10 Minutes with Artist Hilary Duncan

21st May · Dawn Hawkins

After graduating from Gray’s School of Art in 3D Design in 2009, Hilary set up her studio in Blackhall forest, just outside Banchory, and continues to make handbuilt ceramics inspired by the natural environment.

After graduating from Gray’s School of Art in 3D Design in 2009, Hilary set up her studio in Blackhall forest, just outside Banchory, and continues to make hand built ceramics inspired by the natural environment. She works with different coloured clays, and decorates her work with coloured slips and screen prints made from her drawings.

Hilary has been involved in many community projects, collaborating with other artists in River of Fish in 2015 and Wattle and Daub in 2017. She teaches classes from her studio and in schools, and was a lecturer on the Gray’s Short Course programme in Aberdeen. Her work is shown in galleries around NE Scotland, and she opens her studio each year for the North East Open Studios.

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Hilary Duncan

What are you working on at the moment?

I have just completed a collection of small vessels to go in an old glass-fronted key cabinet. I made 5 pots a day until I had about 60, made from clays of different colour and texture. Decorating so many at once was a treat.

Another ongoing project is to make some large standing stones celebrating our relationship with the natural world – inspired by the Mesopotamian boundary stones which outlined contracts between landowners and tenants. I’ve been experimenting with some new techniques for transferring drawings onto clay – carving into plaster, cutting stencils and making printing screens in the studio.

What is your earliest memory of art?

I always drew when I was young – my Dad was a surveyor, and used to bring home the old Bills of Quantities so we had an endless supply of paper. But my greatest memory of an early art experience was seeing the Tutankhamun exhibition at the British Museum in 1972. We queued for hours, but it was worth every second to see the wealth of treasure – the skill of the unknown makers, the qualities of the materials and the insight into the young king’s life through art has stayed with me forever.

What work of art do you wish you created?

Tricky question one. I think I’d like to have been behind the Bayeux Tapestry. I love that it’s a collective work, the illustrations, the stitch, the colour, the quirky narrative and the visible hands of the makers.

What elements of your work connect with / are inspired by nature and the environment?

What does ‘nature’ mean in your day-to-day life?

Do you mind if I answer these questions together? We live between forest and river, so nature, the natural world and environmental conscience are a part of my everyday thinking and my way of life – and it totally influences my work. We grow our own food, we plant to encourage wildlife, we forage, we walk and cycle from the house and we enjoy and respect our natural environment. I observe and draw plants, birds, patterns and colours in the landscape, and I bring all these into my ceramics practice.

How do you know when a work is finished?

I think this is easier with ceramics than painting as there’s a natural process as the clay dries, so I have to plan ahead. I take great care to give finesse to the form and to finish the edges before the clay is too dry to move, prints have to be transferred while the surface will still accept moisture, and sgraffito marks are best made when the clay is almost dry.

It doesn’t always go entirely to plan as the kiln has the final say anyway!

What music do you play in your studio?

I sometimes listen to radio, but if I’m distracted and finding it hard to commit to making I choose a well-read audiobook. Listening to the story helps to keep me in the studio while I become engrossed in my work.

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