My week at Caroline Gardner by Zoe Benjamin

29 August 2018

Swimming, ceramics and Stoke - discover what our design intern, Zoe, got up to while she was here and where her love of ceramics came from.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us how you ended up at Caroline Gardner?
Hey! I’m Zoe and I’m a ceramics graduate from Staffordshire University, I love chocolate, earl grey tea and swimming (I’m also a part-time swimming teacher). I’m from the South Coast but have been living in the Midlands in the pottery capital of the UK (Stoke on Trent) for the past three years. Earlier this year I entered a desk product into The Paper Library’s student stationery competition and won the Caroline Gardner brief so got to spend two wonderful weeks here! Massive shout out to the team for their welcoming nature, input and generous gifts!
What does a week in the life of Zoe look like?
A bit of everything! Teaching around 25 swimming lessons, swimming myself in a club, meeting up with ceramic manufacturers, designing, trying to make designs stack, reading, emerging from Pinterest rabbit holes...
How does swimming relate to design?
For me it actually doesn’t at all but I think it’s fab to have something which lets you ‘breathe’. There’s this concept in Sweden called ‘lagom’ and it’s about having just the right amount of everything - for me that needs to include swimming!
What is your favourite Caroline Gardner print?
For me it’s the outline heart print - I’ve been working with it a little bit in my time here and I absolutely adore it - with that splash of colour and quirky font I just want it everywhere!
                         

                                                                                   

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What have you been up to on your internship?
I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do a bit of everything during my time with Caroline Gardner. I’ve predominantly worked closely with the product design team however I have also had the opportunity to sit with members of each department (including buying, selling, cards and product) and take a look into what they do. It’s been fascinating to see within the department how the use of technology compliments more traditional techniques, for example using watercolour to generate a first pattern and then to manipulate it using photoshop.

I also had the chance to visit their shop in Marylebone and help to create a new window display - do take a look if you find yourself in the area. This formulates an interesting part of the design process, considering how something will look in retail.
Anyone that knows me knows that I love details and especially hidden details in design, it’s something that attracts me to the Caroline Gardner products, so getting to be a part of that has been really exciting - and learning from Caroline’s approach to colour which is both fresh and distinctive.


You talk about designing pieces for the desk, what does your desk look like?
I have an old fashioned school style desk, the kind with lids that you can lift to put things in, the original wood has remained on the top but I’ve stripped and painted the legs in a charcoal grey. The inside is a bright green, the kind of colour you have to adjust your eyes to. As for the state of my desk this is the part where I’m actually very hypocritical - I design this beautifully sleek, minimalist collection of objects for the desk and mine is an absolute mess, for instance right now on my desk is a stripey t-shirt, a sachet of hot chocolate and a golden syrup tin. I call myself an aspiring minimalist and I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to be really clean and focussed when the reality is a far cry from it.

Can you tell us how you came to study ceramic design?
This is an interesting story! I’ve always had a passion for design and then about seven years ago I did a throwing course. I’m sure if you’re anything like me you go in with ‘Ghost’ level expectations but the reality is a little different and needless to say I was terrible at it. Although somehow I managed to come away from it with a usable bowl and cup (thanks to the instructor I suspect). Centring clay is MUCH harder than it looks. From there it was very much material driven and looking for ways to use clay. Then very coincidentally visiting family in the midlands and my cousin breaking her ankle we ended up doing the Emma Bridgewater factory tour. I knew from that moment this was what I wanted to do, so looked into ceramic degrees and the rest is history.

Why Stoke?
That famous question, for anyone not living in stoke “Why Stoke?” why move more than 200 miles there. For those that don’t know, Stoke on Trent once had a thriving, internationally renowned, pottery industry. Going back a generation or two almost everyone living there worked or knew someone who worked for the potteries. In the heyday of the pottery era there were apparently around 4000 bottle kilns in the area but now only 42 remain (one of my aims is to find them all!). Studying in Stoke you get to see glimpses of this heritage and what is being done to reinstate the industry in Stoke. Although unusual, Stoke is a historic and privileged place to learn about ceramics - and seeing the Wedgwood archives is definitely up there with highlights.
What does the future hold for you?
I’m taking the plunge and setting up my business - looking to produce more stationery and desk products alongside some swimming teaching. You can find out more about me from my website www.zoebenjamindesign.co.uk
About Caroline Gardner

Caroline Gardner is best known as one of the UK's leading and most prolific accessory, gift and stationery designers.

Her distinctive designs now stretch across various product categories, including paper, accessories and lifestyle, all linked by her design hand print of quirky use of colour and placement.

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