Meet The Artisan | Sue Pryke
In the first of our new 'Meet The Artisan' series, we sat down for a quick natter with Sue Pryke. Sue has been handcrafting ceramics since the mid-80s, honing her craft in rural Lincolnshire in preparation for today, where she runs her online boutique - suepryke.com. Sue now enjoys a large following of customers and fans who appreciate her high-quality craftsmanship and impeccable design. We sat down for a quick chat to delve a little deeper into the life and mind of Sue Pryke - enjoy.
Q) You’ve been crafting ceramics since the mid-80's. What is it about ceramics that has held your interest and allowed such longevity in the industry?
A) I went into ceramics by chance. I hadn’t given pottery much consideration before stepping onto an A-level pottery course. I’d been to craft fairs with my mum, ‘Art in Action’ was particularly memorable, great atmosphere & so interesting to see how things were made.
Ceramics is so versatile & the most rudimentary of crafts. The oldest pottery shards are made of clay from 20,000 years ago! You can dig a lump of clay and form it into a basic vessel to hold water or cook in, but it also has high tensile strength and fragility in other applications, think thermal protection for space shuttles and a translucent bone china teacup.
In craft terms, it’s so diverse too and can be moulded or shaped into endless expressions & statements.
I started working with clay as a thrower & have explored several pathways but ended up at the other end of the craft spectrum in a more industrial application. I enjoy the repetition of slipcasting - I also favoured this with production throwing!
Q) The Mr & Mrs collection is a collaboration with your husband John and his company Wild and Wood. Tell us a little more about the ideas behind the collection and the designs themselves.
A) My husband and I had been working in separate areas of craft and many friends had suggested that we work together. I had been working in-house as a designer and wanted to start making again but build a collection to include work from other makers, such as pewter, bone china, terracotta, glass and oak. And it suddenly dawned on me I could get my husband John to make pieces in oak for me. As things progressed, we both saw that collaboration was a great idea.
Ceramic & wood are perfect partners. We launched our first collective range in 2011 at London Design Fair. The early range was all about oak & porcelain combinations, ceramic jar and oak lid, a long-serving board for a tea set etc. John still makes some pieces for me, such as oak presentation boards and the steam-bent oak handle and turned oak knob for my teapot. Other pieces have progressed into eco concrete which John has developed, and we design pieces that sit together in 3 materials and show at craft events together.
Q) Is there anyone you admire or draw inspiration from in the industry, craftspeople or otherwise?
A) If you’d asked me in my early career who inspires me I would’ve listed craft potters such as Carol McNicoll & Janice Tchalenko and designers such as Queensberry Hunt, and Robin Levein. Not much has changed; I’m still inspired by craft pottery and sleek industrial design. Pared back design but with an interesting twist is still inspiring.
Q) Do you have a particularly challenging piece to create, and why?
A) Teapots are always challenging as they are made of complex pieces, especially when you add in another material such as a wooden handle. Slipcasting with coloured clay is always going to be challenging - casting slip has a higher water content than any other clay process which makes it very difficult to control in the kiln, and add in a colour to stain the clay. This acts as a flux in the kiln bringing down the melting point, so pieces move and distort very easily in the kiln, especially at porcelain temperatures. So all of it is challenging!
Q) Do you have a favourite piece?
A) My favourite piece is the small teapot. It’s a simple piece that shouts I’m a teapot! It’s not complex to look at, but when you analyse it, it has a spout that is applied separately so I can piece the tea strainer inside. The spout is angled so it will pour well. The handle is well balanced, and light in hand and the lid won’t fall off when you tip it up. My first job when I graduated in 1991 was as a designer at Wedgwood. I progressed to working freelance with Queensberry Hunt. David Queensberry was my mentor at the Royal College of Art. I then worked at IKEA as a designer - developing my real favourite the Ikea 365+ range in 1994, and it's still in production today.
New book with Linda Bloomfield is available to preorder