Made in North Wales - Kirsti Brown Ceramics

Selection of hand built slab bottles, reminiscent of figures with colours that evoke the feeling of

Selection of hand built slab bottles, reminiscent of figures with colours that evoke the feeling of the seashore - Credit: Archant

Kirsti Brown, who works from a studio at home in Hawarden, dreams of making her passion a full-time career one day soon, writes Kate Houghton

Kirsti Brown outside her workshop

Kirsti Brown outside her workshop - Credit: Archant

You may even have said it yourself, and it’s something most would-be artists hear all the time: ‘It’s a tough industry to make a living in.’

For Kirsti Brown however, a childhood watching her parents make successful lives as self-employed creatives, a future seeking a living from her art held no fears.

‘My parents owned In Design in Chester,’ Kirsti tells me. ‘They sold crafts and hand-crafted furniture. Seeing my parents live like this meant that being self-employed wasn’t something I was ever afraid of; making a living from art was a visible, tangible thing, not something just over the horizon.’

Kirsti is a ceramicist, though she has trained in a range of visual arts. She set up her stall, as it were, soon after graduating from Crewe & Alsager University (now Manchester Metropolitan University in Crewe), with a degree in Combined Crafts. Having specialised in ceramics in her final year (‘and metalwork, which I soon grew to really dislike!’) Kirsti bought her first kiln within 12 months.

‘I set up and just got going really. It’s never been a full-time profession, sadly, but now I’m in my 40’s, with my children that bit older, I feel that I have the head space to start making some changes.’ At the moment Kirsti balances her own work with running workshops and classes nearby, including at the Bluecoat Display Centre in Liverpool and at West Kirby Gallery, where she works with school children.

Her work is really beautiful; wonderfully tactile vases in colours inspired by the coastal landscapes of North Wales. All made in her tiny studio at her Harwarden home, they sell at galleries across the UK. There are three distinct styles and I vacillate throughout our conversation on which I love best.

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‘The slab bottles stem from my fascination with how man has used the landscape around him,’ Kirstu explains. ‘These bottles have evolved blending a figurative human shape with the colours of the landscape I see around me.

‘The pebble vessels have a very strong inspirational link to Wales. In 2015 I completed a course in printmaking at the Regional Print Centre in Coleg Cambria and for my final work I was seeking inspiration by relaxing on Borth Beach in Aberystwyth! I noticed the pebbles on the beach, their shape and the formations as they washed up on the shore. I used this in my printmaking, but also found myself following suit in my ceramics…again in the colours of the land and sea.’

If I had to plump for a favourite, I think it has to be the spherical bottles. Immensely tactile, you can’t simply look at these, they beg to be picked up, cupped in two hands and caressed.

‘I’ve been making these, on and off, for about 12 years now,’ Kirsti tells me. What I make depends on my mood! These are made using a different method from the slab bottles, where I coil up ‘worms’ of clay and smooth it over. It’s a more contemplative feeling making these than my other works. I use quite a variety of methods in my work, creating different looks in the finished pieces, but still with the overall uniting theme of the colours of the earth and sea.’

Kirsti uses copper in her glaze to get the wonderful shades of blue you can see and, of course, the earthy shades come from the different types of clay she uses.

‘I occasionally might do a few quick sketches but really it’s not until the clay is in my hands that things start to happen, creatively. I seem to think in 3D. When I teach I encourage my classes to get stuck in and make what they want to make. I teach them all the various techniques they need to know, but then in no way would I dictate what they go on to make. Once they have the skills, then it’s all about self-expression.’

Kirsti’s ultimate aim is to establish a studio in Wales, where she can keep on making her own pieces and run workshops and short courses. With an increasing number of galleries placing orders with Kirsti, from the Scilly Isles to the Scottish Borders (including Oriel Mostyn in Llandudno and Ruthin Crafts Centre) following a very successful showing at the British Crafts Trade Fair in Harrogate, I can’t imagine that this dream is too far over the horizon for this lovely lady to achieve.