Meet the maker: Carla Murdoch

Meet the Maker - Carla Murdoch ceramics. On left are two stacked ramen bowls with a lichen colour glaze. On the right is a view of Carla pottery studio with pots on shelves and a view to the studio window.

Potter Carla Murdoch tells us about her addictive love of clay and shares the art and science of her craft

We talk to Carla Murdoch (CM) about her hand-thrown pottery which is made in small-batches in her garden studio in Sheffield. The excitement and fascination Carla finds in working with clay is evident in her process and in the beauty of her finished pieces. We asked Carla about the materials she works with and how nature inspires her work. We also learn about the finite details and science of what happens to clay and glazes in the kiln which inspires Carla to experiment and discover new directions in which to take her work.

Where did your affinity with clay begin?

CM: 2005! Blimey… I left 6th form realising academic learning was not for me and I enrolled at the local college on a BTEC national diploma in Art and Design. It was here I worked with clay for the first time. I immediately fell in love with the material and the possibilities it offered. It was when I had taken time away from clay that I realised I needed it in my life. It can be addictive. When I chat with other potters, we all say the same, we are hooked.

Carla Murdoch's pottery studio (photos by Carla Murdoch)


Tell us about the type of clay you are working with for this collection?

The clay used for this collection is a smooth stoneware. It is pink fresh from the bag and then pale pink when bisque fired. It’s quite an iron rich clay and when fully fired it becomes buff in colour.

Clay is a wonderful natural material. How do you feel nature and the material itself inspires your work?

The detail in nature is a huge inspiration. Stopping and looking closely at the detail of moss, or a leaf, or a piece of bark, the way the river has left the rocks and the sand. That level of detail is in the clay and in the glaze too, if you look closely, you can see all the patterns and flecks and little details of nature.

Getting outside is really important to me, taking a walk or pottering in the garden always clears the mind and resets me.

What creates the unique, speckled appearance in your glazed ceramics?

The Lichen glaze has a speckled finish from the rutile used in the glaze recipe. If you look closely at the glaze the rutile has worked with the copper to create little crystals, which sit in the glaze almost floating on the surface.

Carla Murdoch's lichen tableware


Can you explain your bisque firing process?

The bisque firing is the first chemical reaction to turn the clay from a recyclable form into a solid object. The bisque firing is low in temperature, and the first aim of this firing is removing all the water from the clay so it becomes a permanent object. When pieces are bisque fired they are peachy in colour, rough and porous.

All my bisque firings are fired to 950º, a slightly ‘soft’ bisque, which allows for sanding and good absorption of the glaze.

Carla Murdoch's bisque fired ceramics ready for glazing (photos by Carla Murdoch)


What’s the inspiration behind the colours in your collection?

Making a glaze is very much like following a recipe, you can swap the components to get different results. I find glaze testing to be one of the most exciting parts of the process.

A lot of testing goes into the glaze development and more often it’s luck when you come across a specific colour. The newest colour in the collection, Lichen, was a real treat from the kiln. A few days later out walking I came across lots of lichen and automatically related the colour back to the test piece.

Carla Murdoch's black and lichen tableware


What is the ‘Stull Chart Chemistry’ that you follow for the making of your glazes?

The Stull Chart is a wonderful graph that was created by R.T Stull in 1912. If you are making a glaze for the first time you can use the chart to work out the final finish, glossy, matt, satin, crazed or under-fired. Although the chart doesn’t predict colour, that becomes the more experimental part.

The chart is based on the chemistry of the kiln being fired to 1280º/cone 10 and takes into consideration the chemical reactions with the glaze ingredients. I use an electronic calculator to map the glazes and have a book with oxide combinations which help to direct towards a potential colour.

Do you have a favourite stage within the whole making process?

Firstly, it would be testing glazes, and the next is opening the kiln, being the first person to see those chemical reactions. Every firing is like a kid at Christmas waiting to open their gifts.

There is so much learning with clay, even with a bad firing. Being a potter is constant learning, development and resilience.

Carla Murdoch's pottery studio (photos by Carla Murdoch)


We’d like to thank Carla Murdoch for sharing these fascinating insights into her work with clay and how she creates such beautiful stoneware tableware.

You can view Carla’s stoneware tableware collection here.

Thanks also to Carla Murdoch for sharing her studio images.

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