A revival of the hand-made and homely, and the recent glamorisation of Danish tradition hygge has seen social media pages filled with cosy autumnal scenes and upcoming Christmas crafts. As we all scramble to rekindle the simplicity of what life was like before technology called the shots, it seems activities like home-brewing, knitting, drawing and pottery have all experienced a resurgence, so what better way to celebrate this by getting to know Mark Ciavola; owner of Brighton-based pottery studio Potters Thumb. located in a converted shipping container on the grounds of what was once the Cobbler’s Thumb pub.
As well as beautiful sculptures and kitchenware, Mark has recently created a range of cups for a couple of well known cafes in Brighton, so you could soon find yourself sipping local tea or delicious coffee from one of his very own creations. Some of Mark’s work is currently on display in Café Plenty on Preston Road, and his pieces are set to grace more of the city’s coffeehouses and restaurants soon.
I met up with Mark at Café Plenty, and within the first few seconds of meeting him (and his dog) it’s obvious he lives and breathes his craft. In his own words, one of the things he loves the most about pottery is the ability to create something that starts in the head and is translated to the hand – no doubt via the talent and passions of his heart.
Q: How did you first become introduced to pottery?
A: My first encounter with pottery was thanks to my mother Anna Ciavola who was one of the first pioneering female potters in Malta back in the early 1980’s. I have been encouraged and pushed since the early age of 6yrs when mum detected that I had a talent that needed nurturing.
I have always been encouraged by her infectious enthusiasm and never ending knowledge of the subject. Sadly I am no longer able to enjoy this luxury of having passionate conversations about glazes, discussing different techniques amongst all the rest with her, as sadly mum was diagnosed with severe Dementia in her early 50s – nearly 15 years ago – and was slowly stripped of her memories and skills, leaving only a shell of what she once was. Trying to keep positive on such a sad situation, I do my best to make her proud of all the sacrifices that she made to make me what I am today.
Q: Have you always been interested in arts and creativity?
A: As far as I can remember I have always been captivated by art. Ceramics has allowed me to explore and opened up other creative areas such as stop motion animation, story boarding, and illustration amongst many other creative projects that allow my creativity to explore new adventures.
Q: How long have you been in Brighton for?
A: I moved permanently to Brighton about two years ago, and I’m loving every day. I’m hoping for more to come.
Q: What is your favourite thing to make on the potter’s wheel?
A: I can’t really single out one thing in particular to make on the wheel as a favourite. I enjoy more the challenge of making something from what starts off as a ball of clay that ends up being a functional object that can be used every day.
Q: Do you have any other creative talents?
A: I love dabbling in other creative areas other than the usual illustration, drawing and ceramics. I love experimenting in different media and discovering new techniques or ideas which are mostly born of curiosity and mistakes, or as I like to call them, “happy accidents“.
Screen printing is another medium I enjoy and every now and again I bring out the screens and lay down some ink
Q: Do you have plans to collaborate with coffee houses and restaurants in the city?
A: I am a strong believer – especially in the current environment – that it’s important for the identity of an establishment and the presentation to stand out from the rest. It is disappointing that all the [individuality] often gets lost when foods or beverages are presented in a generic mass produced cup, plate or bowl.
I’ve had interest from a number of Brighton establishments already, and welcome others to come over to the pottery studio and discuss the possibility of producing their own bespoke crockery. This gives them the opportunity to finally present their food or drink at their establishment in a unique way.
I am sure that once the owners of coffee houses and restaurants discover how little the difference is in cost to what is available in a catering supply shop, they will be more interested in having their very own bespoke, hand made crockery.
Q: Self sustainability is a big aspect of this blog; helping others learn how to live a life that is a little more waste-free and creative. Do you make your own cups, bowls and ceramics to use at home?
A: Today’s fast paced lifestyle, we have become detached from the process of how things are made and who makes them, making everything impersonal and disposable.
I’m hoping to encourage interest in being able to offer a connection to every day objects such as a coffee cup or a cereal bowl, that tells a story and offers joy in holding and owning, making it precious not because of the price but because it is valued by its qualities.
At home the shelves are full of an eclectic mix of my own pottery; some are ideas I try out, glazes I would have experimented on, and with results I wouldn’t have expected or particularly liked. Some of them I have fallen in love with and find hard to let go! The rest are from potters I have met or pottery I have purchased or received as gifts.
Q: What’s next for Potters Thumb in 2017?
A: Potters Thumb’s goals for next year are to launch some special workshops and classes, as well as getting involved in some more art projects in Brighton and London.
I look forward to collaborating with more restaurants and coffee shops here in Brighton, and spreading the love of hand made pottery.