‘Little Boat Adrift’: Interview with Rhianna Pedwell


Words: Rhianna Pedwell and Stella Riethmuller

Photography and styling: Emily Amadio

Little Boat Adrift vase and trinket dishTell us about the name, ‘Little Boat Adrift’.

I'd been doing ceramics at Clayschool for around nine months and decided in the new year - the start of this year - I would start a ceramics-dedicated Instagram account. I didn't have a name for this, and at the same time I was feeling pretty stuck along a career trajectory I hadn't planned to be on. I wasn't sure where to go next, so like a 'little boat adrift' was exactly how I was feeling at the time. The analogy stuck so strongly in my mind that I had to go with it. Now I frame it more as a position of great potential; it's not as bleak as it seems! 

What career did you dream of pursuing when you were a kid?

I think I variously wanted to be a chef or cook (I love food), a writer, and/or a teacher. The closest I came to any of those was when I worked in research; the majority of my job was writing and I even mentored and trained people one-on-one. Still a happy home cook and food enthusiast, too. 

What motivated you to undertake training in ceramics?

I was looking for a hobby, and I'm not totally sure why I chose pottery - though I'd liked handmade ceramics for a while. I think I was just curious about how it all worked. I went to a Clayschool exhibition and spoke to an artist who was very encouraging about applying for a place. Once I started, it was pretty clear it wasn't going to be easy to walk away from. 

Is ceramics compulsively methodical for you? If so, what particular aspects of the process are you continually drawn back to?

I do get very caught up in the method, and I sometimes I remind myself that it's pretty special to have the skillset I now do. Throwing can be equally demanding and rewarding, physically and mentally. Otherwise, I love watching how the clay itself changes throughout the process, both in composition and colour. I'm increasingly drawn to focussing on form and minimal surface decoration for this reason. 

What inspires your creative practice?

I make primarily functional ceramics; pieces people can use. I like the idea of bringing something special into everyday routines and rituals. I think it's important to surround yourself with carefully and beautifully made things. My aim I suppose is for my pieces to be beautiful both on their own and while they're being used, and for them to be used often and for a long time. 

Is making beautiful things an antidote to environmental destruction?

It is, in a way. It's certainly an antidote to mass-production and instant gratification (which is tied in with environmental destruction). Pottery is a slow craft, and a very old one. It's fulfilling to be a small part of that history, and to be able to tie it in with my world view.  

Can you identify any particular style influences in your ceramics?                        

Two influences that come to mind are minimalism and sort of a relaxed modernism. Clayschool has been a wonderful informal introduction to aesthetics and pottery techniques and styles. The most transformative so far has been the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, particularly in embracing the imperfect nature of my and other handmade items. I love ancient Greek pottery shapes, and these are also starting to appear in my work. 

Little Boat Adrift bud vase

Whose work do you admire?

London artists Milo Made and Sophie Alda are always creating incredible ceramic forms, as are Australian artists Nicolette Johnson, Oh Hey Grace, and Hearth Collective.

I just looked these folks up on Instagram, and saw forms that radically challenge traditional pottery aesthetics (especially Nicolette Johnson); modernist influences (Hearth Collective, Hearth Collective and Sophie Alda) and playfulness (Oh Hey Grace).

Absolutely, and playfulness is a great word too. I think as someone who tends towards perfectionism this is an element of practice that I want to hold on to. Have fun with it, and find forms that I enjoy making, in my personal style. Every time I encounter a new artist who is established in this way, like I see these artists are, it inspires me to keep trying to find my aesthetic. 

Share something about yourself that isn’t related to ceramics.

I have a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology. That's perhaps as unrelated to ceramics as I can get, though I've never worked as an actual scientist.

But you worked as a research assistant, didn’t you? I imagine you recording data in clay school about all of the variables!

There is so much science in ceramics and I'm totally fascinated by it all; the glaze chemistry, different firing atmospheres, properties of clay. I think if I ever did formal study in clay this is an aspect I would really enjoy and I'd take a very scientific approach to records. I try to keep notes at Clayschool, but I'm pretty relaxed - it's a nice break from all the formality of my old job. Although there's nothing worse than getting something amazing out of the kiln and not being sure what you did! If I'm experimenting I'll always note my glaze combinations and underglaze colours. 

Little Boat Adrift mugWhat’s next for Little Boat Adrift?

I'm going to work on refining my style and skilling up at Clayschool, and I'm considering setting up an online shop. There are a couple of exciting projects in the works for next year that I'll be able to talk about soon. More short term be sure to keep an eye out for me at the Clayschool end of year show in December. It's more than worth a visit to see the skill, and diversity of style of my fellow students and teachers. 

 A selection of Rhianna’s work can be found in the ceramics collection