Meet the maker: Dantes Ceramics
From potters and painters to stylists and chefs, Essex is awash with creative talent and in this new culture series, we meet the skilled artisans who deserve championing. First up: Isabelle Taylor-Jones of Dantes Ceramics in Wivenhoe
In 2018, after close friends encouraged her to start selling her Scandi-style ceramic wares, Isabelle Taylor-Jones set up a small pottery studio in her home in Wivenhoe. She named it Dantes, which means ‘giving’ in Latin and emulates the ethos of the brand: simple, tactile pieces that people could enjoy in their everyday lives.
Fast forward to 2020 and Dantes Ceramics has become a powerhouse pottery studio for influencers, stylists, photographers and interior enthusiasts alike. Her signature understated style has spawned a loyal client base and active social following. And her handmade pieces – from ceramic coffee filters and simple white water tumblers to speckled pitchers and graphite bowls – are guaranteed sell-outs.
So, where did it all go right? Isabelle talks us through the highs so far…
I love the creative freedom I have working with clay. I am continually discovering new and exciting results, as well as too many disasters to mention! I put all my energy and passion into every piece I create, combining beauty with function.
The business has only been running for two years, but you’ve already bagged some impressive clients…
My most memorable career high to date is the collection I created for the German duo food stylists Nora Eisermann and Laura Muthesius of Our Food Stories. It was a true honour to have my work styled and shot in Berlin by this talented team.
What are you working on at the moment?
A new range for autumn. I always tend to work a season ahead; handmade ceramics is a very slow process and collections can take months from start to finish.
Name your dream project
I always find this question particularly hard to answer, as there are so many brilliant creative people I would like to collaborate with. I have to say the ultimate dream would be Yotam Ottolenghi. He’s so passionate about what he does – I’d love my ceramics to be featured in one of his recipe books.
What does an average day look like?
A regular day starts at 6:30am, before everyone else is awake. I use this first hour to catch up on emails, check through orders, answer social media messages and plan my studio time. Most of my business comes through Instagram food and style influencers, so it’s vital I keep in touch. After I’ve packed the children off to school, my working day begins in the studio. I like to wedge clay and throw on the wheel for the best part of the morning. My concentration levels are sharp at this hour, although that is probably due to copious amounts of coffee! Afternoons are better suited for less focused jobs, such as turning bases, attaching handles, and packing orders. The kiln is loaded twice a week for an eight-hour firing. I don’t usually break for lunch but I’ll grab a snack after I’ve collected the kids from school. Then family life takes precedence for the rest of the evening.
Let’s talk lockdown…
Like for so many of us, lockdown came as a complete shock. I suddenly had all four children at home, with the two youngest needing help with schooling, and my husband also working full-time from home. My pottery studio is at the front of the house so I felt like my creative space had been invaded. I’m a workaholic so slowing down filled me with anxiety initially. Once I’d put everything into perspective though, I learned to embrace a slower pace of life. Being creative with my kids, whether that be with paint, clay or the sewing machine has been hugely rewarding. Yes, we’ve yelled and screamed at each other, but we’ve also become closer as a result.
How have your shopping habits changed?
My good friend, Kay [Prestney, founder of Kinship Creative Design Consultancy] has opened my eyes to sustainable living, so I’m choosing to purchase second-hand and reclaimed items from local salvage yards and auctions more. My favourite auction house is Reeman Dansie in Colchester, which is great for fine art and antiques.
Have you discovered any new go-tos as a result of lockdown?
I’ve always tried to shop as locally as possible, but I’ve started using our fishmonger, The Wivenhoe Fish Company, who is now selling to the public from his home in Ernest Road. We’ve been enjoying local shellfish, oysters and wild sea bass. I recently checked out the Vietnamese restaurant Bambu in Colchester, too, which delivers amazing freshly cooked takeaways. I’m loving its Summer Rolls and the aubergine and pork main.
What do you love about living and working in Wivenhoe?
Wivenhoe is surprisingly metropolitan and liberal, partly due to its close proximity to University of Essex and the diverse cultural mix of nationalities and students. Its bohemian mix of artists and academics really add to the town’s colourful setting.
OK, quick-fire round: best local bakery?
On Fridays I always look forward to collecting freshly baked sourdough from SuzyShack. Sue makes the most amazing artisan breads, pickles and preserves.
We’re spoilt for choice with local woodlands and the tidal River Colne. I love an evening stroll catching the last of the daylight along the sea wall, where you can sometimes spot the occasional cormorant or egret.
After a long windswept beach walk, I love visiting The Alma Inn in Harwich for a delicious lunch. It serves up locally caught fish and game in a great sailor’s pub setting.
The Wivenhoe Bookshop is a wonderful institution. Not only does it offer its own collection of diverse literature, but it also supports local music, art, and theatre groups, and hosts book clubs and knitting groups too. It’s the sort of stalwart every community needs. As life returns to normal, I hope we’ll all start to appreciative and support the independent makers and craftspeople on our doorstep that little bit more.
To shop Dantes Ceramics, head to danteceramics.com or contact Isabelle via the website to view her Wivenhoe studio space.