An interview with Áine McKenna — Craft NI

 

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into making?

 

I am a ceramic designer/maker currently based in Downpatrick. Following a degree in Fine and Applied Art from the University of Ulster I went to gain a masters in Ceramic Design from Staffordshire University, Stoke on Trent. During this time I had the unique opportunity to do an industrial placement with leading tableware manufacturer Dudson Ltd. and so began my love for surface decoration, as I learned about designing patterned tableware for boutique hotels. I went on to work as a surface pattern designer for Royal Stafford/Poole pottery. I enjoy every aspect of art and design and I always knew I wanted to become an artist but it was during my foundation year I was really drawn to clay as my preferred medium. To be able to form something beautiful or functional from a ball of clay has always been fascinating to me. I very much enjoyed working in industry but I was keen to design a collection of my own. Having recently completed a two year residency at Down Arts Centre as part of Craft NI’s making it programme, I now have a range of handmade, illustrated ceramics ideal for gift & home.

 

Could you tell us a bit about your making process?

 

A typical day in the studio always starts with a ‘to do’ list… although I am the type of girl who writes a list…then loses the list. With ceramics there are various stages throughout the process and having a piece ‘made’ is just the beginning.

For each piece slip is poured onto plaster bats then smoothed and layered until the desired thickness is achieved. Once the clay has dried a little I peel the sheet of clay from the plaster and hand build with it. It can be fired up to four times before it is completely finished.

I currently make vessels and objects, intended to look like paper. The range includes ‘Sketchbook’ vessels, in sizes of A3, A4 and A5, these are reminiscent of pages from a sketchbook and the surface is adorned with my illustration applied with ceramic decal. The decal paper is digitally printed in Stoke on Trent. Influenced by industrial techniques and processes it is important for me to continue to work this way. Other items include porcelain paper bags and porcelain envelopes inside each envelope I place a love note or souvenir from my past which is then burnt away in the kiln as an act of letting go and release. I am influenced by time and place and how an experience of a place can have lasting change.

 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

 

Having a 4 year old daughter I don't get much spare time but when I am not working my favourite thing to do is to spend time with her doing arts and crafts and reading stories. I like to read a lot. I am a bit of geek and anything related to home organisation and home decor is right up my street. I never switch off from that and I am always browsing furniture design, fashion illustration, print and pattern. A trip to Ikea is a fun day out for me! When I am not making I am drawing, even in my downtime as I find it quite relaxing. I am always sketching quick black ink line drawings, which eventually make their way on to my ceramics.

 

Where can people currently see or buy your work?

 

My work can be bought from Studio Souk Belfast as well as Synergy Studios in Newcastle and Down Arts Centre Downpatrick, where I can still be found giving workshops and classes on a regular basis. I also take commissions and make personalised giftware for weddings and other special occasions. I can also be found at the British Craft and Trade Fair, Great Yorkshire Show ground Harrogate from 10th-12th April 2016, stand 400.

 

Where would you like to see your business in a year’s time? Do you have any big plans for 2016?

 

I’m really excited about 2016 as I am currently working towards the British Craft and Trade Fair taking place in Harrogate this April. I will be exhibiting as part of Craft NI’s group stand and I am looking at it as a great opportunity for some market testing, picking up some new retailers and potentially galleries. I am very grateful to the Arts the council of NI and Craft NI for this opportunity.

Although my ceramics are currently handmade I am in the process of designing a range of manufactured tableware, which will have my illustration on it, with elements of hand painted gold.

Coming from an industry background I have found that my passion really lies in surface pattern design and I am keen to explore industrial techniques further and research other forms of printing on ceramic. I want to focus more on creating and developing new surface patterns as I build a brand. I hope to build an identity that is distinctive and easily recognisable as me. I feel the artwork on the clay body is as import and the piece itself. Moving forward I hope that my artwork and patterns can cross over into other items for the home as I focus more design. With that in mind I am excited to be working with a branding designer developing a new identity and strategy for Aine McKenna ceramics. As always I continue to research and visit Stoke on Trent often.


Find out more about Aine McKenna, as well as her work and details on where to buy it, on the Craft NI Directory.