A Day With Hallmark Creative

Yesterday we were treated to a day working with the very talented Rebecca from the @sunkenstudioleeds in Leeds. A day just to get the creative juices flowing and enjoying learning something new. Thank you Rebecca for the most fabulous day. Our designers and illustrators loved working with you.


In July Hallmark Cards invited me to The Greenhouse at Bradford College, School of Art to host a professional development workshop with their creative teams. Hallmark is one of the country’s leading design studios, employing over 70 designers, editors and photographers in its Bradford based headquarters. The Greenhouse is a creative space within Bradford College. Its purpose is to provide students with opportunities to learn from industry experts; and Hallmark’s designers a space to be creative and explore new print and design techniques.


Best workshop ever! What a treat for us! Thank you so much we all learnt so much.

Kate Van Spall

I was welcomed to the space by ten senior and junior creatives spanning a range of specialisations: designers, trend forecasters, illustrators and brand designers.

The workshop aimed to provide designers with an insight into decorative techniques on clay. It covered sgraffito, incising, stencils, slip trailing, and painting with underglazes and slips. There were no expectations about what should happen. They were just encouraged to play. Great!

Many of the designers work predominantly on screens and found it refreshing to be reminded of material characteristics and the skills needed to control physical things. Touch and texture are so embroiled in ceramic production and use. You can’t ignore its nature. It’s tactile, always and overtly so.

I wondered if a house style would become apparent. It didn’t. Hallmark’s trend forecasters had prepared mood boards but responses varied massively across the group. It was really exciting to observe the speed at which they responded to the brief and to witness new approaches to combining techniques.

Working with clay is a slow process and I’m reflective and introspective – this is code for ‘everything takes ages and I can be slow to respond’. I’ve always been envious of the designers I know. Their ability to think quickly and see it through within a short timescale is a bit of an illusive attribute to me. Craft practices tend to involve getting to know one tiny bit of something massive and developing a deep understanding of that tiny bit – which can also be massive. It takes ages and can be really inefficient. One of my interests is trying to make processes more efficient, albeit in an eccentric manner (I’m doomed!). I guess that’s a key difference between design and craft. Design is agile, craft is often not – that’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just different. The amount of kit and paraphernalia in a ceramics studio sums-up its cumbersome, attention demanding sluggishness nicely. In spite of that, I still love it and enjoy sharing why I care with other people.


Much of what I do for workshops happens before and after the sessions – all that slow stuff that I alluded to earlier. Many of the decorative techniques we explore involve using leatherhard or dryish clay. The tiles and test tiles are prepared in advance to free the designers from wrestling technical issues related to clay that’s too wet or too dry. They focus on the creative stuff and play to their strengths.

Removing performance pressures and technical challenges meant this workshop played to team’s strengths and what they enjoy. I think it’s important to make space for colleagues to connect. I think it helps foster constructive cultures. Some of my most memorable team building experiences were when we could just be – the qualitative stuff that nurtures.

I setup Sunken Studio as I’d started to find myself in a permanent state of malaise at work and at home. It became apparent that I needed to take control and do something that I love and that challenged me. I wanted to share my specialism and experiences and thought that providing opportunities to encounter clay in new ways was a good place to start. It’s easy to underestimated quite how generous people are when they are engaged, encouraged and supported. This was a very invested team of some truly delightful people. It’s always a pleasure to facilitate making and lovely watching when people enjoy it and run with it.

Thank you!


For more images visit Hallmark Creative.

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Sunken Studio is delighted to offer ceramics taster days and short courses led by a skilled practitioner and experienced, fully qualified, tutor. Hands-on sessions provide insight into a selection of techniques and processes and are designed to introduce beginners and enhancers to advanced working methods and practices. The studio can accommodate groups of 3-4 people – perfect for anyone wanting a relaxed and instructive experience.