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Karen Fawcett Studios

by Angie Boyer

Published: November 2017

Karen Fawcett Studios

Karen Fawcett

You may well have seen Karen's unmistakable wildlife pieces at one of the many craft fairs, ceramic shows or trade fairs around the country. This small family business manages to fit more than seems possible into their days, weeks and months, working together to not only create their huge range of wildlife sculptures and exhibit at shows, but to also supply an enviable number of galleries.

I chatted with Karen and her husband Colin at Potfest in the Pens in early August, where they won our Competition Prize. They both tell a fascinating story full of anecdotes about their work and their lives together. Indeed, some of their recollections about how things were when they first started out may well resonate with some of our readers!

To start at the beginning, I asked how they first met. "I took a foundation course at Beverley College," recalls Karen, "before going to Sunderland University to study glass and ceramics. I crossed paths with Colin at the University when he transferred over from the fine art degree to the course I was taking, because he was captivated by the hot glass. We soon came to realise that although we were 20 years apart in age, we actually got on very well, both creatively and socially - we felt that we were obviously destined to cross paths, both of us wanting similar goals in life; to be creative, and support each other

"My first ever show was a Potfest with Colin in August 2000. This event was brought to my attention by a fellow third year student who was looking for others to club together with to purchase a stand there. Not knowing what to expect, and naturally running out of money as all skint students are, I decided to make a batch of Chinese horses in the University, (Bob Winter kindly let me use the resources), with the hope of selling them at Potfest.

"When the show came around, Colin and I had literally £30 to our name, not getting any more University loans until the following September - we were starving artists, passionate about clay, and ever grateful for Kwiksave's bargain 9p loaves! We put £20 worth of petrol in the car, spent £10 on a campsite (we didn't know you could camp onsite at the time!) and then scraped together enough money just to feed ourselves over the next three days with a jar of jam and a loaf of reduced-price bread. It was going to be jam sandwiches every day, breakfast, lunch and tea, and we only hoped that we might sell one piece of work so that we might be able to buy fuel to drive home !

That first Potfest was a resounding success for Karen and Colin, at the end of the show they had sold all their horses and taken £650! "We threw the money up in the air in our tent," she laughs, "feeling like total lottery winners! Having gone from nothing to what seemed like millions in just three days, I was hooked. Ceramics just might be my winning ticket to becoming an artist and making a living from my work.

"From there my business just went from strength to strength, making first ceramic raku robins and lapwings, though to hares. People would tell me which animals they would like me to make and I just expanded my range, if making robins, why not thrushes? Hares, why not squirrels? Foxes... seabirds... the more variety I made the more I got into it, making each more realistic that the last. That was my goal, to make them as real as possible. I remember once being fascinated by the up-close beauty of a song thrush I had rescued from the raspberry nets, so perfect. I wanted to share that, what I saw. Over the next 18 years my fingers just learned to be able to make it."

It is often Colin who exhibits at the shows, whilst Karen is busy back at their home and workplace in Durham. So how does she spend her day? "Well, my day is always a busy one! I never stop working, my head is always planning something, whether it's how to make a new pewter mould for wren's legs, or putting high alkaline frit in the open mouth of a sculpted pelican to give it that high gloss sheen.

There are family things to fit in too. "I take the four kids to school and then immediately start work in the studio. Colin's son Michael, who I trained up in ceramics, helps me with tasks such as preparing and rolling clay, lining simple press moulds, which I then use as a base for my sculpted forms. I tend to only stop for meals, catch a few hours with the kids and then, when they're in bed its back to work for me. I often do my best work later on a night when there are no distractions. My ideal downtime is a walk on the beach, but even when I’m there I’m looking for seaglass… and my head’s usually thinking about seabirds… and then, ultimately making them of course!" 

So how do the various aspects of running Karen Fawcett Studios work out between them all? In addition to exhibiting at many of the shows, Colin has "regrettably had to side step a little into the land of paperwork rather than ceramics, although he is still passionate about doing raku - and he also pours the pewter bird feet," explains Karen.




"Mike tends to like to do the more technician type work, clay, mould work, recycling clay, organising an efficiently run studio, he has a mould library- they’re all labelled!" she continues. "And David, Colin's brother, does our web design and show bookings. And me? Well, I do all the making and all the designing, the firing, painting, glazing, dealing with gallery requests and deciding what I want to make. My favourite place to be is my studio, I like going to shows, but making is my real passion.

"We decided on the name Karen Fawcett Studios because it encompasses several different mediums - if I'd just called it Ceramics then that wouldn’t reflect the experience I have in pewter and resin casting - the former is very much an integral part of my work - I think I'm the only realistic ceramic bird sculptor who puts them on freestanding legs.

Karen and Colin are currently focusing as much time and energy as they can into an exciting new project. "We're converting the church which is alongside where we live - this is probably our most exciting project yet, and definitely the biggest! We're such hoarders we need that kind of space now, I’m a victorian-type collector, what better place to house it all than a Victorian building. When we've finished restoring it, I will be able to share my collections and the church will be a place for adults and children alike to come and have the space to do pottery, painting, drawing, natural history. I want people to come and be creative in this big building here, this primitive Methodist church was once a Sunday school where the deprived community members learned the education basics. But I feel that most kids these days, despite the curriculum, are deprived in the arts, it's not like it used to be, with wet-areas for mess and school pottery kilns, it's a shame. I discovered that the original primitive Methodism was founded by a potter and a wheelwright - how ironic is that, that their church is going to become a place where people can learn to do pottery! It's obviously meant to be!"

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