Meet The Maker: Ashes & Oak
Ashes & Oak is a small family business working with nature to create unique pieces. Jo specialises in ceramics; both creating and offering clay therapy programs, Ian specialises in wood turning and Liam produces delicate turned wooden toys.
Hello! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?
I’m really well thank you. I had a little accident with a piece of wood in our workshop at the end of January which put me out of action for a while, but I’m back in the workshop now, which is what makes me happy.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I’ve always loved arts & crafts, but never believed in myself enough to take my education further. I have a science degree and a post graduate degree in teaching. My first career was in the pharmaceutical industry where I worked until my twins were born, when I took a short break. Whilst they were young my husband and I moved to Lincolnshire and started our own project management business which we ran for a number of years.
When our third child was born I decided to try and pursue a more creative career and opened a ‘Paint a Pot’ shop which I loved, but a combination of child care, high rents, business rates and seasonal visitors led me to closing. I have spent the last few years teaching in the primary sector and in September last year my husband and I decided it was time to do something we love and since January this year I have been running Ashes & Oak full time.
I adore your business. What made you decide to set up Ashes & Oak?
Throughout my professional life art and craft has always been my ‘go to’ for relaxation. My husband loves to turn wood and in the last 12 months we have been lucky enough to build and equip a small workshop in our garden that caters for both artistic loves. We were making and getting a lot of positive feedback so we decided to try and sell our makes.
Why did you call your shop Ashes & Oak?
Finding a name is always the hardest part of owning a business so we approached it practically. Ashes is for the traditional methods of firing pottery in the ground using everyday combustibles and Oak is one of my husbands favourite woods to turn.
How has your creative process changed since the start?
My journey with ceramics has been quite eventful. I started making functional items - bowls, cups, plates - but much as I loved adding colour and glaze to what I was making I wasn’t enjoying the making process so much. I decided to join a local pottery group to share ideas and learn new techniques and here I discovered sculpture. I now love to make ceramic sculptures of animals and wildlife. This small discovery has changed how I look at everything I make and made me more adventurous in trying different techniques and styles.
I have also started including traditional firing techniques with some pieces (as opposed to an electric kiln) which involves moving pieces out of a 1000 degree C gas kiln to a pit dug into my back garden filled with the shavings from our wood turning. Its a much more exciting firing technique but the risks of losing a piece to thermal shock is much higher.
How did you manage to learn and hone your craft?
We are both self taught, but both love learning. We can often be found deep in conversation with other artists and taking part in local groups.
Have you always been into craft and design?
I have always loved crafts. As a child I loved to draw and this has never left me. Before having children we both undertook many evening courses learning new skills such as silversmithing and felting. My fascination with clay has only developed over the past 10 - 15 years, but it has taken over all other crafts apart from drawing, which it compliments beautifully.
If there were no resource restraints, what would be your dream project?
My dream project would be to combine my ceramic work with my teaching of children with special needs. It has been demonstrated that the process of working with clay calms both the mind and the body and I would like to use use it to help those children that struggle everyday.
What equipment do you use for your work?
Our workshop is crammed with equipment from clay and wood to lathes an kilns, and lots of smaller equipment to decorate and paint our designs.
What tools or materials could you not live without?
I most definitely couldn’t live without my kilns and I know Ian couldn’t live with his lathe.
Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?
We would not have been able to get our work in front of as many people without actively using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. On 11th February we were lucky enough to win the Theo Paphitis' Small Business Sunday and a retweet to his 500,000 followers. This has been amazing and our followers have increased across all platforms. The SBS community is hugely supportive of each other, which is invaluable for the survival of ‘shop local’.
Who inspires your work?
We are both inspired by nature and the natural world, it drives our design and our desire to be as eco-friendly as possible in all our processes.
Do you have any favourite pieces of work that you adore at the moment from your shop?
I absolutely love my Moon Gazey Hare - he was lovely to make and he just has the most adorable face. Ian makes amazing bowls, but I always love the ones that have rough edges and bark still visible (I know his answer would not be the same because he loves perfect symmetry and a smooth finish).
What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Instagram and your work?
2019 has already seen an incredible start to our social media journey and I hope it just continues on this upward trend. I am determined to continue posting daily and exploring the idea of building video channel showing the process of how we make our unique designs.
What are you currently working on?
Right now I’m waiting on my kiln to finish firing two new sculpture - a bunny and an owl. I’m always nervous and impatient when I’m waiting for it to cool. I’m also playing with an idea o produce more personalised gifts, so watch this space.
What’s your typical working day?
My typical day involves lots of clay and making in the morning (generally accompanied by my cat Timothy) and then glazing and loading the kilns in the afternoon. I try to always have clay pieces to make and pieces that have been fired once and ready to glaze because clay can take up to two weeks to dry so I need to keep a rolling stock.
What’s been the biggest struggle in getting your business off the ground?
The biggest problem is having time to do everything, I can lose a day just keeping on top of social media. It has definitely been a learning curve making sure there is time for everything - without a good social media profile there is no business, but without time to make the pieces there is no point in having a social media profile.
Friends and family often think that because you work from home you are available for ‘a cuppa’ anytime, learning to say no and treating the workshop as my place of work everyday has been tricky.
Do you have any exciting plans for this year?
Being our first year in business our plan is to grow our profile both online and in our local area, through markets and galleries and build our shop on Etsy.
What are your career plans with your online shop?
We currently have a small presence on Etsy, we would like to build this shop and its followers with a view to hosting our own shop on our website in the future.
What advice would you give to people looking to define their own style?
Don’t be afraid, explore everything because you don’t know until you give it a go. I never knew how much I’d love ceramic sculpture until I swallowed my fear and plunged in.
Do you have any advice for anyone starting their own online shop?
Don’t be disheartened at the start, stick with it but make sure you do your homework into pricing.
What’s next for Ashes & Oak?
I really hope to be able to push forward with my ideas around clay therapy and we are currently exploring holding clay and wood working weekends in collaboration with a local glamping site - again, watch this space!
What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?
A long time ago when I began exploring styles and practices, someone said to me ‘There are no mistakes, just happy accidents’ and it has been my mantra ever since.