February 06, 2019
Life all got rather hectic around Christmas and I was really busy with the gallery, I let my weekly insights into my wonderful artists slip. Don't panic though I'm back with some fantastic stories and career paths up my sleeve.
Starting off 2019 we share the story of Diana Tonnison, Diana has been with the gallery since we started 5 years ago and is an absolute pleasure to work with. Her stunning ceramic boxes make the perfect addition to every kitchen and have proved a huge hit among our clients. We currently have a lovely selection of her work in stock, each one is completely unique so don't hang back if you'd love one.
I'll hand over to the lovely Diana here and you can read my chat with Diana about what makes her tick and how her career has shaped the artist she is today.
I started my career in the fashion industry leaving St Martins in the 1970’s, career took me to working in Italy, London, New York and Hong Kong. I was a fashion and textile designer mainly designing knitwear.My early career took me to working with two of the top colourists Missoni in Italy and Kaffe Fassett in London with Bill Gibb. My love for colour, texture and pattern is still inherent in my ceramic work today!
My ceramics are all handmade, each piece will be unique even though I am asked to make another one. I have a lovely gentleman in the village who makes my wood boxes for me. I then stain them and lime wax to give a slightly distressed weathered look. Reminds me of years ago when all fruit fish and veg boxes were wood not plastic!
After a long career in fashion, then interior design, and finally as a lecturer in Fashion and Textiles, I decided I needed a mid-life gap year! I spent a year travelling quite a lot to India, Mozambique, around Mediterranean deciding what I’d like to do, textile design, painting or developing more professionally my hobby doing ceramics. I bought my first kiln and had lots of interest in my work so it was the ceramics that won! After two years developing my work and travelling for inspiration, I had my first solo exhibition in November 2007.
After 10 years building it up and finding my own style and type of work I finally felt that I had made it, firstly selling to Liberty of London (my most favourite shop since I was a student in London) for two seasons and then winning the Gold Award for Ceramics from Craft&Design Magazine in 2016. Since then I have work scattered around various countries from America to Australia and several well-known people have bought it, but I can’t say who or they will kill me - as the saying goes!!
The early years I found it very disappointing setting up my stand at various fairs all enthusiastic and having very few sales that never covered my costs. Other low points were when things didn’t come out in the kiln or warped and cracked, but that was learning processes which only came with experience. Marketing my work, understanding who buys my work and pricing it properly, and doing the business side and computer work is a thumbs down activity for me and I’ve had to learn such a lot!
Bucks Open Studios was also good to get to meet people and see what was selling and learning from comments and what they bought. However it still took me a long time to develop my style of work and subject matter. I have always loved local produce markets, and flea markets whether in this country or abroad on my travels. So I began to make work which was about simple things in life and straight forward, nothing complicated but especially about what excites me! This is when I started to make my Fish, Fruit and Veg Market boxes – simple boxes of Mackerel, Carrots or Tomatoes and the rest…
I managed to get selected for a small Associate stand at Oxford Ceramics fair and I was spotted by a gallery in Henley on Thames, The Barn Galleries. They invited me to join their exhibition the following May. I came to pick up my work after the exhibition, bringing as many boxes as I had taken … then I saw my work on the wall with red dots everywhere - I couldn’t believe my eyes! Plus I had several commissions to make more! At this exhibition I was spotted by another gallery in Sussex, who since 2012 have been selling my work in their exhibitions every year with a few exhibition sell outs!
It’s hard for me to say what makes me different, as I think that should be for another person to observe, but from the comments I hear I think my work is interesting because the ceramic pieces are more of a painting subject matter in character but I just happen to use 3D ceramic sculpture in handmade wood box frames. I use my glazes in a painterly manner, making up my own colours and variety of different firing techniques are often included in one piece. People often say they are unusual too. I think my work also brings back memories of holidays or their own travels in various countries. Another comment is that they always find my work colourful – colour has always been important to me as it brightens your life with happy feelings!
I love new challenges, I love learning new techniques, I love seeing art exhibitions and visiting museums. My work is all about people, my market boxes are really about markets with bustling chattering people going about their daily life wherever that may be. I love seeing colour combinations, pattern and artefacts from years ago, imagining the people who made it and what their life was like. It’s from this that my passion comes to try an capture it in something I’ve made.
You can buy Diana Tonnison's original ceramic artwork here
Photo Credits to
John Credland / Binky Nixon / Golden Hare's own
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