Inspiring Makers: Joe Thompson, Old Forge Creations
We have been huge fans of Joe’s work through Old Forge Creations ever since we got started. With his beautiful designs, original glazes, and insightful posts, ranging on everything from starting your own pottery business to growing your social media following, Joe, to us, has become the epitome of an inspirational creative.
Read this week’s interview to find out more about starting Old Forge Creations, the process of creativity and Joe’s advice to others starting their own creative businesses.
Hey Joe. Tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do and how you got started.
I’m Joe, a Graphic Designer turned Potter living in Surrey and working out of a small studio. I now make almost entirely mugs and bowls that are thrown on a pottery wheel, but I started out in ceramics almost accidentally and through surface design on flat ceramic coasters.
We wanted little custom ceramic coasters for our wedding. When we couldn’t find anything we liked online, I said something to the effect of ‘How hard can it be?’ and made them myself on the kitchen table with a rolling pin and 3D printed stamp, then fired them in a borrowed kiln. Around this point, Brexit happened. The company I worked for needed to make redundancies, so I took it and used the money to buy a few bits of equipment. I then opened a Not On The High Street shop selling personalised coasters.
It worked well and I was building a viable business, but there wasn’t really much room for experimentation. So I also taught myself to throw on the wheel. That was a lot more of a challenge!
Once I was good enough at throwing, I switched over to that entirely, and wheel thrown pottery has been my full time job for about 5 years now.
What fuels your creativity? Is it an innate drive or something you’ve had to hone?
I love the creativity of problem solving and it’s definitely an innate drive. I find there’s as much satisfaction in creating a spreadsheet that solves an incredibly specific problem as there is in creating a ceramic piece, and I think that’s why graphic design appealed to me so much more than any of the fine arts.
There’s a huge amount of problem solving in ceramics. Both in the creation of the designs, and actually getting them through the entire process intact.
What do you enjoy most about the work that you do?
Most of my designs are very simple inputs on my side and I use techniques/designs/glazes that create the pattern for me. It’s the discovery and development of these that I enjoy the most.
For example, the Peacock Eye design requires a fairly simple pattern to be stamped into the surface of the clay, then two glazes are applied. One on the inside, one on the outside, with an overlap of about an inch. Through careful selection of the two glazes, that overlap results in a glaze flow that is redirected by the surface topology, and forms an intricate pattern. It would be possible to paint the design onto the bowl, but my interest is in finding specific processes that generate the patterns themselves during the firing.
Do you have any routines or rituals which shape your creativity?
I don’t have any routines that I’ve specifically added for creativity, but I’m a chronic overthinker, so my brain rarely takes any time off. Each day I’ll have a variety of tasks that are fairly automatic (could be driving, but also could be throwing smaller pieces on the wheel as they don’t require much active thought nowadays), and I put on background music instead of a podcast and allow myself the space to think about processes/glazes/etc in a less structured and productive way. Often my best ideas are from this aimless mulling over of concepts.
Do you have any words of wisdom for other creatives or people who admire what you do?
I’m not sure it counts as wisdom, but I would say that I feel the only way to make a business of something creative and maintain the enjoyment is to allow space for unpressured experimentation. My favourite part of the whole job is testing new glaze recipes, but 99% of them don’t ever become available on products. I’m lucky in that ceramic glazes are relatively easy to test on a very small scale, so the cost and time implications are minimal. They’re enjoyable because I can learn from them all and don’t feel like the unsuccessful tests were failures, but I can imagine the process would be infinitely more stressful if I felt pressure for them all to be successes. Start small and have zero expectations of success!
And finally, who or what inspires you, and why?
This is a tough one! There are hundreds of makers whose work/approach/process I really enjoy, but picking particular examples is hard.
Curt Hammerly is probably top. I love the work he produces, but also his willingness to try new things and repeatedly improve on existing processes (and share the times where it doesn’t work out as planned).
Please share any small makers or businesses that you like:
There’s this small tea company with a pun in their name. I forget the specifics though. [Editor’s note: this may be us].
Other than you, I’d love to shout out my favourite Tee company, Don’t Feed The Bears
Please share products that you use a lot and love for your work:
My all time favourite online tool (for glaze nerds), Glazy. It does a lot of clever things with glaze chemistry, has a gigantic collection of user uploaded recipes, and does it all for free. I would not have got anywhere near as deeply into glaze making without it!