Completely over the moon/shocked/elated (all the good emotions) to have my name mentioned in the New York Times amongst some fabulous Irish ceramicists. Amazing to have Irish ceramics celebrated in this way and put firmly on the map for design led products inspired by our wonderful landscape, #proud. Follow the link and have a read

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/style/irish-ceramics-made-for-collecting.html

Bay Collection

The Bay Collection is directly inspired by the ever changing splendour of Dundrum Bay where Rebecca's home is situated. 'Each morning I am greeted and blessed with the most wonderful views which spread across the bay, leading to the majestic Mountains of Mourne'. The winter morning skies streaked with pink and gold are a beautiful contrast to the stunning shades of summer blues that encompass the bay throughout the warmer months. Each piece in the Bay Collection is completely unique with marbled bone china, painterly brush strokes and hints of gold lustre. 

The Irish Design Shop kindly invited me to be featured on their ‘Stories’ where I chat all about my new studio space and the processes involved in creating the Homegrown Collection.

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Rebecca Killen is an award-winning ceramicist based in picturesque Castlewellan, Co. Down. She specialises in slip casting to create both functional and decorative pieces which draw on a sense of nostalgia. Rebecca's work is available to purchase here.

-Tell us a little bit about what you make:

I aim to create ceramic products that can evoke memories, a sense of nostalgia or serve as decorative pieces in the home to be used and treasured for years to come. Our bottles, dishes and vessels are made in small batches using the slip casting technique. This involves pouring liquid bone china into plaster moulds which I have made from found objects and turned forms.

-Could you describe your studio to us? What is your favourite thing about the space and how do you get into the mindset of making?

I have had a busy and exciting Summer, moving into my very own ceramics studio. The space is located at a horse riding centre beside a forest in Castlewellan, Co. Down. It used to be a tack shop for the centre but when I arrived we had a blank canvas to play with, to make our own and create a multipurpose space where I can work from and display the products. I have tried to create an inviting studio where people can not only view and buy the work but also get an understanding of how the pieces are made.

My favourite thing about the space is the tranquillity of the location, it is so peaceful with beautiful views across the County Down countryside yet there is a certain buzz about the place with people coming and going to the trekking centre.

To get into the mindset of making I usually listen to podcasts or audiobooks, they really help me to focus on the day’s tasks and when doing some of the more repetitive parts of the making process. Some of the podcasts I listen to are orientated towards pottery and creative businesses where others are purely for escapism.

What is your favourite tool and why?

I don’t use anything overly complicated in the studio, but couldn’t create the work I do without a few simple tools; fine paintbrushes, sharp pottery knives and I seem to get quite attached to certain sponges that fit precisely in my hand to smooth along the rims of the bottles.

-Can you describe the making process and inspiration behind your Homegrown collection?

I love working through all the required processes to make a piece of work, it takes around 2 weeks from start to finish but there is something very relaxing about getting into a rhythm of working whether it be casting a batch of work, sponging away the little impurities in the clay, glazing the pieces or applying the hand painted decoration. The Homegrown collection celebrates places of historic industry throughout Ireland. I have been collecting beautiful antique bottles from old mineral water companies and pharmacies for a few years. The shapes and textural detail on the bottles are really intriguing and aim to connect the viewer to a particular place. All the pieces are created using bone china, in itself a material with traditional associations but I hope to bring a fresh approach to the medium with the Homegrown collection offering bottles in millennial pink, dusky blue and white each finished with stripes of gold along the rim.

What led you to choose this craft as a profession? What do you love most about it?

I have loved working with clay since studying art at school, my teacher was also a potter and his passion for clay was infectious so he has a lot to answer for. My journey into a career in ceramics has been quite methodical, I specialised in ceramics at the Belfast School of Art and took a year out to study business at a liberal arts college in the States. After graduating, setting up a business combining my passion for ceramics and my new found skills in business felt like a natural progression. In saying this it hasn’t been all plain sailing, I have had so much help over the past few years with business and creative mentors and have completed a business development scheme (Craft NI’s Making It programme) which was massively beneficial in the early growth of my business. I feel so blessed to be able to do what I love every day, it is such a privilege and something I try to not take for granted. I am loving being in my new studio, opening this space has really been a dream come true for me.

Posted
AuthorRebecca Killen
CategoriesInterview

A massive thank you to award winning lifestyle and travel writer Philippa Hennessy who has written a series of blog posts celebrating independent maker/designers for Trussle. Keep reading for the final entry of the series, an interview with yours truly :)

Meet Rebecca: Creating Unique Ceramic Giftware For The Home

7th June 2018

Homes are special places, each containing a unique story within. One of the ways we shape that story is by filling our homes with items that mean something to us, from family photos to living plants to designer furniture.

Recently we’ve been thinking about the people that craft those items - who are they, and why do they dedicate their lives to helping make our homes unique and special? In this short series, we speak with some of those people about their passion and why they do it.

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Our thriving arts sector is an important aspect of British culture. But what about our neighbours across the Irish Sea? The arts scene in Northern Ireland has never been in better shape, thanks to its fierce support for up-and-coming home-grown artists.

The action doesn’t stop in Belfast. County Down may have earned its fame as the film location for Game of Thrones, but visitors are also lured here for its galleries, exhibitions, and displays of vibrant arts and crafts. Contributing to this energy is ceramic designer-maker Rebecca Killen, who lives and works in the small coastal village of Dundrum.

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Producing moulds from exquisite antique bottles that once existed in past industries, she describes how she aims “to create ceramic products that can evoke memories, a sense of nostalgia, and serve as decorative pieces in the home to be used and treasured for years to come.”

Showing an early aptitude for art, her career path took her to the Belfast School of Art where she studied Fine and Applied Arts, after which she embarked on an artist-in-residence programme. With a short spell of teaching experience under her belt, she completed a business development course and it was during this time, in 2014, that Rebecca Killen Ceramics was established.

Now in its fourth year, she’s developed a number of collections of which the latest, the Homegrown Collection, sees the revival of the old fashioned milk bottle. This has proved so popular that she’s introduced the Bangor Bottle, cast from a mould of a rectangular pharmacist bottle. If only our medicine still came like this.

I’m intrigued to know more about her unique, handmade products, her penchant for experimenting with new surface textures and colours, and just why she’s drawn to local industrial history.

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You have an enviable flair for design. Did you discover art at an early age?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved art and it was certainly my favourite subject at school. I owe a lot to my art teacher (ironically, my husband Pol is an art teacher) who was a potter with an infectious passion for ceramics and introduced me to clay. I naturally took to the material. I found - and still find - the unlimited possibilities of clay fascinating. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked on ceramics. I come into my own when designing pieces with a final vision in mind.

Taking the plunge and going into business on your own is a gutsy move - what spurred you on?

My fond interest in ceramics and a determination to turn my passion into a sustainable career. After university and studying business, I felt I was equipped with the necessary mix of skills, together with a material with potential and good surface integrity, to build a brand.

Business skills don’t always come naturally to creative people. How have you handled this transition?

My mantra is: ‘Work hard, dream big’. If you work hard enough you can achieve your goals. Everything can be learned, practised and improved upon. I’ve had to seek mentorship and act upon trustworthy advice.

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Oprah popularized the phrase: “Do what you love and the money will follow.” Setting up a new business can be challenging - what’s been your experience?

I’ve relished it - the freedom it brings, the great sense of fulfilment and having control over my future. But I can’t deny it’s been without its hitches. I’m a one-woman band, so all decisions lie with me.

What do you believe sets you apart from other similar product offerings?

All my pieces are handmade which means that no two are identical. The distinctive blue and white palette gives them a unique hallmark.

Appealing to a certain audience helps to define my brand. I’ve seen a positive response from female homeowners age 25-plus based in the UK - although encouragingly, a few buyers in America have discovered me - often looking for gift ideas. That said, I’m keen to build up a wider range of products to suit a wider audience with varying price points.

Do you have any favourite products?

The new tall vessels from the Bay Collection, made of marbled coloured clay. And I’m extremely fond of the milk bottles, being one of my earliest designs.

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Given your surroundings, I imagine you’re rarely lost for ideas!

My work is influenced by the environment - living in such a beautiful part of the world gives me so much inspiration. The everchanging splendour of Dundrum Bay at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, where we live, was the starting point for my newest collection.

I’m also influenced by nostalgia. I vividly remember drinking from the tiny glass milk bottles at school. The conventional milk bottle is an iconic shape and, along with the traditional blue and white pottery, is reminiscent of my childhood.

Is the blue and white design your signature style?

It’s important to have a signature style and my brand is renowned for the blue and white designs, so I’ve purposefully not employed a wide range of colours. However, I do love colour, hence introducing the millennial pink.

What’s the most satisfying part of the design-make process?

I love it all and find it really therapeutic - from concept and design to forming and firing. The magic happens during the glaze firing when matt black transforms into a rich, glossy blue. Not much beats opening the kiln to see the end result.

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Through your creations, you aim to evoke memories and nostalgia – how do you achieve this?

By using traditional iconic shapes that give a nod to the past, but sit comfortably in today’s home - such as the milk bottles and old Irish mineral water bottles.

The Homegrown Collection is continually growing as I’m always on the lookout for beautifully textured bottles that give a glimpse into industries of the past. The quirky, millennial pink bottles and the white and dusky blue bone china bring a fresh approach.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve made?

One of my earliest projects was a ceramic garden water feature, based on the colours and forms of rock pools close to where I live. Next on my list is a range of functional tableware.

The business has been growing steadily since its inception - what are your plans for expansion?

The business is now at the stage where I can hire some help, and I’m incorporating a dedicated area within my new studio where my products can be displayed and sold.

Longer term, I want to increase my export markets by building on the success of trade shows and introduce my work to stores in Europe and the USA.

My dream is to see Rebecca Killen Ceramics become a worldwide household name. Ultimately, I can’t ever imagine not working with clay.

Let’s talk about your home. We all have different decorating styles and preferences - what’s yours?

I’d describe my style as relaxed, natural, and inspired by our coastal surroundings. I like to fill our home with handmade objects from local fairs and artists, which I enjoy curating in groups. Some of my husband’s art also hangs on the walls.

You’re clearly a country girl at the heart. Can you ever see yourself living in a city or another country?

I lived in Belfast for 10 years and really enjoyed my time there. I’m now drawn to the coast’s natural beauty. I was actually born in England but moved to Northern Ireland at a young age and, while I’d never say never no to living in a different country, for the time being I’m content where I am. It’s possible to manage a business that can have an international impact from a rural location.

This article was written by Philippa Hennessy, an award-winning lifestyle and travel writer and blogger. Photographs courtesy of Esther Irvine.