Polly Fern creates modern illustrated ceramics influenced by the romantic, antique ceramics which inspire her. The light, summery shades of blues, pinks, peaches and greens of her illustrations are playful and uplifting. Adorning dishes, lampshades and a growing array of home furnishings would brighten up any room. Polly counts brands such as Marks & Spencer, Caramel London and Home & Antiques Magazine among her clients and creates a variety of prints and homeware for her own online shop.
Polly works from home and is currently in the process of renovating her house. “There is a lot of back and forth at the moment” she explains.
As is often the case with freelancers and creatives, Polly manages both the creative design side of her work and the business elements that come with it, which requires a lot of multi-tasking. Polly has wisely designated different areas of her house to different aspects of her work.
“Usually I would wake up, take Edgar for a walk and then start my working day quite early. I have a studio room in my house where I package all my shop orders and do my emails and painting. So some days can be spent in there, or I might be in my ceramic studio for a day, it really depends on what I’m working on at that time. My ceramic studio is an outbuilding that my boyfriend and I built (with the help from friends and family) when we first moved into our home in 2019.”
Polly’s home and local area often act as a catalyst for her creative inspiration with the local Norfolk countryside, and Polly’s pets, often featuring in her design work.
“Influences come from so many different areas, I enjoy discovering stories that inspire me, such as garden stories, or local tales. I’m often thinking back to my childhood and the Norfolk landscape in which I grew up. My whippet Edgar and canaries are often making their way into my work as they are a huge part of my life and character.”
The main inspiration for Polly’s new collections is antique ceramics. Polly puts a modern twist on these antique designs which results in something fresh and playful yet with a distinctively nostalgic feel.
“I collect ceramics, mainly 19th century children’s plates and lusterware pieces. I enjoy reading and researching into the various techniques and subjects for the decoration on ceramics. I am an avid antique shopper, and often find inspiration in the unique objects I come across, whether it is an arts and crafts handmade wooden chair, or a tea caddy, there is always something interesting in the way it has been put together or the type of decoration that has been used.”
Polly’s diverse set of skills and creative process results in a truly unique fusion of ceramics and illustrations, which she originally started exploring whilst studying at university. The illustrated characters bring the ceramics to life, with both mediums so perfectly in tune, that it would be easy to imagine that the ceramics are part of the 19th century dream world from the illustrated stories themselves.
“There were sadly no ceramic facilities at the Uni, so my friend and I discovered a local ceramic studio in Norwich where we started to do weekly classes in our third and final year. I wanted to tell a story through objects rather than just on paper. The majority of my degree show ended up being ceramics, accompanied by my on-paper illustrations.”
“I love [being multidisciplinary] as I’m working on something new every day and it means I am lucky to come across opportunities that can be quite unexpected, such as painting a massive mural for a client, collaborating on a wrist watch collection for a company in Japan and developing a collection of my ceramics for my pop-up shop at Pentreath & Hall. However sometimes, it can be tricky balancing everything; I work by myself and create all my ceramics, develop my products, and pack and ship all my orders, so sometimes I can feel a little overwhelmed and worried that I might be doing too much!”
The creative process for both disciplines tends to be informed by the drawings in Polly’s sketchbook, with the illustrative and ceramic designing crossing over as she works.
“To begin my ceramic pieces, I develop the shape; these are often inspired by antiques I discover or everyday things such as flowers, animals or buildings. Over the past few years, I have developed a vast range of different vase and platter shapes. I will work in my sketchbook, doing quick line drawings and sketches of the designs I want to create.”
“It’s really important before I create a piece to make a test tile first; these test tiles are a series of what look like miniature paintings on a small tile. I use these to test out different oxides and underglaze combinations. I create all of my ceramics by hand – I roll out the slabs and build the vessels, I slip trail on decorative relief details to add some interest and sometimes to frame my illustrations.”
“Once I’ve finished the piece, it will then very slowly dry which can take many weeks. It will then go through its first bisque firing. I will then glaze the pieces with my Tin Glaze and hand paint the designs before firing once more. It’s a very long process to create each ware, and they are often all one-of-a-kind pieces. I get extreme satisfaction at each stage of the process, and love that feeling when I unload a successful glaze firing.”
Luckily for us we should soon be able to infuse more of our homes with Polly’s joyful, dreamlike illustrations.
“I love creating a world with my work, and I would love to further develop my collection of homewares. I launched my wallpapers and lampshades last year, and I would like to continue exploring to develop fabrics, and various items for the home.”