Lily Pearmain used to be a sourdough baker. She loved it but found herself wanting to express herself more creatively so she tried a lot of different things until she inevitably found herself doing ceramics. For the last two-and-a-half years she has been working on developing her own voice in the ceramic world, and that she has found. With a sleek minimalism, her functional pieces push the boundaries: a sculpture that can hold a flower or two, or a vase that has sculptural elements. They have a certain quality that appeals to current ceramics trends while still having their own unique narrative. Lily is very driven by process, though that process is intuitive, she experiments until she comes to a beautiful conclusion.

Here we talk with Lily about the inspiration behind her work and what ceramics and baking have in common.

You used to be a baker, what made you turn to ceramics?

It wasn’t as smooth a transition as I like to make out sometimes. I was physically pretty tired of baking, and although I loved the guys I worked with, I didn’t feel like it was creatively fulfilling. I guess I felt too much like a cog in a machine. I started doing evening ceramics classes whilst doing a bunch of odd jobs like babysitting and I was even a researcher in a law firm. The idea of making ceramics a career felt very far away. I couldn’t see a way to make it happen and had no idea if it was even possible. Essentially it took a really bad break up and a few low points for me to ask myself exactly what I wanted and why.

When did you decide to pursue ceramics as a career?

I’m not sure there was a specific point. I knew I was in love with it when I first sat down at a wheel, 2 ½ years ago. Gradually I realised people wanted to buy my work and that I could teach. So slowly I gave up my weekend odd jobs and focussed more and more on my pots. Deciding how I wanted to structure my business has been something I’ve only really thought about in the past 6 months or so. I still have to pinch myself sometimes. I feel incredibly grateful that there’s a market for my work, and that that enables me to do what I love. It’s not easy; running your own creative business is bloody hard work and very personal. It’s impossible to leave work at the studio but there’s no way I’d do anything else.

Do you find there are any similarities to baking and ceramic design?

I guess both are about playing with processes and trying to bend rules without undermining anything. They’re both quite “wholesome” pursuits, and I think it helped my ceramics that I came from a background where I worked with my hands. Both are very physical and I really enjoy that part of it, but ceramics is far far more creative. As far as industries go, both baking and ceramics are quite supportive. At least my experiences of them are.

I think both are very hard, you have to have a certain level of obsession to make it work in either industry. Maybe that says more about me than about the industries though!

Your work is very distinctive, very sculptural, what is your creative process like?

I rarely sketch anything out, I have ideas and try to keep them in my head. If something keeps bugging me then I know it’s worth exploring. It doesn’t always work. I’m sure most of my friends have been burdened with cast offs at some point!

I’m very driven by process. If I enjoy making something then I think that carries through the piece and shows. I also quite like the idea that my work is a little bit confusing. I want people to ask “how did she make that?!” So that they are drawn into thinking about the making process.

I’m really lucky in that I have a great circle of ceramicists and other creatives around me, so there’s always someone I can talk to about my work. That really helps!

What are you inspired by right now?

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about shrines. I’m not in any way religious, but most people have some kind of area in their house where they put significant things. It could be a bookcase with all your favourite books, or vinyls, or nice pots. Or that corner with the nice plant in it and a sweet photo. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that, and how that links with spiritual iconography.

I’m also very driven by a tiny collection of pots I have inherited from my grandmother. She grew up in an artists colony in Germany. The colony didn’t really survive the war but the legacy did and some pots from the local pottery there made it to her house in north London, where she settled. She said when she was growing up there was no road to the pottery, it was in the middle of the woods near her mother’s house. To make a bit of extra money the potters would make popcorn on the top of the firing kilns. To find the pottery you would just follow the smell of the popcorn. I love that. The pots are sweet but nothing particularly spectacular in their own right, I guess they make me feel more connected to her. They hold a lot of significance and have become part of my own personal little shrine.

What does a typical day in your studio look like?

I think I work best in the mornings. First thing I do when I get to the studio is have a cup of tea while I think about what needs doing. Then I’ll sit down and focus for a good couple of hours. That’s when the bulk of my work gets done.

It depends if I have commissions on the go or not. I don’t like having work hanging over me so if I need to make specific things then I’d rather get that out of the way.

The afternoons tend to be for playing about a bit more or for admin stuff, but it completely depends if I have orders or work on the go that needs finishing. I like to spend an entire day on one process, so it might be a throwing day or a glazing day, and that helps to keep me focused.

What are you working on now?

I’m making a load of sculptural things for a gallery, and trying to develop a little jug I like. I’ve never made a jug because it’s the one thing I will always buy from other potters so I guess I’ve overthought it.
I’m also making a load of ware to take to a wood firing course I’m doing with Nic Collins this summer. I’m very excited about it. I’ll be camping in Dartmoor, chopping wood and getting muddy. My dream holiday.