Creating from Clay – In Conversation with Shenyue Ding of Supper Ceramics
Ceramicists are sculptors and often painters, but their artwork lives a full life in our homes. Artist, entrepreneur and model Shenyue Ding, an inspiring woman by any estimation, takes this to heart in her business Supper Ceramics. Each piece, thrown by hand in East London, is created to be treasured and used by you or anyone lucky enough to receive it as a gift.
We spoke to Shenyue about Supper Ceramics, her education and career, how she finds creative inspiration and many more facets of her multifaceted life. A familiar face to many of our customers, Shenyue has also beautifully modelled our collections for years. With such varied accomplishments and interests, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that her next impressive challenge will be appearing in the coming season of The Great Pottery Throwdown. She’ll be wearing Sahara linens and cotton separates throughout the show so keep an eye out! You can catch the premiere this Sunday the 10th on Channel 4 – we wish her the best of luck.
As a Cambridge alum, former strategy consultant, successful model, entrepreneur and ceramicist, your career seems to illustrate the fundamental truth that humans are many things at once. Can you tell us a little more about the path you’ve chosen?
From a young age, I was always fascinated by both arts and sciences - poring over and perfecting my art homework, whilst appreciating the logical satisfaction of maths and sciences. I was born in Shanghai, lived in Israel and Northern Ireland as a kid, but did most of my growing up in Manchester. I studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge whilst modelling at the same time, and then worked for 2 years as a strategy consultant, helping life sciences and consumer goods clients with their business strategy. Now I spend half of my time modelling in London with my agency Models1, and the other half making pottery on the wheel. I absolutely agree that we now live a world where you cannot know a person by asking them “what do you do”, nor should you expect them to come out with a straightforward answer.
What drew you to creating ceramic art? Did you have a long history with pottery making?
Despite always wanting to try pottery, it wasn’t until my boyfriend got me a short one-week course for Christmas of 2018 that I tried it for the first time. I was obsessed as soon as I touched the clay for the first time.
What motivated you to turn a creative passion into your business?
I would simply have far too many vases and crockery if I didn’t! But jokes aside, setting up an online business pushes me to keep learning and reinventing my work. I have also learnt so many new skills including photography, video editing, styling and web design.
How would you describe the aesthetic that underpins Supper Ceramics?
My aesthetic is modern yet natural, and tactile. I love the Japanese wabi-sabi ethos, valuing imperfection over uniformity. The colours I am most drawn to are the greens and blues of the ocean, as well as the whites, blacks and greys of natural stones. The name Supper is a nod to my northern roots, the feelings of comfort, home and shared moments.
With each piece one-of-a-kind and made by you, where do you look for inspiration when coming up with fresh ideas?
I find inspiration in many places, sometimes for shapes I just let the clay decide what it wants to be on the wheel. Other times, for design ideas I look to nature, biology (I love listening to science podcasts) and Pinterest.
How do you find or attempt to find a balance between the demands of your modelling work and Supper Ceramics?
Modelling and making ceramics actually go together very well. Modelling can be demanding in terms of having to travel, keeping fit as well as long days on set. However, you do get more free days than with consulting or other office jobs. Pottery is a long process, often taking 4-6 weeks from start to finish, so it works well to have days away to let pieces dry or cool in the kiln.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do now?
I love being my own boss, and it’s not cool to say - but really I love working alone. I can decide what I want to create, and how I want to make it. When I make ceramics, I am in my flow state - I don’t get distracted by anything (and I can’t reach for my phone as my hands are filthy) and I always lose track of time.
Shenyue wearing Sahara Floral Shimmer Denim Shirt & Linen Seeksucker Top from our Summer Collection.
Practising a new art form and founding a business are daunting tasks with a steep learning curve. What would you say is the most important lesson your recent endeavours have taught you?
Learning to put structure into my day has been something that I have been working on recently. I’ve started time-blocking (which I saw on Tiktok!), where you plan and write out your day in blocks of 30 minutes. It has helped me to prioritise what I need to do, and I have realised just how many hours there really are in a day.
How do you envision your business growing or developing in the future?
I have been using a shared membership studio since I started making, but now I am ready to take the next step…To build my own pottery studio in my garden, which is almost complete! I can’t wait to be able to experiment and design new glazes with my own kiln. I would love to start teaching some private/small group classes and share the joy of making with your hands.
Having a creative outlet in lockdown can have such a positive impact on mental health, what would you say to those considering taking up pottery?
Go for it! It will be so rewarding. Start it as something you do on the side whilst maintaining your main source of income - if you’re still enjoying it, it will progress naturally.
You can view the Supper Ceramics collections at supperceramics.com.
To follow Shenyue's journey with Supper Ceramics & other stories (and to spot lots of Sahara linen pieces), visit her social channels below, and of course tune into The Great Pottery Throwdown on Channel 4, Sunday 10th January @ 19.45.
Want a try your hand at pottery from the comort of home? Follow Shenyue's 2-step guide to starting out below, plus many more on her TikTok.