Artist Interview: Ashraf Hanna

17th August 2023

Artist Interview: Ashraf Hanna

“Ceramic and glass forms both need light to come alive, but the way they interact with light is startlingly different… In approaching my designs for both mediums, I consider the material qualities, attempting to think through light and shadows, observing how lines and profiles appear and disappear depending on material and the viewpoint of the spectator.”
— Ashraf Hanna

Ashraf Hanna (b.1967; El Minia, Egypt) is an established sculptural artist based in Pembrokeshire, celebrated across the world for his hand-built forms. Hanna's ceramics and glass pieces are highly acclaimed for its unique forms and acute awareness of the material-interplay with form, density, light and texture. 

Ceramic and glass forms by Ashraf Hanna for Maud & Mabel. (Photograph Josephine Cottrell).

Hanna's training at the El Minia College of Fine Arts and the still life drawing classes prompted a close examination of the formal properties of pottery in two-dimensional drawings, which translates to his creation of ceramic pieces – a medium introduced to Hanna by his wife and sculptor Sue Hanna in 1997. Hanna set up his current studio in Pembrokeshire in 2000 and completed his MA in Ceramics and Glass at the Royal College of Art, London, in 2011. His work is represented in prestigious collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and he was awarded numerous accolades, including the First Prize British Glass Biennale (Best in Show) in 2015.

In the lead-up to his solo exhibition Appearing & Disappearing, we interview the artist, who writes about his practice, process and inspirations. 

All responses in the following interview are in the artist's unedited text. 

Ashraf Hanna in video by R&A Collaborations - Craft Journeys.

Q: How do you approach making a new piece or collection?

It depends on the size of the project and how much time I need to dedicate to it. However, I often work on different groups at the same time. There are different stages to the development of new work. Ideas reveal themselves through observation and engagement. Thinking through making is fundamental in my approach to creating new work. Development could be subtle and gradual as in exploring the relationship between form and colour. There are numerous possibilities for innovation within the constraints of one single form, the key is a commitment to the process and developing the awareness to identify what is a significant development when it happens.

When it comes to visualisation, drawing, doodling either in my sketch book or on my desk as I work is always a first step. A next step for glass forms would be sketching the form in clay by making a quick maquette.

Group of ceramic pieces by Ashraf Hanna for Maud & Mabel. (Photographer Jake Curtis).

Q: Could you tell us a bit about your step-by-step process of making your handbuilt ceramic pieces, and your process of making glass pieces?

All my ceramic work starts as pinched pots, many are just that. Larger works are further developed using soft slabs and modelled as I build them up, final refinement takes place when works are leather hard. The surface treatment is an application of coloured Terra Sigillata slips.

Glass works are modelled in solid clay first, a refractory plaster mould is made of that and is subsequently placed in the kiln where glass billets melt and fill the mould. After cooling, the mould is broken and the glass piece undergoes a lengthy process of cold working. All the glass pieces in this show are one offs.

Ceramic and glass forms by Ashraf Hanna for Maud & Mabel. (Photograph Josephine Cottrell).

Q: You have worked with raku and smoke-firing, is this correct? But it is not so evident in your current work. How did you come to settle with the techniques you currently use? 

Yes, I did. I worked with Raku and smoke between 1999-2009. It is not evident because what I make now is completely different.

After establishing a successful practice in Raku and smoke fired work, I decided to take time out from what was a very demanding work schedule to immerse myself in a different environment and give myself the opportunity to respond to different stimuli. I attended the RCA between 2009-11 to study for an MA in ceramics and glass, the work I am producing now is the result.


Q: Where do you draw inspiration from? 

Inspiration sources are varied, as an Egyptian born artist, my formative years play a huge role in informing my sense of form and scale. Early artistic training in Egypt augmented my understanding of form through hours spent in observation during still life studies. This has also trained my eyes to look differently at objects and to appraise design concepts in different mediums.

I initially studied Theatre Design at Central Saint Martins in London before settling in the UK and eventually discovering clay when I met my wife Sue Hanna. The Theatre Design course helped to develop my sense of spatial awareness and how objects relate to one another.

My creative identity is influenced by both my cultural background and Northern European design sensibilities, as most of my formal art and design education and my subsequent discovery of ceramics happened in the UK. Ultimately, what makes a body of work authentic and identifiable to an individual is the filtering of their creative output through their own life experiences.

Group of ceramic and glass pieces by Ashraf Hanna for Maud & Mabel. (Photographer Josephine Cottrell).

Q: You have mentioned that you consider yourself an artist with a multidisciplinary practice. Could you elaborate on this and tell us how the different mediums you work with supplement your holistic artistic practice? 

When I made that statement, I had plans to develop a number of strands, some came to fruition, some are still on the back burner due to work commitments. I am lucky to have the opportunity to engage with design in both ceramics and glass.
When considering work in different materials, some of the key factors are why, when and how. The most important being why!

I believe that as creative individuals, we have to assess first and foremost why choose a particular material, what design possibilities it affords? Understanding the material qualities unique to each medium can inform a creative dialogue that would enrich the artistic practice.

 Glass form by Ashraf Hanna for Maud & Mabel. (Photographer Josephine Cottrell).

Q: I find the entanglement of drawing with your practice quite interesting. Do you consider drawing an integral part of your process?

Yes it is. Drawing is not only a first step in visualisation, but crucially, it can also lead to discovery of new forms and directions. When observing a three dimensional composition and attempting to capture this in a drawing; profiles, proportions and shapes are processed and hard wired. This understanding feeds back in the reversal of the process.

Ceramic pieces by Ashraf Hanna for Maud & Mabel. (Left: photographer Justyna Kulam)

Q: Given where you are in your career, is there a particular development, theme or practice you want to showcase with your solo exhibition at Maud & Mabel? 

I am excited to be introducing a new collection of kiln-cast glass bowls and a group of double walled ceramic bowls. I hope that people would join me in observing how light interacts differently with forms executed in the mediums of glass and ceramic.

Detail of glass form by Ashraf Hanna. (Photograph Josephine Cottrell)


Ashraf Hanna's solo exhibition, Appearing & Disappearing will be on view 28th September – 14th October.