Kitsch, cult classics and 45 ceramic objects: Naomi Anderson-Subryan knows how to make us smile


Naomi Anderson-Subryan can still vividly remember the moment she decided to study illustration. She had just started her foundation diploma at Camberwell College of Art when she attended a talk by the art school’s course leaders. As each tutor took to the stage, they introduced the fresh-faced students to their various disciplines. It was at this moment that Naomi first heard Noel Bramley, the illustration pathway leader speak “so passionately about the medium,” it was like being let in on a secret that no one else had ever bothered to tell her.

From this moment on, throughout her foundation and undergraduate degree at Camberwell, Naomi continued to explore a boundless vision of illustration; both in a diverse and humorous sense. Finding a unique way of expressing character and narrative through ceramics, Naomi’s smile-inducing body of work features a set of Pride and Prejudice dogs, as well as a ceramic three-act play of sorts.

Impressively, she handmade 45 ceramic objects in a mere four weeks, none of which fell victim to the precariousness of the kiln. The charming objects hark back to a childhood spent with her kitsch-collecting mum, who collected novelty objects from McDonald’s Happy Meal toys to Cabbage Patch dolls. But in the last few years, Naomi’s mum has thrown out a lot of her old things, only to find that her daughter has now taken up the mantle.

Naomi’s dissertation even honed in on this idea of kitsch. Instigated by a second year essay exploring the iconic 80s plastic hamburger phone, a cultural relic thrown back into the mainstream following its appearance in Diablo Cody’s 2007 film, Juno. And, as the illustrator-cum ceramicist’s interest in kitsch has continued to grow over time, Naomi has gathered an extensive bank of research that persists to be a great source of eclectic inspiration.

It’s Nice That: Why did you decide to study Illustration at Camberwell?

Naomi Anderson-Subryan: Camberwell is honestly such a special place. I also did my foundation there and I knew pretty early on that I didn’t want to leave.. Prior to studying there, I’d been working a full-time retail job having left drama school at 19. I’d been working at the same job for nearly four years and was bored and desperate to do something more creative.

Applying there was the best decision I ever made. Having spent so long doing a job that didn’t make me happy, Camberwell felt like a breath of fresh air – it was exciting and exhilarating. Everyday felt different! Camberwell’s approach to illustration is unlike anywhere else I looked at, and the way the staff talk about illustration made you feel like you could do almost anything with an illustration degree!

Before my foundation, if you asked me whether I thought I’d’ve be an illustrator, I’d probably said no – I don’t think I really knew what it meant. If anything, I thought I’d do something in set design because of my performance training.

INT: What’s the project that you are most proud of and why?

NAS: I guess I’d say I’m most proud of my degree show piece. Titled The Collection, it tells the story of an anthropomorphised collection of 14 ceramic objects. I like to refer to it as a three-act play of sorts because the objects are repeated three times across separate bases. There are three different scenes, each with their own caption. It’s a pretty simple sequential narrative, focusing on the collection as it goes about its day-to-day life and the problems it may encounter.

The idea came about through this notion that collections often outlive their collectors and if they could speak, they’d have all kinds of stories to tell. Working with clay is so precarious and you never really know how something will turn out until the very end, which is always really scary!

I was so proud to finally see it in place at degree show. I worked so intensely on the project, I started to doubt whether anyone would understand what it was about, however, I was pleasantly surprised. Watching people engage with it and spend time with the piece during the degree show was so much fun. I loved witnessing the moment people realised it wasn’t just the same scene repeated three times and hearing them explain it to their friends. That feels like what illustration is all about.

"I always try to remain playful and enthusiastic"

Naomi Anderson-Subryan

INT: I am absolutely obsessed with your Pride and Prejudice dogs and all the other incredibly expressive characters in your work, how did you develop such a charming and fun style?

I always try to remain playful and enthusiastic in my approach to making. Humour is really important to me and it’s something that underlies almost everything that I do. In terms of style however, I try not to concern myself with the notion too deeply; I think it can be inhibiting to do so. My tutors always encouraged me to develop my own visual language from a place that feels honest to my own experiences.

I draw a lot of my inspiration from objects, particularly the kinds of things we like to put on a shelf or mantelpiece to make us happy! All my work from this year is inspired by real discoveries, from a sad looking dog cookie jar I found in a charity shop, to Victorian China Fairings (if you don’t know what these are, you need to look them up).

The Pride and Prejudice dogs are loosely based on Staffordshire King Charles fireside dogs (my mum’s Scottish, so I’ve always called them Wally Dogs) the ultimate mantelpiece adornment. I spent a lot of the first term drawing Wally Dogs as light relief from writing my dissertation. I like to take something recognisable and make it my own, there’s something so satisfying about seeing how far you can push an object from the original yet keep it vaguely familiar.

In terms of creating characters, my favourite part has always been the facial expression. Facial expression is like this whole other language, just without words and it’s so fun to explore how much you can say without any words at all. Perhaps this fascination comes from my performance training. Often, the hardest part of acting is not what you do when you’re saying the lines, it’s what you do when you have no lines at all. My work is theatrical, and I definitely think this has something to do with spending the majority of my teenage years wanting to become an actor.

INT: When did you first start making ceramics?

NAS: I did a short ceramics course in the summer before my BA to learn the basics because I knew Camberwell had ceramic facilities and was keen to make use of them. However, up until my third and final year I’d always been too nervous to venture into the ceramics studio. I got the impression that everyone in there was a pro and knew exactly what they were doing, and felt so intimidated by that. I thought I would stick out like a sore thumb.

But when I faced my fears and finally got my hands on some clay, I was proved completely wrong. Nobody really knows what they’re doing, everyone is in there to learn and try things out! Working with clay is so unpredictable, but there is something about that which bonds a group of people together.

INT: What is your ultimate dream project to work on?

NAS: I’m not really sure! There are so many things I would like to make and so many avenues I’d love to explore. I love the idea of designing something for the theatre one day, a ceramic set perhaps! I’m not sure how that would work and I’m sure it would be a nightmare to construct, but I love a challenge.

For now, I want to keep developing my ceramics practice and continue making as much as I can! I love making the Wally dogs in particular. As well as Pride and Prejudice dogs, I’ve also made a Queen Elizabeth I and Marie Antoinette, as well as a witch on a broom and a cowboy. I can see myself making a whole series of those. Hundreds! I would love to see a room filled with them and just have them all stare at me!

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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