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Interview with Sandy Layton, ceramic artist

Sandy Layton is a ceramic artist who regularly shows her work as part of the Merton Arts Trail.

Sandy LaytonAfter a career working as a psychotherapist in the NHS and privately, she returned to a life-long interest in ceramics and now produces innovative work from the studio in her Wimbledon home. She agreed to be interviewed for Time & Leisure.

Q.  Why did you decide on this change of career and come back to ceramics?

SL: It’s something I had always wanted to do. I discovered ceramics at a difficult time in my life when I was training as a teacher. I could lose myself in the process of throwing, firing and glazing pots, which was a great solace for me.  I retained an interest in it throughout my life and then, as my children became more independent, I started going to evening classes. I quickly realised that it was something I wanted to develop for myself. I was lucky enough to be offered a place on the prestigious diploma course at the City Lit in Holborn where I was trained by some of the country’s foremost contemporary ceramic artists.

What was the training like?

It was very challenging, very hard work. Although it was supposedly only a part-time course, in reality it was an intensive and totally absorbing, full-time, two-year training. I learned a great deal in a very short time, both technically and artistically.

You say it was challenging. In what way?

The greatest challenge was exploring my own experiences and personality to find my artistic voice. I suppose this is what any art student finds, but coming to it as a mature student was difficult, although my background as a psychotherapist certainly helped me. We covered everything from ceramic skills and techniques - throwing on the wheel, model-making and slip-casting, slab work, surface decoration, glaze technology and kiln firing -through chemistry, health and safety and workshop practice, to art history. And all the time we were producing work and hearing it criticised by the trainers and other students alike. But eventually we emerged, showing our work at the New Designers show, which was a proud moment!

What have you done since completing the training?

I set about developing my work further and perfecting my particular chosen techniques. I was attracted by throwing on the wheel and all my work starts in that way, although I then alter it to create fluid and varying forms.  I fire the work twice, applying glazes after the first firing using a variety of techniques. I’m always trying out new things, so it’s always a mixed feeling when I open my kiln and find out what has turned out well and what is disappointing.

I have been on a journey from more abstract expressionist work to more refined pieces which combine sculptural elements while also being functional. I like people to be able to use the things I make as well as enjoy having them and looking at them.

So what kind of work are you making now?

I am making work which is designed to be placed in conservatories and gardens – principally fountains and bird baths, which double as pieces of attractive sculpture. I combine in a single work a variety of elements, materials and forms, often with contrasting colours, shapes and surfaces, to make a coherent whole. I love working with porcelain. It is trickier and more delicate to work than other clays, but it produces a fabulous translucency and depth when it is fired and the glazes which you can apply to it can produce lovely layered effects. I often combine it with elements made from stoneware to produce a contrast.

You have your studio at home – how do you find that?

We converted our old garage as a studio, equipping it with glazed doors so I get lots of natural light. I have all I need - a wheel, kiln, spray-booth and other equipment. I make all my own glazes, so my shelves are full of  containers with powdered minerals and colourful oxides. It is very convenient to be able to work at home. I can combine my home life with my working day, and often spend time in the studio in the evenings and weekends too.

Where do you exhibit your work?

My work has been included in a number of sculpture gardens and gallery exhibitions. I was lucky enough to be selected for the Craft Council’s ‘Origin’ exhibition a couple of years ago. Last year my work was shown at the specialist Bevere Gallery in the Midlands and I also travelled to the Europe-wide craft fair Eunique in Karlsruhe, which was a fascinating experience.  This year my work will be shown in the Netherlands and France, as well as in several sculpture parks and galleries.

There has been a lot of local interest, not only from among our many friends in Wimbledon, but also from the many visitors who have come to my open studios during the Merton Arts Trail and subsequently.

How was the Merton Arts Trail experience?

Wendy Bliss and Chrissie Craig have created a fabulous project – it’s amazing to think that it’s only been going for a couple of years. I have taken part from the beginning and last year shared our open house with other artists and ceramicists.  It was very successful and I had lots of visitors both years. It was great being able to show my work in the relaxed atmosphere of my own home and being able to talk to the visitors and exchange ideas with them. My work was also included in the Chapter House exhibition last year, which enabled me to develop some site-specific work based around the theme of William Morris’s workshops at Merton Abbey Mills. I am really looking forward to this year’s Merton Arts Trail.

So what’s next?

I want to develop further my work for gardens, which gives me lots of opportunity for creativity. I am exploring more opportunities to exhibit in sculpture parks and I would love to work with garden designers to make unique pieces designed for their particular settings.

Wendy Bliss is co-founder of Merton Arts Trail

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