Designer Talks: Keith Brymer Jones
Keith Brymer Jones is Head of Design for MAKE International, having joined the British- based ceramics company in 2007, just two years after its founding by company director Dominic Speelman. Jones's career in ceramics began in his teens when he placed an ad in the 'Ceramic Review' stating: "Young enthusiastic 18-year-old seeks apprenticeship in pottery." He received a response and started the following week at Harefield Pottery, under the watchful eye of veteran ceramists Alan Pett and Robert Hudson. He remained at Harefield for eight years and eventually became prolific at his art and respected by major retailers for the volume of his output as well as the integrity of his handiwork. Once on his own, his first major client was Heal's, one of England's finest purveyors of bespoke home furnishings for more than two centuries. With his own studio in Whitstable, Kent, Brymer Jones also created lines for Habitat, Laura Ashley, and Monsoon. It's where he continues to throw every shape in all of MAKE's ceramic ranges before working with the company's team abroad to ensure each factory - produced item matches the same high specifications of his original samples.
What is the basis of your design strategy?
I get inspiration all over the place: buildings, people and even landscapes. I then go straight to my studio and I work with the clay. I have worked with clay for so long now that the best way for me to work creatively is to form and shape the clay straight from my imagination. Another way of putting it is, the clay is my sketch book!
What do you consider to be your design expertise?
Well it's simple and complex all at the same time. To put it simply - the ability to see a product or shape in your mind and transfer it into a physical item from the medium that you are working with. What's more, the ability to visualize an unfinished product with no detail, surface pattern, etc., as the final product it will become.
How do you overcome creative blocks?
Try and relax! Sometimes I go for a walk or a swim in the sea (I live very near the sea) as exercise is good for me. But other times I simply make things on the wheel which I find the most relaxing. It's frustrating when you get a block because you naturally want to try harder to achieve your goal. The more frustrated you get, the harder it is. You really do just have to step away.
How do you know when to stick it out and when to let go of an idea?
To know when to stick with something is easy. You have a sense of excitement and you can see all the possibilities in your head. When it doesn't feel natural and I feel that I am forcing something is when I let an idea go. It does actually happen more than you'd imagine. However, what I've found is that a bad idea for one certain project could actually be a good idea for another project - nothing is wasted! Nothing can be undone but it will always be put in the memory bank, if nothing else!
Is it difficult to strike a balance between your creativity and the objective for commercial success?
I think for me it is probably easier than most as I have always worked in the commercial sector. Creativity for me is the very essence of always trying to marry the two areas. It's a challenge to create something that satisfies both just as it is
Nothing can be undone but it will always be put in the memory bank, if nothing else!
How would you define your personal design aesthetic?
Simple but effective (similar to my personality); strong lines in terms of form and shape. I am heavily influenced by 40s, 50s, and 60s design. It was an era when design was a little more innocent and a little less obsessive!
Is there one design or collection that changed everything for you? What was it? And what do you think of it today?
Twenty years ago, I began to develop the Word Range in my studio in Highgate for the first time. I was originally attracted to words because of their shapes as suffering from dyslexia, like I did, means I tend to use shape and form in a far more objective way than most people. I say suffer, however, I actually see it as an asset! The bucket mug 'hot' is my favourite because of how symmetrical the word shape is. The range has now grown to include over 100 different words that I hope bring smiles to people's faces
If you could do one thing as a designer what would it be?
I would love to design a car or a building. For me, these two objects are perfect vehicles (pardon the pun!) in terms of form, function and exploration of one's inner desires on a reasonable scale. If I had not been a potter I would have liked to be an architect.
Is there one person who you admire or consider to be your greatest mentor or design inspiration?
Lucie Rie. The shape, form and decoration of her pieces are truly wonderful and was one of the major reasons behind my becoming a potter. Sadly, I do not own one of her pots!
What advice would you give to young designers who are just starting out in a commercial marketplace?
Be true to yourself; but the problem with that is that you have to know yourself first. Do not be too precious, listen to your clients, know what you are good at, but, above all, know what you are not good at - you cannot be good at everything. The talent is to realize who is good at what you're not and hire them!
Any other thoughts you would like to share?
The only thing I would like to add is this. We live in a world full of product and for me, there is no point in producing something if you feel you can do something better. I work in the creative field and I am constantly mindful of trying to communicate the process - my process. The process is incredibly important on so many levels. I could walk you around our stand at a trade fair and tell you a story about every single product and how it was made or conceived. And as sad as it sounds - I'd probably enjoy it more than you would!