As you pass through Gill Bramley’s home into her studio, you’re treated to a delightful taster of what’s to come. A stained-glass window catches the eye, laden with delicate hand-thrown ceramics, including an extraordinary piece by Peter Wills. The respect and detail with which Gill describes Wills’ work is an instant indicator of his stature as a Welsh pottery icon.
When they first met in the mid-1990s for a series of lessons, Gill couldn’t comprehend how Wills could throw such a large bowl with a modest base. Peter simply responded, “You haven’t seen anybody doing this, have you?”.
In truth, Gill hadn’t yet been exposed to the world of ceramics other than teaching her Primary School class design and technology. But a few messy lessons and kiln related clay sheep explosions later, Gill was completely hooked.
Now, through hours of graft, Gill’s refined Peter Wills’ single fire technique and even decorates ceramics while perched on her pottery wheel. Though to her, throwing, making and turning is satisfying because of the physical nature of having malleable earthenware clay to mould between her fingers.
Gill admits she occasionally struggles with decorating, but only because of the decision-making element involved in designing ceramics.
Fortunately, inspiration is everywhere, and the natural world undoubtedly stimulates Gill’s creativity. She recounts a recent trip to Rhossili’s sunflower fields and walks to secluded local spots with her daughter, commenting on the abundance and variety of wildflowers.
“Because we’re by the sea, I know I’m very influenced by the coastline and cliffs, it’s all yellows and blues,” suggests Gill as she points to a brilliant cobalt glaze she made for a recently fired bowl. However, it’s easy to see the perfectionist in Gill as she produces some commercial glazes which were not to her liking, highlighting the unpredictable nature of the kiln.
Gill recounts her anticipation when opening the kiln: “I open it with trepidation, funny things happen sometimes, some colours may transfer, but it’s usually not too bad”. Then Gill imparts some wisdom, a string any talented ceramicist must add to their bow: “If there’s a mistake and it looks good, that’s okay. If there’s a mistake that looks good and you know how to repeat it, that’s a technique.”
It’s clear to see Gill’s been able to manipulate the kiln’s unpredictability to her advantage when the situation presents itself, showing off a colour run that interacts with the fluidity of overlapping waves washing back to sea.
From shadowy deep blue waves to intense reds, colour is another significant influence of Gill’s ceramics, and she’s constantly experimenting with vivid tones to discover how they interact in the kiln. She believes time spent in vibrant classrooms where everything had to look “zingy and lively” has been reflected in her work and home, and it’s hard to disagree.
During the brief tour, there were flourishes of colour throughout each room, creating an uplifting environment. Even the compact studio had space for an inspiration wall bursting with bright images.
As a parting gift, Gill shares her belief that four-year-olds can teach you a lot. One lesson she perhaps learned during her time as a teacher is, “now and again, I have to remind myself to switch off and just play for a while, try things out and make a few notes”.
It’s inspiring to witness first-hand how a former teacher turned ceramicist has lifted elements of the classroom and placed them at the heart of her design process, all the while maintaining a refined aesthetic. Nature and nurture’s most playful aspects combine seamlessly to create elegant earthenware you can’t help but admire.