Tom Kemp’s Instagram Tips

This is the original text of an article that I wrote for the London Potters Members Magazine June / July 2018, following a great LP day out in April …

Huge thanks are due to London Potters for organising an incredibly useful event at Turning Earth E10 in Walthamstow on the 7thApril. Around 20 or so potters were treated to a seminar with Tom Kemp who generously shared his experiences, successes and lessons from using social media to sell and promote his pottery online.


Turning Earth E10 Studios in Use

I travelled up from Carshalton with a small band of potters from Sutton College on train, tube and bus with our packed lunches. We were pleasantly surprised that what looked like a daunting journey on paper in fact turned out to be quite straightforward. Luckily we bumped into a fellow London Potter on the bus who told us where to jump out at the industrial estate that is now home to the large, bright and spacious factory that has been recently converted for ceramics classrooms, beautiful studios and well equipped professional facilities.

Tom Kemp creates porcelain ceramics incorporating a distinctive “quasi-writing” decorative technique. He is fascinated by writing and is self-taught in the history and practice of calligraphy. He has brought this to his pottery and in recent years made a name for himself through social media. He is now successful enough to have given up his previous full time job to be a ceramicist since June 2017. He generously shared his experience with us through a talk called “Finding your people” …

He started with an introduction on how to get onto the social media bandwagon. Tom was careful to pitch his talk at both people with very little experience in this area and also those who do know the ropes. There was something for everyone.

Social media allows anyone to reach and engage with a large audience, to make connections and spread the word. How you use social media is entirely up to you and depends on your goals and the style of communication you are most comfortable with. For example, your goals may include making more sales, gaining recognition, finding opportunities and interacting with other potters to find help, discuss problems and learn new techniques.

Tom has an analytical background and looked into the statistics and driving forces behind social media usage. He explained to us the power of the dopamine hit from getting “likes” that can make social media so addictive. Virtually all platforms are free to use but as we all now know from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, you are really paying through sharing your personal data. I think that so long as this is understood then it depends on your attitude in weighing up the pros and cons. I am happy to share my love of pottery but keep my private life to myself. Tom also showed us that you don’t need to be an extrovert to make this work for you.

Reaching your goals through social media is “a numbers game” he explained. On Instagram, Tom has about 153,000 followers today. Each post then averages 3000 likes, generating approximately 30 comments (he does try to answer them all) then 3 direct messages from people who are nearly always genuinely interested. So there is a funnelling effect from the number of followers through to real opportunities.

Tom has an online shop and he periodically announces that his “shop is opening” on Instagram. Statistically he then showed that his following generates around 2000 shop visits, then 30 cart-fillers and perhaps 15 buyers, who spend on average £200 each. He has learned some of his techniques from potters such as Jono Smart and Florian Gadsby who both promote and sell very successfully using this model. Their online shop remains open for a few days and is then shut but left displaying a clear message suggesting that visitors sign up to the email newsletter for advance news of the next shop opening. This builds an opted-in subscriber list of properly interested people that remains independent of the social media platform itself.

If you are wondering how Tom found his 153,000 followers, then here are some top tips I took away. Like any kind of marketing, it does take discipline and effort to make it really work.

Tom advised us to “tell the unfolding, never-ending story” of how your work is made, leading to the finished pieces, because people love to see craftsmanship in action. Tell people about you and your progress, and this in turn builds trustworthiness and therefore your “brand”. He’s found that people are now asking for a “Tom Kemp Vase”.

Be honest and help others, answer questions and share interesting and useful stuff. This all helps to build the trust and the sense that “if all those people like it, it must be good!”

Do also try and actively find people to engage with and learn from. There are lots of great teachers on Youtube such as Simon Leach, Hsin-Chuen Lin and Danielle “The Clay Lady”. Facebook is used very successfully by Kate Malone, while Adam Frew used it to help crowdfund the setup of his new studio. If you ever get stuck, just Google it and there are many people out there who will help you.

Most social media platforms are actually quite similar but learn one of them really well and you can normally link from there to others automatically. You need to be relentless and consistent with your posting and continuously “tag, tag, tag”! If you are so minded, you can learn how to use the analytical tools that come with your platform of choice to learn more about your posts and followers.

It’s very important to have your own website to direct all your social media engagement towards, and it’s not hard to create one these days. Tom uses SquareSpace, but various others are available such as Wix, Duda and Weebly.

Tom’s own magic social media moment was when he posted a brief “how it’s done” video of writing on porcelain that was shared extensively and virally. His follower numbers then shot up by 1500 in a single day and grew rapidly from there. He used the analogy of a room full of mousetraps, where setting off the first mousetrap triggers an explosive effect in setting off all the others in rapid succession.

The main practical point that I took away is to make a concerted effort to direct my Instagram followers to subscribe to my mailing list. Instagram has worked really well for me already as it has helped me to be found by galleries, as well as generated direct sales, commissions and more. I now want to try and generate more direct sales through building up my mailing list and improving my online shop.

This article is just a taster of a great day out. I’m sure that everyone who attended would like to extend a heartfelt thank you again to Tom for sharing his invaluable experience with us and of course to Luyi Brown at London Potters for making this happen.

Making my porcelain plates for “Dish”

Shortly after Christmas I was catching up with Lotte Inch who then invited me to make some plates for an exhibition called Dish, that will be running at Lotte Inch Gallery from 9th March to 6th May 2017 – co-curated by chef Tom Kerridge.

Until recently I would have struggled to throw wider forms, especially when trying to wire through the bases without warping or wiring straight through. However, before Christmas, some very kind friends (thanks Jeremy and Sharon!) had showed me an article from Ceramics Monthly on how to use canvas bats to solve my problem. This was my opportunity to put it to the test properly.

The plates are now ready for the show and this blog is a short record of my making process that I hope might be useful for other potters …

First, here’s that page from Ceramics Monthly article that proved so useful and some snaps of how I followed the technique, with wider forms such as plates and bowls. I throw the form on a canvas bat on my wheel, then I can safely wire through under the canvas.  Then I wait for it to dry until the rims are leather hard, flip it over onto another bat, peel off the canvas and then turn it the right way up onto a dry bat for the base to firm up …

Once the bases have all dried to leather hard, I put them back on the wheel and turn in the foot rings. For particularly wide dishes, I turn in two foot rings to support the dish during firing, stopping it from slumping in the middle during firing …

The dishes are then biscuit fired and ready for glazing …


For this project, I wanted to try something  different with the glazing but still using my standard palette of grey, black and azure. So first I tried some glaze tests using a group of small pots. The first picture below shows those tests and I ended up using the ‘double dip’ method shown on the two on the far right side of the photo. The next pictures show the before and after glaze firing, with the transformation of the glaze and the shrinkage. During the glaze fire, I applied a silica hydrate to the bases to stop them sticking to the kiln shelf and allowing them to freely move and shrink without warping. So that meant they needed a good wash afterwards to remove the sandy residue …

Here’s the finished set of plates, most of which have been packed up and sent to Lotte Inch Gallery …



Step by Step Porcelain Flower Pots 

I’ve started making sets of porcelain flower pots with saucers recently. Here’s a set of pictures documenting the process from balls of clay through to kiln ready. Click the pictures to view them as a gallery with captions briefly explaining each step.

The group below are being made right now and are waiting in line to be fired. The kiln will be firing up later this week hopefully …


Here’s a few I planted up in a batch I made earlier this year …

A Technique for Incised Lines in Porcelain

The most popular decorative design for my ceramics seems to be the incised lines in porcelain. So I thought I’d document the technique here in pictures. Click the pictures to view them as a gallery with captions briefly explaining each step.

The group below are being made right now and are waiting to be fired.

And here’s a few that I finished previously. They have been bisc fired then glaze fired and are now available from my online shop.

Raku Day at Chipstead Studios

Raku day out at Chipstead. You never really know exactly how it’s going to turn out. That’s what I both like and worry about with Raku!

This peculiar sea creature is actually me peeling off the masking tape from under the resist slip and crackle glaze …


The next stage is to heat the pots up in a kiln …


Then the pots are plunged into a sawdust pit and covered to let the smoke do its stuff …


Out of the sawdust pit and cooling down with water. Now is when you can start to see the results…



If you are lucky ( and these aren’t bad ) the resist slip pings off to reveal the smoke fired clay…



And after lots of washing and scrubbing…


A little polish with some bees wax and hey presto ! On the gallery shelf…