful about my job is that you never really know were a collaboration is going to take you – both in terms of design, or anything else for that matter.
I was a huge fan of The Great Pottery Throw Down. How did this amazing opportunity first come about?
Ha! Well… I once did a spoof video of Adele. It went viral and had a huge reach. We (as in Make International) were working with a business woman in the U.S. and she just happened to be friends with a guy called Richard McKerrow of Love Productions (The Great British Bake Off).
Richard was in the U.S. selling the Bake Off concept to a few American networks and was wondering what to do next in terms of a similar light entertainment programme. When they met our contact, she just happened to mention that she was working with two guys called Dom (my business partner) and Keith, who had created this weird Adele video as a cross dressing nutter. He went back to the hotel that day, watched the video, loved it and called me from the States to ask if I would like to be involved in a pottery programme …what are the chances!
What was it like filming for the show? It looked like so much fun!
It was fun, but hard work and very intense. Well, I say intense… not so much for me, but for the potters.
It was amazing to see their progression over the weeks of the show. Time was a big concern. We really pushed them, but some of the results were quite amazing. I did find it very emotional.
Has your life and career changed as a result of being on the show?
The irony is that before the show I had been making pottery all my adult life as a living. I was working quite a solitary existence whilst making for people such as Habitat, Conran and Laura Ashley, from my studio in North London (Highgate). Then all of a sudden my profile went through the roof and now everyone knows me as a potter – the profession I had always done ever since leaving school.
You clearly have a real passion for encouraging crafts, in a world that is increasingly digital – which is amazing. Why is this so important to you?
Craft, or anything creative that involves working directly with a material (whether it be clay, paint, wood etc), is incredibly important. It is a wonderful experience not just in terms of creating itself, but also for expanding one’s imagination and all the benefits from doing something truly cognitive.
It is absolutely imperative for our young to experience working with a raw material – especially because we live in a digital age. Don’t get me wrong; computers and digital technology are an incredible area to help with creativity. But working from a lump of clay physically and producing something of beauty or of use is extremely satisfying , soulful and essential for one’s own personal growth and development. This is true not just for the person executing such tasks, but for society as a whole.
Where do you see the handmade industries going over the next few years?
There has been (I hope) an unstoppable shift in people reconnecting with all aspects of craft, partly because of digital technology. People are re-engaging and appreciating the skill and talent it takes to produce something of value through craft.
I would hope to see more of a handmade element coming back into certain industries were it lends itself to human interaction with a particular medium – and I say this not from some wistful dream that we will all be hippies again and go back to nature! Rather, I say this because it is commercially viable. Having a story behind a creative object is becoming fascinating for people to connect with.
What advice would you give to someone else wanting to follow a career in the handmade crafts industry?
Well done and carry on!! …and on and on and on. Keep at it and follow your natural instincts. I know this easier said than done.
Naivety is a wonderful thing when you are starting out. First and foremost, you have to make for yourself and hope (and that’s all it is; just hope) that someone else likes what you are making. It is only once you have established a market that you can start making more strategically.
Finally, I always like to end on something fun – tell us something unusual or surprising about you!
I used to study dance from the age of 3 to 18. Ballet, tap, highland, and Scottish country dancing (I know, who’d of thought it!). I was in a band for several years too. I did have my sights on the Royal Ballet School, but my path took me somewhere else instead. Just as well!
Thanks so much to Keith for chatting to me! I really hope this interview has distilled some of the inspiration I found when chatting with him. You can see more of Keith’s incredible pottery work over on his website or on Make International.
I’m looking for submissions! If you’re a male maker, designer or creative and would like to take part in a future edition of Man Crafts, please get in touch with a link to your website or portfolio. Looking forward to hearing from you! 🙂 – Mike.