Breaking new ground in ceramics

Ceramicist Anna Thomson works from her studio in East Sussex producing vessels, lighting and wall pieces. She works with interior designers, galleries and private clients to provide unique ceramic peices that celebrate craft and materials. Anna says;

“Inspired by themes of repetition, variation, erosion, transformation and duality I hope to bring a little delight, intrigue and discovery through my work.

I draw on my experience with industry and technical skill in mould-making, embracing 3D digital technologies and bring these to a craft environment to explore possibilities, innovating new techniques. I work with different vitreous clay bodies like porcelain and bone china. The materials themselves and how they have been constructed often play a part in the final form or surface qualities of my work.

I love the challenge and continual learning that ceramics brings and working with a material imbued with history and the magic of transformation in fire.”

The Journey

Anna explained how she started and her creative journey so far.

“Having undergone a very academic education I surprised everyone when I decided to pursue a creative career after my science A-levels. On the foundation course,  I discovered materials and workshops for the first time and fell in love with 3D design. I was accepted onto a workshop-based Design for Production course at Brighton University and graduated with a first class degree presenting innovative compression moulds for recycled plastics, new materials made from waste sweetcorn husks and sculptural hollow cast ceramic tableware. At the time, back in 1997, I was the only student embracing CNC and CAD.

In 1999 I co-founded the design company Hub with a start up grant from the Crafts Council and a £5k loan from the Princes Trust. Hub designed a range of ceramic homewares with sculptural influences. My business partner had majored in Ceramics so this was an obvious choice of materials that we both had experience with. Model and mould-making was completed in-house then outsourced to be made by UK manufacturers in Stoke on Trent. We launched with One Year On and had help from The Design Trust. Both were the brainchildren of the fabulous Peta Levi MBE (also founder of New Designers and Design Nation) who believed passionately in forming links between designers and industry and providing opportunities for those starting out in their design careers. Hub exhibited at tradefairs including 100% design in the UK and then worldwide under BEDG (British European Design Group). The collection was stocked by some big names like Conran, Liberty, Harrods, DKNY. The press loved us and we had much success with big features in The Sunday Times, Elle Decoration, Wallpaper and many more.

In 2002 I had to take a career break that extended into a decade during which time I kept a little of my creativity going with freelance work. When I was able to return to ceramics in 2012, Stoke on Trent had undergone massive factory closures so I had to reassess the way I would set up second time round. I had a passion for making and needed a slower start to balance with my other commitments. I set up a studio at home and bought a second hand kiln. I worked in a part time capacity and really enjoyed bringing decisions into the making as well as the designing, being free from the constraints of production  and bringing a high level of craftsmanship into my work. It was a completely different business model with limited supply capabilities and high time costs to factor in. With this new found freedom, I couldn’t help but start innovating and developing new making techniques,  utilising industrial techniques in a craft environment and making things that wouldn’t be possible in industry. So, I find myself in the craft sector and loving it!

Today I work full time in my studio and am ready for some bigger challenges, stepping up my practice and hoping to make a contribution to craft through my unique approach, scaling up and taking on some bigger commissions. By the end of my career I want to be able to look back and say that my work drew on all my experiences and passions. That it succeeded in encompassing my whole creative journey in form, inspiration, innovation concept and skill. That my work has integrity, is enjoyed and makes a long lasting contribution to this period of ceramics and craft.”

The Support

Anna  applied for SEC support for some specialist input into the further development of her creative business.  She says;

“The timing was perfect. My social media and marketing skills really needed a lot of attention as well as a confidence boost to play bigger again. I knew I needed to make some changes to the way my business was working, but needed some specialist help with exactly what and how to make those changes. Workshops over two full days were really helpful, but for me the one to one mentoring sessions with Patricia Van Den Akker from the Design Trust have been especially invaluable in helping me to understand the values that underpin my business and helping me to gain more clarity and vision. The who, how and what fall into place a little easier then. It was fabulous to reconnect with Patricia from The Design Trust after a good 20 years. Her expert understanding of craft businesses together with her down to earth approach was an honour to experience. Reading suggestions have been so helpful too.”

Next Steps

The mentoring process coincided with the lock-down period when galleries closed, events and teaching workshops were cancelled. She says;

“The sudden availability of time was an amazing opportunity for me to really indulge in the process and do all my homework and reading tasks set by my mentor alongside undertaking new experimental studio work that was in tune with my values and vision. I have developed an ambitious 38-piece modular mould which involved some CAD and 3D printing initially and am exploring its possibilities at the moment. I am running a series of experiments laminating different vitreous bodies and utilising the tensions created between them to transform the work during the firing. I am developing different subtractive erosion techniques that can reveal hidden layers built up within or accentuate softer and harder materials. Exciting new work is emerging and I will be sharing these developments over the coming months. I have two events this Autumn/Winter where I will be showing some of this new work and gauging the response to help inform the direction I go with it.

As a sole trader my biggest challenge will be allocating the time away from the studio for marketing, social media and building new client relationships.

It also looks like I will be needing a bigger kiln soon too!”

Read this and more South East Creative Success Stories here. 




Posted by sally on Wednesday 9 September 2020