Hannah Elvidge knew the moment she threw a lump of clay onto a potters’ wheel that she was hooked. “The entire process, from a sticky lump of clay to a beautiful piece of finished ceramic is thrilling, challenging and utterly addictive,” says Elvidge, who works out of a studio in the garage of her family home in North Newbald, East Yorkshire.
Her work is currently on exhibition at the Leeds Craft and Design Gallery which is impressive considering she only took up ceramics six years ago.
Until then she had gone on a much more commercial journey with her artistic talents.
“I grew up in Kent and went to art school and then studied packaging design at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design,” she explains. “I have always been artistic but it is really hard to make a living out of art and so I decided to do something more commercial.”
She worked for a couple of packaging companies in London before moving into the toy and gift industry,
“The company I worked for had their head office in Hong Kong and they asked me if I’d like to go and work for them out there. I jumped at the chance and had the most amazing time.
Three girls sharing a flat in an incredible city like Hong Kong, but what I hadn’t planned on was meeting my future husband there.”
Elvidge met and married the Gadget Shop founder Jonathan Elvidge and she decided to return to the UK, give up her job and move to Yorkshire where she set up her own freelance business and had the couple’s daughter who is now ten.
“Jonathan had two children from a previous relationship and I suppose I gave up my career in the South to move North for love,” she laughs. “Although I was based up in East Yorkshire I had lots of contacts who still wanted me to work for them. Jonathan had sold the Gadget Shop and set up Red 5 and I did work for them on their branding and packaging and that kept me very busy.”
When Jonathan Elvidge sold Red 5 in 2015 his wife decided it was time for a change for her too.
“I always felt a little frustration with my career in design, always having to work to a brief. I couldn’t fully express my creativity. You’d come up with a design and then the client would change the colours even though you knew your colours worked better but the client is always right and so you just had to go with it.
“I wanted to be free and just make stuff again and just be creative. I was turning 40 and I wrote a list of 40 things I wanted to do. Number one was to learn to throw a pot. The Great Pottery Throw Down had just started on television and I was addicted to it.”
She watched a lot of YouTube videos and then joined a local pottery class.
“The man that ran the class gave me some clay and told me to start throwing it onto the wheel – I just loved it.” That was six years ago and Elvidge hasn’t looked back.
She eventually bought her own wheel and a kiln and took over two-thirds of the garage to turn it into a studio with a lovely view of the family garden.
“I watched lots of Youtube videos and read a lot of books,” she says.
“I started making plates and mugs mainly for myself and to give to friends. And then I started to sell quite a few at craft fairs especially around Christmas. I made some Christmas decorations. I started to cover my costs which was my main motivation as ceramics and making pottery are not the cheapest things.
“I didn’t really have any plans to exhibit and then I was at a craft fair in the village with a few of my pieces and a lady was setting up a gallery in Beverley and asked if I’d be willing to show a few pieces. I was honoured to do so.”
Elvidges designs are very distinctive using a sgraffito technique where she puts down a preliminary surface, covering it with another darker layer, and then scratching the superficial layer in such a way that the pattern or shape that emerges is of the lower colour.
“In many ways it’s a similar process to the lino cutting that I did at art school. My style is quite naive but it takes me hours and hours.”
She draws her inspiration from the natural world around her East Yorkshire home, in particular leaping hares.
“Although I grew up in the Kent countryside I had never seen a hare before moving to Yorkshire and now we see them all the time. I find them fascinating creatures and then I add the background which is all about nature and the countryside.”
She also does birds and more recently foxes as well as painted feather designs.
“I don’t really do commissions unless they fit in with what I am already doing, I find it distracting.”
As well as her black and white sgraffito plates, bowls, mugs and coasters, she makes a range of highly coloured ‘Vera’ jugs and vases.
“They are very different from my sgraffito designs, but I love them and have sold them all over the world. I give them different coloured faces as I want them to be accessible to everyone.”
She started making little figures with dangling legs that sounded like a bell and then developed the ‘Vera’’ vase which holds a single flower that works like a headdress or hat. Some of her Vera vases are sold at the Heart Gallery in Hebden Bridge.
“I really can’t decide which I like making best,” she says. “I like to make people smile and I feel very fortunate to be able to do something that I love.”
She says there are similarities to her old career.
“In packagaine you have to look at the three dimensional form and it’s the same with pottery. I got fed up with graphics because they were so flat.”
As well as on her website that she developed while homeschooling her daughter during lockdown, Elvidge’s work is currently on show at the Leeds Craft Gallery.
“I do have a bit of imposter syndrome,” she says. “I have only been doing this for six years and to be asked to exhibit amongst some of my favourite cermasists is amazing.”
Heather Elvidge’s work can be seen in the Spring: Blossom – 40 Years in the Making exhibition at the Leeds Craft and Design Centre until April 30, www.craftcentreleeds.co.uk
To see more of Heather’s work visit heatherelvidgeceramics.com/