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Getting to know a Serial Kilner

A ceramicist's life Behind the scenes Our Makers Pottery

“I am very particular about the functionality and ergonomics of the products I make. The Japanese thought process has inspired me to pay more attention to the relationship between the user and the ware. “ - Gladys Wee, the lady behind local brand 'Serial Kilner'

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore

Yup yup, we are loving that name too! The brand name, Serial Kilner, by itself is already sure to leave a dent in people’s memories but kid you not, Singaporean Gladys Wee, the lady behind the brand, is real serious about her craft.

Over the years, she has experimented with different making methods and styles and has produced a varied yet equally lovely range of tableware products. Currently, her line is heavily inspired by nature, Japanese designs and ergonomics! 

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tablewareA Japanese tea cup that was decorated using transfer tissue decal

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tableware
"Attaching the handle took more time than the mug itself. I made this on a whim and randomly painted the insides."

Hi Serial... Gladys. What a lovely brand name you have! Tell us a little bit about yourself and how or when you got started in the whole ceramic world. 

I actually first started pottery way back in secondary school but I really did not cherish and maximise the time I had when I could use all the facilities and materials for free. In 2017, I decided to take up pottery courses to relearn the skills and that was when it really fired up my passion for pottery. From then, there was just no looking back and Serial Kilner was born! 
 
It seems like most potters had a brush with ceramics when they were young and came back to it later on in life! What attracted you so much to pottery and are there certain parts which you dislike about it? 

Ever since I was young, I have always had an interest with craft and pottery perfectly encapsulates the concept of craft for me. It is a love-hate, bittersweet relationship with pottery. I love that you can create things from just a lump of clay. I love that it can be unpredictable at times; but at the same time I dislike the lack of control I have over certain aspects of pottery.
 
Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tableware
This chattered mug in gorgeous hues of blue turned out slightly wobbly 

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tableware
An experimental slab piece which was glazed too thick on the other side

There are so many variables that can affect the outcome and this can sometimes be very rewarding or frustrating. I have been on an emotional roller coaster the past two years ever since I decided to invest my time and money doing this. Pottery is definitely great for character-building though. I am definitely more resilient than before and I have learnt many painful lessons about letting go.

You are one of the few potters that make products using almost all the different methods. Why do you alternate between the different methods? 

Generally, I do a mixture of throwing, slab work and pinched works! I have to vary my working techniques because pottery is just so physically challenging. When I throw items, I like to do sake cups, tea cups and mugs. I also experiment with marbled works on the wheel. 

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tablewareWedged and wheel-thrown to produce the marbling effect

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tablewareHand-built cups with textured rollers on slabs - the slabs are overlapped on purpose so that it looks folded  

When I do slab work, I like to work with patterned wooden rollers to create textures. I make mugs and tea cups with this technique. Slab work is very labour-intensive and every joint is an opportunity for a crack to form but when it goes well, it is really rewarding. As for pinched works, I do this for very groggy clays as they are difficult to throw. I make smaller dishes or saucers for this technique. 

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tablewareA pinch pot made from brown gritty clay

I must confess that I have a problem with self-control, so I work with 4-5 types of clay. To me, it is a little too much to work with because I introduce a lot of variations to my work. This has made the progress slower as I spend a lot of time tweaking with factors like glaze compatibility. 'Glaze compatibility' is the ultimate stumbling block for me.

The type of clay, position in the kiln, number of coats, all these factors make glaze firings very nerve-wrecking. I fire everything to cone 6 which is about 1200 degree Celsius.

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tablewareMaking test tiles after a throwing practice

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tablewareTwo glazes were randomly brushed over for this trinket dish, creating a nice mix of textures

Having watched and talked to a lot of other potters, we know that pottery is a long drawn creative process from ideation to conceptualisation, filled with failures along the way. We are just curious, how is your creative process like! 

Well, it depends. Sometimes, I do a rough sketch. Sometimes I just weigh balls of clay in similar weight and see where it takes me. I am pretty fluid with this because whenever I do pottery, it is really my own take. I don't really take commissions because it is hard for me to commit to a timeline.

Sometimes I plan the design of the item because I have a need to meet. Things like soap dish, essential oil burners and sponge holders are in my mind right now. I have done some research on Pinterest but I am not really satisfied so I am waiting for an epiphany to happen!

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tablewareHer work table!

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tablewareRing dishes waiting to be fired

I have also found that if I start off a project by thinking about what other people will like, it usually does not end well. So the genesis of most of my work stems from something that I like and could possibly be found in my home.

Then, where do you get inspiration for your product lines? Is there a central idea that you play around with? 

I'm heavily influenced by nature, Japanese designs and ergonomics. Also, a strong reflection of my lack of self-control as I just want to try out so many things! I love the Japanese craft and the amount of effort put into creating their wares.
 
Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tableware
Some of her mugs that were on sale at our open studio

If you have been to kaiseki (traditional multi-course Japanese meal), you would notice the wide array of wares used. Each item has a specific function which gives the user an augmented gastronomic experience. I am very particular about the functionality and ergonomics of the items and the Japanese thought process has inspired me to pay more attention to the relationship between the user and the ware. 

Oh, I also love the Japanese patterns and icons like Fuji-san. These have inspired my slab-work items and my Fuji mug which makes up my collection. 

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tableware
Hand-built fuji mugs

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tableware
Mount Fuji is definitely a recurring theme in her work, as evident in her 'Fuji san' necklaces

Beside Japanese influence, I have also collected a lot of dried leaves during my travels and weddings, I use them to imprint on slab-work items to give it some texture. It is a nice way to remember a particular occasion too!

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tableware
Gingko leaves picked up on one of their Japan trip by her husband

Functional over decorative? 

I used to think this way. But decorative items can sometimes find a place in a home. I am still not fully convinced but I have introduced mini vase into my work. They are a whole new challenge - especially to trim.
 
Which other ceramicists do you follow closely or are inspired by? 

Wow, too many! @sarahpikepottery and @handandfire are great for slab work pottery. I love the design and shapes of @bellhillpottery. And the master, @hsinchuenlin - I could be lost for hours watching his Youtube videos.
 
Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tableware
Her home studio where everything is made from start to the end

Serial Kilner handmade ceramics in Singapore | Eat and Sip tableware
A common sight for potters: a shelf full of bisque-fired work waiting to be glazed
 
A lot of people can’t understand paying $30-40 for a mug (even if it's handmade). How would you explain it to them? 

I'll explain to them that the amount of work to create a mug is hidden. The throwing itself is simple but there are the other aspects such as trimming, attaching the handle (the bane of my life), bisque-firing, sanding, glazing, glaze firing and the final sanding. Anything can go wrong at any stage such as the much-detested cracks forming after glaze firing!

Every item goes through this process and each potter goes through this experience. We take pride in our creations, pray to the kiln gods and hope for the best when we open the kiln lids. In the end, you are not only paying for the material, but also our sweat, tears and time!
Serial Kilner

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Eat & Sip goes local!

Serial Kilner was one of the makers we collaborated with for the Eat & Sip Open Studio 2019. 

PS. Most of the photos used in the article were taken by Gladys herself



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