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Finding Form with Isatu Hyde

My name is: Isatu Hyde.

I’m known for being: A potter and designer.

I’m talking about: My work as a potter and design, making pieces for batch production and as repeatable forms. 

You can find it at: isatuhyde.com and at studioartificer.com. (I launched my selling platform and collaborative design/craft studio, Studio Artificer, in April of this year alongside my fiancé, Kai Venus-Demetrio, who is a woodworker and designer.)

What inspired me to start creating was: My first experience with a studio pottery workshop was in 2009. I had started a degree in architecture at University College London (UCL), but left after the first year, having been totally turned off by the competitive atmosphere and focus on conceptual design over design for social and material sustainability. It was the summer between switching from studying architecture to focusing on sustainable product design that I approached a potter in my hometown. My mother set me up, as she knew him as a teacher from the tai chi group she had been going to for years. I was very nervous because he is such a quiet, careful character who was clearly incredible engaged with his craft and had a really powerful and intelligent energy. From day one, though, I was hooked. I loved, and still love, everything about the process of making pottery—it’s incredibly beautiful and deeply captivating. I’d been yearning for something on which to focus my mind, body and spirit, and pottery gave me that from the first.

What inspires my designs is:

I have a love for functional ceramics and sculpture from historic civilization all over the world. I particularly enjoy functional forms that have an element of animism to them or a pattern that is truly integrated and complementary in a subtle or unexpected way. My training was within the “British Studio” pottery tradition, which is very young in itself. It takes inspiration pretty much solely from British medieval and pre-industrial pottery and Eastern making philosophy and firing traditions. There are many pots and processes I love within this framework, but I’ve never felt a strong affiliation with the Eastern traditions. My teacher throws stoneware and uses beautiful, thick celadons and iron-rich glazes; his forms are gentle and ultimately masculine. It’s taken a long time to step away from his style, but I finally feel a more true expression of myself emerging. I find I like finer, matte glazes and raw surfaces and am happily falling into distinctly female references of form.

What makes it special is: 

I’m aiming for subtly sculptural function. Functional work that references sculpture—sculpture, for me, being something more expressive than craft that allows me to teeter towards art.

One thing you can’t miss is:

I’ve recently designed a coffee set for pour-over coffee on request of a roastery in my area. After about a year’s play and deliberation, I finally found a really satisfying set-up that involves a dripper with a high-handle (inspired by beaten bronze beakers from the Minoan civilization) sitting in a jug, with the handle nestled into the lip of the jug. It should be available to buy in November—sign up with Studio Artificer for updates! 

My favorite secret detail is:

There are very rarely any straight lines in my work. I like to give life to the forms I throw; they are like bodies with skin and muscle, but they are made to contain air or light or water. They swell gently and I try to give them poise and tension.

There’s also the detail on footrings that I use wherever I can: if you flip a mug or bowl of mine over, you should hopefully see that the line of the main body is carried through the footring (the foot of the piece) right to the center. It’s what I was taught to do and is really just a gesture of beauty and flow.

Creating these pieces connects me with nature because: Clay is a home to me and everything I make is connected to my heart and my body. I try not to fire anything I know doesn’t have this embedded in it. I generally feel very connected to Earth, the ground. I was told a long time that I am an “earth person” through and through. I love the feel of clay in all its iterations: the soft mousse of rehydrated dry fragments, the smooth firmness of it when I’m throwing, the way it crumbles when it’s dry. I originally fell in love with the material, not the final pieces. The work grows out of my love for the material, trying to respect and join-in with what it wants to do within the frame of my original idea for a form.

Your body will thank you, especially in the world right now, because: 

I take comfort in knowing that what I work with doesn’t actually extend much further than the most basic tools of humanity. I work with earth, water, fire and air. My main tools are my hands and my body. It’s very grounding to do work that you could (and would want to continue) if everything other than these things were lost.

I have epilepsy and that has had a big influence on my determination to do something with my time that is fulfilling and feels aligned to the truth in me. The seizures started when I was 19 and stopped me in my tracks towards probably quite a different path.

For one thing, it made me anxious about being accountable to anyone other than to myself for work. Self-employment gives me flexibility to rest when I need to and set my own work patterns, and pottery gave me a timescale that didn’t need to be rushed or have goals to miss or get stressed about. I refused medication for 10 years, choosing to face the realities and change my lifestyle rather than become dependent on medication without question.

Having a seizure has felt like dipping into death at times, and that’s given me a very close relationship with the things in life that are simple, restorative and calming—color, shape, touch, stillness. I have now started medication and it’s going really well. I am in a place to accept the help now, and I have dreams of starting a family. I like to hope it’s soon time to swell and give life to my own body.


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