While technology has accelerated how quickly we can make things, there are some processes that resist this march of progress. To make porcelain by hand involves the same combination of heat, hands and time that has changed little in its 27,000-year history. It’s a process ceramicist Jo Davies had dedicated the past ten years of her life to mastering – but still manages to offer up surprises.
“As much as 30 per cent of every batch that goes into the kiln isn’t usable when it comes out,” explains Jo. “Porcelain is one of the hardest clays to work with. It cracks and warps, and you don’t know if you’ve made a mistake until it’s too late to fix”. Her studio, located in a small courtyard down a side street in Hackney, east London contains everything she needs to create her ever expanding array of homeware.
Each piece begins as a block of clay. From there, Jo gently brings the inanimate object to life, be it a bowl or lampshade on a turning wheel. Once shaped, it has to be left to dry for a week or more before it can be placed into a 1,000-degree kiln. A glaze is applied before a second heating process – this time at 1,220-degrees – for 36 hours to set the porcelain into its final form. Only then will Jo know if she did everything right. It’s a process that can take anywhere up to six weeks, depending on the size of the object.
Many have questioned Jo’s dedication to this gruelling process, why she hasn’t outsourced the toil to a factory in China or elsewhere. “It’s very demanding, but one of my favourite things is when people come back to me and talk about how they use the thing I made.”
It’s a testament to both the stubbornness of porcelain, but also Jo’s dedication to a style of making that refuses to be modernised. Sometimes the old ways are the best.