Freya Bramble-Carter has been immersed in the world of ceramics from a young age, communicating her thoughts, feelings and interpretations of the world around her through the tactile medium since she was a child. Under the masterful eye of her father Chris Bramble, whom she cites as one of her biggest inspirations, she has made a name for herself within the industry, garnered the attention of influential press and collaborated with the Tate Collective amongst other industry titans. When she's not firing pots in the London studio she shares with her father and fellow ceramicist, she is teaching others to do so through her group and one-on-one workshops, Freya's Clay Club.
The World of Clay
How did you get into ceramics and the world of clay?
I remember when I was doing my GCSEs, for my case study I chose to investigate Earth and its properties. I spent a lot of time digging up dirt and sampling it; I remember feeling really free and connected, taking samples and looking at the different qualities, smells, textures, colours.
My father taught me a lot about working with clay. He is primarily a sculptor, but he taught me everything. He gave me a huge understanding as to what a bit of discipline can do for you. So I found myself in the studio a lot helping out and squeezing the clay between my fingers. I definitely did not have plans for working with clay, in fact much the opposite. However, when I was doing my Fine Art degree at Chelsea University of the Arts, I found myself always in their ceramics studio. It felt like the most enjoyable thing for me to do and easy for me to express myself in...no doubt that’s because I knew how! It took me a little while after graduating and hating my job before I realised, ‘Hey, that clay stuff was fun and felt like you!’.
Touch and tactility have definitely always been my language. In fact, I was born with a sensorial condition, high sensitivity i.e walking into a shop I’d have to touch everything to see how it felt if there was a puddle I’d be in it, my sister and I responded to mud in the garden by taking all our clothes off and rolling in it. Apparently, you grow out of this condition.
Ss soon as I gave into my passion, I dived straight in. I spent the first couple of years learning how to teach in my own way; I was very interested and inspired to pass on the craft I had grown so increasingly fond of and knew I would pick it up with more ease the younger I started and I got to grips with it. The ball started rolling from there!
What is it about this medium that you love?
Playing is the best part. For me, it’s very important to one’s whole wellbeing, so I don’t underestimate fun and enjoyment, and I really find it so. It gives me endless flow and excitement and ease. That’s what I get from it ultimately because I love how it feels, I literally can’t help myself. There are natural minerals and irons in the Earth and I think it does something to us, allowing us to feel more relaxed and connected, and simply be more kind. It connects me to myself, feels refreshing, like pushing my reset button. A similar feeling to when you walk along a peaceful river and you just feel total bliss. Even the smell of it does something; it puts me in a calm state of mind.
The Versatility of Clay
Clay is very versatile and goes through many stages. It also comes in a variety of textures and colours. You can make it watery, putty-like, squidgy, plasticky, pliable…also stiff, leather-hard and hard enough to carve through it or bone dry and fragile, so brittle it breaks like a biscuit if you misjudge your hand pressure. As you learn to caress and mould the material into your desired form, along the way you learn many life lessons, patience and perseverance being the basic and fundamental ones for anything you set out to achieve in this life. I learnt that I am the master of myself just as I am with transforming the clay. I see it as one of the same, but it was also the master of me: it taught me to teach, share and articulate in my own way. And in parallel how to guide myself.
The natural world is one of the main inspirations for your work - how do you communicate this visually through your pieces? Can you give us some examples of the techniques you use?
I live right in the centre of the city in London. Even though there’s a lack of nature I am always listening out for the birds talking, the humming of activity; but we forget that we are nature regardless. There’s actually no escaping that fact! I fill my flat up with plants endlessly to get what I think I yearn for. I spent my formative years in a boarding school in the British countryside, I loved being submerged in the freshness of a green day out. But I’m also happy at my home in the city. Not to mention over lockdown, London has been a different story - very quiet, a different life. I love walking along the river which sits perfectly right on my doorstep so I am never complaining.
Fundamentally I am inspired by the material clay itself and how much transformation it goes through and what it asks of you. So it begins when I pick up a ball of clay and knead it, sometimes endlessly until it is stiff enough and elastic enough to use. If you were digging this up fresh from the ground it usually would need time to mature like cheese. These early stages are all great for me, as it is very inspiring and fascinating to witness yourself in the process of transformation as I take this object on a journey with me of manipulation, moisture and heat.
When I look at the final piece that has been churned, stretched, twisted, and cooked up it’s a different looking thing altogether. You accept what’s happened and repeat. I enjoy experimenting with a lot of glazes, of a variety of texture and colour. If you pick just two glazes of the opposite colour, there are endless possibilities. I got fixated with using a matt black and white glaze. It gave me beautiful emerald hues of green, turquoise, and mossy browns, and then I add volcanic textures which bubble and give a fascinating texture. This combination leaves the final object feeling as though it has just been dug out of the ground. Nature is the essence of it all.
Most recently, I feel my work has embraced the subject of culture and people and connection more and more. Especially with my most recent collaborative work with Studio Krokalia. It happened very naturally, very much going with the flow of what’s going on around us, as Pallas and I collided with our ideas, skills and working rhythms. As we evolve and our nitty-gritty realities change in the depths of our cultures and societies it has all been perfectly fitting.
Are there any other themes which you are currently exploring in your work?
I think I am exploring connection and bringing my work to a wider audience, letting it eat at a bigger table. At the end of the day, the work rounds up as objects. And most of the process is days and hours of making and communing which I will document and show more. Much can come out of sharing ideas and excitement with one another. I feel we are doing this worldwide, as connection grows stronger and stronger between us humans and we wake up in our own way and support each other through these shifts, this is what the work is about. I really have to set my mind and energy as I don’t want negativity.
Fellow Artists and Designers
Who are some artists/designers you admire?
I’m in love with Kate Malone’s work, always have been. Also naturally I’m inspired by the work that my father and mother produce, but especially growing up I used to stare at the sculptures in my living room and think how beautiful they were. I always wanted to know a little bit more about them, and how on Earth he did them. I was in awe, never really got used to how much beauty he presented in his work. I literally think I’ve got the best dad ever!
My mother sometimes would be up all night making puppets out of sponge, felt, some really beautiful materials and glistening fabrics. She is an uncontainable creator, her talent is wild! She could fill a whole stage. My twin sister was heavily inspired and went more down the theatre route. I’m inspired by so much, don’t know where to start really but these were my strongest starting points.
Do you have any signature techniques and if so, how did you come to develop them?
You tell me! I often find that people are telling me what my signatures are…it’s always a surprise to my ears, then on reflection, I’m like…’yes, I suppose that is what I do!’. I like vases! I developed my vases through visualising, drawing out and making, and repeating until the technique works, or shall I say…until my hands could work the technique competently. It takes hours and hours, days and days of failure. It took lots of throwing practice for the vases I have been doing. I can make them very efficiently now, but I definitely developed through lots of trial and error. But mostly, I feel open, and I’m definitely still exploring techniques and styles which keeps me fresh and excited about form and surface decoration that are evolving for me, never two expressions the same.
The Connection Between Artist and Medium
You’ve said that you feel a strong physical connection to the clay you work with, what other creative outlets or processes do you feel energise and inspire you?
I have always been inspired by my twin sister, Yolande as she quite literally mirrors my growing. She does these fascinating, sensorial performance-based workshops with people of a totally different life experience. Some are completely mute, blind, deaf and move on the ground with hands as eyes. I have had some really incredible moments connecting with some people. There are many different kinds of humans out there. How do we communicate? How would we go about communicating to an off-planet species? I’m sure there is always a way. It absolutely fascinates me…I wonder what their world is like, inside their minds thoughts and feelings, or perhaps that is different too. We are learning new ways to understand the human mind every day.
Your work combines function and beauty - how do you balance the two when working on a piece or collection? Do you feel one is more prominent than the other at times?
My practice is me and what’s coming out of me in the rawest and most naive way; that’s some magic I never want to lose. Art school temporarily did that to me, or I did it to myself! But now I see what is precious for me to keep in the work. Fundamentally my art practice is for myself - that then overflows to others. It is the overflow that combines beauty and function. But my expression is the first cause. And I allow my practice to follow my rules. If my work and business didn’t work for me then I would not do it.
My father taught me how to make things ‘well’ and functional so at least I have the skills needed to do this stuff. So I have an appreciation for well made...in the studio we often compare the rim and the base of the pot metaphorically to our lips and feet when we are talking to someone; for example, one might look up and down, looking at their lips and their teeth when they talk, they provide a point of focus on a face. Similarly, a pot will have a ‘good’ solid rim that doesn’t chip easily and a flat, wide-enough solid base: two important elements for a conventional pot!
Trial and Error Within The Creative Process
So it’s a process of trial and error?
Yes, I think designing through trial and error has become an essential part of the process for me, especially recently. I think about what I want it to look like, feel like, and then I think about if it is a functional object: how well do I want it to function as that could be critical to the object, i.e, pouring ability, heaviness, holding ability and so on. That is where I have Studio Krokalia, interior designer and my collaborator, to help with detailed qualities of design.
I used to be solely focused on expression, as thinking about calculating the functional design can hinder my freedom and with clay, this can be difficult because it moves and changes a lot throughout the drying process and in the firings. But design has so much beauty and intelligence in itself. And I would always rather buy something that works well and I can use with ease and confidence over something that is difficult. But I also like buying things because I like looking at them. So now I build all the freedom of expression into the design and don’t concern myself too much.
How do you like to see your pieces incorporated within the interior design of a space?
These are objects that are going to sit still in a home/space; a lot of the energy work has been done prior in the process of making, channelling all of those patient, kind and positive feelings into the work and these are to be exuberantly shown. Home is a place for replenishment, nourishment and rest so I think about this when I am making the work. I like to see them used, looked at and loved. Some pieces demand centre stage and others can be appreciated in the kitchen cupboard. They are all one-off pieces and I like them to talk and be given the space to do so. I also like it when people pick them up and say hello, looking and feeling the object. It’s lovely to have that emotional feedback when people really appreciate the work. In my home, pots have many functions, whether I put plants in them, bake cakes, exotic ashtrays, pour candle wax and essential oils in them, having water flowing through the forms (I love mad water fountains!). Most of them like to be centre stage.
Can you tell us about some of your previous collaborations?
I worked with Joy Meiessi on a piece; we spent a few weeks practising as carving into the clay was new to her. We spoke about anxiety, depression, sexuality, gender, race, very heavy topics for us at the time at the forefront of our minds. It was done in a way that one could read the text and images on the pot. At the time we were suddenly aware of the platform that Instagram had given us and people like us could use our voice a lot more easily. It suddenly felt like a gasp of fresh air, like we could start releasing tension. This was actually quite an awakening moment: ‘Wow, look at what we can achieve using this, now that we can showcase our work easily and freely worldwide’. I think we felt unstoppable at the time but it was the acknowledgement of ‘Yes, we are here and we have lots to say’. I also really enjoyed working at the Love Festival at the Royal Festival Hall also collaborating with Tia Simon-Campbell who set up BBZ and Tate’s ‘Thicker Black Lines’...
What would be your dream commission or project?
Hmmm, good question! I’m thinking about moving around a bit. I’d like to go abroad and set up a studio workspace there, and move a bit more freely with my work and the practice itself, meeting people around the world, inspiring them and being inspired, learning new things and peeling that onion of discovery. And a million other ideas…you’ll see which comes to the surface first!
Which materials fascinate you the most except for clay?
Are there any that you have not worked with but would like to try out? Water. The flow of water and the different states it comes in. The different sounds it makes, textures…you can wash with it, swim in it, you can drink it, you can sculpt it into ice etc. You can colour it, give it different vibrations, messages and modes. I also like metals, bronze, gold, copper. Marble is a strong stone and ridiculously beautiful; I love all the different types of Serpentine stone, but there is this huge strength factor that comes into working with stone. Even with clay you physically have to be quite strong, but I can only imagine that must be even more imperative with something like marble. Not that that should be any limitation - if there’s a will there’s a way!
Freya's Clay Club
You also teach regular classes from your London workshop - can you tell us a bit about what one can expect from a class or course at Freya’s Clay Club?
I teach with my father, who runs sessions during the daytime and I focus on beginners during the weekend and evenings, so you can expect to see us both around throughout the day. We have similar but very different working styles; we bounce off each other. During the daytime, there are artists/learners independently working on sculpture, hand-building or wheel-thrown techniques. People that are new on the wheel tend to need a lot more attention, which is why I hold beginners sessions on the weekend or private one-on-one sessions. They are fairly focused and intense, just like when you start anything new. It’s like learning to swim or play an instrument: when you find your own ‘aha’ moment and find your own balance point and your own connection to the material, it becomes smoother sailing from there.
The space is very relaxed and calm. We see the studio as our second home and we see everyone in it as a family, so it’s always good vibes. We make sure everyone is happy so that positivity and creativity can thrive. Most people attend once a week for 2 1/2 hours and many of our students have been with us for years. They start off not being able to centre a lump of clay all the way through to making vases, teapots, platters...you name it. We take things step-by-step as there is a lot to learn in the field of clay and it’s about creating that solid footing to begin with. When students have confidence in their skills they can do absolutely anything.
During the daytime, my father’s sessions are very relaxed and maybe slightly slower-paced, because people haven’t come straight from work, and often the sculpting and hand-building processes can take a little bit longer than using the wheel. The wheel is quite fast-paced in comparison: mistakes happen quickly and you create whole forms quite quickly if you know how to. But learning to work with clay is a bodily, feeling process, not just a mental one, and that’s why it’s so important to create a comfortable space and for the student to be patient with themselves.
Everybody who comes to the studio gets something slightly different out of clay and the classes. Some people are respected artists in their fields and they are selling and exhibiting their work internationally; others are just starting out and just want a little taste to see what it’s about, to learn something new; then you have people that really enjoy their hobby and are now semi-pro, venturing out there and turning it into a full-time career. It’s all love!
Designed by Woulfe has invited travel and lifestyle journalist Eva Ramirez to curate our Emerging Talent Series for the Design Journal. Having lent her voice to publications including Robb Report, Conde Nast Traveller and British Vogue, she has documented her travels and the people she has met along the way in the form of long-form features, city guides, in-depth interviews and personal accounts. Through a sensibility towards conscious travel, Eva shares insight into what’s worth seeing - in between the typical hotels, restaurants or boutiques - and in the process, has honed her discerning eye for the fresh talent that are shaking things up in their respective industries. In this collection of interviews, Eva discusses creativity, craft and inspiration with some of the design world's most exciting and inspiring trailblazers.