4.13 Illustrators that use ceramics

The purpose of this exercise was to do some research into artists and illustrators who have used ceramics as a surface for their image-making.

Key words from the brief:

  • Look at ceramicists who have a strong link with image making in their work
  • Find contemporary examples as well as exploring older ceramic traditions.
  • What sort of motifs feature regularly?
  • Could you say there’s a visual language of ceramics?


I chose four artists to research:

  1. Laura Carlin
  2. Grayson Perry
  3. Marilo Paterson
  4. Michael Kay

Laura Carlin

Laura Carlin studied at Buckinghamshire University followed by The Royal College of Art. Her practice includes book illustration, editorial illustration and ceramics.

Most of her ceramics work involves illustrating objects with illustrations such as the plate in the example below or ceramic tiles.

I really like the humour in her work and her careful observation and commentary on the ‘ordinary’. I can closely relate to her London Life Tiles series because I also use the same subjects and subject matter, so it’s really instructional for me to look carefully at how how much she is able to simplify and distil her illustrations whilst increasing their narrative strength. This is something I would like to return to in future exercises.

Her sets of tiles are an interesting format; I would like to know who buys these and how and where they are used/displayed.

Laura Carlin - London Life Tiles (Commuting)
Fig 1 – London Life Tiles (Commuting)

Grayson Perry (b. 1960)

Grayson Perry is a contemporary artist and broadcaster best known for his ceramic vases, tapestries and cross-dressing. There is something particularly British about his work which is a commentary on British popular culture and fashions.

In 2014 he was invited to delivery the Reith Lectures in a series of talks titled ‘Playing to the Gallery’ that I thought were and excellent dissection of and commentary on modern art and the art scene.

I researched his sketchbook work as part of 1.1 Artists sketchbooks where I commented on how much I liked his irreverent experimental and practical approach to developing his ideas.

His ‘pots’ are great. The form (a vase) is a vehicle for conveying a deeper narrative. The title ‘Mad Kid’s Bedroom Wall Pot‘ provides a key to view the collaged and painted image. A poem in the image reads ‘I was a mad kid and now I ain’t. I got out coz I could paint.’ 

Grayson Perry - Mad kid's bedroom wall pot
Fig 2 – Mad Kid’s Bedroom Wall Pot (1996)

He has a distinctive visual language that mixes bright sometimes garish colour with collage and figure drawing. I can see direct links back to 1980s youth culture and a punk fanzine aesthetic.

Mariko Paterson

Mariko Paterson is a Canadian ceramicist who’s subversive bright and bold vases remind me a lot of the work of Grayson Perry. Her subjects range from kitch (bright budgerigars and lap dogs) through to politics and culture with strong links back to the historial.

She explains how she approaches her subjects in a lecture for SOFA Chicago (2017) titled ‘Historial Pots meets Contemporary Hysteria‘:

These works try to invoke a feeling of social and political unease that seems to be seeping and seething through the fabric of our lives” and her work “Takes in the past and pairs it with the present”.

That deaf, dumb blind kid, sure plays a mean pinball is a great example. The shape of  the vase and the layout and symbolism all have historical links to the Chinese Qing Dynasty whilst the imagery with Mao playing ping pong surrounded by Meowers juxtaposed with the lyrics from Pinball Wizard (1969) perfectly illustrate how she’s subversively pairing the past with the present.

Mariko Paterson - That deaf, dumb blind kid, sure plays a mean pinball
Fig 3 – That deaf, dumb blind kid, sure plays a mean pinball

Michael Kay

Michael Kay trained as a Painter and Printmaker at Willesden College of Art in London and then spent twenty years working as a Graphic Designer before discovering clay in the early 90’s. He took a one year post graduate Diploma at Goldsmiths and then moved to South West France where he set up his studio.

He describes his own practice on his website: “I work on the edge of the potter’s craft and consider myself rather as a painter or illustrator of three dimensional objects whereby the surface of the pot is my canvas.

His work grabbed my attention because the image is what drives the underlying form of the ceramics, so some of the pots have quite unconventional shapes. I like the visual style and use of colour.

Michael Kay - Leda
Fig 4 – Leda


Could you say there’s a visual language of ceramics?

Yes. Michael Kay best articulates this: ‘The surface of a ceramic vessel is a powerful and expressive vehicle with which to fuse the various disciplines of painting, sculpture and story-telling into a powerful language of it’s own’.


Paterson, Mariko (2017) Historial Pots meets Contemporary Hysteria [Chicago: SOFA 31.10.17]

The Who (1969) Tommy [12″ Vinyl] London

Kay, Michael About the artist At: https://www.michaelkayceramics.net/ (Accessed: 22.03.20)

List of illustrations

Figure 1 – Carlin, Laura London Life Tiles (Commuting) [Ceramic tiles] At: https://www.thenewcraftsmen.com/london-life-tiles-commuting-by-laura-carlin/ (Accessed: 21.03.20)

Figure 2 – Perry, Grayson (1996) Mad Kid’s Bedroom Wall Pot [Earthenware, glaze, transfers] At: http://onviewonline.craftscouncil.org.uk/4040/object/P442 (Accessed: 21.03.20)

Figure 3 – Paterson, Mariko That deaf, dumb blind kid, sure plays a mean pinball [Ceramics] At: https://www.foragestudios.com/wethesculptural/that-deaf-dumb-blind-kid-sure-plays-a-mean-pinball (Accessed: 21.03.20)

Figure 4 – Kay, Michael Leda [Earthenware vessel] At: https://www.michaelkayceramics.net/copy-of-gallery-one?lightbox=dataItem-jr0r04ok1 (Accessed: 21.03.20)


%d bloggers like this: