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Abbie & James

Sunter Studio & Mr Ps Pots - Moving On

Mon, 26/02/2024 - 15:30

Sunter Studio & Mr Ps Pots – Moving On 


  1. Can you tell us about the initial spark that led you to start your creative business? What inspired you to get a studio at Banks Mill?

I decided to take the leap and apply for a studio in 2018, both me and James had been working for another ceramic artist since 2013 (it's how we met), after I completed a project with The Bemrose School in Derby and teaching some after school sessions with Artcore, I realised I wanted to make my own art instead of someone else’s. James had initally had a studio on Monk street where we had been making furniture but he had to leave when the landlord closed it down. So it was inveitable that once I’d moved into Banks Mill James soon followed suit with his new found passion for pottery and that was it!

  1. How did you first learn about Banks Mill Studios, and what motivated you to join their creative incubation centre? 

We both worked with and knew Stevie Davies, a glass artist that had her own studio at Banks Mill. But we are both creative people and enjoy buying handmade art so we had been coming to the Open Studios event together since around 2015. 

  1. What were some of the most significant challenges you faced when you started your business, and how did you overcome them? 

One of the biggest challenges for us as ceramicists was the affordability of getting started. Kilns and wheels and glaze materials don’t come cheap. I saved up to be able to buy the kiln and James’ wheel was a present for his 30th Birthday. We couldn't have made it without the support of our families and friends who really supported our businesses and were practically our own team of PR people! Having people around us that shared our businesses on social media to their friends really helped us to make connections and sales and build up a client base. Mostly though it was a lot of hard graft, we both worked full or part-time during the first few years and continue to do so now, the reality is that when you own your own business, even a creative one, you'll end up working more if you want it to succeed. The upside however is that you'll be doing something you love.

  1. Could you share a memorable moment during your time at Banks Mill that really stands out as a turning point in your creative journey? 

I think coming back into the studios after covid was huge for both of us. During that time, I’d been furloughed and was able to really focus on my practice, I saw my skills and drive to make work flourish and when I was made redundant it wasn’t a curse but a blessing, I was so ready to move on and give everything I had to my own work. James had a similar shift during covid, making his own work at Banks Mill had given him the confidence to apply to Nottingham College as a Ceramic Instructor, he got the job and has been loving it ever since. We also won a commission in 2020 to create a sculpture for DerbyLIVE which was amazing! We'd never done anything like it before but knowing we had our studio space to work from we just went for it, that really gave me the confidence to start thinking about how I could further my creative practice in the future by applying for more opportunities like that.

  1. Being a creative entrepreneur requires a unique set of skills. What did you do to support your professional development and business growth in those aspects? 

For me it was goal setting, especially once I went full time as an artist, having a goal of exhibitions/art fairs and shows to work towards throughout the year was something that kept me focused once I was self-employed. Another thing we both tried to work on was our social media presence. I definitely noticed an up-tick in sales once I had the time to start posting more online and being consistent with that. James' was more focused on honing his ceramic skills, learning more about glaze chemistry, mould making and everything inbetween, having our own studio meant he could teach himself the skills that make him invaluble as a ceramics technician at Nottingham College.   

  1. Collaboration and networking often play a crucial role in creative industries. Can you share any instances where collaborating with other artists or makers at Banks Mill and the University enhanced your work or opened up new opportunities? 

Both me and James have had the opportunity to collaborate with other creatives in Banks Mill. James took part in a group exhibition that was on show in the foyer gallery and in other venues around Derby that was organised by Stevie Davies; he then went on to sell his work in Stevie’s shop in Wirksworth. I’ve worked with some of the girls at LST Tattoo studio, teaching workshops and collaborating with them during Open Studios, where they painted some of their tattoo designs onto our pottery and recently worked with affiliate member Trudie Wilson who helped me create metal feet and branches for some of my sculptures.  

  1. From design concepts to the finished product, can you walk us through your typical creative process? How has this process evolved? 

We are both much more accomplished in what we do now but even so, when working with clay and glazes a lot of the process is making ‘educated guesses’ at what the final outcome will be. Most of my sculptures are sketched and planned before making but for James, the process of throwing allows him to make changes and pivot so rapidly that making design changes as he goes is usually the only way to test what works. The main thing that we probably test the most (especially James) will be glazes, they can be so unpredictable during firing that creating test tiles and seeing how each glaze reacts when layered with others is important, not only when trying to find a particular finish but also so we can keep our kiln in the best shape possible.

  1. Balancing artistic vision with commercial viability can be challenging. How did you manage to maintain your creative integrity while also building a successful business? 

I actually found that as an artist, once I started making the work that I wanted to see and what I found fun, my audience found me. The work was a success because it was mine from start to finish and James found the same thing. Both of our practices now have established styles and looks and people can identify that and have bought into our journey as artists because of it. We've found that the majority of people that come to buy our work do so because we're invested in what we do, because it's clear we care and do this because we love it, the people that buy from us love it too.

  1. Were there any workshops, resources, or mentors at Banks Mill Studios or the University that particularly influenced your creative techniques or business strategies? 

At the beginning of my time at Banks Mill I signed up for creative coaching sessions with Filomena Rodriguez, she helped me to outline what I wanted to achieve in my practice and how I’d get there. She made my thoughts and ideas so much clearer, I came away with a plan and confidence in myself and my ideas. I highly recommend creative coaching with Fil for anyone starting out, it just made a huge difference. 

  1. Graduating from Banks Mill Studios is a significant achievement. Looking back, what advice would you give to aspiring artists and makers who are considering joining Banks Mill? 

The community is great and there's always so much support available if you only ask. Most importantly though, I’d say make the most of your time here, the studios are such creative places to be and having somewhere where you can work for hours on end and lose yourself in your own ideas and creativity is priceless. Time fly’s by so quickly so get in that studio as often as you can because there aren't many other places like Banks Mill.  

11.Lastly, let us know what’s next for your business as you move to pastures new!  

We moved house in April 2023 and have been building our home studio ever since. Now that it’s complete we can’t wait to settle into it and really make it feel like our ‘forever space’. James is getting ready to make new work to show at ‘Artisans Uncovered’ at the Old Library on the Wardwick on the 16th and 17th of March and we will both be exhibiting at Derby’s first ceramics fair ‘Toasted’ on the 23rd-24th March at Derby Museum and Art Gallery. After that I will be focusing on finishing my Masters degree at Derby Uni, the degree show will be open in early September at Artcore so feel free to come along!


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