Isn’t starting a creative business doing something you have never done before everyone’s first thought when life throws a curve ball? It was for Georgie Rennie, whose High Street merchandising gigs dried up in the global pandemic. She transformed a garden shed into a ceramics studio, taught herself to make pottery in a signature style and launched her creative business, Studio Flea. With Jerry, the studio dog, always ready to lend a paw, Georgie works on commissions and creates pottery to sell in the UK. (With wider distribution coming soon.)
How did you get started designing ceramics? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
Before starting Studio Flea, I trained in fashion design and spent the past 6 years working in creative visual merchandising for High Street brands. A redundancy at the start of the pandemic gave me the push I needed to set up my studio and follow a dream. At that point I had never worked with clay, and have still never had any official training. But it felt like the perfect time to do something new – even if most people thought I was crazy! I have learnt everything I know so far from watching YouTube, learning from friends & family or reading online/in books. I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting to find my signature style, and there have been a fair few casualties along the way!
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What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours? What do you do differently?
My signature style is colourful dripping glaze combinations over simple shapes or a cheeky naked pot. My most popular shape is ‘The Alice Boobie’ which was inspired by some amazing artwork made by my good friend Alice when she was designing the packaging for the brand. Alice’s ‘droopy’ and more graphical boobs are what make her stand out from the crowd.
There are lots of people making really great boobie pots out there, but most that I have come across are built from air dry clay. When I started out I was using this too, but after trying (and failing) to make them waterproof, I decided to buy a kiln and start making boobie pots that can be used as vases, coffee cups or anything else you would like. The big plus is they can survive the dishwasher!
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
A lot of my work comes from custom commissions. I work with the customer to decide a shape and colour palette, which means I always need to plan to make sure the customer is getting exactly what they hoped for. Normally this type of work gives me a bit of free rein when it comes to glazing so I can try out new techniques like splatters and overlaying different colours.
When it comes to making pieces for a product launch on my website, I am a complete improviser, which generally leaves my studio in a mess! As I don’t have a small test kiln, I tend to try out new glaze combinations on finished pieces and hope that they turn out beautifully.
Where can people purchase your work? Is it available outside the UK?
My work is currently only available through the website, although I have just set up Instagram & Facebook shopping which I am very excited to get using!
I am also taking part in virtual markets this year through social media which is a really great tool to be seen by new customers and to feel part of a community of makers. Hopefully some real markets will follow later on in the year, too.
At the moment, Studio Flea is only available in the UK. When I started, I chose not to post worldwide while Brexit was on the horizon, but I am hoping to open to international post sometime in 2021.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I am based in North London and am fortunate enough to have a studio in the garden; it’s small and generally very messy! This means I tend to do one process at a time – mould making, slip casting, hand building, glazing – so that I can keep my workspace as clear as possible. Cornelius (my kiln) lives in a shed next door so I can easily keep an eye on it while it is firing, day or night!
I have dedicated shelves for drying pieces, finished pieces and slip casting moulds to try and keep things organised. My walls and ceiling are covered in colourful images to draw inspiration from when glazing. And my packaging is tucked away, ready to be taken out when I need it.
What is Jerry’s role in your studio?
Jerry has many roles at Studio Flea. He’s the motivator, product tester, sponge stealer and has kept me company & creating through lockdown!
Jerry is a real character and provides endless entertainment. He always forces me out to the park at lunchtime to give me fresh eyes on my work. He is nearly 9 months old and has been creating with me from the day he came to live with us, although he’s not much of a fan of the pottery shed. He’s much happier when I’m working from the kitchen table where he can sleep on my lap, even though he’s far too big for that now!
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
My most indispensable tool has to be Cornelius, my kiln. Each piece I make has to first go through a bisque fire (to around 1060 degrees C) followed by a glaze fire (to around 1220 degrees C). Each takes around 8 hours or more to complete! These firings ensure all my pieces are solid, watertight and allows glaze transformations to happen.
My main process for creating uses a set of hand made plaster moulds and slip (liquid clay), called slip casting. I make these moulds using original clay pieces that I either threw on the wheel or built by hand. With them I can make multiples of the same shape in a much quicker and more uniform way. My knives, sandpaper and trimming tools are also vital; they allow me to perfect my pieces once I remove them from their moulds.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
When pouring my plaster moulds, I try to always use recycled containers such as old paint or yoghurt pots. It reduces my waste and gives them another lease of life. This is really important to me and I try to use recycled products when I can, such as using unsellable samples for storing tools and keeping things tidy (and pretty) around my studio.
I also have a plastic cup taped to the shed window to hold my phone while I’m filming. It’s the perfect spot to film behind- the-scenes maker videos!
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
My Amazon Alexa is always playing some upbeat songs, usually a mixture of 90s pop or a summer sunshine playlist. I love having happy music playing while I work. If I’m not in the mood for music, then I choose a Sarah Knight audiobook – ‘Get Your Sh*t Together’. It really helps me focus on my to do list and get things done!
Every week I have to watch the channel 4 show ‘The Great Pottery Throw Down’ as a great learning tool. It really excites and inspires me to keep potting.
Is there a part of your process you enjoy most? Why?
I have a love hate relationship with opening the kiln after a glaze firing. It is by far the most nerve-racking part; things can easily go wrong in this final part of the process. But it is also the most exciting. If the kiln gods are kind then you have the satisfaction of having a beautifully finished piece!
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people? Or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think anyone can and should be creative as it’s a great stress reducer and mood booster. It’s really satisfying when you create something you’re proud of. You don’t have to be the best at something to enjoy the process of doing it!
I find that being creative comes naturally to me and I will often just give something a go. For example – I’m currently teaching myself how to use embroidery to upcycle old denim jackets!
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
Redundancy has been my biggest challenge on my creative journey so far. As I’m sure everyone who has experienced it will agree, job loss comes with a rollercoaster of emotions. It happened for me at the start of the pandemic when the future was so uncertain, especially in creative industries. I have seen so many friends and colleagues that have faced the same fate in the past year. The most amazing thing to see is how many people have started their own creative businesses and tried something new.
I’ve learnt from this experience that I can do anything I put my mind to. And cramming what should be years worth of learning into just a few months is one of them! I have also learnt that I have a really supportive network of friends and family, and I feel super grateful!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
When I first started using clay, my good friend Isla (and pottery guru) told me that ‘ceramics is a b*tch’ and that ‘the kiln gods aren’t always kind’. I always thought about these when things weren’t going to plan. It kept me going when I felt like giving up!
Interview posted March 2021
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