Creative Conversations: Plum Guide Meets Polly Fern

Illustrator and ceramicist, Polly tells us about the historic inspiration behind her collection, where she considers to be home away from home and why creative collaborations are so important


Polly Fern – artist, illustrator and ceramicist

In this week's Creative Conversation, we sit down with artist, illustrator and ceramicist, Polly Fern to find out more about Polly's artistic process, how her two lovely whippets make a house a home and why hosts who go the extra mile are essential for the perfect stay.

What do you love most about what you do?

I love having the opportunity to work on something different everyday. One day I might be illustrating a book, the next I could be spending a day in my ceramic studio, or working on something completely different – painting a mural, or designing some products such as the lampshades and wallpapers that I sell in my online shop.

Some of the lampshades in Polly's homeware collection

Some of the lampshades in Polly's homeware collection

From where do you draw inspiration?

Inspiration comes from so many different areas. My background is in illustration, therefore I love discovering stories, particularly ones that are rooted in local history. When I’m not creating my work, I will be antiquing. I love antique 18th and 19th century ceramics such as Lustreware and Pearlware pieces. I find the techniques and the imagery featured upon these ceramics very much influence the pieces I create today. However, I draw inspiration for my collections from many different types of ceramics. I’m often thinking back to my childhood and the Norfolk landscape in which I grew up. My whippets are often making their way into my work as they are a huge part of my life and character. I kept canary birds for many years, so these can often be spotted amongst my ceramics. Lots of antique objects I come across may find their way into my work, whether it is a detail on an arts and crafts wooden chair, or the shape of a tea caddy, there is always something interesting in the way it has been put together or the type of decoration that has been used.

How has your artistic process evolved since you first started your journey into ceramics?

It took me a lot of years to refine my illustrating style, and even longer to work out my process in ceramics. However, I feel like this is something that will constantly develop and evolve throughout my life and as I discover new techniques and continue to be inspired by ceramics of the past. I started off developing a technique I called my 'Paper Cut Resist' collages, where I would cut out these intricate characters and scenes from newspaper using a scalpel blade. I would then collage them upon the clay vessel and paint over top with some slip. These were then peeled away to reveal the ‘resist’ characters and illustrated scenes. My work currently is all tin-glazed earthenware pieces. It mainly consists of my ‘Romantic Vases’ and platters which I create and hand build from slabs of clay. They are all dipped in a tin glaze and painted with underglazes and oxides. It can be quite tricky painting upon glaze in this way, but I just love that freedom of painting and not being able to erase any mistakes or hiccups that may have happened. They truly are one-of-a-kind pieces!

How would you describe your own interior style?

I think it is quite eclectic, I try to have fun with it and not take it too seriously. I want to feel inspired when in my home, so I have a lot of ceramics, books and antiques everywhere. I am very much inspired by other artists' homes, and homes that are very much ‘lived in’. There is nothing better than seeing an artist's work reflected throughout their home, and I find myself doing this in my own. Some of my favourites have to be the homes of Nathalie Lété, Mark Hearld, along with those of antique dealers and collectors, such as Jack Laver Brister and Julie Miles.

I am always trying to think of ways to decorate or create something myself. My dad and I designed and created my kitchen together. I also created some tile murals for the kitchen walls, and some little motif tiles which tell a story of the market town we live in. When Richard and I first moved into our home I was without a ceramic studio, so we decided to build one in the garden. It took many months and lots of help from friends and family to finish the build. But it was such an achievement once it was completed. I love working in there and feel very lucky to have a space to work in which is separate from my house! When I moved into my home, I starting looking for materials to decorate with such as wallpapers and fabrics, but I struggled to find exactly what I wanted. So I started to design my own pieces, beginning with my wallpaper. I had a very particular design in mind for my landing, which was large-scaled diamond shapes with bunches of painted tulips inside. I received so many enquires once I posted the papered landing on my Instagram, so I then decided to produce and sell the wallpaper exclusively in my online shop. I have also designed a collection of illustrated lampshades.

Polly likes to have fun with her interiors and feel inspired by her surroundings at home

Polly likes to have fun with her interiors and feel inspired by her surroundings at home

What would be your dream project to work on?

One of my favourite projects has been a collaboration I worked on with my friend Becca Hulbert – we created a one-of-a-kind collection of fine ceramic jewellery. I created these small ceramic cameo type pieces, and then Becca made them into jewellery. I find it very rewarding creating and designing new ideas and products, so I would love to continue collaborating with other artists and makers to create new and unique collections using traditional crafts.

Tell us the story behind a favourite item in your home

We have an armchair that we call ‘Edgar's armchair’ as he would always stand on it when he was a puppy to snoop outside the window at passers by. We got it recovered in a discontinued Colefax and Fowler design called ‘Ellingham’. It is quite a statement piece with big scroll arms and upholstered wings. Someone once said it reminded them of the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland. It is a piece we will cherish forever.

What makes a house a home, to you?

My dogs Edgar and Cedric, it wouldn’t be home without them both!

Polly's wonderful dogs – Edgar and Cedric

Polly's wonderful dogs – Edgar and Cedric

Where is your home away from home?

That would be my mum's home. We actually lived with her for 6 months at the start of this year whilst we were renovating our home.

Who or what do you consider to be an arbiter of style?

I always love seeing pictures of the late Valerie Finnis, who was a gardener and photographer. I love her chic garden style, and how she was always with her dogs and gardening in a wonderful hat!

For the Plum Guide ‘Perfect Stay’ home test, we collaborate with experts from different fields — from psychologists and hospitality experts to architects and interior designers — to identify the ingredients a holiday home needs in order to deliver a perfect stay. If you were designing a test or set of criteria for the perfect holiday home, what ingredient(s) would you specify as essential for the perfect stay?

I love staying in places that have great decor. Usually for me it's cosy homes away from home that I enjoy staying in the most. They must be dog-friendly, too. I recently stayed somewhere which has become my most favourite place to stay, it was a cosy and untouched proper little pub with a B&B. They were so accommodating and attentive and the breakfast was amazing. It will be somewhere I stay every year. I love visiting somewhere where the host is so friendly that it almost makes you want to visit again just to see them! I once stayed at a beautiful olive farm in Sicily. The family who hosted us were so welcoming, and took us in as though we were a part of their family and cooked us an amazing meal. It's things like this that make the big difference for me.

Polly loves to stay in cosy homes away from home, with friendly hosts who go the extra mile

Polly loves to stay in cosy homes away from home, with friendly hosts who go the extra mile

To find out more about Polly and her works, head to her website or follow Polly on Instagram.

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