Tell us a bit about yourself My name is Chloe Monks, a female ceramic practitioner in the Southwest of England. I have an established ceramic practice, that focuses on glaze and its fluid qualities. My approach is rooted in research, particularly into glaze and the forms in which it breaks upon. I currently work in my studio in Bristol. I continue to work on new forms that are exhibited nationally and internationally alongside building a glaze library that goes towards my teaching. Alongside my own practice, I work full-time as an educator and programmer for a ceramics and glass supplier.
What made you choose this career?
Thinking back I didn't think of it as choosing it as a career, more like choosing material and a drive to find out all of its possibilities. I spent so much time volunteering for collections museums assisting artists that I never looked at it as a money-making option. Just an option that I really enjoyed and wanted to be part of the community. I realised I was choosing ceramics as a career once I began my Masters at the Royal College of Art. When I saw the technicians and tutors making a living from their technical and academic abilities it clicked that there were options and directions to go in the ceramics sector.
Did you go through formal education? If so, what did you study and where? If not please explain your journey. Yes, I did have formal education. My introduction to ceramics was during my A Levels at Sidcot School - they had a ceramics department and I chose to focus on ceramics as one of the main materials in my final show alongside oil paintings. I went to Falmouth University to do a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design. I chose to do a foundation rather than go straight into a BA subject as I wasn’t absolutely sure what my focus was at that time. The foundation gave me an open and free approach to all practices and materials. The longer I was there the clearer it became that I was obsessed with ceramics. I went on a ceramics BA at Cardiff School of Art and Design Ceramics. I had two years of working in the industry and decided to embark on an MA at the Royal College of Art in Ceramics & Glass.
Did this have a positive or negative impact on your chosen career? Formal education was positive. In some instances my expectations of formal education were huge and the reality of embarking in university education was slightly disappointing. But you need to make the most of the opportunities, networking, friendships and facilities available to you to feel you’re making the most of your time and money. Formal education made it clear that you can make a career from your practice. But working in the industry is incredibly important to filter through the work that works for you and what doesn't work for you. Who inspires you?
Many people inspire me for different reasons, mainly coming down to where they are in their careers and how they are contributing to their field. Sam Bakewell, a contemporary ceramic artist creates beautifully raw works playing with colour composition. He is spotlighted in multiple exhibitions with an interesting approach to technical application. Those who educate the ceramics community such as Matt Katz. Matt and his partner Rose set up Ceramics Material Workshop which is now demonstrating a worked renowned resource for clay and glaze education. Glass artist Annie Cattrell inspires me for her limitless capabilities with public exhibitions and material experimentation. Michael Endo and Emily Endo inspire me with their education space and fabrication studio called High Desert Observatory in the Mojave Desert.
What’s the scariest thing about your job and how have you overcome it? In all honesty, the scariest thing about my practice is something I haven't overcome. I'm not freelance, I still depend on a salary-paid job to be independent alongside working freelance jobs in my own time. I'm gradually taking more and more freelance work which I hope will grow with more demand giving me the opportunity to work for myself and not depend upon full-time work. Other aspects of my job that I dread are applying for many opportunities and receiving reject emails which happens all too much. Some opportunities are worth applying to but due to the volume of artists aiming for the same goals the field becomes saturated. A way to overcome this is to make sure we create opportunities for ourselves. Create our own projects, our own exhibitions, and our own research without waiting on bigger organisations to do this for you.
What do you want to change about your industry? Change the narrow-mindedness of galleries, museums, and collectors who work with the same makers over and over again. The ceramic art world still focuses heavily on traditional potters, those who passed away decades ago. There doesn't seem to be a gap, an interest, or funding to give contemporary ceramicists a platform to showcase their work. What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your field?
Say yes to everything. Learn as many techniques as you can. Don’t pigeonhole yourself by finding one thing that works and repeating it. There is so much to discover with all materials. Stay open, stay curious. A lot of opportunities I took part in at first were unpaid, mainly volunteering or working for artists for very little pay. I realise now that it's not acceptable to do long-term positions that are unpaid. Weighing up the distance to travel, and the people you'll meet it's up to you to decide which opportunities are worth doing to learn the most and connect with the right people. You may not be able to make a living from it immediately. Although I'm saying this as a practitioner who hasn't focused on sales of my work or the commercial impact. I have focused on the materiality of the material and how to expand it in my studio practice. It takes time and having jobs to survive is incredibly important so you can live a nice life without extreme struggle. It doesn't matter if those jobs are related to your practice or something like hospitality - if they pay you well then it's worth taking it to allow you to do what you want to do in your own time. Most importantly, create your own opportunities! If you go to university or you join groups near you, meet people who have the same interests and group together to make your own opportunities happen. Look out for funding opportunities too. There are so many and you can get funded for your studies, projects, or residencies that you want to participate in. A few that supported me are Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, South Square Trust, Artist Newsletter, Arts Council and there are many more.