Interview: Pipistrelle Design
Pipistrelle Design is a Bristol based designer who creates decorative ceramics and porcelain jewellery. I was lucky enough to interview Pipistrelle Design about their work and shop.
Hello! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?
I'm busy and hectic as usual but very good thanks, that's the way I like it, haha!
Tell us a little bit about your background.
Well, I studied BA fine art in Swansea and 6 years later moved to Bristol to do an MA in the same subject, after a near miss PGCE course to teach art at secondary school, I don't regret that!! The funny thing is that in 6 years of studying fine art at uni, I never made much ceramics. In my BA I specialised in printmaking, and during my MA I made more conceptual pieces, mostly film, installation and contemporary sculpture. But when I finished the course in 2012, something didn't feel right about the work I was making, I think what was missing was the passion.
I didn't carry on with fine art after that and my creative outlet gravitated to crafts in various forms, like knitting and jewellery making, as well as illustration. I was having a bit of a what to do now crisis, and thought about applying to teach again. In preparation for that I thought it prudent to expand my portfolio, so started ceramics evening classes at Maze Studios pottery in Bristol and never looked back! I was (still am) totally hooked right away, and basically just fell in love with clay, the sculpting, the glazing, the final reveal when you open the kiln, the many different techniques of making and decorating, there's always so much to experiment with and discover!
Needless to say, I never did that PGCE for the second time! Ceramic classes weren't enough anymore, so I started renting my own studio space at Maze a few years ago. It's one of the best decisions I've ever made.
I adore your business. What made you decide to set up Pipistrelle Design?
I was making a lot of stuff and it wouldn't all fit in my flat! No just kidding! It seemed to happen quite organically really. I knew I wanted to make and sell and do craft fairs. Before I had the studio I was doing more illustration than ceramics, but the two disciplines fitted together well and my different strands of creativity were becoming more coherent. So I set up social media sites and my Etsy shop and have slowly been building it up. It gives me more satisfaction when I’m making to get be able to get my work out there.
What does your shop sell?
I sell a range of ceramic homeware, sculpture, jewellery and prints inspired by nature. Themes have been focussed on sea life and anything else that inspires me, like fungus, moths and the phases of the moon! So it's quite varied. Pieces include mushroom ring dishes, porcelain mixed media sculptures on rescued wood, and sea creature plates and platters. I’m also working on new ranges of porcelain jewellery including manta ray necklaces and earrings, large moth pendants and collars, and moon phase and eclipse necklaces. I also sell my illustrations as giclee prints, mostly inspired by sea life.
Why did you call your shop Pipistrelle Design?
Pipistrelle comes from a family nickname! My cousin, also a ceramicist who runs ‘Bird Can Fox’, came up with the nickname due my small 5ft stature, the common Pipistrelle is a tiny bat! It seemed more memorable than using my name.
How has your creative process changed since the start?
When I started Pipistrelle Design I was creating graphic style prints using my illustrated creatures to make repetitive patterns. Back then I didn't have my studio at Maze, so was doing much more painting and drawing. I used my drawings in ceramics by printing my illustrations onto decal ceramic transfer paper and firing it onto porcelain forms to make homeware and jewellery, like my plankton and diatom series of sushi sets, espresso cups and porcelain pendants.
What I make now continues to be very varied as I get the most pleasure out of thinking up new designs and experimenting with new processes and materials. I still draw and paint, but this has translated into to drawing directly into porcelain to create a design, pattern or texture. Or using stains, underglazes and oxides watered down like watercolour, another medium that I love. My ceramic work has become more sculptural, but it often has a function in it’s form. My mushroom ring dishes can be used to display rings and jewellery, but for me they are about exploring the diverse variety of fungus, and how I can use the materials to emulate these forms.
How did you manage to learn and hone your craft?
I had some basic knowledge of Ceramics through my art studies, but it was through the lessons I took at Maze studios and many hours of experimenting in the studio. But I'm still learning. With ceramics there's always something new to learn and millions of techniques which is part of the appeal. The main thing with ceramics is just practice and getting stuck in with the materials.
Have you always been into design and craft?
Yes, ever since I can remember. I loved to draw from a very young age and my favourite lessons in school were always art and design. It also helped that art teachers always seemed to be the coolest ones! I was one of those kids that was happily amused for hours with a pen and paper or plasticine. My fascination with nature, particularly under the sea started as a child too. I had a vast sea shell collection and well as other random beach treasures (well, still do!), and I used to draw and document things I found, like insects and wild flowers. I guess you could say Pipistrelle Design is all about indulging in my childhood fascinations!
Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?
Social media and Instagram especially has been invaluable for me to promote my work, connect with an audience and drive sales to my Etsy shop. It's also been amazing for connecting with other makers for moral support and other ceramicists to have technical conversations. The Bristol in Etsy team forum and meet ups have been great to get to know the local community. I also find social media useful to hear about opportunities for craft fairs and exhibitions.
Who inspires your shop?
My cousin, who also runs a ceramic business called Bird Can Fox, has always been an inspiration. We started ceramic classes together and each of us are influenced by nature although our styles are very different! Also my creative friends, who have set up crafts ventures like Forest & Fawn and Amelia Stone Jewellery, and of course there’s plenty of inspiring crafts businesses on Instagram. You have to check out Kasasagi Design and J Riley Ceramics! Also, nothing beats being in a shared studio for inspiration. I’ve had the pleasure of doing some group exhibitions with Maze Studios artists and have learnt so much from this fantastic group of people.
Do you have any favourite pieces from your shop that you adore at the moment?
I’ve set some work aside for craft fairs at the moment, so he’s not in my Etsy shop, but I’m very fond of my mola mola platter, you can find him on Instagram. I’ve also just launched a new batch of porcelain manta ray jewellery on Etsy, with brand new sets of earrings, and more to follow soon with different designs. I was happy to sell my favourite piece ever last month, my Common Inkcap sculpture made from porcelain and rescued wood. I’ll be working on some similar pieces this year.
What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Instagram page?
I’d love to make more process videos for Instagram. A goal is to get better at that. Sometimes I get so involved with what I’m making that I forget to document it!
What’s your typical working day?
I don’t think there are any typical days in the studio, what I’m doing depends on what I’m making at the time. I usually start with a coffee and clean up my mess from last time! I normally have a few things on the go at once in different stages of making. If I’m starting something new I’ll start with wedging the clay to get the air bubbles out, and look at images online or in my sketchbook, perhaps make a template, and start hand building or sculpting. If I’m waiting for something to dry, I might move onto sanding partially fired pieces, or do some glazing or gold lustre work. Social media, photography, Etsy uploads, applications and all that other stuff happens as and when I can, usually in my ‘free time’!
What’s been the biggest struggle in getting your business off the ground?
The struggle is still real! I guess knowing what I want from the business, and trying not to get distracted by doing too much, knowing where to put my time and money. I’m still working out the best places for me to promote and sell my work.
Do you have any exciting plans for this year?
I hope so! I’m a nominee for the Arts and Crafts Design Award 2018 so fingers crossed! I’m also excited about featuring in a 2019 ceramics calendar. I’ll be exhibiting at some Frome Independent markets in the autumn and winter and will hopefully be doing some other markets around Christmas time. But mainly I’m trying not to miss deadlines to apply for some bigger events next year!
What advice would you give to people looking to define their own style?
Only make what you enjoy and be true to yourself. Keep creating and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks!
Do you have any advice for anyone starting their own shop?
Do some market research, who are your successful competitors, what are they doing? Do some customer profiling and make sure your brand speaks to your target customers. Set up an Instagram account to build your following. But mainly, just go for it! Don’t worry about getting everything too perfect.
What’s next for Pipistrelle Design?
I want to get my website and newsletter sorted, but don’t hold your breath, creating always comes first! I’m also planning on applying for some different craft fairs for 2019, particularly ones that focus on ceramics. I’ve been concentrating on sea life homeware and jewellery pieces over the summer, but I’ll soon be getting back into sculptural work to expand my fungus on wood sculpture series.
What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?
I’ve been given so much over the years that I’m not really sure! My partner tells me to make sure to not devalue my work, and put a high enough price tag on it!