Leaving the Sorting Office: an interview with Sheena Bond

 Dec 07, 2015

Resident Sorting Office ceramicist Sheena Bond will be leaving the studios on the 31st of December, having successfully applied for a studio with a company called 318 Ceramics, based in The Farnham Pottery in Waverly, Surrey.

Sheena has been at The Sorting Office since February 2013 – during her 22 months at the studios, she’s grown her business and developed her craft to a level where she is completely at home taking commissions, attending maker’s fairs, running workshops and promoting her wares on social media.

Sheena’s lively presence embodies the vibrancy and creative energy that the Eastleigh-based studios are known for, and her stunning ceramic designs are exemplars of the calibre of work that comes out of The Sorting Office. Now she’s moving on, we visited her cosy studio to talk past and future plans.

HU: First off, what spurred your decision to leave?

SB: By total chance I came across a studio in Farnham Pottery, where I originally attended adult education. The Farnham Pottery is an old Victorian Grade Two listed building.  In addition to producing functional ware of the period, it also produced prestigious pieces that were sold through Liberty's of London.

I went to a demonstration day there, which was a joint venture between 318 Ceramics, the organisation that I’m joining, and West Street Potters, which was the organisation I used to belong to. I went along to the demonstration and immediately felt comfortable there again. At the end of the day, by chance I went out of a different door to the one I usually use, and ran into some resident potters who said “there’s a space available, you should apply” and to cut a long story short, well that’s what I did, and two weeks later, I’d been offered it.

HU: So it’s all ceramics based?

SB: Yes, although they do run an evening class for silverwork. There are four studios up there, all of the other residents I was at college with, and one of them is actually a senior lecturer who used to teach me. There’s just so much knowledge and expertise there, and wonderful tools and big equipment, all sorts of stuff that I can tap into – it’s just an obvious choice

HU: What does this mean for your business and craft?

SB: Being at The Sorting Office has made me focus more on the business side; I’ve got to grips with Facebook, Twitter and other social media, which has really helped to promote myself more. It means that when I get to Farnham I shall be able to transfer those skills and keep that going and I think, possibly, if I’d gone to Farnham straight away I would have never got my head round the business bit, so this is the right sort of timing.

HU: So will this move be more in order to develop your craft?

SB:It will definitely be more to develop my craft, and to experiment more, and play more, get really messy and be much freer.

HU: Sounds like it’ll be plenty of fun! Moving on to your time at The Sorting Office, how has your work developed during your time here?

SB: When I first arrived, my main achievement had been the porcelain bank note that created, which was called “Quantitative Easing”. Although did I manage to sell it, it wasn’t really a commercially viable piece. Being here has helped me to focus on things that are a bit more commercially viable, for example mugs, bowls and the jars for Hampshire Cultural Trust. I don’t know if I want to be doing that all the time, it is bread and butter really and there are an awful lot of things that I want to explore and play around with, which would then develop my practice. Having said that however, making the jars meant that I did have to learn how to 'batch produce' which in turn meant that I had to tackle the techniques associated with Production Throwing..

HU: Can you talk me through some of your most notable achievements from your time at The Sorting Office?

SB: There’s two really big ones. One was the commission for Hampshire Cultural Trust, which was an initial order of 30 stoneware jars inspired by those brother-in-law excavated a few years ago. The other one was the wall tiles for The Point’s café/bar renovation, which was a collaborative venture with Mariska Parent, one of the other Sorting Office residents.

Another thing that was quite notable was my first experience of West Dean MADE. Soon after I arrived at The Sorting Office, I was told about a fair at West Dean College which Jo Tinley [resident jewellery-maker at The Sorting Office] had also expressed an interest in going to. Jo thought our work would go well together so we shared a stand which was funded by The Sorting Office’s Recreate programme. Jo had done other fayres of that standard so she led and I was gently eased into it, and in the end it was very successful and we both came away feeling pleased about how it had gone. I learned an awful lot through Jo at that point, which then gave me the confidence to do West Dean MADE the following year by myself.

HU: So your time at The Sorting Office has definitely been useful?

SB: Without a doubt, it’s been a great 22 months. I’ve done a lot since I’ve been here and it’s been a really supportive environment and a good experience. It does make a massive difference doing something in an environment which is business orientated as opposed to just playing around at home. It makes you take yourself more seriously.

HU: How do you feel about the prospect of leaving?

SB: Sad [laughs], I’m sad and excited at the same time; this is a whole new challenge, but it feels right, even if it has taken a bit of deciding to do it. I do like it in my studio, is nice and light, though I hear somebody else has already got their eyes on it!

To take a look at some of Sheena’s work and read her blog, you can visit her website at: http://www.sheenabond.co.uk/. Don't forget to leave some comments as she loves to interact!

Interview by Harry Usborne