Emma Alington is a Berkshire based ceramic artist who creates, as she calls them, gifts for the home. Emma rejects all mass production ideals with her unique and handmade ceramics designed for your home with love and built to last with their timeless designs.
What is it you create?
I’m a ceramic designer maker. After graduating in the summer of 2013 from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, I took the plunge to set up my own brand and business. I design and make a range of luxury ceramic products for the home and for the table. I work commercially with retailers, restaurants, and galleries, as well as on bespoke commissions with both private and public clients. My mission is simple: to create uniquely beautiful, high quality products with a purpose. Everything I make is handcrafted, authentic, and always has a story.
What are some of the materials you use in your creations and why/how do you source them?
I make everything in porcelain, all sourced from the UK. All of the materials used for surface decoration are also sourced in the UK. I use quite a limited range of materials, partly for consistency with my collections and partly from a cost perspective.
How do you keep up with trends and do you feel looking at other designer’s work helps inspire you or otherwise? And why?
I could spend hours looking around places such as The Conran Shop, Liberty’s, Designers Guild, Anthropologie… it’s my perfect way to spend an afternoon! I find that it is so important to sometimes ‘take off the blinkers’ from working in a small studio all day; looking at what’s around is my fuel. I do enjoy keeping an eye on trends and seeing what’s out there, yes, but at the same time I don’t base a collection directly around a trend. I feel that with trends, people are at risk of already know what to expect. I mention later on that I try to look at things differently, in a way that might challenge people’s assumptions. Offering something innovative and unique – like my hand-blown bubble print on porcelain – it’s an approach that I strive for.
Who do you design for? Who is your target audience?
I hope that people who buy my work are the type of people who appreciate the craftsmanship that has gone into each piece, someone who chooses to invest in something handcrafted and of a high quality, rather than buy a £5.00 vase from a supermarket. My ceramic collections are aimed at the high-end tableware and homeware market, they’re timeless product for the home. As for my bespoke work however, I find it has a wider audience; I’ve had a lot of orders for wedding gifts, custom birthday presents, and even a bespoke collection to match a home interior.
Do you do anything by hand? Is this process gruelling?
I do everything by hand. Each and every piece is hand made in the studio. I’m very process driven, so the making aspect of any product or collection is hugely important; keeping quality, size and any decoration consistent and crucial. It’s not a gruelling process – it’s the most fun part of running my business. Getting my hands messy brings the all-important element of fun into it.
What is the best part of designing a piece?
I think it’s seeing how a design develops from start to finish. It’s like a story. Having that initial idea and making it a reality, it’s engaging and exciting. My new collection ‘With A Twist’, for example, was purely a result of my curiosity to see if hand blown bubble printing was possible on porcelain. After a lot of fun, trials, errors and patience, to now see the pieces on the shelves is such a great feeling.
How do you come up with your ideas?
For my most recent collection ‘With A Twist’, I knew I wanted to design a collection that was quirky, bold and contemporary. Inspired by cocktails, each of the five shapes in the collection relates to a particular cocktail glass. And as for the surface design, I wanted something which was striking and that would capture the fun, bubbly connotations we have with cocktails. And after a lot of playing around in the studio with washing up liquid, ceramic underglaze (like a ceramic paint), and a straw, I refined a process which I knew would be controlled enough to repeat time after time, but would also give each piece totally unique bubble pattern. I think it’s important to keep an element of fun when coming up with new ideas. I try and think of what people aren’t familiar with, or something they are familiar with but in a different context, then see how I can work it into ceramics. I like to challenge people’s assumptions.
What is your favourite piece you have made and why?
I think it’s actually a bespoke order I made for a client last Christmas. I was asked to make a bespoke ceramic toast rack. I’d never made one before, so the challenge alone was an exciting process. I made a few spares to allow for error, and I now use one of the spares on my desk as a letter stand. It’s probably one of the most useful things I have around! It’s one thing to say that I want my designs to have more than one function, but to actually experience it first hand is quite rewarding. Thankfully the toast rack was very well received, too.
What inspires you to create?
I think I’m equally as driven by the designing and making of things, as I am by the idea of people wanting and having my products in their home. Creativity feeds into so much of what I do, it’s an inevitable mind frame I feel very lucky to have. I find that inspiration comes from looking at things in a different way; challenging people’s assumptions with new ideas is what I aim for.
How would you personally describe your work?
My style in three words would be contemporary, quirky and elegant; I try to keep the heritage of craftsmanship at the heart of each design. Integrity is something I hope feeds into all that I create, too. As for the actual physical work – the way it feels is hugely important. Balancing tactility, scale and weight are always interesting but challenging elements to work with.
How important is colour and shape in your work?
Shape is the most important factor with all of my work. The shape of something determines the aesthetic, any technical and financial factors, and the complexity of production. Once I’ve got a shape right, it feels right. (Usually a matter of trusting my instincts!) Balancing a shape with surface design is the next step. I tend to use colour very minimally, I want the beauty of the materials or decorative processes to have the visual emphasis here.
What makes your creations so unique?
My decorative processes I hope are what make my designs have an innovative and unique edge. People are amazed when I explain how I achieve the bubble pattern! There’s such a sense of fun and nostalgia with bubble printing – it’s something we may be familiar with from a very early age at school; blowing paint bubbles and printing it onto paper. Taking this approach and applying it to ceramics, turning it into something functional and contemporary is my ultimate aim for this new collection.
What advice would you give to those looking to follow in your footsteps?
The first vital ingredients you need are passion, determination and self believe. When I took the plunge after graduating to set up and run my own business, although I had in-depth knowledge about ceramic design, I had no real business skills. So as well as focusing on what you’re good at, being aware of your weaknesses at the start is really important; there are so many organisations specific to the design industry that offer some great guidance and financial support for start-ups.
As well as having a good grounding to start with, whether it’s a studio / good contact list / financial security, keep looking ahead. Create your own opportunities and stay in the loop. I’m a firm believer that the harder I try, the luckier I get.
What does it feel like to see people wear/use your work?
It’s the best feeling! It’s like an encouraging nod of proof that I’m doing the right thing. It’s so rewarding when people like my work (which I know sounds obvious!). To go from having an initial idea, and to then see that idea go up on the shelves and in people’s homes – it’s absolutely what drives me.
How do you stay inspired, motivated and full of ideas?
One of the biggest challenges I have working alone in my own studio is the fear that my creative fuel will dry up. I try to use this to my advantage – it’s the fear that makes me get out there, to stay in the loop and network as much as possible. See things, go places, meet people. I work best when I’m busy! My inspiration is sparked by motivation for the next step, which inevitably involves new ideas. It’s a thought process that always goes full circle.
What are you working on now?
At the moment I’m busy producing my new ‘With A Twist’ collection ready for a couple of exhibitions I have coming up in London, as well as producing small batches for stockists. I launched this collection in May so it’s great that it has already had a good response. I’m also working on a new collection for Little Carousel Gallery; a company I work with designing bespoke children’s ceramic tableware and accessories.
What is the dream?
The absolute dream is to develop my brand to a point where I can move to a bigger studio and work with a team of designers developing my current brand, expanding my product range and eventually being recognised as a successful and respected British design label.
Featuring Emma Alington www.emmaalington.co.uk
Words by Loo Loo Rose