For our Maker Journal this month, we talk to Studio Brae founder and maker Tokes Sharif. Studio Brae creates hand thrown ceramics - functional and sculptural pieces, with a minimalist natural aesthetic. Founder of Objects & Finds, Emma Nixey, asked Tokes about his journey into ceramics, his artistic inspiration, and his use of materials, that inspire his understated and pared back approach.
Tokes handcrafts objects using clay, incorporating locally sourced, sustainable materials. The Scottish landscape informs his work and is reflected in a palette of neutral, earthy tones and textures. Tokes incorporates small percentages of natural oxides in his glazes and clay bodies to create irregularities and depth, which enhance the natural variations present in the clay.
The work of Studio Brae is inspired by nature and classical architecture as well as contemporary art. In this interview Tokes expands upon his inspiration and process to conceive his unique pieces, creating iconic and timeless forms.
Each piece is mindfully crafted, in small batches. Studio Brae's minimalist aesthetic encourages a deeper, reflective connection to nature anchored in the rituals of daily living and to enhance a sense of wellbeing.
Tell us about you and your experience and your journey into ceramics.
Despite growing up in a city my childhood memories are of being fascinated with the outdoors: digging holes in the earth with twigs, collecting bugs/rocks and building dens in the garden. I have fond memories of being connected with nature and crafting things, which until recently I had never put together.
My love for making led me to studying Product Design at the Edinburgh College of Art. It’s given me a great foundation for my work in ceramics.
My journey to ceramics began about 5 years ago when I started a local pottery class. There was an instant comforting connection with the clay. It was amazing to have a fluid way of working and to produce an object almost instantaneously. Plus, the lack of control with the firing process was thrilling. I felt like a child again to see the finished pieces emerge from the kiln.
What’s the ethos behind the brand?
Our ethos at Studio Brae is to create timeless sustainable handcrafted objects.
How did Studio Brae ceramics emerge? What was the key starting point?
After two years of exploring clay, I set up Studio Brae at the beginning of 2018. Brae is a Scottish word for hillside or a steep bank. The brand tied together the practice to local nature.
What’s a typical day in the studio?
A typical day starts off with a 10 min cycle to my Stockbridge studio. I need my morning coffee whilst looking over and responding to emails. Next, I check my daily planner to see what my work is for the day. Naturally, this depends on which part of the pottery process I’m on. These processes can be roughly split into three: making/throw, trimming/assembling and glazing. I’m usually potting away to some world music as it really helps me focus. More recently I’ve dedicated some time to research new glazes or clay bodies on a weekly basis.
What draws you in terms of aesthetics? Who or what inspires you?
I love things from the past and the stories told by objects. So much of my inspiration comes from ethnographic artefacts, nature and classical architecture as well as contemporary art. Many of these works have simplified classic forms. I also love the matt stony and earthy finishes often found in Japanese ceramics. So, my pieces often have clean lines with the textured clay body, both of which add depth and narrative to my work.
What artist or maker inspires you, who would it be and why?
Brancusi and Hepworth’s sculptural forms are very inspiring. Oliver Gustav for his beautifully curated interiors which have a timeless quality.
To what extent does your materials research and your use of different clays inform your work?
In a lot of my work aggregates and subtle mark making accentuates the clay body which is the main feature. As a consequence, material research and understanding the chemical aspects of ceramics has become a fascinating exploration for me. It involves sourcing local materials, such as clay and rocks from Edinburgh and the East coast and studying their transformation through the firing process. It’s encouraging me to explore the outdoors further and connect with nature which has inevitably had a creative impact on my work but also spiritual.
What’s your process that leads to your shapes and forms?
Inspiration from ancient and contemporary works is a natural starting point for me. So, I often visit museums and galleries especially when travelling abroad to fill my creative cup. On a practical level, however, sketching is my main way of beginning an idea. I start off by doing a series of small sketches which translate to a full-scale sketch to figure out the rough dimensions. Sketches don’t always interpret well in the 3D, so more often than not a few iterations are made to tweak sizes or proportions when using clay.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Working with a material that is very versatile and with endless possibilities is my ‘grown up’ answer, but the child in me simply loves the feel of ‘playing’ with the clay!
What’s your idea of the perfect staycation in the UK, where would you go?
A remote bothy in the highlands of Scotland.
What’s your dream house and location?
My dream house is a Mediterranean farmhouse with a pottery studio. I can easily picture my current lifestyle but with the added bonuses of al fresco dining, long summers and the sounds of wildlife in the background…
View the complete Studio Brae collection here in his Maker profile.