Elaine Henderson’s studio just outside the town of Stromness is as you’d expect.
Pottery paraphernalia can be found on the shelves and worktops, alongside the potters wheel and kiln, both of which are currently in action.
Alongside the equipment there are beautiful examples of Elaine’s work – vases and plates and tiles of different colours and textures – and samples of new designs of all shapes and sizes.
“I work with a lot of different clays as I always feel under pressure to discover as much as I can,” says Elaine. “I use porcelain, earthenware and stoneware and different colours of clay. At the moment I’m really into testing glazes and how they all work on different sorts of clay – it’s like being part scientist, part potter! It’s a constant learning curve, but for me that’s the joy of it.”
Elaine moved to Orkney just over a decade ago after a career in central Scotland as a music teacher. As her time teaching was coming to an end she was on the lookout for something else to do, and a past-time with health benefits was at the top of the list.
“When I was still a teacher, I was looking for a night class in a different subject to help me relax and I started an evening class in pottery,” she says. “It just grew into a passion and I decided to do a degree in it. It took a long time, and I still feel I’m on a never-ending journey of discovery.”
Her degree, from the Glasgow School of Art, was completed part-time and involved distance learning from Orkney. It also meant regular travelling to the central belt and back for classes and courses. Elaine quickly found that returning to the islands rather than to a city helped her make sense of the skills, theory and technique she was learning.
“I was so glad to come back to Orkney and just be at home in this lovely environment. It just all seemed to click here, and I’m not sure if it would have been the same if I’d stayed in Edinburgh,” she says.
“Here you have the close contact with different types of rock, the weather, the atmosphere. There’s also the archaeology, which inspired my dissertation too, so Orkney was absolutely crucial to my development.”
Elaine and her husband Mike quickly settled into island life, launching Scapa Studios on the main street in Stromness. There you could see her latest creations and watch her at work as part of the Orkney Craft Trail.
More recently they have moved to the outskirts of Stromness and their new home enjoys stunning views over Hoy Sound and the Hoy hills beyond, just perfect for more inspiration. The move hasn’t slowed down Elaine’s creative side though, and Scapa Studios lives on at their new base.
“At the moment I’m really concentrating on the colour blue as it’s such an iconic colour in ceramics. I’m looking at it in a contemporary way, thinking about expressing emotion and that kind of thing,” says Elaine.
“My latest exhibition at the Northlight Gallery in Stromness is titled ‘Kind of Blue’, showcasing some of the ideas I’ve been working on. My themes and projects change as my experiences do though, so you never know where you’re going to go next.”
Despite leaving her full-time teaching career behind her, passing on her skills and knowledge is still something Elaine is keen to carry out. She hosts tutorials and demonstrations at her studio, and offers one-to-one coaching for potential potters of the future.
It’s more than just a hobby though. For Elaine, pottery is about something else. “It makes me get up in the morning. I’m always rushing to the kiln to see what’s going to come out, it’s just great. I think I’m at the stage when I can pass on my skills and enthusiasm too and it’s lovely to see other people getting to feel the same way about it.”
Elaine has definitely found her calling here in the islands. She’s a member of Orkney Crafts Association and regularly takes part in trade fair trips south under the Orkney banner, which helps promote our creative community as a collective.
“Orkney is such a creative place and it’s one of the main reasons we came to live here,” she says. “It’s astonishing the number of people who do different things in such different fields across the islands, but can all come together so well.
“It’s just a magic place really.”