Rosanna Martin

Rosanna Martin vessel by Rosanna Martin vessel by Rosanna Martin
vessel by Rosanna Martin
vessel by Rosanna Martin

Ceramist Rosanna Martin makes simply shaped, elegant porcelain pots, decorated with subtle, abstract patterns. They are all hand-thrown as the throwing process and the very physical interaction with the material it involves is a vital part of her practice. She says, 'Most of my inspiration comes from actually sitting and making.'


What first attracted you to ceramics?

My mother is a potter and my father makes kitchens so I have always been surrounded by handmade things. I loved art as a child, but it wasn’t until my foundation course at Falmouth that I started to work more three dimensionally and decided to specialise in ceramics. I chose ceramics as I was really attracted to the material – it’s so expressive and so immediate.

Why did you decide to concentrate on throwing techniques?

During my degree course I spent a lot of time learning how to throw pots and I became really interested in the physical making of throwing. I enjoy the way you become completely involved in the process and the physical interaction with the clay. Most of my inspiration comes directly from this – from actually sitting and making. It’s very immediate and intuitive. It’s the physical engagement with the clay on the wheel that really interests me – the interaction between the material and my body and the way I really have to use most of my body to make each pot.

I am also interested in the parts of the throwing process that are often overlooked. I like reclaiming the waste clay and using that to make bigger pots using coiling or hand building processes. They are slower processes but just as instinctive – they’re almost meditative.

Do you design each pot before you start work, or is it a more intuitive process?

I make fairly simple vessel forms, and I know more or less what they will look like in the end, but I like the fact that each time they come out slightly different. It’s part of the pleasure I get from making. You start with lots of balls of clay the same size and then see what naturally happens to them when you get them on the wheel. I try not to restrict the clay but to work with it and find a balance between what the material wants to do and my intentions. This is an area that I am about to start developing further, looking into the balance between intention and control.

Many of your pots are decorated with thin, spiralling lines. How do you achieve that effect?

After I left university I spent some time working at Fireworks in Cardiff and while I was there I became very interested in Richard Serra’s Verb List Compilation: Actions to Relate to Oneself. He put together a whole list of verbs and I was particularly struck by the verb ‘to encircle’ and started exploring it in my ceramics. I decorate them while they are spinning on the wheel, running turning tools up and down the sides of the pots at different speeds to make encircling patterns – like 3D sketches – around the outside. I start with a black clay slip on the outside and that is gradually removed by the lines of the turning tool to reveal a white ground. As the lines are incised into the clay they also create a certain texture and I like the way that contrasts with the smooth glaze inside the vessels. I glaze the insides of the pots in different colours to increase this contrast between the inside and outside.

Are all your pots decorated in this way?

I am looking into different ways of mark making and different ways of creating a sense of movement on the exterior of the pots. I use a similar process to my older pots – coating the outside with two layers of slip (black and then white again)- but I’m turning the wheel much more slowly so I can make small individual marks in the clay rather than a single continuous line. These marks are inspired by lots of different forms of movements like patterns of animals migrating as well as some early Bronze Age vessels which have simple marks worked on the surface.

How important is the process of mark making in your work?

It’s very important. I like the interaction between the surface and the material and the way you can do so many different things with the clay at different stages in the process. When I throw the clay it’s really soft, but when I make the marks, it’s leather dry so you can cut crisp lines into the surface. I like exploring the different things the material can do. I’m interested in repetitive action and how you can become immersed in physical activity, and this is what I try to explore with my mark making.

Do you regard your pots as functional domestic pieces, or more sculptural objects?

That’s one of the questions I trying to work out at the moment! I enjoy making pieces that can be either functional or decorative, but I don’t think my pieces can really be used as drinking vessels, so I suppose they are really more decorative. I want people to handle them though, as they are quite tactile – you can feel the grooves made by the lines so they have a lot of texture.

What plans do you have for the future?

I am going to do an MA in Ceramics and Glass at the Royal College of Art in the autumn and that will be a great chance to explore new ideas and techniques. When I was on the Crafts Council’s Hothouse Programme for Emerging Makers I realised that I needed to do some creative training and improve my technical skills so this is a great opportunity for me. It’s very exciting, but also a bit daunting!

Interview by Diana Woolf