Author: Tilla Waters

Decorating a pot can feel like a risky business – although superficial it can make or break the appeal of the object. During the last eighteen years of decorating pots, I have tried not to be timid or conservative and have taken risks, resulting in an embarrassing number of “seconds”… and many I’m proud of.

They are all one-off individuals from small batches. I can remember specific occasions and people who bought some of the pots pictured below, and I like to imagine that they are still in one piece, serving frequent cuppas, pouring, being held and sipped from and generally bringing pleasure.

My inclination to explore decorative techniques and ideas has resulted in considerable diversity which I would like to show you. Some are boldly tonal:

decorated small plate (stoneware) 2020

decorated breakfast cups (stoneware) 2017

decorated small mug (stoneware) 2018

But I have also enjoyed using colour, its energy and exuberance feels life affirming:

decorated teabowls (porcelain) 2012

decorated large mugs and teapot (stoneware) 2020

decorated beakers (porcelain) 2014

decorated small pourer (stoneware) 2019

Some are very quiet:

decorated teabowl (stoneware) 2018

decorated small pourer (stoneware) 2018

decorated small teapot (stoneware) 2017

decorated large plate (stoneware) 2018

decorated teabowl (stoneware) 2017

…and minimal:

decorated small pourer (stoneware) 2018

decorated small pourer (stoneware) 2018

decorated small mugs (stoneware) 2018

decorated bowl (stoneware) 2016

red dot breakfast cups (porcelain) 2009

(perhaps this last image is stretching the meaning of decoration).

Some have muted colours and an earthy feel:

decorated coffee cups (stoneware) 2016

decorated beaker (stoneware) 2018

decorated breakfast cup (porcelain) 2014

There is an intensity or vigour to the earliest decoration:

decorated teabowls (porcelain) 2014

decorated beakers (porcelain) 2006

decorated small and large pourers (porcelain) 2014


…which became more pared down and graphic:

Unglazed teapot 2014

decorated teapot (porcelain) 2014

decorated coffee cup (stoneware) 2020

decorated small pourers (stoneware) 2018

decorated small pourer (stoneware) 2019

decorated breakfast cup (stoneware) 2020

Thanks for reading / looking. I hope you have enjoyed my decoration!

I wouldn’t say that I have ever “hit the ground running”. I’m a slow burner; creative ideas take a long time to develop in my head, then take a long time to be realised, followed by lengthy periods of honing. As a result, our store room gradually accumulates experiments / prototypes / samples which for various reasons aren’t considered suitable for our website or any of the galleries we supply.

Usually we sell these “seconds” at our Open Studio in July, but of course, unfortunately, this year the event has been cancelled. We are all living differently, working differently and shopping differently, and so now (although they are sort of work in progress) my first generation brooches are available on our website shop.

#8 yellow sqaure. Length, 7 cm.

I’m new to making brooches but old to working with clay and have found the combination of novelty / familiarity very favourable to creativity. Somehow it’s easy to be playful.

Some potential brooches, at greenware stage, before being fired.

I have many unanswered questions like “are they nicer glazed or un-glazed?” and “which shapes do I prefer: straight or curved edges?” The answers will probably come through making more. At the moment it doesn’t matter, I just need to put in the hours and let them evolve.

#17 piano. Length: 5 cm.

#1. Length approx. 4 cm.

#9 length approx. 4.2 cm.

I would love to come up with a more elegant solution to the backs. I have used commercial brooch backs and araldite: strong and practical, but amateur.

brooch backs.

I will give half of the proceeds to the mental health charity, Mind. I’m aware of the huge strain lots of people are under at the moment, including our youngest daughter who had been recovering from anorexia but is now back in hospital.

My brooches have been joyful light relief for me during lock-down; I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing them.

Thank you for subscribing, reading and buying our work.



Our work is in The Tate Modern. Well, it will be in the Tate Edit shop at Tate Modern from October 16th to be accurate.

In the Summer The Tate put out Open Call on Instagram. They were looking for objects by UK based makers / designers, to be beautiful and useful for the home. I thought our work could be the kind of thing they were after, so applied.

Instagram post in May

Earlier in the year we had had an un-planned hiatus in production and when the Open Call came it the seemed the right time for a fresh challenge. I applied with two of our products: a decorated beaker and a decorated pourer. I chose them because the shapes are relatively quick and easy for James to throw (being upright and not having lids or handles) and moreover, both forms lend themselves perfectly to my decoration.  We were shortlisted and subsequently the Tate placed an order.

decorated beakers h: 10cm 2019

beaker “backs”

I hope the pots suit the venue. I see them appealing to visitors who have an interest in contemporary Art and Design as much as Craft or Studio Pottery. In my presentation at the Tate, one of the interview panel commented “I can see you’re influenced by Constructivism…” she may be right but I suspect a more powerful influence came long before I had any knowledge of Art History, in the forms of dolly mixture and fuzzy felt… the influence of aesthetic play on a child.

decorated pourer h: 11.5cm

When people have said to us “Pottery is so therapeutic isn’t it?” James and I have tended to look at them askance, not wanting to disagree, acknowledging that for some people in some situations it is therapeutic, yet not really able to relate. After all, the first two weeks of my apprenticeship were spent learning to use a packing tape dispenser so that the tape was straight and un-creased. We were taught that Pottery was a SERIOUS business; that everything mattered and had to be RIGHT (see archive post The Perfectionist Problem).

Some twenty years on from having mastered a tape dispenser I think I get it. Pottery is therapeutic. It is because it matters that I can give it my full attention. All other concerns (which possibly matter more) are (temporarily) waived as I visit a place of pure shape, colour and design… bliss!

Thanks for reading.

For more examples of our decorated work please look here.




Like buses, three exhibitions have come at once! But they are at very different venues and are showing very different kinds of work. From quiet, functional work for every day use at Ruthin Craft Centre to dramatic one-off, titled pieces at the National Eisteddfod to bottles with clean forms and restrained surface design in Liverpool.

Aelwyd at Ruthin Craft Centre. Photo: Stephen Heaton

Aelwyd (Welsh for hearth) is an exhibition of contemporary domestic objects including a selection of our tableware. It is curated by Elen Bonner and runs until October 13th at Ruthin Craft Centre.

Very different work but still in North Wales; ten of our jug forms have been selected for this year’s National Eisteddfod in Llanrwst, Conwy which runs from August 3rd – 10th.

#114 transparency h: 23cm

We’ve made a new group of bottles specially for RE:Collected, an exhibition about collecting Craft at Bluecoat Display Centre, Liverpool which runs from August 3rd to September 14th.

Some of the bottles made for Bluecoat Display Centre, Liverpool.

Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter and reading my post. I hope you enjoy seeing examples of our work, either in the flesh at these exhibitions, or in image form on our website or on Instagram






My decoration seems to exist within a context of gradual evolution; nothing is ever totally new but everything is unique. For months on end I’m happy to repeat favourite themes and colours and then suddenly a new idea or colour occurs to me which prompts innovation. Recently there have been three new ingredients prompting quite radical newness!

  1. Squares. Squares are the new circles.

Decorated coffee cups. Diameter approx 7.5 cm

Decorated coffee cup (back)

2. Vertical (is the new horizontal).

Small decorated pourer (back).

Small decorated pourers. h: 11cm

3. Red (in moderation).

Teabowl. Diameter approx. 10 cm

Small decorated pourers h: 11cm

decorated stoneware coffee cup

I hope you enjoyed seeing my new decoration as much I enjoyed making it and thank you for reading / looking.










We always knew that making mainly functional pots by hand is not an easy way to make a living but we (somewhat blindly) trusted that, if we applied ourselves and were able to remain creatively engaged, people would like our work and we would do OK.

When we were contacted by the V&A last month about acquiring some of our work it felt like the highest compliment we could wish for. I was glad that they wanted decorated work (otherwise my input would have been tiny). They chose a teapot from our website shop and asked us to make a breakfast cup and pourer to go with it. This is the group:









I love seeing ceramics at the V&A – there are pieces I enjoy every time (Lucie Rie for example) but it’s such a vast collection that I always find fresh inspiration from previously unnoticed pots.

It’s slightly strange to think that  those pots will never be used – the teapot will never make a nice brew and the cup won’t touch anyone’s lips. But it’s great to think they could inspire future potters!

And thank you for supporting us – it means a lot!


This weekend we will be showing our tableware in Abergavenny as part of the Food Festival. There will be five other ceramicists upstairs in the lovely calm, light space of the Chapel.












These are some of my favourite pieces from the latest firings which we’ll be showing:

decorated beakers

decorated teabowl


















medium teapot glazed in persimmon











medium bowl glazed in chun








and our ever-popular breakfast mugs.









The Food Festival is on Saturday and Sunday (September 15th – 16th) and the Makers’ Market is from 10am – 5pm both days. You can read more about the festival here.

There was a fantastic atmosphere there last year so do come if you can.

As Fine Art graduates, James and I are generally drawn to making functional things as a refuge from the complexities of Art. However, earlier this year we dedicated a period of time to making pots which are not intended for use. Some of them are already in a private collection and some are being exhibited at The New Craftsman Gallery in St. Ives.  The idea with this work is that in abandoning concerns associated with function (scale, weight, tactility, price etc.) we can adopt a more experimental, expressive approach, allowing each piece to exist purely on its aesthetic merits. People tend to ask us the following questions about them:

Why are they “jug” forms?

They evolved from un-glazed pourers. The purity of form in having straight sides and no handle seems to lend itself to more intense surface treatment. The narrower opening at the top emphasises the outside rather than the inside and the spout suggests front and back.

unglazed pourer with teapot. Height 13cm. 2013.










Why aren’t they glazed?

James throws them with coloured clay and I use pigmented slip (liquid clay) as paint. I want that surface to be exposed and clear – glaze would add another layer and the possibility of blurriness and shine which would obscure the surface.

“disappearing” (detail) h: 25cm April 2018









“all a blur” (detail) h: 43.5cm May 2018











What is going on with the decoration?

There are nearly always two opposing elements: controlled, organised marks (a grid of dots for example) and random physical marks (drips, splatters, scribbles). I like the idea of competition or tension between them and use colour to increase that. These two elements and the relationship between them provide a context in which to explore ideas and mark-making. There are certainly parallels with making paintings but the character of the jug form is my starting point and I enjoy the tricks and teases of its three dimensionality: for example, the way straight lines become curved as they wrap around the form; the way you can’t see the whole at once; the way it casts and catches shadows.

“blackbrownblue” (detail) h: 37cm April 2018










How does this work relate to your functional pots?

I don’t think this recent Jug Form work has prompted any immediate or obvious changes to  the way I decorate mugs and teapots but less functional pots (bottles, vases, teabowls) represent an interesting and welcome stepping stone between the two genres.


You can see the full catalogue of Jug Forms here.

Also, we are profiled (ten pages!) in the current issue of Crafts Magazine. Please note: we live in Mid-Wales (not North as the article states) and we do not intend to stop making tableware!




James and I are enjoying making bottles and I’ve been trying to put my finger on what it is about them that appeals. I think it could be that they were originally functional rather than decorative.

Historically, the material and form of the bottle would have communicated the contents as clearly as a label:  a blue glass “not to be taken” bottle; a chunky stoneware ginger beer bottle or a curvaceous green glass wine bottle. The contents were broadly signalled with the label adding details such as name and place. They were not intended to be decorative but had integrity, which we now find beautiful. Perhaps there’s a human parallel: authenticity and honesty being valued personal qualities today?












Finding beauty in the common-place is something artists have always done, but bottles have never looked the same since having become the subject matter of still life painter, Giorgio Morandi (1890 – 1964). I feel the of influence of his aesthetic every time I arrange a group of upright vessels or even when my gaze dwells on a group of pots and pans on the draining board. And a google Morandi search results in as many homages and imitations as genuine paintings…




















which isn’t at all surprising considering how beautiful they are!

Morandi’s skill in painting vessels has provided a context for pots to be presented as Art. Here are some fine examples:

Akiko Hirai












Kirsten Coelho













Gwyn Hanssen Piggott, Cluster with purple beakers 2011











Edmund de Waal “Another Day” 2006













Here, an individual pot is a team-player and its physicality is less important than the shape / colour / tone / texture that it brings to the overall composition. The composition is static; the background and viewpoint prescribed. They are pots with three dimensions but translate incredibly well into 2D and have a Morandi-scented beauty.

Bottles seem to have been taken on a journey from utility to beauty. Like most pots, it is in their nature to form groups (the same cannot be said of teapots) and often the whole adds up to more than the sum of the parts.

Selecting and arranging pots into groups is fun (and we all do it whether it’s for a gallery; mantelpiece or a mealtime) but my final bottle stands alone, tall and proud: not remotely functional but charismatic and very beautiful.

Joanna Constantinidis bottle form c1970














“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

William Morris

The most useful pots are the ones at the top of the stack or the front of the shelf; it almost seems as if they are self-selecting. I like the way they become part of our lives; held and touched repeatedly by friends and family for (hopefully) many years. They don’t have to be interesting or beautiful but they have to feel nice, particularly drinking vessels which are the most touched and the pots we seem to get most attached to.









Our white mug is a good example of a quiet pot which tends to be in constant use.

A few of our pots aren’t useful or nice to touch. Sometimes the creative possibilities of clay persuade us to use it in ways not suitable for functional pots and we enjoy the creative freedom associated with letting go of function.










Detritus 2012 h: 7.5cm (sold) Made with collected waste clay.









Snow Grille 2015 h: 25.5cm (sold) Made with dry powdered clay.

James and I find it helpful to categorise pots as Useful / Beautiful when considering how to present them, but some pots defy the binary; a vase, ink bottle or tea bowl could all be useful but are probably more likely to stand empty on a mantelpiece – believed to be beautiful  – than to hold flowers, ink or tea.









Ink bottle, unglazed. 2016 The Stratford Gallery.









Tea bowl 2017

The easy justification in making useful pots is nicely solid but one of the great things about the ceramic medium is that it is also able to satisfy a more complex approach to creativity.

We will soon be embarking on a period of making non-functional pots for a private collector and are looking forward to it. She won’t be drinking tea out of any of them but we hope she will believe them to be beautiful*.

*or interesting / intriguing / satisfying / poetic etc.

Some jobs are so daunting they get put off for years… like updating our profile picture. Over a year ago I realised that our portrait didn’t look like us anymore and that trying to persuade myself it didn’t matter / putting my head in the sand hadn’t worked.

It takes a hard deadline from outside to make it happen. Our first portrait was taken in 2006 at a photo session with Martin Avery for an exhibition in Ireland and Aberystwyth called Emerging Makers.

James and Tilla Waters by Martin Avery 2006









Time marched on but the portrait stayed the same until we were awarded an Arts Council of Wales grant in 2012. They requested an “up to date portrait” for their website. It was a sunny day and James was gardening so I set up the camera and tripod in dappled shade and told him where to stand. I forgot to tell him to take off his gardening gloves so had to remove it digitally later!
















Last week I did an interview for Country Living Modern Rustic who will be featuring us in the New Year. This was the shove we needed. On Sunday afternoon our lovely new apprentice, Becca Thornton, took several zillion shots of us and bingo! We’re current again. We’ve chosen one of us looking fairly serious:

James and Tilla Waters 2017









but I thought you might like to see some of the less serious ones…











This weekend we’ll be selling our pots in the Makers Market as part of the Abergavenny Food Festival. We are being hosted by The Art Shop and Chapel; one of our nicest and earliest outlets. Yesterday we set up in the chapel and it is looking fantastic…
















(We’re secretly hoping to sell a pot to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall!)









We will be amongst a small, select group of ceramicists including Dylan Bowen, James Burnett-Stuart and Tim Lake. Come along if you can, it should be an interesting weekend.