Posted 7th October 2019
Meet... Myra McDonnell and Sophie MacCarthy
Find out more about ceramicists Myra McDonnell and Sophie MacCarthy, whose unique studio ceramics are available to purchase in
Watts Ceramics 2019 - our current exhibition in Watts Contemporary Gallery.
Myra's career began with a degree in Industrial Ceramics from Stoke-on-Trent followed by an MA in Ceramics from the Royal College of Art. In a career spanning 40 years she has worked for many prestigious clients, amongst which are Carlton Ware, Raymond Blanc, and Soho House. Myra was introduced to tin glaze techniques by Alan Caiger-Smith at Aldermaston, where she was based for 20 years. She has since travelled and worked in China, Finland and India, gaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of forming techniques and glazes. She has lectured at Brighton College of Art and UCA Farnham.
She has also taught and consulted at Grayshott Pottery.
'All my life I have been fascinated by the history of ceramics. I have specialised in learning traditional techniques, from bronze age bowls to high Victorian decorative ware. Most of my design influences come from history, and the designs often reflect the symbolism of different countries. For example, fruit is given at Italian weddings to symbolise fecundity; fish are the oriental symbol of wealth and freedom. The Arts & Crafts movement used similar influences, so I combine many Islamic influences with those of William De Morgan and William Morris.
The decoration is “in glaze", which means that the designs are painted onto the glaze while it is unfired; the colours bear little relation to the fired colours. It's a bit like painting onto blotting paper, and there is no room for error as the glaze immediately sucks up the colour. The painted decoration is then fired along with the glaze.'
Sophie has been a studio potter for over 30 years and has established a reputation for distinctive imagery and a bold and joyous approach to colour. She trained in ceramics at Amersham College of Art and also studied sculpture at Wimbledon School of Art. Working from studios in the East End of London (currently in a converted chocolate factory in Stoke Newington), she has been influenced by the area's colours and atmosphere, which juxtapose the gritty urban environment with the natural world. Sophie has exhibited widely across the UK; she held a residency at Charleston House and taught at Morley College in London from 1990 to 2002. She supplied illustrations for The Folio Society editions of Elizabeth David's cookbooks.
'My work is slip-painted earthenware. All my ceramics are thrown and turned, apart from the oval platters, which are press-moulded. I then paint coloured slips directly on to the dry clay surface, and they are absorbed straight away, allowing for spontaneity and greater tonal depth. I use a combination of stencils, wax resist, scraffito, sponging and paper cut-outs to create the imagery, which is predominantly drawn from what I see around me – multi-coloured leaves gathered round a drain grid, or blue sky reflected in puddles. The ceramics are then fired, glazed and fired again at a temperature of 1137°c.'
Banner image: Sophie MacCarthy