Interview with Katie Netley, Ceramic Storyteller with Dyslexia
Please tell us about your work?
I've got three exhibitions on at the moment. I make ceramic totem poles, working with clients to make memorial pieces. They’re sculptures for the garden that tell the story of someone who has passed away. I just had an open studio at 7 Dials in Brighton. I’m also a member of Surrey Sculpture Society – I’ve had five exhibitions with them. Also I create sculpture trails, as well as running sculpture workshops with children with learning difficulties. I’m currently making totem poles with a hospice, they’re very tactile, the children can play with the clay and they make lovely work. I’m about to work with a blind school, using lots of different textures. I’m trying to get funding to teach sculpture at schools and broaden my horizons using different tools, as the foot pedal is difficult for kids with physical disabilities.
What led you to ceramic storytelling?
I got into it at university – we only had a small kiln at school. I really love listening to stories, but because I’m so dyslexic, I’m not good at reading and writing. It’s frustrating not being able to read and write well. I used to have major tantrums because of not being able to express myself properly! Now I tell my stories through clay, and find that sculpture is a therapeutic mode of expression.
An organisation that has really helped me on my journey is Good Story charity – I can’t recommend them enough. If you’re dyslexic, they give you support and help with the direction for your career and work. It was such a positive experience with them (see www.goodstory.org.uk for more).
When did you know you were dyslexic?
My mum and dad both are dyslexic. My mum thought I was dyslexic as she recognised the signs, but my school kept saying, “No, no, no – she’s fine”. I got tested quite young, around 11. We went to Helen Arkell and I got some help. My mum was a single parent and had to save to afford the diagnostic assessment. I was the typical class clown - I messed about, was naughty, I didn’t get any GCSEs - I got expelled.
Eventually I put a portfolio of my artwork together and went along to City College (Brighton and Hove) as I urgently wanted to go to art school. They weren’t sure about letting me in, but I cried in my interview and they let me in! I did really well there, got in to Brighton University after that and did Material Practice with metal, ceramic and plastic. In my third year I majored in Ceramics. I did it all by myself – I picked myself up from a bad place and turned it around.
I didn't do well on my dissertation though - even the word is scary. It’s a terrible word. So I got a third at university, but I was the only one to sell a big piece at our final show! Also I won the People's Prize, which was amazing. And the People Prize was big - people didn’t understand how I had won it, because I can’t express myself well in writing about art. I think so much rubbish is written to justify art pieces. Why can’t I just like the colour and the form, without it having some great theoretical meaning?
How could dyslexic thinkers get better help at school?
I did get help, but by then I wasn't interested. It's a hard one. Education didn’t work for me. All I remember from history is the Battle of Hastings in 1066! More visual teaching tools would be amazing. I’m worried about when my child goes to school - that she might have the same troubles I had. Steiner schools are meant to be better for visual learners. Instead of just showing you a carton of milk, they pour it out so you can see how much is in there.
I want her to embrace it. Luckily her dad’s very clever! I haven’t got the book smarts, I've got the art smarts…
What could be done differently?
I do feel that it’s my own fault. At the same time, feeling excluded in the bottom set doesn’t motivate you. Being in the ‘bad group’ makes you play up, you're bored in lessons and you find other things to do. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, how I would fit in. Schools need to work hard to engage all children, not just some of them.
Best advice for those struggling with dyslexia?
Don't stress out about where you're going, just let it happen. I used to worry so much about the future, but just try enjoy what you're making in the moment. Things do work out. I also recommend listening to audiobooks regularly, I download loads of podcasts and listen while I work in my studio - you can still read through audio! It's really inspiring and it takes you new worlds.
Please tell us about your work?I've got three exhibitions on at the moment. I make ceramic totem poles, working with clients to make memorial pieces. They’re sculptures for the garden that tell...