In conversation with Emily Ward, local potter
Emily Ward creates and sells unique items of pottery for the home, making use of bright colours and natural forms, each item of Yatsar pottery is full of charm and eccentricity. We met Emily at her home and studio in Canterbury. We chatted about getting started in clay work and recreating the “ghost moment”
How did you get into pottery?
I did a degree in fine art, but I didn't do any pottery at the time. After I’d finished uni my nan started getting into pottery, she’d been doing it for a while, I started doing it with her and she taught me everything she knew. I totally fell in love with it, she had a wheel and she’d teach me how to throw, that was about 3 and a half years ago now. I’ve always loved getting messy, to actually make something out of earth that can be practical as well I just loved it.
How did your style develop?
I like things to look a little bit hand made so I leave all the lines that a lot of artists smooth out, I leave in the finger prints and wobbly edges. I like something when it’s got a bit of a kink in it, I think it gives it a bit of character. My style is quite bohemian so I like a lot of bright and clashing colours, I like when the glazes mix and you get a colour you weren't expecting. I use a lot of textures as well. It’s so clever how people can make something absolutely perfect and identical. I just can't do that, which is just as well.
How do you make sure it’s still a functional object?
I only make things you can actually use in the kitchen or the home, I think as long as you can still use it, it can be whatever shape you want it to be. Some of the things I make are quite neat and tidy, a lot of the mugs I’ll make the rims so you can drink from them and the handles so you can hold. I’ll make things i really like the colour of, I love really bold things and a good splash of colour.
Is there anyone who inspires you or someone you admire in the world of pottery?
I love my Nan’s stuff, what she does I’m really inspired by and even though it’s completely different to mine. She always makes these amazing decorative things big, shapely, domed objects. She’ll smooth them out with a spoon or a smooth rock so they’ve got a real shine to them, they’re gorgeous. She also does a lot of raku stuff, where you put pottery in a pit of fire and the smoke makes lots of amazing patterns. So my Nan inspires me a lot
Theres also artwork that’s sold at Anthropologie, all of the colours and patterns I just love it. I’ve got a lot of stuff from Anthropologie in the house. The artwork is done by different artists but they’ve all got a similar vibe, so they’ll use bright colours, it’s all quite bohemian. I like people who use a lot of bold colours and you can still use them in the house. With a lot of traditional pottery, they use a lot of earthy colours which I love, but I prefer to use the big bold vivid oranges and reds and blues.
Do you ever collaborate with your nan and work together on anything?
I haven't collaborated with my Nan, but I am collaborating with another girl whose got another very Bohemian business called Boho Temple, she does a lot of absolutely gorgeous fabric work for parties or weddings. Our styles are really similar, it makes it quite easy to collaborate. She’s in the same boat as me, she works part time elsewhere but then in her spare time she’ll do this bohemian business. Were doing a project together, I’ve got some little samples of her fabrics and I’m engraving the patterns onto the pottery and matching the colour with a glaze. Were going to be joining together in this big photo shoot and selling off each other's work. I’m going to be making homeware for that, I’ve started making big mugs plates and dishes and little egg cups a whole range of stuff. We’ll be wrapping it up in a fabric, then selling it as a wedding gift. There's a lot of things we can do with that.
Do you do any other creative activities outside of pottery?
I love watercolor, I’ve done wedding invitation designs with watercolor. I can't do anything to do with sewing, I tried it at university and I broke the sewing machine twice. I had a business before called Pretty Graffiti, I did a lot of murals for about a year after I finished university. I painted in a creche, in a church, in schools, bed rooms, hair dressers, someone in Middle Street in Deal wanted a big mural on the outside of their house so I did that. But then it got to the point where I wasn't really enjoying it too much and that's when I started doing the clay work, and found I enjoyed the clay more than the painting. I stopped Pretty Graffiti and started Yatsar.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’ll have a lot of glazing I have to do from the lessons I teach. Then I’ll go out to the stables where my wheel is and I’ll throw a few mugs or bowls for any orders I might have. I pop over to Deal in the afternoon and use the kiln. We’ve got a really old fashioned kiln, which needs to be turned up every hour during the bisc firing. In newer ones you can just set a timer and leave it for the rest of the day, but with mine you have to turn it up every hour which ends up taking about five hours.
How do you find teaching others?
I love it, because I love people. I find that a lot of people that don't necessarily want to do a course they just want to try it out, so it’s really fun because they're not taking it too seriously. A lot of people who I’ve tought, they have a good go at it and then they’ll just make up their own techniques. They’ll go really off centre, it’s just a real laugh. Anyone who wants to have a go, I’ve got the wheel I can show them what I know. I always say you never know what will happen in the kiln, you might not have what you intended but you’ll still come out with something you can vaguely use
Do people often recreate the ghost scene?
Yes! Nearly every time, they’ll come in and instantly say "maybe we should do the ghost thing." But a lot of people come in and get nervous, I think it’s because they’ve never done anything like it and they put a lot of pressure on themselves to get it right, and I think it’s more the excitement and the adrenaline of doing something you’ve never done before that’s completely alien. Especially when you’re using the manual wheel like mine, you’re kicking with your foot and controlling with your hand so it’s like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time. It feels so surreal but it’s good fun.
What would be your ideal commission?
My ideal commission would be to do a kitchen set, a couple of mugs, cups, plates, the standard sort of stuff. Just because I feel really confident with those things and I’ve got a certain style that I know works really well with that. I’ve made a couple of really big things before, I made some kneading bowls for this baker I know, they were huge, about 20 inches wide. They were fine right until the glaze firing but then two of them cracked right through, and then the one that was fine wasn't quite the right shape that he needed. I’d never done anything so big before, I think it was just the lack of experience that made it all crack, so I love commissions where I know what I’m doing, and anything with bold colour.
What else have you been commissioned to make?
I’ve shipped a lot of stuff out to America that I’ve sold on Etsy. There was a year where I had a load of American commissions, and someone wanted these big pasta dishes, 6 matching bowls, some spoons, a few plates. That was a big set. None of it broke, I packaged it up and put it in big boxes and it was all fine but quiet nerve-racking. I’ve made some commissions for some lace imprinted things as well. My manager from work wanted some big placemats with lace going down it, I’d never think to make that until it was commissioned. I like it when someone's got a really specific idea, and I’ll be inspired by that.
A selection of Emily's pottery is available in our shop
Emily’s local picks
FOOD & DRINK
Canterbury has got some really lovely little cafes, I really love The Goods Shed, thats got a lot of local farm produce and a lovely little cafe.
WHAT TO DO + SEE
I love going to the beach in Herne Bay. The stones are a lot smoother so it’s nice to lounge around and have a day by the beach. There isn't loads going on in the town but it’s such a gorgeous area and a lot of people miss out on it.
The punting along the river in Canterbury is a great way to see the city on a nice day.