Combining architecture with geology, our new Barbican Maker, Kate Trouw, discusses the inspirations behind her striking ceramic jewellery.
I studied architecture at Edinburgh College of Art and worked as an architect for 10 years before moving into jewellery design. I enjoyed working in a busy office and the collaborative nature of architecture but a serious illness meant that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up the long hours. Whilst I was recovering I started going to a ceramics workshop at Hackney City Farm and it reminded me how great it was to make things, rather than just design them.
I got into working with polymer clay because it was something that I could do at home, and the short firing time means that you can move from design to prototype very quickly. That appealed to me after working in architecture where it takes forever to get anything built and you feel quite far away from any notion of craft. I realised that there was a market for my work and decided to take a risk and see if I could make a living from it.
A typical day involves walking the long way home, seeing a bit of the world before a day in the studio. Then I have breakfast whilst checking my emails and try to get sat at my desk by 9am. I’m very busy at the moment so I spend most of the day making.
There’s not much room for error when forming the polymer clay; as I don’t do anything post firing it has to be perfect when it goes into the oven. I’m a clumsy person so I really need to concentrate but with a good podcast or audiobook it’s easy to get into the zone. I work until 5.30pm then have a quick tidy up and go to pick my son up from nursery. If I have a lot of pieces to assemble I’ll often do that in the evenings whilst watching a bit of TV.
I spend a lot of time at the Barbican, particularly since my son was born. I get to see some art and he gets to run around surrounded by amazing architecture. My great aunt and uncle lived in the Barbican in the 60s so there’s an extra connection there too.
It’s great that the shop gives a platform to emerging makers who haven’t yet figured out exactly what making a business out of making looks like.
In my Barbican commission, expect some new shapes, inspired by the curvy bits of the Barbican flats. My current range is designed around simple geometric compositions in speckled pastels. I’m trying to make elegant yet playful statement pieces which can be worn every day, and the new pieces hopefully reflect this idea.
I’m interested in the combination of control and chance. I see this in the surfaces of the city, once meticulously designed they now often bear unintended patterns created over time by weather, wear and adaptation, effectively creating a collaboration between the designer and the environment. I’m also interested in patterns which exist as a result of the combination of natural and man-made forces. These patterns are not designed by any hand, but often display an inner logic as a result of the effects of gravity, geological forces, wind patterns and human interaction.
Polymer clay is a coloured mouldable plastic resin which is hardened in a domestic oven at a low temperature. It’s an incredibly versatile material and a staple of the home crafting world. People use it to make all sorts, including hyper realistic mini food charms. You can seamlessly blend colours to create different effects and the clay is ever so slightly translucent. During the rolling out and folding of the mixing process the clay goes through an unrepeatable series of transformations before becoming fully mixed. Stopping the process before it is complete yields unpredictable results and this is the technique I use when making my landscape necklaces. By forming the partially mixed clay into cylinders I’m trying to create a tension between the simple geometry of the beads and the natural properties of the material.
My favourite aspect of the Barbican is the generous variety of its public spaces. It’s very welcoming and you can always find a nook to suit your mood. The architecture is very special and the nerd in me did enjoy the recent exhibition of original door handles from the flats.
I’m a self-taught jeweller and so am still working on establishing connections to the jewellery gallery world. However, I’m trying to take a different approach by positioning my work to be more accessible by selling wholesale to retailers and direct to the customer through my own website. I think the internet has made it more feasible to find a market for handmade things.
Think of making as a business if you want to make it your full time job; surround yourself with a community of people trying to do the same thing so that you can learn from one another – and be realistic with your figures.
Don’t design thinking about ‘what sells’. I agree with the previous maker, Anna Beam, when she said that the best response will come from the work that’s most personal to you. I’ve had the most success with pieces I have made with nothing in mind other than the material itself.
See more of Kate Trouw’s work on our Instagram.
Browse her new Barbican Maker range online: shop.barbican.org.uk
Find out about the Barbican Makers initiative.