In Conversation: Naomi Bikis

Amidst a modern world of digitalisation pushing us further away from the act of actually making things, we have seen a widespread growth of the artisanal. With skilled craft back at the forefront of design trends, fashion and interior design is drawing heavy reference from art and our new brand is no exception. Naomi Bikis is a seasoned fashion journalist turned ceramicist, whose hand thrown pieces are created with the same level of consideration as a sculpture.

With a multifaceted approach to her craft, Naomi is creating individual, entirely bespoke and completely functional pieces of ceramics from vases to paper weights. We talk changing things up with Naomi, the crossover between art and fashion, why she made the move from laptop to potter’s wheel and the importance of knowing when to stop throwing.

A selection of ceramics made for the store, shot by Stephanie Mcleod

Can we start by going back to the beginning? When did you first realise you were creative?

Oh the beginning! That’s mildly terrifying. It wasn’t so much as a conscious decision about being a creative person, more a case of not being able to add up to save my life. You’ve got to adapt to the world fast when you’re a kid who can’t work out how much two Freddos are. So I resolved that I was only good at art. I could do the imagination bit.

Naomi throwing in her studio, shot by Philippa Langley

Ceramics is relatively new for you, can you tell us what came before and what led to this transition into more hands on making?

A friend once told me that he thought the secret to a happy life was a hobby – something that’s not your 9-5. He’s a wise man. He was managing a community center that had a ceramics studio and I signed up to a class. I had been looking for something where I learnt a new skill or made a physical product at the end. No screens. No emails. I was missing being creative with my hands. I had imagined I’d be a natural. I wasn’t. This is a craft that takes years to develop and even the most experienced potters are constantly tweaking and learning.

The Vase in Blush, shot by Stephanie Mcleod

Can you walk us around the space in which you work?

I work in two spaces. The first is a huge shared studio in Hoxton called Turning Earth. There’s really nothing like it. Beginners and semi-professionals gather under two converted railway arches and everyone ends up swapping notes and advising each other. It’s a beautiful space. The second studio I work from is Crown Works Pottery. Giulietta Hextall has the nicest nook in a once working yard in Bethnal Green. It’s a dream to stick the radio on and throw there with her.

Tell us more about what your daily process of making looks like.

I am in the studio two days a week. I’ll wedge my clay and get to work throwing on the wheel. The process of making can be incredibly cathartic and frustrating. I’ll throw pieces, trim them, fire once, glaze and fire again. Pieces can take weeks – especially in the winter when nothing dries. It’s the greatest euphoria when a piece makes it out the other side.

Naomi's studio Turning Earth in Hoxton, London shot by Philippa Langley

How do you feel your career so far as a fashion writer has influenced your approach to ceramics?

I like the idea that we don’t hold down just one job, that we’re multifaceted people who aren’t defined by the 9-5. So I am all about strings to your bow and the various worlds colliding. Fashion and ceramics don’t sit separately for me. It’s fashion that I find myself referencing for colour and editorial shoots shape how I’d like to shoot my work. I mood board regularly to help shape ideas – more often than not fashion references creep in.

The Blob Vases and Bulb Vase, shot by Stephanie Mcleod

In your own words ‘ceramics are unavoidably fashionable’ currently, but where do you see your work sitting in this trend of the artisanal within fashion?

I think people appreciate buying things that take time and appreciate knowing that they’re buying something that’s unique. I hope that’s where I come in.

What have been your main points of reference when creating your first ceramics? Is there an artist, designer or movement that particularly inspires you?

I am quite obsessed with sculpture. I’ve spent a lot of my year on various pilgrimages to see works. I recently went to Louisiana in Denmark and was so excited to see some Arp in real life. Next up, I am off to Yorkshire to the ‘sculpture triangle’. Thomas Rentmeister has been a huge inspiration to me as well.

A sculptural selection of pieces created for the store, shot by Stephanie Mcleod

Do your pieces have a narrative or theme? Or are they driven by form alone?

There’s no overarching theme but there is a continuous exploration of wobbles, ripples and bulbous shapes. I don’t want my work to be too perfect or serious. I love to see little glimpses of the maker’s hand.

We are so pleased to be stocking some of your first collection, can you tell us more about the pieces you are making for us?

This had been such a pleasure to work on. The ODE team gave me the freedom to play with form and experiment with ‘wobbling’ vases. The shapes billow and fold, but hopefully there’s still a certain elegance to them. I am not a production potter. I make one-of-a-kind pieces and this collection really reflects that.

The aforementioned Wobble Vase in Ivory, shot by Stephanie Mcleod

How important is the functionality of each piece you make? 

Ultimately most pieces I make serve a functional purpose but I like the idea that pieces can cross over into objet d’art territory. I’ve made a series of objects for ODE that require the user to decide their function. Is a triangle a paper weight? Display object? Though I think everyone needs their own perfect coffee cup, I am less interested in making tableware. For me, I hope to make precious pieces that you might display on a shelf in your home.

A selection of pieces created for the store, shot by Stephanie Mcleod

Tell us more about your palette, what inspires you when choosing colours?

I am interested in the line between good and bad taste. I like a gentle, tasteful matt glaze alongside a glossy, strange pink. The range of colours I work with currently – white, cream, beige, brown and pinks – were inspired by skin tones and exploring working within a tonal range.

As a potentially ever evolving process how do you know when a piece is complete?

We talk about this a lot in the studio. It’s very easy to overwork the clay and push it too far. You’ve got to know when to stop. You’ve also got to consider the feel of something in your hand once glazed – does it work? I could forever tweak my work! 

A selection of pieces set alongside the materials that made them, shot by Stephanie Mcleod

Which pieces are you currently most proud of?

I love the vases I’ve created for ODE and the glossy blob objects are so satisfying.

And finally, what comes next for you?

I am continuing to explore sculptural vases and working on private commissions. 

Words by Rebecca Field. Shop hand crafted pieces from Naomi Bikis in store only.