Q&A: Ali Tomlin
‘I have always drawn, designed and painted and love the energy of random lines or marks, from a sketch, painting or just found. I love how just the right simple line or mark can completely change the feeling of a piece.’
Ali Tomlin is a ceramicist whose wheel-thrown porcelain forms are used as a blank canvas for expressive marks that sweep around and within their surfaces. Her new collection within our exhibition 'On The Edge Of The Light' brings together a series of vases and bowls that feel like walking through a misty landscape - your eyes seeking out shapes and lines at every turn. Subtle yet completely captivating, we put together a list of 5 questions to find out more:
How have your loves for drawing, design and painting come together in your work?
A: I think it comes down to a love of mark making, whatever the surface. I loved drawing from a young age and there’s something about making just the right mark, a line or even a scribble that suddenly resonates and it’s a really nice feeling. When I started making pots, like any beginner I was focused on the shape and trying to work out how to get the clay to do what I wanted. Once I could make basic shapes we learned a bit about glazing and colour but I became more interested in making marks on and in the clay, I liked how you could press in coloured clay, scratch lines and add and remove colour or change your mind and just scrape it all off and start again, and in doing that I found that I could get some lovely textures that felt very painterly and somehow suggestive of place. I then started to decorate on the moving wheel which gives a feeling of movement to everything. Before ceramics, my paintings were quite figurative but as my techniques developed on my pots my paintings changed too, the marks I make on paper and wood now when I paint are much freer and similar to my pots, and more expressive and energetic which I really enjoy.
Do you create 2D works as well as your 3D forms?
A: In ceramics, I make platters which are large, completely flat, wide plates. These are lovely to do as they’re like a large, blank canvas. I paint too, mostly onto wood, I like the texture and leaving some of the wood showing through. I paint quickly, if a piece starts to feel overworked I start again. I want to capture the same energy as working on a wheel.
I paint quickly, if a piece starts to feel overworked I start again. I want to capture the same energy as working on a wheel.
Where does your inspiration for your colours come from?
A: I love strong colours but I tend to like them slightly muted, or weathered. There’s something about colours outside that are slightly worn and textured, particularly at the beach. We spend time every year on the west coast of Scotland and I take endless photos of rocks, pebbles, lichen, bits of wood, patterns in stones, lines in the sand. I often don’t realise until I’ve been using a colour for a while that that’s where it’s come from, the ochre I have is just that of the lichen on the grey rocks and the greyish green is the same as the moss growing on them. You can’t be cleverer than nature!
How do you know when a work is done? What are you looking for in a finished piece?
A: That’s the hardest thing, knowing when to stop. It’s the same for a painting too. With ceramics the marks you’re making aren’t the marks you’ll get as the firing changes things so a lot is down to experience. I want the right balance between colour and the white surface. With my pieces that have loose brushed marks on I keep stopping, looking and seeing if it feels right. Sometimes it just isn’t what I want, the whole lot gets scraped off and I start again.
That’s the hardest thing, knowing when to stop. It’s the same for a painting too. With ceramics the marks you’re making aren’t the marks you’ll get as the firing changes things so a lot is down to experience. I want the right balance between colour and the white surface.
Your red makers mark is very unusual in the way it adds to the decoration of your work, when did you decide to add it in this way? Is this the final part of the process?
A: Yes, it’s the last thing I do. I first started pushing my mark into the clay like most potters, and then accidentally got some red colour on it. It appealed to the graphic designer in me, almost logo like. It’s supposed to be a modified ‘A’ but because of how I apply it, it appears slightly differently each time and people see all sorts of things in it! I think by using this relatively consistent mark and the porcelain’s white surface it allows me to use all of the colours and decorative techniques that I want but still keep them as one big unified family.