Scent Stories: A collaboration with Anna Beam
08.12.19 Interview by Wrap

Scent Stories: A collaboration with Anna Beam

Scent Stories by Wrap has collaborated with artist and ceramicist Anna Beam to create PAPER, COLLAGE, CLAY and GLAZE – four scented candles that through fragrance, material, and pattern, each celebrate different aspects of her work and creative process.
08.12.19 Interview by Wrap

Originally from Baltimore, Anna now lives and works in London. Here she tells us about her inspirations and influences, how deadlines get her motivated, and how she likes to leave some things to chance.

Tell us about what you do…

I make textiles and ceramics that are mostly functional, but not always. My work is playful and based around abstract pattern and collage. The ceramics I make are often decorated with shapes and patterns that are incorporated into the clay itself, and no two are ever the same.

What motivates you to get up and get going each day?

Deadlines! Hah. But I also can’t sit still; I have a constant stream of thoughts and ideas that I have to get out of my head and onto paper or realised in some way, or I feel twitchy.

So what’s a typical Anna Beam day like?

My boyfriend has to be at work for 7am so I’ve gotten into the habit of getting up when he does. Some mornings I go running, and then I usually get to the studio at 7:30 or 8am – I enjoy being able to get a bit done while it’s quiet. I have breakfast and go through emails and admin, and then I focus on making; my process is quite laborious and slow, so I have to dedicate most of my time to it.

Getting in early also means I don’t feel too bad clocking off when he finishes at around 3 or 4pm. I spent so many years juggling part-time work with a pretty full-time studio practice, so I’m really grateful that for now, I have a better work/life balance. I even have hobbies now, it’s wild.

I go to bed at an embarrassingly early time.

You live on a canal boat – do you enjoy it?

I can honestly say that the years I’ve spent living on the boat have been some of the best of my life so far. It’s a nice sort of middle ground between living in the city and the country. We don’t have a permanent mooring so we move the boat every two weeks, which is great because I get to experience loads of different parts of London; my studio is in Hackney, but last night I fell asleep to the sound of owls, and had coffee this morning with a woodpecker and a heron.

What inspires and informs your work?

I draw a lot of inspiration from early 20th century artists and designers. Not just for the aesthetic, but specifically the artists who were using ‘chance’ and ‘play’ to create their work – their methods have informed the way I approach making.

Marcel Duchamp’s ‘3 Standard Stoppages’ [1913-14] has been a big influence. To describe it (badly), it’s three line drawings and three wooden forms that he made based on having dropped three pieces string from a certain height, and then seeing the different shapes they created when they fell. I think there’s something exciting about not allowing yourself to overthink what you do; maybe you’re working within a set of parameters, but when you give up control, you kind of get to see what happens when your mind has it’s back turned, and I find it’s usually more interesting than the work I make when I’m thinking and planning too much.

When it comes to designing patterns for ceramic pots, I also like to take inspiration from completely different processes like screen printing and etching, and the sorts of mark making you get from drawing and embroidery.

You’re a member of Clay Collective – how does it work?

We’re a co-operative workspace in Hackney that started in 2015. It’s pretty hard to find affordable space in London, and setting up a ceramics studio requires a lot of expensive kit, so as a co-op we’ve been able to create the kind of facility that none of us would have been able to start alone.

Sharing the space with other makers – there are 12 of us in Clay Collective – and building a community together has been invaluable. We help each other troubleshoot technical problems and share tips, celebrate successes and commiserate failures. Over the years we’ve become quite a female heavy group (completely unintentionally… I think). It’s the first time I’ve worked in an (almost) all-female space, and I’m really enjoying the dynamic we’ve got going on.

Paper, Collage, Clay and Glaze – the four candles from this Scent Stories collaboration – are inspired by the way you make your ceramics. Could you talk us though your creative process?

The majority of my work is rooted in collage – it’s immediate, intuitive, and often produces surprising results that you wouldn’t achieve through too much planning.

When I started making ceramics I was interested in turning flat paper collages into objects that people could then interact with, and use in daily life. I’ve developed a process where I treat clay as if it’s paper, layering flat pieces of dyed clay on top of each other to create patterns, before building 3D forms. It’s a liberating and exciting way to work because once I lay down a coloured shape onto the base clay I’m committed to it; to remove it would mean starting the whole piece again. I’m also never entirely sure how a piece will look until I take it out of the kiln for the final time, which keeps things interesting.

I’ve really enjoyed this collaboration because it has been a chance to see the process extended further, from paper to ceramic and then to glass. Each of the candles in this series began life as a sprawl of scraps of paper or pieces of clay.

And finally, what’s on the horizon in the coming months?

On the immediate horizon I’ll be making more work for galleries and shops, and I’m very excited to see this collaboration go out into the world.

For some time now most of the work I’ve been making has been functional, and mostly ceramic; I’m quite keen to start developing a body of work that’s less concerned with functionality and in some way combines ceramics and textiles. We’ll see what happens!