Joe Thompson was a full-time graphic designer planning his and his fiancée’s wedding when he first tried making custom ceramics.
Wanting to give their guests something a little more special than the average “Save the Date” card, Joe Thompson and his fiancée of Surrey, UK, decided custom ceramic coasters would be the ideal delivery device for their celebratory message. But when the couple couldn’t find what they had in mind, Joe decided to try his hand at ceramic art himself. Though he’d never worked with clay, the graphic artist borrowed a kiln, 3D printed a stamp of his artwork, and used a rolling pin and cookie cutter to make the creative ceramics in his kitchen. He enjoyed the experience so much and the coasters were such a hit that he decided to streamline the production process. As he continued to build his skills, he bought a high-quality kiln, experimented with glazes, learned wheel throwing, and ultimately pursued ceramic art full-time. His one-of-a-kind works include ceramic mugs, bowls, vases, and more, and his temperature-sensitive-resin mug designs change color when you pour a hot beverage inside. In an interview, the artist and founder of Old Forge Creations discussed his journey as a small business owner and how he continues to develop new techniques and ideas for his creative ceramics.
What was the scariest moment of transitioning from a full-time graphic designer to a full-time creative entrepreneur?
Definitely when I bought the expensive pieces of equipment at the start. That was the point of no return; I was fully committed to making it work.
And what was the most exhilarating moment?
The very first sale I made—when a complete stranger saw what I was offering and was willing to exchange real money for it.
What are the greatest challenges and rewards of your work?
There is a huge element of unpredictability in ceramics. Each bag of clay is slightly different, each batch of glaze is slightly different, and no two firings will ever be exactly the same. This variation is both the challenge and reward. You never know exactly what you’re going to get when you open the kiln, which keeps it exciting and nerve-wracking in equal measure.
What have been some of your personal favorite pieces to make?
I love making bowls. I think they’re probably the most satisfying form to throw on the wheel. Rather than fighting the centrifugal force of the wheel, bowls allow you to work with it and the clay almost throws itself.
View this post on Instagram
Which types of pieces are most popular?
My most popular items are mugs, which I think is true for most potters. Mugs are a perfect meeting point of utility and art, so there’s an awful lot of room for potters to express themselves uniquely while still making a usable mug. And the ritual of a morning coffee can be a big part of someone’s day; it’s a huge compliment to know something you made has become an integral part of it.
What’s one truth you’ve learned as an artist?
For ceramics, it’s that you have to accept that things go wrong. At the start it’s really hard not to be precious with your first successful pieces, but they can (and often do) crack as they dry, or explode in the kiln, or have one of a myriad glaze issues. Even people who have been making pottery for decades will lose pieces; you have to accept that possibility to stay sane.
For art in general, it’s that some people aren’t your audience and that’s OK. Tastes vary; it’s not personal. Sometimes it can be hard to separate yourself from your work, but you’ll never make anything that is liked by everyone all the time, and that’s not a failure.
View this post on Instagram
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’d suggest that anyone thinking they might quite like to try pottery should find a local class and sign up. It really is as satisfying as it looks.