Ceramicist Natasha Swan throws beautiful contemporary tableware on a potter’s wheel using stoneware porcelain. Her designs are fun and functional, with both a neutral range and beautiful monthly illustrated limited edition collection to choose from on her site.
Natasha grew up in the rural seaside town of Islandmagee in Northern Island where in her small primary school of only 12 students, she was quickly dubbed ‘the arty one’.
“Growing up I always loved art…Despite being in such a small school we still had a few opportunities to enter painting competitions, play with air drying clay and make a general creative mess. I never had a favourite artistic area through my childhood. But looking back I’m thankful we had so much freedom to explore being creative.”
Discovering a Love For Ceramics
Following studying technology, art and photography at A-level, and with a love for many creative pursuits, Natasha’s transition into ceramics and running a business (where you are required to be everything at once) was a natural one.
“I don’t think I ever knew how I was going to focus on just one area!”
“My journey into a career in ceramics happened a little on its own accord,” Natasha explains, “I know other makers that have had an instant connection with clay, but for me, my love for so many areas of art and design meant ceramics didn’t necessarily stand out straight away.
“I knew I wanted to go to art college and after attending foundation year I decided to apply for the broadest degree I could find at Ulster University, Belfast. This happened to be 'Contemporary Applied Art' which covered silversmithing, glass and ceramics. At my entrance interview I was asked which area I wanted to specialise in, not knowing this was a requirement I said… I have no idea!”
It was the lead interviewer and head of ceramics in the end that made the decision for Natasha, having noticed her potential as a potter he placed her in his department.
“Once I experienced ceramics to a deeper level my appreciation for the material grew, I loved that it was hands on and involved a lot of processes. I feel I was drawn in by the possibilities available working with clay- I could paint with clay, sculpt with clay, 3D print and much more.”
At university, Natasha had a craving to find out more about ceramics and so took up a ‘Pottery Skills Course’ with the Design and Craft Council of Ireland, exploring a two year intensive production throwing training course, propelling her towards eventually becoming a full time potter.
Starting Natasha Swan Ceramics
“Being a potter is truly a lovely career” she enthuses, “the wider community of potters is very open and friendly making it a much less daunting journey to start being self-employed.”
Natasha took the leap to becoming a self-employed artisan in 2019, leaving her part-time job as ‘head thrower’ to launch Natasha Swan Ceramics. Despite, the challenge of juggling the many facets involved in being self-employed and running her studio, Natasha delights in being involved in every stage of her business.
“I quickly learnt that I loved the whole process of ceramics and for me, I wanted to have full control over what I was making and see each step through to the end. Being self-employed was my final goal!”
“Becoming a self-employed maker has been a very exciting journey for me. It’s hard to believe that out of all of my indecisiveness I have now established myself as a maker in ceramics. I loved every minute of studying at University and when I could I worked alongside established potters to gain more industry knowledge.”
Natasha is also generous in acknowledging the support of the ‘Go For It NI’ program, her local enterprise board and “a beautiful group of friends that I worked alongside through my time studying with the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland” for contributing to her success.
Since moving back to her home town, Natasha has found much inspiration in the wild and beautiful landscape of Islandmagee.
“My designs are largely inspired by nature in my surroundings…I can see the relation of my current signature range and the quiet coastal environment I call home. As my journey has progressed I’ve found a balance between repetitively making neutral designs and making small batches of more illustrative work.”
Natasha’s illustrated designs range from flamingos and palm leaves to rainbows and bees. They are colourful and joyful and made to be displayed and used daily to brighten your morning coffee break.
“I absolutely love to illustrate on ceramics and for me regularly creating new designs keeps my creativity flowing and exciting. It’s important for me to have a balance between crazy creativity and peaceful making. I don’t always get the balance right but I’m definitely more fulfilled having the freedom to move between new designs with my limited edition monthly mugs and steady, reliable designs from my ‘Neutrals’ range.”
Finding Joy In The Making Process
We asked Natasha about her favourite part of the process and again she finds it hard to choose. She finds joy in it all - even the nerve-wracking process of opening the kiln and finding unexpected results.
“It’s very difficult to pick a favourite process with ceramics as there are so many steps that each have their own fun and challenges.”
“Being a potter means I have been given the opportunity to learn a traditional craft and I love that I can so quickly see clay transformed into something I have envisioned like generations of potters have done before me. I absolutely love ‘throwing’ but it is equally as fulfilling to see each final piece coming out of the kiln. So often pieces don’t survive the lengthy making progress and you always find something unexpected opening the kiln- good or bad, it’s an exciting time. The final results from the kiln are often what inspires me to remake something, tweak a design or try something new.”
Natasha’s enthusiasm for ceramics and craft is infectious. Looking forward to the future of craft she is just as positive, and hopes to pass on these ancient skills to others through her workshop.
“I feel blessed to be working as a maker in today’s society. I didn’t always understand the importance of carrying on the traditional skills of pottery, but now in Northern Ireland there are fewer possibilities to learn the skills of making in clay and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience all that I have.”
“There is a greater appreciation for handmade crafts in all areas as people try to slow down their lives. Not only am I thankful to those who have supported my journey, I am also thankful for my growing understanding of other makers’ journeys and impact on our community. I’m excited to see what the future holds for crafters and count myself lucky to be included.”
Also read "In Conversation With Ceramicist Daisy Cooper"