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Capturing the infinite and complex beauty of nature with porcelain

Photographic portrait of Hitomi Hosono
Hitomi Hosono
Hitomi Hosono’s (MA Ceramics & Glass, 2009) ceramics are inspired by her encounters with nature in London, as well as memories from her home country, Japan. They have been collected by various institutions including the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and she recently created a range of bespoke homeware in collaboration with Wedgwood

Hitomi was born in Gifu Prefecture where pottery is historically one of the major industries. She studied Japanese contemporary ceramics as well as traditional Kutani overglaze painting in Japan, before spending a year in Copenhagen, where she studied ceramics product design. Her work is influenced by this training in traditional Japanese ceramics as well as European techniques, which she discovered and perfected at the RCA.

My professional life in the UK was helped hugely by the staff, network and friends I made at the RCA.
Hitomi Hosono

A porcelain sculpture featuring intricate daisy and feather sprigs
A Mugiwara-giku, English Daisy and Feather Leaves Vase, Hitomi Hosono 2019
Moulded, carved and hand-built porcelain with an interior of dancing sprigs
height 26cm, diameter 23cm
What are the inspirations and influences behind your work?

In nature, beauty arises from the earth; in my work, I try to bring plant forms to life from clay, which is earth itself. I do not try to improve upon nature, that cannot be done. Instead I try to find the essence of what makes leaves and flowers beautiful and transfer this infinite and complex beauty into my ceramic work. 

Your work is extremely detailed, delicate and beautiful. Could you explain some of the techniques and processes behind how you make it?

My technique was initially inspired by Wedgwood’s Jasperware, pioneered by Josiah Wedgwood over 200 years ago, in which thin ceramic reliefs or ‘sprigs’ are applied as surface decoration to a piece. 

First, I design a leaf or flower sprig by studying botanical forms. Then I make a master model with clay, from which I make negative plaster moulds to produce the sprigs in porcelain. After press-moulding many sprigs, I carefully and patiently carve each one to create finer details. For my sculptural pieces, I apply them in layers onto a form thrown on a potter’s wheel. I apply the leaves so densely that the underlying shape is often entirely hidden, like the multitude of green leaves which obscure the branches of a tree.

a white porcelain box with gold leaf interior
A Square Michikusa Box, Hitomi Hosono 2019
Moulded, carved and hand-built porcelain with yellow gold leaf interior
height 9.5, width 11, depth 10 cm
In another strand of my work, I apply leaf and flower sprigs onto small ceramic boxes, enveloping the practical shapes in these natural forms. A hand size box might take a few months to make, but a very large piece would take more than a year, mainly because of the long drying process. 

What do you like about working with porcelain?

I love the feeling of porcelain – it is smooth, gentle, soft, but chilled like petals in the early morning. And I like porcelain because I can freely make organic forms. For me, it is a magical material. As I work with porcelain, more ideas come. It guides me to develop my obscure initial idea in my head to something more tangible. 

By touching porcelain clay, my memory of nature comes back through my hands, which was abstract and uncertain when it was in my brain. Kneading, brushing, patting, I do many things until the shape emerges from the porcelain clay, which matches my tactile memory of the plant. 

Photographic portrait of Hitomi Hosono with one of her sculptures
Hitomi Hosono
Why did you choose to study at the RCA?

I really enjoyed studying at Danmarks Designskole in Copenhagen, Denmark, as a guest student, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people from many different countries. I discovered that studying overseas is such a joy. However, it was only one year and I wished to continue studying in Europe. My tutor recommended the Ceramics & Glass course at the RCA. 

We were given opportunities to get to know other fields across the College. It nurtured my eyes to see my own field of ceramics objectively from a new point of view.
Hitomi Hosono

A hand holding a porcelain box
Wedgwood Sprig Box, Hitomi Hosono
How did your time at the RCA help develop your career in ceramics?

My professional life in the UK was helped hugely by the staff, network and friends I made at the RCA. I learned so much about how to talk about my work, where to show it, where to find a studio, where to get materials and equipment or technical help. 

There were often lectures, group discussions and critiques that were material-wide, programme-wide, or College-wide. We were given opportunities to get to know other fields across the College, for example, architecture, science, industrial design and more. It nurtured my eyes to see my own field of ceramics objectively from a new point of view.

The Ceramics & Glass tutors are well connected and invited a variety of ceramics artists and designers to speak, which gave me an idea of the kind of ceramic artist or designer I wanted to be after graduation. They also brought many great projects and opportunities, including projects with Sir John Soane’s Museum and Waddesdon Manor.

While at the RCA you did an internship with Wedgwood. What impact has this experience had on your career and practice?

The work placement I did with Wedgwood at Stoke-on-Trent was a very precious experience. Before coming to the RCA, I didn’t think it would be possible to work with such a world-known ceramics manufacturer, so it was truly my dream come true. My experience working at Wedgwood inspired my current porcelain work and it led to me working with them for a new project in 2017.

A porcelain box with a lid, made from Wedgwood sprigs
Wedgwood Sprigs Box, Hitomi Hosono

What was it like making a collection with Wedgwood?

Wedgwood production cannot be done by an automated process and is heavily reliant on incredible hand-skills. This is something I knew from the work placement I did in 2009, but as I worked very closely with Wedgwood’s artisans and designers again for this collaboration, I realised how amazingly high their handcrafting skills and knowledge is.The craftsmen were so open to new ideas and the person in charge of each process had so much knowledge and ability that they always found a solution and way forward.

Find out more about MA Ceramics & Glass at the RCA, and how to apply.