Last week Julia Little, our roving reporter on all things craft related, went down to visit hot ceramicist-of-the-moment Jo Brickett Davda. You know all those gorgeous shots of food on beautifully simple plates in all your stylish cookery books? Well, chances are those plates were made by Jo and her team. Julia asked her a few questions about being a successful ceramicist for TWR.
The best suppers are those with friends around the kitchen table, eating great food, drinking wine and having a laugh. Life is busy, and I’ve learned over the years to keep the food simple, the music good and to start, a large jug of freshly made cocktail (the Gimlet with a slice of cucumber seems to be working well at the moment).
Over the years I have collected a few handcrafted ceramic dishes, some bought, some given as presents. It has occurred to me that the most simple ingredients look so delicious on these beautiful ceramics. A big salad looks so tempting in a brightly coloured glazed bowl (think Ottolenghi), and a simple, oatmeal-toned platter can bring grilled meat or fish to life -add a lug of olive oil and some foraged herbs or shoots …. job done! (Ok, fair enough, my foraging is usually done in the supermarket).
Having used my wedding present white plates for 23 years, I have been thinking of adding a set of plain, handmade ceramic plates. After a bit of research I visited some lovely makers and sellers. Tableware from Owen Wall, French stoneware at Folklore and earthenware from Stephan Pearce.
But Brickett Davda, with its simplicity and muted glazed colours, really caught my eye and gave me the perfect excuse to go and visit Jo Davda at her workshop in Hove, Brighton.
Jo, how did you start Brickett Davda?
It started 20 years ago at the kitchen table with a piece of clay. It was a simple start, like cooking, just rolling out the clay like pastry to fit in a mould, as you would a pie. Gradually my techniques developed and I moved onto using liquid clay and slip casting, using moulds I made to my specification.
How did you find your lovely workshop in Hove?
From the kitchen table I moved to a West London Studio, but after many years there, the studios were being rebuilt and I felt they had lost a bit of their soul during the new build, so it came at a good time to consider other options. My partner and I and our children decided the coast would be a great place to live, so we found the workshop and made the move to Hove. I’m really lucky that I love what I do, and that my work and family life connect well together.
What is the process of your ceramic making?
It is rather like a restaurant here. We take the orders, pin them to the board, fit the clay in the moulds, then there are various drying times, colour layering, glaze and firing in the kiln. Finally everything is finished by hand. As each piece is individual, I know instinctively when it’s ready. I don’t look for perfection, I look for it’s character. Some of this is in the detail, like the way the edging or how the colour is finished. From the very beginning it has been all about honing the designs down, to their most simple form.
Who do you make for?
Well, I have my set range with a choice of nine colours – my surroundings have inspired these – the beautiful ‘dirty’ city greys, which fit so well with the slates and the greens of the coastal colours. I love taking on commissions and projects which add to the interest of the job. I’m currently working on a range for Folk using a dark clay which I have mixed with my own pigments and an indigo glaze.
Skye Gyngell has taken some pieces for her new restaurant, Spring, at Somerset House. And yarn specialist, Erika Knight has commissioned a wool bowl, which is a traditional way of holding the ball to stop it running away while you’re knitting. I love watching people put their own ranges together, whether it’s for personal or professional use. Everyone has their own idea of different uses and needs, and lots of people mix colours and pieces together in combinations that I wouldn’t have thought of.
Do you see more of a trend in people using these ceramics in their own home?
I do, yes, from the restaurants to home kitchens, I think more people are appreciating them and enjoying how the food looks so beautiful on a plate.
What advice would you give someone when choosing ceramics?
Oh that’s easy, just choose what you love, keep it simple. You can always add to it later if you want to build a collection.
As I left with my set of taupe starter plates and my four assorted-coloured tea mugs, I wondered if I could build a business from my kitchen table doing something I loved. Jo made it look easy, but I suspect there is real discipline in her serene and sunny character. My cup of tea definitely tastes more delicious in one of her fine ceramic mugs.
And lastly, for a little taste of her world, watch this short film.