We step inside the idyllic world of pottery designer Sarah Maingot of Be Still Ceramics. When her job went digital, a photographer by trade, she missed the physical making of prints and started looking for something she could make with her hands again. Discovering hand-building clay pots was like 'finding treasure in my garden as if it had always been there, and I just had to dig it up'. Based in the Cotswolds, Sarah converted a charming victorian lean-to greenhouse into a workshop. Be Still was inspired by the time 'sitting and moulding clay, to be such an absorbing and calming process that it creates a very still ambience, something that feels like a rare and unique thing'. Be Still pots take shape organically and take on their personality.
Bilden: What first attracted you to ceramics, and how did that lead you to create your first collection?
Sarah: I've always loved ceramics and was already quite the collector. I started pottery classes initially just for a hobby in my spare time, but it soon grew into a real passion, and with the encouragement of my friends, I decided to take the next step and create my first collection, build a website and see what happens.
B: Did pottery making come naturally to you?
S: Once I was shown the basics in the pottery classes, It came naturally to me. I was not too fond of the pottery wheel, so once I discovered the art of slab building, my work quickly took on its own identity.
B: What initially inspired you to start a ceramics brand?
S: It was the encouragement of those around me who liked what I was doing and thought others might do too!
B: What is your background, and was there any crossover between the industry you worked in before launching Be Still and becoming?
S: My other job is a fashion, beauty and lifestyle photographer, so apart from taking nice pictures of my pieces, I'm not sure if there's a crossover, except I guess I like to create something beautiful.
B: Were there any influential artists you considered when defining your style?
S: I'm a big fan of Paul Philp's work.
B: Can you talk us through the process from idea through to design and realisation, and do you have a picture in mind or a plan before you start, or is it entirely organic?
S: I like to experiment with different types of clay, so choosing a new clay that I'm excited about and testing it to find out how it wants to be treated is often my starting point for inspiration. I sometimes draw a shape I plan to make, but I often drift into something else. I try not to be too rigid and let things flow. It's very much an organic process. Knowing when to change tact or when to stop is essential too. Sometimes it takes time with a piece to decide if I like it or to think about where it needs to go next.
B: How would you define your aesthetic?
S: Earthy, sculptural and tactile. My pieces often have and uniqueness that brings personality due to their imperfections that people are drawn to for reasons they cannot quite explain. They talk to you!
B: When creating your pottery designs, do you need to be in a particular frame of mind?
S: Yes, absolutely. The process of hand building is very tranquil as opposed to working on the pottery wheel, which also lends itself to a still atmosphere where my mind can drift and enjoy handling the clay. I called my business Be Still because if I'm not quiet and peaceful in myself, the clay seems to know it.
B: Where do you bring your designs to life?
S: My studio is a beautiful little cabin I had built in my garden overlooking the rolling hills of the Cotswolds. It's pretty idyllic. I share it with all sorts of wildlife who love it too.
B: Do you have a favourite product to make?
S: I like making Handled Pots and Bottles. I'm always surprised how often they take on a new form, with such different personalities, every time I make them.
B: Do you find there is a strong community amongst other potters?
S: Yes, back when I shot analogue, I loved being in the darkroom hanging out with other photographers, and since having to go digital, I have missed that. The pottery world has a similar swapping of troubleshooting ideas, support and encouragement that is such a lovely atmosphere to be around.
B: Do you design products to serve a specific purpose or leave it to your customer's imagination?
S: I'm happy customers can use them in any way they like. I glaze everything on the inside should they want to use them practically like holding water, but they are equally happy being just decorative ornaments.