Richard Miller

Richard Miller Bottles, by Richard Miller Beakers, by Richard Miller
tile by Richard Miller

Potter Richard Miller has the best of both professional worlds. He makes his own one-off pieces of domestic stoneware, as well as running Froyle Tiles, an ailing enterprise that he took over in 2005. The now successful tile company provides him with the financial security to make his own work and allows him to make a living working with the material he loves, clay.


Why were you first attracted to ceramics?

I think it was really down to having an inspirational teacher at college who was good at enthusing students. That was when I fell in love with clay and became captivated by it and all its possibilities. I love working with clay because it is such a basic material – just mud really – and yet you can use it to create something very complex. I love its tactile quality and the fact that you can work out your ideas so fast with it. I think also I’ve always been a bit of a pyromaniac so the idea of firing up a kiln was also quite attractive.

Can you describe your own pottery as opposed to the work you do at Froyle Tiles?

Richard at workMy own work is wood-fired, wheel-thrown domestic stoneware. I made a trip to Japan when I was training and consequently many of my ceramics are influenced by Japanese forms such as the tea bowl. I also make a lot of bottles as I like the symbolism attached to bottles – they’re very communal as they’re all about the idea of socialising with friends and the coming together of people.  Though quite quiet, reflective forms, I like the way you can set up a dialogue between them when you put them in groups – you can create a narrative. The forms create an aesthetic that extends beyond that of purely domestic function.

How important is the idea of function and use in your work?

Very. I think because of my early experience as a jobbing potter coupled with the fact that I, like most people, use domestic pottery on a daily basis, the idea of use has become ingrained into my psyche. I also find it very satisfying to make things people are able to use.

Why do you use a wood-fired kiln rather than an electric kiln?

I’m very interested in process and I like the challenge of wood firing. I also like the unpredictability of it – you have very little idea what the pots will look like when they come out of the kiln. I find that very alluring, especially as at Froyle Tiles we are always trying to pin down the processes as the last thing we want are varied results. Compared to production work, wood-firing is very liberating as it allows you to experiment creatively with a more tacit approach to knowledge gaining.

I also like the colour effects the wood-firing achieves. I use a Japanese glaze called shino which produces amazing colour variation in the kiln: a single coating of glaze produces an incredibly complex surface. The pieces seem to take on a character of their own, reflecting each individual wood-firing.

How do you come to take over Froyle Tiles?

Froyle Tiles, PotteryA friend of mine had told me it was closing down and so I went along to see if there was any equipment or materials going, but when I looked round the place I just fell in love with the product. I felt it would be a huge shame if all those skills and products just disappeared. I decided to take it on as it seemed to tick all the boxes: the products were very functional, could be used in a domestic environment and I felt they had a very beautiful range of glazes. I also loved the fact that they were so different to anything else you see on the tile market as they are high-fired, reduced stoneware tiles which are rarely produced industrially. I’m also a real stickler for process and part of me just wanted to learn about them and develop new skills. As it was a ceramics business I suppose it was also an opportunity to make my living working with something that is clay-based. I thought it would be my financial bread and butter and would give me space to make my own work.

How did the first couple of years at Froyle Tiles work out?

It was a huge commitment in terms of money and time – to begin with I inherited a small amount of debt and the hours I worked were insane. I had no knowledge of the product, the processes or how to run a business and so it was a really steep learning curve. But now the business is financially sound and in spite of the credit crunch we are really busy so I have absolutely no regrets.

You’ve recently started a work experience scheme for students from Farnham; why did you decide to do this?

There’re two reasons really – one quite selfish and one more altruistic. I think the scheme is important as the university courses don’t seem to teach the students fundamental making and business skills and this scheme helps fill in the gaps. But also I think the students are a good source of new collaborations which will help refresh our range and hopefully develop new relationships between ourselves and the University.

Do you feel that Froyle Tiles gets in the way of your own work?

Yes it does in terms of time. I have to consciously set aside time to make – it often helps if I commit to various shows and then I have to give myself time to make! I think I would go really insane if I didn’t have any time to do my own work – spending all day working with clay but not being able to work creatively with it.

In an ideal world, would you prefer to concentrate on your own work or Foyle Tiles?

I suppose if I could make a living by just selling my own work I would love to do it, although bizarrely I do quite like the monotony of production work – I find it almost meditative – and I like all the hard physical work it involves. Eventually I suppose I would like to just make my own work and take a more managerial role at Froyle Tiles, but currently my experiences at Froyle Tiles feeds directly into my own work and is a great opportunity to learn and develop.

Do you still do some teaching work?

Yes, I do a small amount of teaching as it keeps my hand in. For example, I am running a Theatre of Making event on 11 July when we will be giving people a chance to have a go at throwing. The idea is to enthuse people and let them have a bit of fun and experience the beauty of clay, something I think is really important especially now working with clay seems to be being taken out of the school environment. Teaching’s a great learning experience as you meet people from different backgrounds with different ideas who in turn feed you creatively, something very important if you work mainly in a production environment.

Interview by Diana Woolf