Who are you/what do you do?
I am Jen Smith and I founded Wild Gorse Pottery in Glasgow's Southside in 2019. I specialise in wheel-thrown functional pottery for home and table. I'm especially drawn to earth tones and glazes with depth. All of my work is made from scratch in the studio and my wheel is right behind the shop counter so you can see me working away most days.
How has Covid changed your business?
Having to close up shop only 6 months after opening was a huge challenge and a very scary time. Within a week I built an online shop and started running updates that way. I was able to do a click and collect service after a few months too. I have been very lucky in that I can still make work while the shop is closed but it was really hard when the guidelines would change and you had to pivot your whole business model overnight. It's been a baptism of fire but I've come out the other side feeling like I've gained ten years of experience in twelve months! I've noticed I'm more decisive and have real confidence in the business I've built and it's adaptability. It's not what I'd have chosen but I've built a sense of self-determination and resilience that I hope will see me survive many years into the future.
Is there a story behind the name (if it's not your own?)
I grew up in East Yorkshire and have always enjoyed being in the outdoors hiking, camping and swimming in the sea. It's something I love about living in Glasgow – all the benefits of city life with the Trossachs only 30mins away. I wanted to choose a name that reminded me of both of these places and Gorse is a plant that grows freely all over, it's coconut scent really takes me back to exploring as a kid. It's also a very hardy plant which flourishes in lots of different environments and so in hindsight it feels even more fitting after the difficult start for the pottery!
How old is the business and how did you get started?
I've been a potter for over seven years now and have had several studios, teaching positions and ways of selling my work from craft markets to wholesale. I was always working towards having a studio and shop of my own and finally realised that dream in 2019. I got the keys to the shop in August and never looked back.
My best sellers are definitely mugs. They're made with a tapered side which keeps your tea hotter for longer and I impress and subtle thumb notch into the handles so they feel really comfortable in your hand. I think most potters have a signature mug. I think it's a mark of good craftsmanship to make something that feels like you've always had it.
Who/what/where inspires you?
I'm really influenced by the colours and textures around me. I recently developed a glaze called Glasgow Tile that pays homage to the tenement close tiles you see all over the city. It's accompanied by glazes like Jasper, a dark red/brown rusty glaze I developed inspired by Scottish Jasper stones I found while beach combing on Mull and Iona a few years ago. I'm always curious about the world around me and find ideas everywhere. The biggest challenge is editing them down to form a coherent collection of work.
For a long time I wanted to be a musician. I always wrote and perfomed music, my degree is actually in Music Practise. I still love music but the day I got my hands into clay something clicked and I knew I wanted to find a way to build a life around this craft.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I was always so driven I often tried to run before I could walk which at times got me into tricky spots. I'd probably say to slow down and try to enjoy the process a bit more. Building your work step by step means it's more manageable but I likely wouldn't have listened anyway! I haven't changed all that much, I'm always pushing onto the next thing and getting excited about the new possibilities as I learn more about this material and the potential for the future. It's definitely easier now I've got the skills to back it up mind you.
How did you learn your craft?
I started at Fireworks Studios learning under Garnet McCulloch. At the time Garnet ran the Open Studio where you could book a wheel for the day and pay monthly for shelf space and firings. After a year building my skills I took on a studio there and began making my own work and selling to my first stockists. I was there for two years and during that time worked as an intern for Frances Priest in Edinburgh, then started teaching ceramics for South Lanarkshire Council. I moved into my own studio at South Block with Wasps Studios and started selling wholesale. I had my own wheel, kiln and studio and that was it really. I often compare learning to thrown like learning an instrument. You can make something almost right away but there's a lifetime's worth of honing that skill to make really good pots. I never tire of it.
What do you do on your days off?
I'm really lucky to live in a brilliant area in Pollokshields so there are loads of cafes and parks to enjoy. I love going around charity shops and getting lunch with friends, walking in the park with my Border Terrier, Goose, or spending hours sat reading in a cafe. I'm very keen on hiking and wild swimming too so at least every second weekend I'll take Goose off into the hills for a walk and find a loch or river to swim in. It's the perfect balance between urban and rural.
Biggest highlight or achievement to date?
Seeing the shop thriving after all that's been thrown at me so far! I really thought at some points I might lose all I'd worked so hard for but the local community really rallied around and bought things online and it kept me afloat. It's a real point of pride. I built all of this and worked so hard because I truly love it. It's a hugely rewarding job and I'm grateful for it everyday. Having the shop symbolises being able to do this for the long-term so it really means everything that it's still going and growing!
Struggles you encounter? How do you solve them?
There are endless small hurdles like working out the logistics of posting delicate ceramics, managing your accounts, learning to balance work and home life. It all comes easier with experience. I find things hardest the first time I have to do them and I've certainly had plenty of anxiety around seemingly easy tasks because they feel new and overwhelming but if I break them down into smaller tasks and just work through step by step I can usually solve most things. It's important to asK for help too. You don't have to figure everything out the hard way, building a community of small business owners and other makers has been crucial in getting where I am today.
What sparks joy in what you do?
It's small things, taking a good pot out of a glaze firing and it's turned out great, uplifting chats with customers, making something easily and remembering when you used to find it hard. I have an apprentice, Anna, and I love watching her progress and being able to pass on what I've learnt. She's great company too so we really enjoy days at work. A lot of what I enjoy is appreciating how far I've come and how much I've got ahead of me to enjoy.
Dream stockists/brand to collaborate with?
I recently was contacted by Toast. I'm a huge admirer of their clothes and aesthetic so I was very excited to hear from them. I don't have the capacity to make for them on top of the shop and online shop at the moment but I was over the moon to be considered equal to the other potters they stock and were I to start selling wholesale again they'd be top of the list.
Any lessons you'd pass on?
Be bold, if you want it just keep chipping away. It's not easy and at one point I had three jobs including a night shift and still somehow no money! It's worth remembering to keep sight of what success is to you. It's going to be very different for everyone and fulfilling expectations won't make you as happy as finding what works best for you.
What's next for you and your business?
We have a busy year ahead! I've been making a big order of tableware for local coffee shop Grain and Grind ready for their sit in areas re-opening and then it's all hands on deck for the run up to Christmas. I've really been enjoying collaborating with other local makers this year on some limited run collections including Bawn Textiles, Two.Eight.Seven and Tills Bookshop in Edinburgh so I'm looking forward to adding to that next year too.