Kathleen Davis – Ceramist from nearby Inishnee

I wrote this article about a good friend of mine who lives in Connemara and I’d like to include it here on my blog. You can also read this feature in the June edition of the Connemara Journal.



Kathleen Davis is a native of Inishnee, a small island across the bay from Roundstone. She is the artist and businesswoman behind the ‘Little Handmade Button Company,’ which operates in the village of Recess in Connemara.

Kathleen believes she inherited her love of craft from her parents – her father Pat Davis is a respected traditional Irish boat builder and her mother Bridie is a farmer and a community activist who inspired Kathleen with her strong work ethic.

Kathleen discovered clay at an early age while visiting local Roundstone potters Rose O’Toole and Seamus Laffin. She went on to study ceramics at the Limerick College of Art but returned to Connemara shortly afterwards, a place which she describes as part of being, the source of her artistic inspiration and her happiness.

The Button Company is designed to fit around family life – Kathleen lives and works in Recess with her husband Mark Joyce and their two young daughters Sadie and Alice. Kathleen goes to work each day in her studio which is located on the first floor of their family run craft shop ( Joyce’s of Recess ) where each button is carefully formed and glazed by hand. The buttons are transported on shelves which are slotted straight into the kiln in a nearby building.


Kathleen in her studio

Kathleen’s studio in Recess



Unpacking the kiln

Unpacking the kiln



Kathleen uses high fired stoneware and some porcelain and coloured clays. The button range is available in a choice of colours and there are also mixed packs in different colours and shapes. The buttons are packaged on site and sold in the craft shop downstairs. The business is small and perfectly formed and is ideal for expansion as family life permits. Kathleen combines her Connemara collection with a number of bespoke buttons which she makes for Irish knitwear designers – ‘The combination is satisfying and manageable with a young and busy household’ she explains.


Close up of buttons

Close up of buttons



When I ask Kathleen about artists she admires, she mentions Galway ceramist Katherine West and sculptor Dorothy Cross as well as Belfast born John Kindness and his use of greek imagery on industrial objects. Kathleen collects art books of all kinds and she likes to display an open book in her hallway for inspiration and as a conversation piece with her girls. I ask Kathleen what is the best advice she has been given as an artist and she tells me that she was once urged not to leave it any longer than three months without creating something, because we must ‘fan the flames of creativity in order for it to flourish.’  I ask what advice Kathleen might give to an aspiring artist and she replies ‘work as consistently as possible and enjoy it!’

You can purchase Kathleen’s buttons at Joyces Craft shop in Recess and you can contact The Button Company at 095-34604

My Life as a Potter

I have mentioned my work as a potter in this blog and so I’ve attempted to illustrate my potting life more clearly here in order to show how my pots and paintings might relate to each other.

I learnt about Raku while studying ceramics in N.C.A.D.  I also spent a few months in the south of France as a student with a group of artists who specialised in this technique. Raku is an ancient Eastern method of firing clay whereby the glazed bisque pots are heated up very quickly, removed from the kiln while hot with long tongs and reduced in bins of sawdust. The latter half of the process is in fact a Western adaptation which was pioneered by a group of American potters in the 1960’s. This dramatic process is very exciting and produces lustrous metallic glazes with crackled surfaces. I used the technique for my degree show in 1991. Here are some examples of the things I was making then.


Photograph of raku pot by Deborah Watkins





Raku pot by Deborah Watkins




These pots were thrown on the wheel and altered from the inside while still wet. I remember seeing an ancient Roman pot that had been decorated by finger marks made from the inside and this was a revelation to me. I became interested in the notion of clay as a skin with some kind of bone-like structure behind it. I drew lots of animal skeletons in the Natural History Museum and I also looked at plants and seed pods for inspiration.


Photograph of raku pot by Deborah Watkins




These little tea bowls (below) were an homage to the ancient Japenese form of the technique.


Raku tea bowls by Deborah Watkins




The next few images are of me practising raku in Dublin in the 1990’s. The first one shows the kiln loaded with some pots and ready for firing.


Photograph of kiln loaded with pots and ready for firing




This is me taking a pot out of the kiln with a long pole. I also used a tongs but I was able to hook some shapes from the inside with this rod, which avoided marking the outside of the piece.


Photograph of Deborah removing molten pot from the kiln





Close up of pot being removed from the kiln




The next photograph shows the reduction process in action – I always worked with another person for safety. I used dustbins filled with sawdust and wood shavings which ignited when the molten piece came in to contact with them. More sawdust was poured on before the bin was sealed with a lid and some wet paper. The pots were allowed  to smoke for a couple of hours before they were taken out and cleaned. The reduction takes place because the chamber is starved of oxygen and so the oxides are drawn out from the metal oxides present in the glaze. This is what produces the metallic effects – copper oxide produces a copper glaze here where it would produce a green glaze in an atmosphere with oxygen present.


Photograph of the reduction process




I set up my own pottery studio in Clifden in 1997 and made raku pots for just over three years. I learnt how to work on my own and I had a shed and a small outdoor space as well as a workshop where I prepared the clay and made large vessels on the potters wheel.

I made purer shapes – spheres and ovoids with narrow openings. I used copper and cobalt oxides in my glazes to produce the blues, greens and metallics that I liked. Here are some examples below.


Photograph of raku sphere by Deborah Watkins




Photo of eggs shaped raku pots by Deborah Watkins




The next pair (below) are simple figurative pots – parent and child.


Raku pots by Deborah Watkins





Here is a close-up of the glazed surface (below).  I still love these rich lustrous colours as you can see in some of my paintings. I identify them with the precious and the magical which is an association I like to make with nature in my paintings.


Close-up of raku pot by Deborah Watkins

Favourite Blog

'I Love Blog' image


I have taken this idea from Elettrarossa, a follower of this blog, a jeweler, creative person, ‘Etsian’ and blogger herself. The idea is to promote blogs with less than 200 followers and spread the word!

It has not been an easy task but here are my top five – click on the titles to go straight to these blogs.

1. Geninne’s Art Blog

I discovered this blog recently and enjoy reading about Geninne’s latest projects and also her inspiration, which is drawn from her surroundings in Sunny Mexico. The sunlight and colour that breathe through her photographs and imagery make me want to visit this beautiful country.


Art by Geninne



2. Catherine Ryan Paintings

I met Catherine several times before I discovered that she is a fellow blogger. She spent some time here in Clifden with a mutual friend and taught a series of very successful art classes to local children, mine among them! Catherine also exhibited her paintings while she was in Clifden and we are now the proud owners of two of her wonderful pieces which we all enjoy very much. I am delighted to follow Catherine’s blog and would recommend it to anyone interested in contemporary Irish Art.


Canvas: Jackpot Jesus, by Catherine Ryan



3. Koukla House

This blog is written by my sister in law who is living in Brisbane, Australia. It is about her latest project which is the furnishing and decoration of her new house. Tina is Greek Australian and she has taken the Greek word ‘Koukla’ or pretty thing as a goal for her new home. Following Tina’s blog is a way of staying in touch with family and I find her journey an interesting one as a keen home maker myself. Plus we girls like to support each other!


Photograph by Tina



4. Vitrified Studio Work

I have just discovered this blog through etsy.com. Shelley Martin is the artist/potter and she was the featured seller on etsy’s front page recently which is how I connected with her blog. I love her simple clean style and the purity of her work. It is a great pleasure for me to read about a potter’s life as I too made pots for many years.


Pottery by Shelley Martin



5. Bridget Farmer

This is another beautiful blog that I have stumbled upon. Bridget is an artist/printmaker who is originally from Northern Ireland but now lives near Melbourne in Australia. I admire her blog for it’s style and the interesting way that she talks about her processes. I especially like her bird prints and the way that she uses line in such a loose and expressive way.


Prints by Bridget Farmer



So, that’s my list. I hope you enjoy it and thanks again to Elettrarossa for sharing the idea and also for her support. Now it’s over to you to play the game if you like. Just download the banner, nominate your own top five bloggers (with under 200 followers) and notify them of their inclusion in your list via a comment in their blog.