Photographs Barbora Mrazkova
Ceramicist Lily Pearmain continues our Makers in Lockdown series as she contemplates a summer without craft fairs and takes a moment to celebrate the ritual of a good cup of tea.
How has Covid-19 affected your practice?
I’ve adjusted to it, though there is still a background hum of anxiety. It now feels normal in a way. I’m really lucky, I have one studio mate who lives in west London so she has been working from home. I’ve been in the studio on my own. Initially it was weird, but I’ve been able to distract myself with work. At first, I had a lot of work cancelled. I had one project that was 4-5 months work and a lot of money. I had turned down other work to do it and was half way through the project and a week into the lockdown they told me to hold fire. I’d given a lot of space emotionally to it. Happily, now it’s back on.
Have you noticed a change in what customers are interested in buying? Do you think this pandemic will change how and what we buy?
I’ve definitely seen a change in not getting big commissions, it’s a lot more individual people wanting tableware. It’s not really my business model as it’s time consuming in terms of admin. But the advantage is you get 100% of the money and it’s interesting being in direct contact with the customer. You have to be more open to what people want, and change glazes if that’s what they request. It’s a different process. There’s been a lot of people buying through the website, through word of mouth. Restaurant tableware work has dried up.
People have a ritual around coffee and tea drinking. Jugs are very popular. It’s a treat taking five minutes to stand by the kettle and let your mind have a break. It’s a real moment. That ritual is worth spending a bit of money on.
‘People try to replicate where my hand has been, it’s about forging a connection…’
Is selling direct to customer via the website or Instagram the future?
The nature of what I do isn’t something I can translate into a photograph. The website takes away the element of interaction with the piece, how you can put your lips to it, wrap your hands round it. I can’t translate that to a website. I want people to be able to interact with the work and use it. It’s difficult creating that narrative around a piece.
My brain is analogue and not used to working in a digital way. I could function without the website, but it’s a nice way of connecting with individuals, and now with the lack of big orders, it’s keeping me going. There are not going to be craft markets for the rest of the summer. Knowing I won’t have that income I’m making sure there’s a selection of what I do online.
What other outlets do you have?
I have sold to Matches Fashion. They really pushed me in terms of output and introduced me to a new market that I didn’t have any idea about before. I also sell through Richeldis Fine Art and M.A.H.
What are the advantages of being self-taught?
I went away last year to Winchcombe Pottery in the Cotswolds for five weeks and I’m still unpacking what I learnt, especially because I am self-taught. It’s important otherwise you run the risk of getting stagnant and not progressing. I did my degree in Russian and History at UCL and supported my work with teaching and child minding until two years ago. Since then, I’ve been doing my own thing. For me being self-taught is good, it means there is not a point at which you are ‘done’.
Between big commissions, I go and spend time on a residency and let myself question what I’ve been doing to give myself time to experiment. I had planned to do a residency this summer but now I am trying to create that space here in my studio. Maybe I will have a month not taking any commissions. I have to be strict with myself.
Who’s your customer?
My demographic is women my age (I’m 28) and slightly older, to mid 40s. It’s mainly women. There’s more of an emphasis now on buying something that means something. My friends rent and want to take control of their environment but they also want less stuff. My own small ceramics collection is things I’ve had a nice conversation with the maker at a fair about, or a particular thing that means something to me. I don’t want just inherent beauty but something imbued with a bit of love because of a personal connection. It gives a physical thing so much more weight. It’s even more important now you can’t see anyone or touch anything. The pieces I make with my fingertips in the glaze, people try to replicate where my hand has been, it’s about forging a connection.
Has lockdown changed people’s relationship to craft?
People are making banana bread and bread and it’s very therapeutic. I hope it will continue post lockdown in people’s lives and make people feel empowered by it. Just make stuff, it doesn’t matter if it’s bad! The process is as powerful as the outcome. I hope that it opens a window in people’s minds to craft in a broader scope. As soon as you start making sourdough, you appreciate how hard it is and the effort that goes into make a really great loaf of bread. You appreciate the craftsmanship of the baker.
I’ve been trying to make clothes and it has made be appreciate how hard it is to make clothes! It opens up a world of thinking how things are made, not just a dialogue about craft but about consumerism and where things come from. And people have had time to do that.