Suky Rai of Lu Kee Su Ceramics spends her days hand-building beautiful ceramics full of irregular quirks and rustic charm from her small home studio, based in the Leicestershire countryside.
None of Suky’s pieces are taken from drawings or technical measurements but are created from the images she sees in her mind. Each piece is identifiable stylistically through her passion for the traditional pinching and coiling technique, and offer a level of exclusivity as a result of this organic, creative process.
Having studied and worked in graphic design and art direction for over 12 years, Suky lost her passion for the industry and went on a mission to pursue what she was craving – true creative freedom – and discovered a love and learning for pottery along the way. After taking lessons for six months, she continued to teach herself the craft from her home studio for a year before opening her online store, Lu Kee Su Ceramics, in July 2017.
After years of working in fast-paced London, Suky now purposefully embraces a slower way of working and living. As part of this, she sources inspiration through her travels and from the simplest of surroundings, from tree bark and landscapes to roof tiles and crumbling walls. We gladly chatted to Suky about her life and career so far.
So you started off in graphic design, how did you come to work in pottery?
Well, I’ve always been someone who loves making and designing, any chance I get really, it’s just always been my thing ever since I was a kid. It was around 2013 though, while I was working in London, that a friend mentioned a small home kiln was available if I wanted it (they knew I was a major geek about making).
At the time, I seriously considered it but in the end, I decided against because I lived in a block of maisonettes and flats, so I had people all around me and being the type of person who will forever be paranoid about my kiln spontaneously combusting, it had to be a no but, it did spark off a serious interest in pursuing pottery lessons to learn more about the craft, especially as I remembered that at school it was something I was good at.
Not much was out there when I was looking, certainly nothing compared to now but, I did find one place that was south of the River, opposite to where I worked and lived. However, it had very specific term times that I just couldn’t commit to, as I was working in advertising at the time so my hours were pretty long and irregular. It was all about hitting deadlines and it was my first priority back then, so I put it on the backburner... not really thinking too much more about it.
It wasn’t until I moved back to my hometown of Leicester for a job in 2014 (which I subsequently left fairly soon after, it was very much a chalk and cheese situation) that I found I was now in a position to pursue lots of things I’d been wanting to do but couldn’t when I was living in London (being responsible for the mortgage and bills meant I just couldn’t take the risk financially at the time).
I found a really lovely, relaxed pottery studio when I returned but it wasn’t until November 2015 that I was able to start taking lessons due to a billion other things going on at the time. When I did start, right from the very first session, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had no idea what I was doing in that first lesson but something just clicked, even more than graphic design had always done which I was really surprised about. I just hadn’t really been prepared for it to affect me as it did but, it was totally welcome as I’d been wanting to move away from the industry I was in for a few years anyway.
What followed was six months of working freely every week in the pottery studio but it got to a point where I just knew it was something I needed to pursue with full dedication, one lesson a week just wasn’t enough for me anymore.
At the time, I thought that meant I needed to do a degree or a masters, maybe it still does or will do at some stage but, after doing lots of research into my options and after several conversations with my teacher and university course leaders, I’d established that pursuing a self-taught avenue was going to be far more conducive, especially as the university avenue meant repeating a year I’d already done and I really couldn’t afford to waste £9k repeating a year so, once I’d finished taking pottery lessons, I decided to utilise my home studio and turn it into a dedicated space to teach myself from.
Lots of books were read (and are still read), lots of YouTube tutorials watched and crucially, lots of making time which involved plenty of trial and error, resulting in finding a style that feels really natural to me.
Saying all of this, it really isn’t as easy as just teaching yourself for a year, there’s so much more to learn, more than you could fit into an entire lifetime and I know that it’s one of the things I love most about this specialism but, it’s my start on this journey and if I’d never have made that start, I’d never had anything to build on either. It’s all about the long game in pottery, but what a fun and beautiful game it is.
You have a particular process to your work. Tell us more
In terms of the physical process, I only ever make my pieces using the traditional hand-building techniques of coil building and pinching. Both of these methods are known for being slow and whilst certain parts of my making process, like coiling, could be made quicker by using an extruder, I prefer not to because with each coil being hand-rolled, it adds another layer to the individuality and uniqueness of each piece.
Using these techniques means that the work I create results in an end piece that’s achieved far more slowly than other methods but to me, it allows for a much deeper connection to the material itself. The pieces I’m creating and the marks that I’m leaving are fixed in something that could potentially be out there forever. There’s no other force involved other than my hands to shape and give life to my ceramics and that’s a great feeling for me.
In terms of the design process, on pieces that aren’t commissioned from a customer and that are part of my own collection, I don’t work to sketches or draw anything out before I start making which kind of goes against everything I’ve ever done as a graphic designer.
When it comes to ceramics, I literally have a visual in my head of what I want to make and then go about trying to create it as I see it in my mind's eye. It normally takes a couple of attempts to get what I’m 'seeing' but, once I have it and am happy with it, I then roll it out as a small batch or maybe create it as a complete one-off.
Every single piece I make, even the individual pieces that are part of the same design batch, all look slightly different to one another. They all have their own irregularities, marks and little quirks that give them a unique character which has at every single stage been completely fulfilling to create.
The final part of my process is how I make. Luckily, I learnt fairly early on that I don’t enjoy making repetitively. I think it’s possibly something to do with my graphic design background where you see a project through from start to finish and then move on to the next one.
So, if you like, there is a closing of a chapter with each project and you look forward to the next challenge so I guess I’m used to working this way. If I had to do the same design project over and over again for years and years, graphics or ceramics, well, to me it would feel a bit Groundhog Day. I just couldn’t do it, there’d be no creative challenge, nothing to learn, nothing new and to me, they’re all equally important to my process of making and designing which is why ceramics has such a huge appeal to me, there’s always something to learn and always new things to try and new work to create.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Anywhere and everywhere in all honesty but for the main part, I guess it’s from things I pick up on my travels, in particular landscapes and buildings and I’m always especially drawn to natural textures and patterns I find.
I’m really looking forward to a trip to Copenhagen soon, a destination I’ve been trying to get to for two years now and it’s finally happening so I’m expecting that to be a massive source of inspiration.
It really could be anything though, take the walls at home, they’ve been stripped recently, it’s a 1930s property and the textures, patterns and colours from the original décor mixed with the newer stuff combined with chunks of old plaster falling out look amazing! Nightmare for the bank balance but visually stunning. Silver linings and all that…
You've left London and now live in the countryside. Are you enjoying the slower pace?
Absolutely 100% yes! I always find it really strange how I’ve totally managed to settle back into a life in the Midlands so easily. I lived in London for five years and I thought I’d never come back because, well, how could anyone get sick of London, right? How wrong I was. I love London, always will and I miss the buzz. But towards the end of my time there, I was quite literally sick of all of that.
I was desperate for fresh clean air, being able to drive and actually drive without being stuck in traffic for hours. Not having to use the tube anymore was a really big one for me (those daily morning close-ups with armpits in my face and elbows hitting the back of my head just weren’t acceptable anymore).
I wanted space to think and greenery and just generally enjoy life at a slower pace. Where I could actually take things in long enough to really appreciate them.
I’ve only recently moved to the countryside from the city of Leicester and I can’t tell you how lovely it is to be able to drive into town whenever I want to but equally, get away from it whenever I want to as well. Having the views and scenery and nature along with some really lovely walking routes all on my doorstep is something I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of. So yes, I’m really enjoying the slower pace, it suits my mindset and my work perfectly.
Does being in the countryside help with your creativity?
I think so, yes. The idea generation and the way I work are all still the same but, it’s definitely a huge source of inspiration. I have two dogs so I’m always finding things on our walks, if nothing physical or directly something that will inspire my work, then at the very least a sense of clarity and peace in myself that I haven’t found as easily anywhere else which always helps to be more receptive to new ideas.
You have a wonderful home studio. Did you design it yourself?
Thank you so much! I kind of ended up with it by accident. I started off the year moving from my old home studio (due to a house move) into a lovely container unit which is where I planned on working from but, there was no space for my kiln so, I had a pretty basic shed built in the new house to accommodate it. However, in the few months when I was at the container unit, the heat that would build had a massively negative effect on a lot of my work and on a lot of my raw materials.
After realising this, I had the kiln shed converted into a studio for me to work from, decorated it how I wanted it and I can honestly say, it’s a place that I absolutely love working from! It’s so suited to what I need for where I’m at right now. The only thing that’s a pain is not having a sink, which means a lot of carrying tools and boards up and down the garden to be washed up.
We love your Instagram account. What else has worked in terms of marketing yourself?
I’ve not really done anything intentionally, I’ve not planned too much of anything, to be honest, everything’s just kind of happening at the moment. But, I have made a conscious effort through social media to try and be as open and honest about where I’m at, what my style is, the kind of things I like, how I like to work and how I got here, so that anyone who’s interested in my ceramics has a clearer idea of what I’m about.
Also, I was really lucky to have had a pretty successful opening weekend at the container unit during the short time I was there, it was an opportunity for people to meet me in person and speak to me about my work and process and, in addition to people parting with their hard-earned cash in exchange for my work, it also resulted in a few commissions too which was absolutely brilliant.
But now that I work from home, I don’t have the opportunity to have that level of interaction with people. It's so valuable being able to speak to people face-to-face so, I’ll definitely be keeping up that level of visibility by taking part in relevant pop-ups and events to showcase and discuss my work.
Is there anything that frustrates you about the industry?
As a newbie in the world of ceramics, nothing comes to mind but, if you’re talking graphic design, how long have you got…?
Can people buy your work? If so, how and where?
Yes they can, all of my work is available to buy online through my shop at www.lukeesuceramics.com.
What are you currently working on?
At the moment, I’m working on several commissioned projects and on the testing of new designs for the next shop update which will be live later this year.
What do you do to relax?
I know what I do shouldn’t also be a hobby but, right now, it is. Working with clay in the organic way that I do is in itself hugely relaxing for me – apart from all the washing up! It’s pretty much taken over my life and I basically live in the studio but I guess, other than that, taking the dogs for a walk in these parts is pretty relaxing. Oh and knitting, I love a bit of knitting!
What's next for you? Anything we should know about?
Lots more learning through experimentation and creating new work for now but, since launching my online shop, I’ve been contacted by a few independents interested in stocking my work so that’ll be something for me to think about for 2018.