Wild Clay & Natural Glazes Gallery

Rachel Fooks Ceramics – Hand dug clay being passed through a sieve.

My love for clay and making pots began as a young child. I have beautiful memories of digging soft pliable red clay out of a friends back garden to make little pinch pots that we’d leave to dry in the baking summer sun, later used for making rose petal perfume. It’s this innocent sense of play, magic and wonder that ignited my love of working with clay.

The landscape around me is rich in clay and ancient history. When out walking it’s easy to imagine our bronze age ancestors in their roundhouses, air filled with wood smoke, communities farming, preserving and making pottery. Gathering and processing raw materials from the earth was fundamental to their survival, clay being a necessary and integral part of our ancient culture.

Partly a romanticised vision of the past and partly in response to the damage and high carbon footprint caused by the quarrying, storage and transportation of ceramic materials, I have an overwhelming urge to form a deeper connection to the landscape, the past and my inner child.

The Clay
The clay that I collect is either ‘Wealdon Clay’ (a low firing clay with a high iron content giving me a varied palette ranging from a beautiful sunshine orange to a deep burgundy red) or ‘Ball Clay’ (a rare, white, high firing clay well known for being Josiah Wedgewood’s ‘secret ingredient’ used today to make anything from floor tiles to fertiliser). I never take more than a trowel full of clay from any one location which could be a riverbank, the seashore or a mole hill. The clay goes through intensive refining process to rid the clay of impurities making it suitable for me to use.

The Build
All the vessels are created using the hand building techniques of coiling or pinching with their forms taking their shape from things I see around me, like seed pods, tree trunks, rock formations and hills. Because collecting and refining the clay is so labour intensive, I make the walls of the vessels very thin thus minimising the amount of clay used. The properties of ball clay are such that it becomes incredibly tough and durable when fired.

The Surface Decoration
The surfaces are decorated using a varied range of slips (watered down clay), their colour depending on where the clay was collected, with each location providing its own unique shade. Sometimes I paint the slip on with a brush or apply it with a sponge, pour it on or monoprint. I experiment with adding texture to the surface with found natural objects like shells and sticks, and I create patterns inspired by shapes in the landscape. The glazes I use are made from the ash of plants, sea weed and wood that I collect, dry and burn. Each batch of ash that I make differs from the last giving different results in the kiln every firing, making each piece absolutely unique.

The Journey
When I began this journey I had absolutely no idea what form my new work would take which was terrifying but incredibly exciting! I’ve kept a diary of thoughts, details of research and experiments which I’ve presented in my blog.