I meet Pip Hartle in her shared studio in East London. Light floods in through the window, bouncing off the white walls. The wide shelves – spanning the length of the room – are filled with ceramics. The floor is speckled with grey slip. Pip, dressed in navy overalls, makes me a cup of tea in one of the various hand-thrown mugs that are scattered around and leads me to the central table, where examples of her collection for TOAST are laid out.
The patterning on Pip’s ceramics is distinct – the bowls have a geometric triangular design that is blurry at the edges, the mugs and pen pots have loose, watery brush marks. I ask her how she creates these patterns. “For the triangle design I cut shapes out of a sponge, dip them in black stain and print them onto the surface – a little bit like woodblock printing,” she says. “For the brush mark design I use a wax resist, as the wax melts in the kiln the black stain bleeds outwards, becoming hazy. I never know how it will come out, so opening the kiln door is always exciting.”
Pip learnt these techniques, along with how to throw, at Morley College. She came to pottery in her thirties, having originally studied textiles at Goldsmiths, and was initially, she tells me, “scared about the amount of information that went with ceramics – there seemed to be far too much to learn at this stage of my life.” But as soon as she started to throw she became, she smiles, “completely addicted.”
After Morley, Pip continued to take classes. She attended the open-access studio Turning Earth, where she progressed from member to studio manager. From there she went to The Kiln Rooms in Peckham. “I love shared studios,” she says, “the mixing of all walks of life and the swapping of skills and advice.”
Recently, Pip has begun to outgrow the shared space and, having moved into a new house, is in the process of building a studio at the bottom of the garden. “I’m ready to be on my own,” she says, before quickly adding that she will be holding regular open days and running classes for children who might not otherwise have access to pottery. “I still want to be around people and keep in touch with the outside world!” she says, laughing.
The conversation falls to her influences and inspiration. “I love ancient pottery”, she says, “particularly old Cypriot pottery, which has wonderful shapes and colour palettes.” She has visited the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia often, searching for new ideas. But her main source of creativity is, it becomes clear, textiles: “If I want to feel really inspired, then I go to the British Museum or the V&A. I can spend hours there – exploring the ikats and the African prints.”
Pip’s route to pottery may have been a slightly winding one but it is her appreciation of other art forms – of fabric and texture – that makes her work unique. And her overall aim, it seems, is quite simple: “My pottery is comfortable and functional. I hope that people will drink or eat from it every day, and delight in the pleasure of using something handmade.”
N.B. The photographs show Pip (and her lovely dog Sid) in her studio at the bottom of the garden and not her East London workspace - she built it quite quickly in the end!
Words by Emily Mears. Photography by Roo Lewis.
Shop Pip Hartle Pottery here.