Vanessa Hogge on self-employment, career changes and staying true to your passion

Organic and ornate, spontaneous and stylised, Vanessa Hogge crafts her beautiful decorative wallflowers and vessels in her studio at Cockpit Arts Holborn, breathing new life into her clay in the form of dahlias, chrysanthemums, daisies, hydrangeas and daphne.

Working predominantly in porcelain, she takes an instinctive, visceral approach to each piece, painstakingly sculpting every petal and anther by hand, so that no two flowers are identical.

Grounded by years of experience as a ceramicist, Vanessa is inspired by her passion for all things botanical and her influences are as diverse as Frida Kahlo and Marianne North. But it hasn't always been this way. We caught up with Vanessa to talk about her diverse career, her family life and her passions.

What has been your career path to this point – would you also mind talking about how you fit it in with family life – are your children grown up now?

I'm afraid I gave up being a ceramicist when my children came along (in '93 and '95). I had some good orders in – had supplied Paul Smith shops in London, Tokyo and New York with large sunflower vases but it just proved too difficult to juggle a job, children and being a self-employed ceramicist.

I married a furniture designer so we were both 'creative' and without proper jobs! Very hard to survive and sadly we both got jobs, albeit in the creative industry, but not as makers in the end! So I became an interiors stylist and worked freelance for a number of years for various publications including Homes & Gardens. I grew increasingly interested in graphic design and laying out pages beautifully as opposed to creating the images for the pages.

I retrained and worked for a number of years as a designer for various agencies until 2015 when a bag of clay in my shed caught my eye and I remembered that it was my true passion and what I actually trained to do! The children had both disappeared off to university so with more time and a whole lot of life experience I started my ceramic career again. I think there is so much to be said for having experienced other careers – the styling and graphic design experience stand me in very good stead now.

Is it easier to be a maker compared to when you first started in the early '90s? What's changed?

It's so much easier and fun now compared to then. The whole social media revolution is so enabling – to be able to take a quick photo of your work and share it with thousands instantly is so enabling for a business/craftsperson.

How did you know that it was ceramics you wanted to go into and not another art form?

I love decorative textiles, surface pattern and painters who portray flowers – Georgia O'Keeffe, Frida Kahlo and Marianne North, for example – they are great influencers but to work in 3D and in particular clay is the most luscious experience. There is no medium like it. Especially porcelain which I predominantly work with – silky smooth and soft to the touch, but very strong and stone like once it's fired.

It's unpredictable, so much can go wrong with firings and glazes which all adds to the thrill. And I know it's a cliche but I still get such a buzz every single time I open the kiln – that thrill never leaves you.

How do you promote your work? Do you do many craft shows – and if so, which ones?

I'm addicted to Instagram (@VanessaHogge) which is incredible at spreading your profile far and wide, and I make sure my Facebook page is updated regularly. I recently made a film about my ceramic process and I've had incredible feedback globally from it - it's true what they say, 'moving image sells'.

I’ve done 10 shows in the last couple of years, all in the UK. I've exhibited at Kew Gardens, Marylebone, Brighton, Bloomsbury, Chelsea Town Hall, Art in Action in Oxfordshire, Edinburgh, West Dean, and some others. It's been a big push to get my name out there and to come into contact with as many people as possible. I love talking to the general public and showing them how the pieces are made and letting them hold and touch the flowers to show that they're not as fragile as they look – once porcelain is high fired it's very strong.

I have a studio at Cockpit Arts Holborn which holds it's own Open Studio events which have a big following. The Summer Open Studios is from 9-11 June 2017 so I am busy preparing for that now.

Who inspires you in the ceramic world?

Character wise, Grayson Perry! There are so many inspiring makers out there... Ikuko Iwamoto and Hitomi Hosono to name a few.

Where do you get inspiration for your work?

Oh everywhere! Kew Gardens, I just love the Marianne North Gallery – beautiful floral paintings of exotic plants from around the world painted by an adventurous, brave woman. Indian miniature painting is enchanting – recently I enjoyed Imran Qureshi’s work at The Barbican Centre... beautiful delicate florals in stunning colourways. And I've just returned from an inspiring trip to Morocco where the Zillig tiles and carved plasterwork are beyond belief.

I look out for beautiful books everywhere I go and I picked up a real find at Oxfam bookshop recently – 'Oriental flowers paintings', which is giving me plenty of ideas. If I don't find anything on the shelves I always ask if they have anything interesting out the back and invariably they do!

I've inherited a love of gardens from my strong matriarchal family – my mother and grandmother were amazing African gardeners – I seem to be gardening in clay!

You mention your family and African gardening. What's the connection there?

I was born in Kenya and brought up in South Africa – my mother and grandmother were fierce matriarchs who loved gardening and had wild African gardens.

Finally, what advice would you give to new designers and makers out there?

Don't give up! Keep going – things might take you sideways for a while, but be true to yourself and keep making!


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