Jinny Ngui is a freelance product designer based in East London who graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2005 with a degree in ceramic design. Having freelanced for high street brands and luxury labels over the past seven years, Jinny started to miss the hands on element of making ceramics and bought herself a kiln so she could produce her own ceramic tableware, which she sells online, at markets and craft fairs. She uses patterns, bold graphics and colour in her work, drawing inspiration from nature, galleries, museums, architecture and the rich cultural mix of London.
“…Traffic to my shop doubled with some simple changes and understanding how search engines work…”
Jinny – your work is beautiful. Please can you tell us what first got you interested in ceramics and how you ended up producing your own designs?
Thank you for your kind words. I have always had an interest in art and craft. I was very fortunate to have amazing art departments during my GCSEs and A-levels. One of my A-level teachers was a potter and this was my first experience creating something from a drawing to a finished glazed form. I was excited by the process and loved designing my own ceramics, so it is fair to say my passion for ceramics started at school.
When I left for art school I had fashion and textiles in mind, but during my Foundation I was drawn back to ceramics. I then went on to study for a BA in Ceramic Design, which covered all aspects of ceramics and pottery. I was fortunate to have had fantastic tutors and technicians at Central Saint Martins, each with their own ceramic background. I also had access to a great workshop and facilities. My favourite area was print, which is how I continue to work today. Unfortunately, I do not have access to a printing press, so I use printers in Stoke-on-Trent to create my designs.
During your study, was the emphasis on fine art or product design?
It was a real mix. I learnt to throw, slab build, make plaster models and moulds for slip casting, screen print decals and the chemistry of clay and glazing. We studied modules in each area during our first year, as well as learning to use modern techniques using computer software. After the first year I realised I was more inclined towards slip casting and surface decoration.
What made you decide to produce your own work rather than design for someone else?
After art school I became a freelance product designer. As much as I love designing products for other companies, I really started to miss working with ceramics and on my own ideas, so I bought myself a kiln and started decorating bone china.
My current work is a mixture of my own graphics and stock patterns that I use in my own way. Despite not being able to manufacture my products on an industrial scale (yet!) I really enjoy the decorating process and creating things for the home for people to use and love.
What inspires your work?
I find inspiration everywhere. I love pattern and flowers, which are synonymous with ceramic decoration. I have some inspiration boards on my office wall, which has images from a variety of sources ranging from magazines to photos I have taken when I’m out and about. Fashion and textiles are also a big source of inspiration to me.
In London you are spoilt with the galleries and museums on your doorstep, as well as the frequent design fairs. I took my Dad to see the Masterpieces of Chinese Painting at the V&A; it’s great fun going with him. The older I get the more I appreciate my Chinese heritage and how it influences my work. I hope to take him to see the Ming exhibition at the British Museum soon.
You sell your work on the craft based e-commerce site Etsy. How useful have you found this?
Etsy is more than an e-commerce site, it has an amazing community ethos and there’s so much support. When I first joined Etsy I didn’t really understand how to sell myself and my products. It really is true that you get what you put in. I decided early this year to put more effort into my online sales and presence.
I discovered you could join teams to connect with other Etsy sellers. I joined a Team called UK Craft Fairs to get advice on selling at events etc. Through this team I was given the opportunity to do online training from the “Etsy School” on SEO (search engine optimisation).
We were paired with another seller to work through the four week module. It was fantastic to get another perspective. Traffic to my shop doubled with some simple changes and understanding how search engines work.
On top of this I have been using Facebook and Twitter. Craft Hour (@Craft_Hour) is a great network of Etsy and other online sellers, where you are encouraged to promote each other to reach a wider audience.
You also make commissions. What sort of things have you been asked for?
I love designing a commission. It started when we moved to our house in Bow, East London. Our road decided to organise a street party for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee as they did for the Silver Jubilee. I love royal souvenirs, so I suggested a commemorative mug. Everyone loved the idea of our own street mug.
Since then, I have made sets of tea cups and saucers for hen parties, christenings, wedding favours and gifts, tasting plates for a bakery and personalised mugs.
What have been the greatest highs and lows as an entrepreneur?
My greatest high was when Buttercup China bought my Blue Carnation pattern. I had actually designed the pattern for a mug competition Buttercup was running but it didn’t get selected for the final. I was still keen to use the design so I approached Buttercup for production costs. After this enquiry they then approached me and wanted to develop the pattern for a dinner service and tea set. It was amazing to see my pattern transform into a full range and then go to trade show.
Being a freelance designer is brilliant and I have been able to work with some amazing brands and designers along the way. My freelance work is varied and I get to manage my time my way, as well as working on my own designs. However, working mainly from home is hard and it can get lonely. I am very lucky to have an incredibly supportive husband and I have my dog Ham as my daily company.
What is the best advice you have received?
Keep things simple. When you freelance you never know where a conversation or a project may take you. Along my journey so far I have met some wonderful people, with years of experience and wisdom behind them. A common theme is, keep things simple, you don’t need to over complicate an idea. I think this is what initially hindered me from designing my own work from the very beginning.
What is next Jinny Ngui Design?
In the latter part of this year, I decided to give Old Spitalfields Market a go. Due to the fragile and bulky nature of ceramics I have been put off doing markets, but it was time to stop making excuses and give it a go.
I am doing quite a few markets and events running up to Christmas and I hope this will spur me on to do more new things. In the New Year I would like to start working on some new designs and develop my commissions service on my Etsy shop. My main goal though is to approach retailers with my designs.