Ceramicist Kate Semple reveals how creativity helped her shine and shows us round her live work home in York

It was clear from an early age that Kate Semple was destined to become an artist. Her talent was screamingly evident and she laughs when she says:“There was also clearly nothing else I could do. I slid off the ladder of academia very early on at school because I’m dyslexic.”

Dyslexia was rarely recognised by schools back then and there was very little known about it.

Recent research led by Dr Helen Taylor, an affiliated scholar at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge and a Research Associate at the University of Strathclyde, shed a whole new light on the condition and revealed that dyslexia should not be framed as a disorder.

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Her paper showed that people with dyslexia are programmed to explore the unknown and this has played a fundamental role in humans adapting to changing environments.Based on the findings, the conclusion was that those with dyslexia have enhanced abilities in certain areas including discovery, invention and creativity.

Kate at the Habitat dining table and behind and to the side some of her work and that of other makersKate at the Habitat dining table and behind and to the side some of her work and that of other makers
Kate at the Habitat dining table and behind and to the side some of her work and that of other makers

Kate ticks all those boxes and her supportive parents knew it and were more than happy for her to pursue her passion for art in its various forms.

“My mum and dad were amazing. They always thought outside the box,” she says.

Two years at Doncaster Art College was followed by time at NEWI, the North East Wales Institute’s school of art and design and then, attracted by the bright lights, big city and better opportunities, she moved to London and became an illustrator.

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In 1993 when you could just about get on the property ladder in the less salubrious parts of London without earning a ridiculous amount of money, Kate and her sister bought a place in Clapham with a little help from mum and dad.

Kate's kiln room and workshop in the gardenKate's kiln room and workshop in the garden
Kate's kiln room and workshop in the garden

“Clapham wasn’t fashionable then so we bought a place there for £72,000 and within four years the area became more sought-after and the value of our property had doubled,” says Kate.

Selling it and realising the equity in it helped her and her now husband Dave, a graphic designer and illustrator, to buy in Tooting, another area destined to be up and coming, and the subsequent sale of that property gave them a golden ticket to move to a family size home in York, which has been transformational in terms of work and lifestyle.

“I’d always loved York. It’s somewhere my parents used to take us when we were children and it was definitely somewhere I aspired to live,” says Kate.

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She and Dave bought a family size period terraced property in the heart of the city.

Now, 21 years and two grown up children later and they are still making a living from art and design, though she has switched from illustration to hand built

ceramics after taking lessons that turned into an obsession.

“I started dabbling in ceramics as a hobby and had some pottery making sessions at Bish Bash Pot in York.

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“I was also going through a difficult time as my dad died in 2019 and I was nursing my mum who died a year later. Angela who runs Bish Bash Pot knew what I was going through and kept dropping bags of clay off for me.

“Handbuilding vases, bowls and jugs was really therapeutic and out of the trauma and grief came something very positive. It made me reassess what I wanted to do and that wasn’t illustration, it was making ceramics.”

Showing at York Open Studios and selling everything boosted her resolve. Her work, for sale via her own website and from a number of galleries in the UK, is now collectable and features in her own home alongside pieces by other artists.

Kate, who also makes her own glazes, works at the kitchen table sculpting her ceramic vessels and also enjoys using papier mache and stages occasional workshops in both mediums.

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Her kiln is squeezed into a tiny section of a garden shed, which has led her and Dave to contemplate whether they should move somewhere that could accommodate a standalone studio but neither of them can bear to leave their Victorian home, which is otherwise perfect.

“It’s taken years to get the house to this point because we like to save up and do things once and do them properly. It had belonged to a designer who had restored it beautifully but it needed updating,” says Kate.

The wall between the sitting room and dining room was demolished to create one large space but bi-fold timber doors by Houghtons joinery means they can also be separated.

Kate and Dave have also replaced bog standard radiators with cast iron ones and invested in reclaimed marble fireplaces and timber flooring on the ground floor.

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One of the most impressive pieces of furniture is an antique filing cabinet that belonged to Kate’s grandfather and later lived in her father’s workshop where he enjoyed woodturning.

She says “My dad was an electrical engineer but he loved making things out of wood and also made the nest of tables we have here.”

The couple’s collection of Anglepoise lamps is impressive and useful and they have also invested heavily in lighting from top Italian brand Flos and in work by fellow artists and makers, including Mark Hearld, Emily Sutton, Carol Douglas, and Marie Murphy to name just a few.

The value of buying well shows in the sleek kitchen, which looks new but is 15 years old. The cabinets are by Mereway, the worktops are in Corian and the lights are OriginalBTC.

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“We love the house and everything we need is on the doorstep,” says Kate. “Even though a large workshop for my ceramics and the kiln would be great, I think we will probably stay here,” says Kate, “I think it would be really hard to move anywhere else.”

*Visit Kate’s website at www.katesemple.co.uk for details of her work and her workshops and find her on Instagram at katesemple