Hot to handle: how the humble cup became craft clickbait
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest Design news every morning.
When Insta-hot potter Florian Gadsby posts a month’s worth of hand-thrown wares for sale online, all 200 of them sell out in 10 minutes or less. To get one of his crackle-glaze mugs, however, you’ll have to click quickly indeed. “The mugs go within a minute or so,” he says. “I can’t make enough of them. People like that they have an obvious function, and they are a cheaper buy-in to a maker’s aesthetic than, say, a vase.”
London-based Gadsby has become a poster boy for the millennial maker movement. His take on British studio pottery – pioneered by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada a century ago in St Ives – has gained him 350,000 followers on Instagram (@floriangadsby). As ever‑ increasing numbers of people follow his lead, the small-batch mug has emerged as an emblem of conscious consumption and #slowliving – not to mention a daily pleasure in these work-and-do-everything-else-from-home times.
“Mugs are particularly popular,” says Hilda Carr, a trained set designer who took up ceramics six years ago and now throws pots in her south London garden studio (@hildacarrpottery). “It’s the thing that someone will have the most connection with. You cradle it in your hands; it becomes part of your daily ritual. I make sure the lip is super-smooth, the handle comfy, and the surface huggably tactile.” Her appealing textures are created by carving and combing the clay, revealing the raw surface – and sometimes contrasting it with sections of glossy glaze.
In Barcelona, Júlia Hoji (@hojiceramics) has been honing her supremely simple stoneware forms for the past five years; in Copenhagen, Robynn Storgaard (@robynn.storgaard) embraces “the random imperfections inherent to traditional studio pottery” in cream-hued pieces wrought from local Scandinavian clays. But while many makers talk of the meditative aspects of wheel throwing, not all the results have a wabi-sabi vibe; there’s plenty of love for wild patterns, bold sculptural forms and eye-popping hues. Cape Town’s Jade Paton (@jadepatonceramics) – already making her name with curvaceous, sculptural vessels despite only taking her first ceramics class in 2018 – finishes her chubby, charmingly irregular mugs in bright, almost reflective glazes. London-based Argentinian artist Kinska’s mostly monochrome mugs and espresso cups incorporate faces – often with a tiny nose in 3D relief (@kinska). Meanwhile, the ceramics scene in Los Angeles is a hotbed of vibrancy – from Thailand-born Pawena Thimaporn’s midcentury-style geometric designs (@pawenastudio) to the sprinkle- and squiggle-adorned creations of Carrie Lau (@omceramic) and the architectural forms of Ben Medansky (@benmedansky), who has collaborated with Kelly Wearstler.
The handle is a hot topic. In 2018, part-time potter Milo Liren Mckeand embarked on a project to create 100 mugs, each with a different handle. “Apparently, if you are an apprentice to a Japanese master potter, you’re not allowed to fire your first thousand wheel-thrown pieces,” says the founder of MiloMade ceramics (@milo.made.ceramics). “I felt very much an imposter selling my early work, and started the project to practise my throwing.” Each mug is created in a speckled stoneware clay with a shiny white glaze – and is, crucially, “wide enough to dunk a Hobnob” – while the handles range from zigzags and spheres to loops and links. Last year, Columbus, Ohio maker Lalese Stamps (creator of @lollylollyceramics) undertook the same project, firing the mugs to a rich, black finish; while in Brooklyn, Catalina Parra of @baseceramics made a mug per day at her dining room table during quarantine – 48 designs with “functional but fun handles”.
“The critical thing for a mug is to have a balance between the handle and the form,” says Gregory Tingay, a London potter – and former Benedictine monk – who was Hauser & Wirth Somerset’s artist in residence last summer. “What I really appreciate is a handle that has been pulled from the body so it’s like a branch growing organically from a tree.” This is the method Tingay teaches at Studio Pottery London, a members’ workshop space in Belgravia that he launched last year with his former pupil and Christie’s alumna Lucy Attwood (@studiopotterylondon).
“A few years ago, I gave one of my brothers a set of mugs I had made,” says Attwood. “I put a beautiful iron oxide glaze on the outside and green on the inside. It was a really precious gift, handmade from my heart.” There’s probably still time to get to a wheel and craft your own before Christmas.
All mugs are made in small batches and posted online periodically. Follow the makers on Instagram for shop updates.