I don’t know about you but I am fascinated by the cleverness of artisans and creative folk. That raw materials can be transformed into things of beauty and functionality is something I have always been drawn to. A creative pull. I have had the idea in the back of my mind since I started this blog to chat with creative folk and find out what makes them tick. You may or may not know I sew, anything and everything from furnishings to frocks. I find changing a roll of cloth into a functional thing is oh so satisfying. (I’ll share my story another time, for now I’m sharing Jono’s.)
I first came across Jono on Instagram a few months ago. He is (in my opinion) very clever and always experimenting with clay. He makes beautiful tableware in a variety of clay mixes and finishes, his style is very distinctive. Let me introduce you…
Lets start at the beginning, tell us a little about yourself…
My name is Jono Smart, I guess at some point it wasn’t. I was born Jonathan, but have no memory of that name and forget to answer whenever I hear it.
I’m 32. I’ve worked as a bricklayer, an advertising executive, a garden designer and now, for the past twelve months, as a potter. All of those experiences feed into the work I do now.
I’ve spent most of my adult life living in London, but am now living in rural Devon. London shaped me, Devon has given me the space to think and make.
What lead you to become a potter?
I was working for one of the top garden design studios in the world, Luciano Giubbilei Design. I was travelling, managing large projects and budgets, constantly on email or the phone, dealing with lovely but demanding clients, and, if you can imagine it, making gardens became quite stressful.
They also took a very long time, sometimes three years from design through to installation. And then I’d get to see them for an afternoon and never again.
So, I felt I needed something more immediate, controllable and hands on. I’d worked with artisans and makers during my time, so I had a vague idea of what the different crafts were like. I also had a very small but well loved collection of pottery. So I thought this would be a sensible starting point.
I joined Turning Earth, a communal pottery studio in East London, and never looked back. We were supposed to be able to attend 18 hours a week. I did anything I could, cleaning, gardening, kiln loading to earn extra hours and was soon doing upwards of 60-70 hours a week. I was absolutely hooked and I still am.
What keeps you creative and inspires you?
Luciano taught me about creativity and design. It can’t just be something you turn on in the morning when you arrive in the studio. It has to be your whole life. Always being curious, searching out ideas, colours, textures, anything that might help with the next project. I learned to surround myself with creative and interesting people, to ask for help and advice, and discovered how generous the makers community can be.
Although I find enjoyment in many aspects of world: sculpture, music, mountains, lakes, it is normally something far more direct that feeds into my work. I may see a form in wood I really like, or a texture in stone. Two or three unconnected dots that I can mentally join up to create a new piece of work. Or even another potter’s work that makes me think “I like it, but wish it was more like this”.
I’m currently in my first studio and about to move into my second.
A potter’s workspace tends to mimic the flow of the process. Clay comes in at one end and leaves as cups, bowls and plates at the other and the studio is laid out to follow that process. So firstly, clay storage, then a wedging table where I knead the clay to make it more malleable to work with, then my wheel where I throw each piece, followed by drying shelves, a glazing table and finally the kiln.
I’ll have much more space in my new studio, an old converted barn just outside of London, so will be able to set up the studio to follow this process more efficiently.
My process is all about testing. I spend many hours mixing up new clays with oxides and grog to try and find three or four very specific finishes I have in mind. I must have made upwards of 300 test tiles in the past six months. I work in this way because my ideas start with colour and texture and I allow forms to follow from there.
And finally where can we find your work?
You can currently find my work on my website and stocked with a few lovely suppliers who have exclusive, collaborative pieces. Later on this year, there will be some new stockists launching parts of my work both in the UK and abroad. A truly exciting and unexpected time for me.
Thank you Jono for sharing your story with me. One thing I am learning is just how supportive a creative community is, as Jono mentioned above. Seeking out those who also have the urge to make and create, whatever their craft, is surprisingly helpful. I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to cotton on to it!
Top image taken by me, all others are from Jono’s Instagram gallery, full credits are on each photo there