There are at least four bird-feeders swinging from the cherry tree outside Anthony Theakston‘s studio in Lincolnshire, and a couple of pairs of binoculars hang at arm’s reach, ready to spy on whatever feathered creature passes by. Despite the evidence to the contrary, ceramists Anthony insists he is ‘no twitcher’, proving his point by muddling through a few of the species that visit the garden.
Anthony found his technique and subject matter while studying for his degree and, ever since his graduation in 1990, his work has been sought-after galleries and private customers, who love the fact that the pieces are small-scale, affordable and very collectable.
Anthony’s work is not thrown but cast from liquid clay, or slip, a technique that involves drawing and sculpting as well as ceramics. He is a prolific draughtsman, sometimes making up to 70 sketches of a bird, filtering out a little more detail every time.
Anthony says, “I can’t get on with soft clay. carving a hard material is easier to control.” He then makes a plaster mould with which to form a hollow clay bird. Once it is released from the mould, and still in its ‘leather hard’ stage, Anthony uses a scalpel to incise some of the lines – the heart-shaped frame around the barn owl’s face or the line along a pelican’s beak – and when it is dry, he fettles away the seams made during the moulding.
Plaster and clay make incendiary bedfellows and if even tiny shards of plaster become embedded in wet clay, the piece will explode in the kiln. This means a rigid production process, with all the drawing and sculpting done from January to March, before the studio is scrubbed down to remove any plaster.
April to December is about casting, finishing and firing, as well as touring a nationwide circuit of art shows. “I really look forward to the end of the year and being able to work on new pieces – you become desperate for it”.