Jane Cairns | Thinking about the details

Jane Cairns
Jane Cairns : In conversation with Contemporary Ceramics Centre

CCC : How were you first drawn to working with clay?

JC: I’d always appreciated craft and ceramics in particular and was looking for something creative to do, so I started night classes at Kensington and Chelsea college just as a hobby and was completely hooked.

CCC: What route did you take when first starting out.  Did you take a formal route through education or a more informal approach?

JC: After a couple of years of night classes I was visiting Ceramic Art London, and realized that I wanted ceramics to be more than a hobby. I wanted to find out if I was at all capable of being as good as the people exhibiting there.

I decided that the way for me to do that was to spend a proper amount of dedicated time working on and exploring ceramics. I was lucky to be able to go back to university and decided to apply for a Ceramics Degree, and went to the University of Westminster (Harrow).

There I had fabulous tutors, who showed me how broad a practice ceramics can be. They gave me skills and knowledge and, along with a great cohort of fellow ‘mature’ students, encouraged, challenged and enabled me to begin to find my way with ceramics.

I graduated in 2011.
Jane Cairns | Float 1

CCC: Who were the inspirational people during this time and did events take place to influence your practice and learning?

JC: I really valued tutorials with Sarah Scampton but she often asked the toughest questions... maybe that’s what made them so useful! I remember her asking if I had meant a certain detail to be that way, or I had just not thought about it! She talked about intentionality, how the quality of an edge, the curve in a form... how a surface is finished, every element of making needing to be considered and meant. Not that work needs to be super finished and certainly not ‘perfect', you might allow materials or process to drive your making, but that every element matters and it should be intentional. It still serves as a good reminder in the studio where there is a temptation to rush or just get something finished. Take a moment to look at the details of a piece and think about the details. Are they what you want them to be?

As part of the Crafts Council Hothouse programme in 2013 I was incredibly lucky to have Annie Turner as a mentor and she gave a great combination of creative and practical advice (including her glaze recipe!) and a fabulous insight into how to build a sustained ceramic practice. We talked about where the work comes from and the importance to us both of place, how it can take time to find your voice, which pieces worked and which didn’t. To have someone whose work you really admire see something positive in your work, and be so supportive in sharing their experience, was really important to me.

Jane Cairns | Single Grid
CCC: Have you needed to overcome any challenges?
JC: Although I think that you can make a living from making ceramics, you do have to make a certain set of choices to do so and, maybe, because I’m a second career maker, this isn’t the route I’ve chosen to follow. Like many other makers, my biggest challenge is the constant balance and juggling of ceramics with part-time work and the sense there is never quite enough time to do all the things one would like to.

CCC: How has your practice changed over time?

JC: It took me a good few years to find my voice I think. I wasn’t a maker who graduated knowing exactly what I wanted to make, and my work has changed quite a lot. My work evolves rather than shifting radically and I recognize that it all comes from the same source; my response to my directly observed surroundings; the ordinary things I see every day. Making also evolves as I remake and refine familiar forms and finishes and experiment and explore newer things; the two feed each other.

I also continue to refine where and how I show work, from working out which fairs are best for me, which galleries I want to show work with, which opportunities I should apply for, and maybe as importantly, which fairs, galleries, and opportunities aren’t quite right for me or my work.

After being on Hothouse I co-founded a collective, haptic/tacit, with other ceramicists, Grant Aston and Kim Norton, in order to find ways of showing more conceptual or non-commercial work ourselves and to build our creative networks. It’s been really satisfying to develop this to sit alongside my more core practice.

Jane Cairns | Corner (Yellow with black) framed
CCC: How does working with clay influence your life beyond the workshop?

JC: There is nothing quite like a good day on my own in a quiet studio working with clay to restore my equilibrium and make me a happier person!

CCC: What advice would you give to others starting with clay?

JC: If you want to make ceramics a career, make what you want to make and then find ways of sharing it to find other people that appreciate it.

Trying to work out what people might buy or following fashion has no guarantees and is, I think, ultimately unsatisfying.

In my practice the hardest times are when I’m not happy with what I’m making, unloading a disappointing kiln is particularly depressing or knowing I’m not putting my best work out there, but when the creative work is working, when I’m pleased with what I’m making and happy to put it into the world, that seems to make all the other challenges of being a maker in 2019 seem much more manageable.

Jane Cairns 2019

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