I recently bought a beautiful bud vase from Manifesto at Spot Design Market. That’s how I (briefly) met Katie and discovered her work. I think you’ll enjoy finding out more about her and I also think you’ll love her ceramics. I’m going to take one of her ceramics classes next year. Can’t wait!
Hello, my name is Katie Rose Johnston and I am a potter based in South Glasgow. For the last two and a half years I have been running an experimental ceramics brand under the name of M A N I F E S T O.
What’s your background?
I began working with clay whilst studying sculpture at The Glasgow School of Art. There was something magical and seductive about turning earth into an object that could last for thousands of years and it soon became an obsession. Since my teenage years I have been interested in archaeology and the natural sciences and working with clay allowed me to understand these interests from a different perspective. Once I graduated, it didn’t take me long to realise that I needed to learn as much as I could about ceramics and I began to build a pottery studio with my dad in the back garden.
What does your work aim to say?
My aim is to craft unique, functional sculptures and homewares that mould themselves into the daily lives of my customers. Influenced by the imperfect beauty of nature; I work intuitively with clay, often starting with play and experimentation before settling on a finished form. Because of this approach, every M A N I F E S T O product is completely unique in scale, appearance and personality and I never try to precisely re-create an object once it has been sold. Functionality sits at the core of my work, these objects are designed to add something special to everyday tasks like eating breakfast or lighting incense and it’s imperative that they do their job successfully for years to come.
What work do you most enjoy doing?
The foundations of M A N I F E S T O are built from the things I enjoy doing most, so it’s hard to choose one specific task; particularly as my daily studio practice revolves around play and curiosity.
Currently, experimenting with new materials and processes is very rewarding; for example woodwork and stone carving. I’m curious to find ways of integrating these materials with my ceramics and I gain a lot of joy from playing with these in the studio. Additionally, I’ve recently started teaching ceramics again which is a very enjoyable part of M A N I F E S T O and I take a lot of care to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for my participants. Clay has this wonderful ability to open up conversation within a group and you never know what you will learn during a workshop.
What’s your favourite art work?
Though it’s not necessarily an artwork, I am in love with historic ceramics and archeological remnants. For as long as I can remember, my mother has taken me hunting for treasures washed up in the silt of old middens and one year she found handmade roman tiles and terracotta pottery rims. I loved to run my fingers over the rough surface and feel the ancient indents of the maker’s fingers. These were precious remnants of worlds, cultures and their respective inhabitants which had long since passed and were the first conscious experience I had with the properties of clay. When I look at these fragments now as a potter, I can identify how the craftsmen made these objects and realise that I use exactly the same rudimentary methods and tools in the studio today. I come back to these fragments often whilst working in the studio.
Who are your biggest influences?
I get a lot of inspiration from a variety of sources including books, poetry, the British Museum’s online archives, walking and collecting treasures from nature. Nan Shepherd’s text, The Living Mountain has been a long-term inspiration as well as the rapturous writings of Hildegard Von Bingen and Sappho. These texts perhaps aren’t directly apparent in the work I craft, though they slink somewhere below the surface. Ceramicists Lucie Rie and Akiko Hirai are very influential for their subtle, confident ceramics with rich surface textures that are raw and instinctive. I could look at their work all day.
Which current art world trends are you following?
Though I don’t follow any distinct art world trends, I do follow current craft and design trends for example warm, autumnal tones and simple, abstract forms.
What would be your dream project?
I would love to learn how to harvest and process natural clay and glaze materials or learn how to fire pottery in a neolithic kiln. I’m currently working on a project which will bring me back to my homeland, Shetland, for a period of research in this area.
What does a normal studio day look like?
I like to start my day early and get into the studio for around 8.30/9am, where I listen to the daily news with a cup of coffee whilst the studio heats up. Before moving onto new objects, I take time to refine the previous day’s work; making any necessary adjustments whilst the clay is leather hard. During this time, the sun is gently working her way across my studio wall until 10.30, where she reaches my photography table. I take a twenty minute break to photograph any finished pieces whilst the sun is present, then I head back to making. The day is often interspersed with watching the magpies and blue-tits from the studio window and if I’m lucky, my cat Mish (who is the CEO of M A N I F E S T O) will curl up in the studio as I work. Often I’ll work until 5pm, though sometimes I can lose track of time and end up working until 8pm.
Where can we buy your work?
You can purchase my work from Welcome Home at the CCA in Glasgow or from my online shop at studiomanifesto.co.uk. Each collection is available for purchase every two and a half months and I can be found at markets for example Spot Design Market or Trading Post at Custom Lane. I post regular updates on stockists and upcoming markets on my instagram page, https://www.instagram.com/m_a_n_i_f_e_s_t_o/
Images by Katie and Theodora van Duin.