Karl Sebastian is a ceramicist who’s had a studio at Alperton since July 2020. He began pottery when he joined the Kiln Rooms in Peckham in 2018. He studied Fine Art Sculpture (BA) at Brighton. Karl’s work is available for viewing and sale at Thrown Contemporary. His work has been selected as part of the British Ceramics Biennial 2021 exhibition, ‘Fresh’ for emerging ceramicists. He is also available for ceramics throwing courses.
Is there a starting point for your practice?
I usually draw quick sketches before making something that I have in mind, taking traditional, functional forms as a starting point and reinventing them, exploring the possibilities of clay as a medium.
What’s your biggest influence on your practice?
I think it is seeing objects as different components that come together, and seeing those components within an industrial aesthetic usually, such as the components of a teapot. For example, someone asked me to make a mug, and I don’t usually make mugs because I hadn’t found a handle that fits my work. So I spent a month trying different handles, until I found one. Any component needs to fit within my industrial clean lines; I have some boundaries on what my work can be.
Do you mostly make work based off of commissions, or create new works first, that are then available?
It depends, most things I have made before. If I haven’t made something before, I usually make something because I need it for my home, and from there that will be the prototype. For example, I needed some plates, so I threw some shapes until there was one that fits with my work.
Tell us about a project or achievement or development you’re proud of.
I have been selected for the British Ceramics Biennial Fresh 2021 exhibition which will be my first exhibition!
What piece of music is a constant in your studio?
Jazz and Classical is my go to in my studio; Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Bach and Chopin to mention a few but I also play a lot of Reggae and Blues.
What is that trip that you have always wanted to make?
I would love to visit Japan to experience the traditional pottery there and learn about the whole process involved from harvesting clay to firing the pots in a wood kiln, as well as be immersed in a completely new culture.
Do you collect anything in particular?
I go through phases of collecting things. My biggest collection is probably books from charity shops of which I’ve only read a few. One of my aspirations is to have a collection of ceramics by ceramicists I admire.
Is your work where you want it to be?
I find myself constantly developing my work over a long time, which allows me to make changes and improvements so my work is where I want it to be. However, because there are so many variables involved with making ceramics, some elements are out of my control and I’m rarely 100% satisfied with finished work. I’m getting better at seeing the work for what it is instead of comparing it to my expectations.
How do you order your time?
I really struggle with routine and having a structured time in my studio. When I’m in the zone of making, I usually lose track of time and I find it hard to stop. Otherwise, if there’s a lengthy and repetitive task that needs doing, I’ve found that setting timers really helps me to stay focused and not get distracted.
Do you have a mantra?
Form comes first. I like to think in a sculptural way so I tend to think about form before the function. I do think function is important, however I’m drawn more to the aesthetics and tactility of a piece.
Tell us about a piece you are currently working on.
I’m currently working on ritualistic items for the home such as incense holders, oil diffusers and candle holders which are quite sculptural and work both as an ornament and something functional.
Is there any advice you were given that you would like to share?
When it comes to throwing, you have good days and bad days but you’re always improving incrementally.
What sources do you turn to for inspiration when you are creatively stuck?
I’ll occasionally go through my sketchbook when I’m stuck for ideas, and bring a drawing or aspects of a drawing to life through clay. I get a lot of inspiration from Instagram, but usually not from other pottery accounts. I follow quite a few architecture and sculpture-based feeds which is enough to spark creativity.
Is narrative important in your work?
I wouldn’t say that I have an obvious narrative running through my work as I’m more process driven, however there are motives and ideas that are evident throughout my work.
Does place inform your work?
Place doesn’t directly inform my work although with my studio being surrounded by construction sites – so a lot of concrete and steel – the industrial aesthetic has potentially seeped into my work.
Do you like mistakes?
Since I started making ceramics I’ve become more of a perfectionist with my work so I try to avoid making mistakes. However, I understand the importance of letting an element of chance into my practice, so I occasionally dedicate time to play with clay without any intention. Sometimes this happens naturally when I’m procrastinating and it’ll give me an idea which I then develop further.