Secrets of the makers: the most beautiful ways to display your spring flowers

Celebrate the coming spring season with artist-worthy floral displays

The fragrance of spring flowers – and their sudden burst of colour – vividly remind us of nature’s bounty. As our gardens light up with purples, yellows and pinks, why not reach for an artisanal vase that will complement this glorious display?

Handmade vessels have an appeal that mass-produced counterparts can’t imitate. Just as a faux spring flower spray is only a shadow of the real thing, a vase made by an artisan’s hands has a special authenticity. Paired with your favourite fresh-cut spring flowers, an artisanal vase adds a new dimension of thoughtfulness and grace to your home.

Well-made ceramics are also sources of hobby inspiration. It’s difficult to look at a beautiful handmade ceramic vase without feeling inspired to get your own hands dirty.

Landscape images of vases and flowersCredit: Exceptional

Affordable fine art

Toby Brundin, the director of the Contemporary Ceramics Gallery, told us about the pleasures of artisan ceramics. “Hand-made ceramics is the great affordable art form and it’s great that this is finally being discovered,” he says.

While the definition of ‘affordable’ is subjective, for those who enjoy being surrounded by fine art, ceramics can be a cost-effective way to achieve your goals.

“Prices are a fraction of what is charged for paintings and sculpture,” adds Brundin. “You can buy something unique that is also functional, plus these days you can engage with the maker on social media and see the backstory behind your piece – the where, how and why it was made.”

In time for spring, we’ve rounded up some talented artisans to share top picks from their personal handmade vase collections that will pair beautifully with your spring flowers. They each also share a helpful tip for getting started in the hobby of ceramics yourself.

So, choose a corner of your home you’d like to give some springtime cheer, and – who knows? – maybe next year, a vase and floral display of your very own creation might take pride of place in that that same corner.

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Plan ahead for spring next year. Find out what to plant in February.

Meet the artisans…

1. Tiffany Scull – Tiffany Scull Ceramics, Dorset

Tiffany ScullCredit: Tiffany Scull
Vase and flowersCredit: Exceptional

Vases: Skimmer & Hyacinth, Bumblebee and Damselfly & Waterlily

Spring flower: Daffodils

Technique: Sgraffito

“I love spring, new life beginning and everything waking up after a long sleep over winter. My favourite early flowers to emerge are the beautiful bluebells and then the delicate cherry blossom in their many shades of pink and white. Different flowers and plants are a constant source of inspiration for my work – species both native to the UK and from around the globe.

“I have a large collection of ceramics at home from many of my favourite ceramic artists, including a few of my early pieces. I keep most of my work all together on display in my studio for people to view when they visit. These bring me great joy all year round but especially during the dark, cold winter mornings.”

Top tip:I’m sure you would be able to find a potter in your area running classes or there are so many fantastic classes online now that you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your own home. It takes time, patience and practice but the rewards and excitement felt when you take your first pot from the kiln is indescribable.”

Scull is a meticulous observer of nature – each design is unique and begins with a detailed study of flowers and critters etc, on paper. Each one-of-a-kind vase is then treated as a three dimensional canvas which showcases the artist’s artistic flair.

All work is done by hand and each vase takes many weeks to produce and only leaves Scull’s studio if she is delighted with the outcome of her process.

See more of Scull’s vases for your home décor inspiration.

Interested in growing your own daffodils in time for next spring? The Royal Horticultural Society shows you how.

Daffodils wilting too quickly? Discover how to help daffodils in a vase last longer

2. Jane Cox, Isle of Wight

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Jane CoxCredit: Jane Cox
Flowers and vaseCredit: Exceptional

Vases: Small vase, medium vase, cereal bowl

Spring flower: Tulip and yellow roses

Technique: Throwing, jolleying, casting and hand-building

“Spring has crept up upon me this year because I have been away since Christmas.

“Coming home to spring blossoming was a surprise of vivid yellow daffodils, narcissi, blue hyacinth, pink cyclamen and purple crocus and white snowdrops – all these joyful colours set against fresh greens of luscious new growth.

“Amazingly, in Bonchurch (where I live in the south-east of the Isle of Wight), hyacinths grow outside and in our garden buds are already developing on the David Austin roses and red ‘Crimson King’ camellia.

“I am excited to see the robins and blue tits are gathering grass and straw for nesting boxes attached to the house.”

Top tip: “I began potting in the late 1980s and so have been working in ceramics for almost 40 years and I am still learning! It is hard, labour-intensive work and results don’t always come out as planned and certain effects and skills take a long time to learn.

“However, alongside this, it is very rewarding. I meet many very lovely people (other makers and clients alike) and no day is ever the same as the next – which I like.

“Working with clay also involves many infinite possibilities so you are never bored and making functional work (which I specialise in) allows me a very broad audience for my work, which is both rewarding and fulfilling.”

The punchiness of Cox’s work speaks to her love affair with the colours she observes in France, the Caribbean and Isle of Wight. Her special technique is the fruit of 20 years of research that helped her develop her personal glaze palette. As a result, Cox is the recipient of many prestigious awards – including the Wedgwood Scholarship for Surface Design. Scull’s work is featured in major museum collections and she exhibits internationally.

The vibrancy of Cox’s ceramics along with the bold patterns make them extra striking. Discover more of her work.

3. Peter Bodenham, Peter Bodenham Ceramics, Cardigan

Peter BodenhamCredit: Peter Bodenham
Flowers and vasesCredit: Exceptional

Vases: Block Vase PB490Y163 and Bucket Form PB490Y140

Spring flower: Anemones

Techniques: Hand built and thrown on potter’s wheel

“As I live in west Wales, St. David’s Day is celebrated in our house with daffodils. In my pottery workshop window, I also like to put in vases a joyous splash of yellow to celebrate the arrival of spring.

“During spring morning dog walks to the beach I love to observe the changing colours of the hedgerows and their vibrant diversity. I’m fascinated by the overlooked, such as lichens or weeds, and especially native flowers.”

Top tip:It’s never too late to explore your creative interests. The field of ceramics is vast and can be approached at many different levels.

“Clay is a hugely versatile material and throwing on the potter’s wheel, making a simple thumb pot or modelling a figure can all be engaging, therapeutic, and very rewarding.

“To get you started, I would try a basic course in your local area. A visit to the V&A ceramic collection in London is always inspiring.”

Bodenham uses his west Wales location to fine effect as he takes abundant inspiration for his work from coastal walks, swimming and gathering the organic specimens he comes across. His love for ecology and geology is then transmuted to his vases through the images, motifs, gestural brush strokes or drawings he applies directly to the surface of his vessels. They each contain traces of a lifetime of lived philosophical and artistic experience.

Love the pop of colour you get from these vases? Discover more of Bodenham’s current works.

Interested in growing your own spring-flowering anemones? The RHS shows you how.

4. Jude Jelfs, The Cotswolds Pottery, Gloucestershire

Jude JelfsCredit: Jude Jelfs
Credit: Exceptional

Vases: Karyatid and Au Naturel

Spring flower: Roses

Technique: Slab built

“Don’t we all love the spring? Especially when winter has been so cold this year.

“Last autumn, I planted lots of bulbs. Tulips in the borders, and fritillary, tiny daffodils, irises and snowdrops in the lawn. So, I’m really looking forward to seeing them all come up and burst into flower.

“Like most gardeners, I’m always loath to pick garden flowers, but they do look gorgeous in handmade pots, and brighten up the house no end.”

Top tip:My favourite tool is my hands but when I need other tools, I use Valentine Clays on Stoke-on-Trent. A beginner needs, more than anything, patience. Like all hand skills, pottery takes a lot of practice and time to learn.”

Jelfs is an artistic chameleon, having started her fine arts story working in bronze. Through a process of self-discovery, she would find an expressive creative outlet through combining pottery with painting and sculpture. Mostly honing in on the female form, Jelf’s current works are three-dimensional human studies that may be interpreted as ‘sculptures in space’. After a 30-year hiatus, Jelfs has returned to the medium of bronze, completing a sculptural loop she started three decades ago.

Jelf’s vases invite us to remember to look at the lighter side of life. Interested in seeing more of her work? Visit the Contemporary Ceramics Gallery website and read Jelf’s profile.

5. Tessa Wolfe-Murray, Wolfe-Murray Ceramics, Hove

Tessa Wolfe-MurrayCredit: Tessa Wolfe-Murray
Credit: Exceptional

Vases: Small Seagrass Vase and Sea Chalice

Spring flower: Tulip

Technique: Slab-building and Slip-casting

“My favourite spring flowers are snowdrops, perfect for my tiny bud vases. I also love tulips and irises which complement my larger vases.

“Living by the sea, its moods and changes are my main inspiration, as is my local landscape.

“Spring is also on my mind, and I plan to add pink, lilac and green to my cylinder vase range.”

Top tip:Tools for hand building are very low-tech. I use a rolling pin to stretch the clay, a potter’s knife to cut the shapes, a kebab stick to crosshatch the sections to be joined, a carpenter’s surform (a basic shaving tool) and potter’s metal kidneys. The only specialist tools are the potter’s knife and kidneys.”

Wolfe-Murray’s love affair with materials is evident in the ethereal quality of her work. Immediately after her college studies she developed a process of sawdust firing for surfaces to make her vessels watertight. This technique accounts for the striking three-dimensional depth of her work – which combines sharp lines and elliptical curvature to dynamic effect. Her work seems somehow caught between man made architecture and nature’s more linear forms. Wolfe-Murray’s work forms part of a number of major collections and she exhibits internationally.

Wolfe-Murray’s vases are beautifully proportioned works of simple refinement. Read more about the artist and her current collection.

6. Phil Lyddon – Brighton, East Sussex

Credit: Phil Lyddon
Credit: Exceptional

Vases: Bottle, Metal Leaf

Spring flower: Daffodils

Technique: Thrown

“Spring is always a season that I look forward to, after the cold and dark of winter. I just love seeing the first yellow buds of daffodils opening in the warmth of the sun. It inspires me to get out to my studio again and create some more work in daffodil yellow and sky-blue glazes.”

Top tip:With the internet, there is a wealth of information. Just type ‘ceramics’ or ‘ceramics near me’ as a starting point.

“When it comes to suppliers and classes, there are the big companies, like Potterycrafts or Scarva, but a local search will usually turn up someone near you who can help, along with any local classes.

“If you manage to get to the stage of having your own workspace, I recommend trying to move on from ready-made glazes to your own recipes.

“While it might be difficult to develop one from scratch, useful books of well-known potter’s glazes can help.

“You can start with a recipe from the books and then move on, adapting it to suit your style. Over the years my favourite book has been Ceramic Review’s Book of Clays and Glazes.”

Lyddon’s work proves the old adage – beautiful things come in small packages. The artist offers little bursts of tactile artistry with each one of his small-scale porcelain and stoneware bowls and vessels. These are each infused with cheerful colours and then, like pixie dust, each vessel is given a sprinkling of gold leaf or another elevated lustre. Lyddon takes colour and form cues from nature and can be found, for the past four decades, at his studio in Brighton where he throws up to 10 bowls from the top of a one-kilogram (2lb 3oz) cone of stoneware or porcelain.

Lyddon’s vases are created in a range of beautiful colours. Discover the other vases colours in his current collection.

7. Jill Fanshawe Kato, Jill Fanshawe Kato Ceramics, Devon

Jill Fanshawe KatoCredit: Jill Fanshawe-Kato
Flowers in vaseCredit: Exceptional

Vases: Grasshopper Jug, Flower Vase and Bluebird Vase

Spring flower: Anemones and daffodils

Technique: Coil-building

“Spring is like a renewal of life, as the muddy brown earth gradually turns green again, tulips and daffodils burst into colour after their winter burial and trees sing with catkins, lime green buds and pink and white flowers.

“I trained as a potter in Japan and also studied ‘Sogetsu Ikebana’ flower arrangement in order to know how to use my own vases with imagination. So as soon as my garden begins to flower, I bring a variety of blooms and tree cuttings indoors to arrange for the table and dark corners, which bring the seasons indoors.

“Visitors are delighted to see how my vases and jugs take on a different aspect when filled with my flower arrangements and complement each other.”

Top tip:If you want to take up pottery yourself, I recommend looking for a local adult class or pottery school, or asking a local potter, or a local gallery, or looking online. There are many summer courses here in the UK and abroad. Ceramic Review and Crafts magazine have listings.”

Fanshawe Kato’s love affair with nature started in her earliest childhood – and it shows. The artist has devoted her life to depicting the animistic world in celebration of the creatures that make their home in the wild outdoors. She found a new artistic voice in Japan, where she discovered a passion for fire and clay to compliment her fine arts training.

She describes working with clay as ‘alchemy’ and she uses her hands alone to create the large scale sculptures for gardens and and outdoor spaces. Fanshawe Kato’s work has been exhibited all over the world and to date she has enjoyed 46 exhibitions of her ceramics in her beloved Japan, where she is celebrated as a major ceramics artist.

Love the way these vases brilliant depict nature? See more of Fanshawe Kato’s current work.

 

8. Stephen Murfitt, Stephen Murfitt Ceramics, Cambridge

Stephen MurfittCredit: Stephen Murfitt
Credit: Exceptional

Vases: Speckled Vessel and White Vessel

Spring flower: Orange roses

Technique: Hand-built and Raku fired

“I live with my wife, the artist Terry Beard, in the unique and beautiful Huntingdonshire Fenland. We are both very aware of the changing seasons.

“Spring in particular can have a significant influence on our state of mind and the work we produce. Our regular walks on the fens provide a constant source of reference and inspiration. The onset of spring brings some welcome reasons for optimism.

“Signs of new growth developing, as well as the early snowdrops and bluebells which form magical carpets of blue, are seen on our woodland walks. Apple and cherry blossom with a colour palette evolving from white through to delicate pinks are a joy to see.

“The gradual lengthening of daylight hours and more time spent outside in the milder temperatures give a welcome glimpse of those forthcoming balmy summer evenings! The experience and observations made in such an environment will continue to inform and inspire our work.”

Top tip:Most potters encounter back problems at some stage and these are usually down to bad posture (sitting crouched over a potter’s wheel for long hours).

“Awkward lifting of heavy items such as bags of clay, large pots, kilns and other heavy studio equipment should be avoided. Over the years I have improvised with other methods of moving heavy equipment and pots which help to avoid any risky lifting.

“For example, I devised a safer method of lifting larger pieces out of the kiln with a ‘pitchfork style’ set of tongs which is less strain on the back!”

From his converted Methodist chapel home in the forest, Murfitt contemplates universal themes like weathering, erosion and decay. He then transmits his thoughts into the clay he admits to being ‘obsessed’ with. A technique called ‘raku’ is his favourite – it is something to do with how the process allows the pots to absorb and reflect the intense heat of the firing. This adds to the dramatic effect of the finished surface.

Murfitt’s work has a sophisticated simplicity that would suit any space. Learn more about his current collection of vases.

Orange roses are divine to behold. Learn how to grow your own amazing roses with this guide from the RHS.

9. Mandy Cheng, Mandy Cheng Porcelain, Ireland

Flowers and vaseCredit: Exceptional

Vases: Bob vase “Shimmer”, and Q vase “Sky”.

Spring flower: Hellebores and anemones

Technique: Nerikomi

“To me, spring is the most invigorating season, every day the sun rises earlier and sets later, the lawn turns a richer and brighter green, crocus and daffodils pop up here and there, buds burst out from bare branches and gradually grow into full size flowers or leaves.

“I love to witness these changes in colour and texture, and never fail to admire the marvel of nature.

“At home, I like to have small bunches of colourful flowers here and there, to bring the invigorating spirit inside.

“I will also turn the sofa and coffee table from in front of the fireplace, to the big bay window facing the garden.

“Spring is the time when I start a new year of work, as it is too cold for my fingers to work with wet porcelain in the winter. I will finalise the new designs that I have created over the cold months,  and make templates for building new pieces.”

Top tip:Ceramics is about transforming soft clay into three dimensional wares. The moisture level of clay changes with handling time and it’s best to work steadily. I noticed that my mind is totally focused during the process, not concerned with what is going on in the world.

“It feels like meditation, the hands may be moving, the mind is calm and peaceful. Not to mention the satisfaction of creating something with your own hands, the result is all from your own effort.”

A degree in science, with a major in chemistry, must come in handy when getting to grips with thin porcelain. Cheng’s craft is a mixture of technique and creativity. She cuts and layers the delicate porcelain in a method called nerikomi, which creates unrepeatable patterns. It’s a complex process that benefits from a technical mind and the exacting nature of the work results in ceramics that look altogether delicate and intriguing.

Cheng’s work is so delicate it looks like paper. Discover more of her collection here.

Hellebores are delicate spring-flowers that make lovely indoor plants. Learn how to grow them on the RHS website.

10. Timothy Copsey – Peak District

Tim CopseyCredit: David Fulford
Flowers in vaseCredit: Exceptional

Vases: Waterfall Tokkuri and Waterfall Guinomi

Spring flower: Hellebores

Technique: Hand-built with stone inclusions

“I live on a hill in the Peak District, so spring arrives a little later for us, but when it does it’s with sudden drifts of snowdrops, crocuses and birdsong.

“We bring armfuls of daffodils and narcissi into the house and plonk them in my bigger pots – my mum was a flower arranger when I was a child –  I don’t think she’d recognise the term plonk! Perhaps my favourite part is the trees coming to life and hawthorn blossom.”

Top tip:There couldn’t be a better time for trying out pottery. Most potters offer short sessions in their studios and the Craft Potters Association website has a list of regional associations who could help your readers find a course to suit them.

“I offer potter’s wheel sessions on Airbnb and teach a weekly course at the Sculpture Lounge in Holmfirth. My advice: have a go, get your hands dirty – potters are the friendliest of people.”

Copsey brings his deeply observational filmmaker’s eye to the act of pottery making. He is able to capture in clay how water races over rocks – glistening and reflective. His passions include exploring ‘the performative nature of how film can incorporate its subject’ and this has resulted in a series of short films called ‘Serving Suggestions’. His work is reminiscent of space debris – there is certainly a hint of the galactic to his vases, which are fun, otherworldly and organic in form.

Copsey’s vases are playful and luxurious. See the available options from his current collection.

11. Gail Altschuler, North London

Gail AltschulerCredit: Gail Altschuler
Flowers and vasesCredit: Exceptional

Vases: Singing & Listening, Cats, and Absent and Present

Spring flower: Tulips and white roses

Technique: Hand-building and joining

“Spring always makes me feel excited and inspired. Sometimes I try to keep up with the spring season, documenting the flowers as they appear. First as photographs, then as drawings in my sketchbooks and finally onto hand painted porcelain. I record snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils and tulips.

“I think snowdrops are my favourite as they have such strong, sharp white shapes, contrasting the dark green foliage beyond. A visual delight, heralding the spring and summer colours to come.”

Top tip:Pottery and ceramics can be peaceful and relaxing, it is a mindful occupation that’s good for concentration and focus. Engaging with your hands and manipulating the clay is soothing and stimulating, all at once.

“Clay and porcelain are rewarding materials to work with, as they provide endless opportunities to develop your knowledge about the different types of clay, hand building techniques and throwing methods.

“There is also much to learn about the chemistry involved in glazing, temperatures and kiln firings. Praying to the kiln gods for each new kiln firing, is a comment often heard amongst potters and ceramicists.”

It’s not everyday an artist uses a Zoom meeting as inspiration for their art, and that is why Altschuler’s work is so relatable and quirky. She considers herself a storyteller in clay and porcelain, materials which she uses for sketching her day-to-day observations. Expect anything from cats to commentary on refugees. Altschuler’s art truly reflects life.

Tempted to try a ceramics course near you? Find Courses lists courses for all stages, at home and abroad.

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Written by Joy Archer she/her

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