New traditions

It's taken me a while to make my peace with the whole Christmas thing, but I do love the togetherness and lights and the decorations and all the spicy scents of festive foods as well as time to go to ground and cosy up with a good book or 3. So these days I don't worry about the 'meaning', I just try to enjoy the good bits as much as I can in order to counterbalance the looming midwinter cold and dark.

For several years now my parents and I have been enjoying a new tradition of meeting up together in London to hear a concert of festive early music. This year we went for something a bit different; a mix of C20 & C21 music performed by the choir Tenebrae with a guest cellist. The cellist also performed a solo of "Three high places" by John Luther Adams. It's played entirely on open strings and harmonics to give the most amazing sound evocative of mountain tops and wind and ice. I shall certainly be seeking out more of his work to listen to!

Whilst in London I also saw the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican. It's an intense viewing experience but I left feeling super-inspired by his creativity, his prolific-ness and his interested-in-everything-ness. That made it a great 'art date' for me as I had been feeling pretty tired and uncreative after several busy months, hooray! Highly reccomended if you need a bit of creative energy & it's on til Jan 28th so there's still time.

On the subject of traditions, I came across this post on minimalist holiday traditions and liked the idea of several of them - right now I firmly intend to make a shared advent calendar for us next year. Maybe some of them would appeal to you?

A personal tradition for me at this time of year is to spend some time reviewing the previous year and thinking about what my intentions are for the new year. Since I started I notice that lots of people publish frameworks to help with this process. This year I am pondering these from nosidebar.

 

Anatomy of a style 3: Surface simplicity

My first step on the meditation path coincided with my jump into ceramics. In the last year I have come to see that the two are connected. Both are part of my quest for authentic being and centred peace. That is why the form has to come from the shapes that interest me and why the surfaces have to have both simplicity and depth.

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My work is designed to be used so I believe it should complement and frame the contents, not make an attention-seeking attempt to upstage whatever you are using it for- whether that's a delicious meal or a collection of spare screws. I therefore opt for the simplicity of one colour glazing.

However, a pot should not be so simple it is dull and boring. It may be seen whilst sitting on a shelf waiting to be used and needs to earn it's place in a person's home. So I aim for designs that are interesting enough to enjoy empty and give pleasure while on display.

Like a piece of good music rather than a pop song, I look to ensure a pot has depth of character that will reward both long-term looking whilst on display and repeated use:

  • Each pot is part glazed and part unglazed, to emphasise the articulations of the form as you look at it from a distance.
  • Looking more closely you'll see that I seek out glazes with a subtle richness that reward close observation and make each piece quietly individual through tiny crystals or flashing or crackles or a pearskin texture etc.
  • The part glazing also unveils the texture of the clay to both eye and hand. The fingers are incredibly sensitive to the nuances of touch so I like to give them something to discover in unglazed and burnished clay, smooth surfaces and incised lines,

All of these elements I hope combine in my distinctive style to make viewing, holding and using the work a more satisfying experience. It is my way of offering you a moment of your own authenticity and centredness, of peace in a bonkers world.

10 reasons why handmade ceramics are better

This week I want to re-share a couple of posts with you that 'pin my colours to the mast'. I am deeply troubled by all the hype around Black Friday and the endless consumption of mass produced items that the corporates are trying to foist upon us. So here is my line in the sand. I believe in something a bit different and invite you to dip in and share it with me.

Jx

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Writing my last post about the benefits of sharing crafted ceramics with children made me realise I had never said much about why I thought made handmade ceramics so interesting. So here goes...

Photo by Charlotte Bland

Photo by Charlotte Bland

  1. Each piece is designed and made in the style, size, proportions and materials that the maker thinks is best, rather than cheapest, easiest to produce, in trend or whatever else drives commercial manufacturers
  2. Being formed directly by the hands of the maker, so they fit beautifully into the hands of the maker. I have handled 10,000 year old pots, decorated with the finger impressions of the ancient maker, complete with fingerprints. It created an powerful sense of connection to that person, so distant in time, and of our shared humanity.
  3. The clay carries a record of all the movements used to make and finish it, giving not only the main form and profile, but also a plethora of small details, perhaps throw lines, or a smudge where it was picked up and moved. I enjoy the way in which the firing then makes this history of tiny gestures in time permanent.
  4. Potters tend to use less highly processed materials, and to enjoy clays and glazes that yield up movement and variation when they are fired. From a distance a simple looking black pot may be discovered to have rough, matt and smooth textures, warm toasted areas, flushes of various other colours where the glaze is thinner or thicker, dark spots where iron from the clay has interacted with the glaze, flashing from flames or vaporisations of minerals from the glazes of neighbouring pots in the kiln, This gives the finished piece a depth of character that you can get to know better with time, so it stays interesting over the longer term and rewards close attention.
  5. Because each piece is individually made, even a set of skilfully made and closely matching pieces will still have slight variations, so they embody both individuality and family connections.
  6. The work of each potter comes with an interesting back story of how they trained, what has consciously and subconsciously influenced and inspired them, what they are interested in developing. A narrative and heritage which we can then associate with a particular pot.
  7. I value individual creativity, thoughtfulness, and having a home furnished with unique things that I have chosen. Selecting hand-crafted things to share that living space concretises my values and gives me happiness every time I see a piece. They make me feel more me.
  8. At base, clay is a fundamentally organic material, it is shaped by the intentions of the maker, but it continues to carry the character of the particular ball of clay, and it is then transformed at enormously high temperatures. This can be orchestrated by the skilled maker, but there is an element of wildness in the process that cannot be entirely controlled. This is humbling lesson for the person working with the clay, but as modern life becomes more and more mass produced and urban that sense of wildness and elements beyond our control is an important one for us all.
  9. Using handmade pots, for example is serving food, provides an excellent frame for the dishes they contain. If you have gone to the effort of finding seasonal or artisanal produce and cooking it well, it deserves to be noticed, attended to and fully savoured by the people it is served to. A handcrafted serving dish will complement the food and help to encourage the attentions of the eaters.
  10. Buying handmade pots supports a world in which people can survive as working potters and independent retailers making and selling what they love, and that is a world I prefer to the alternative of mass production and corporate profit!

 

Thinking about Christmas shopping

This is a post I first posted 3 years ago and as all the black Friday madness kicks in again I thought I would re-share it with you. I find it useful to remind myself of the kind of world I want to live in and to think about how the ways in which I act now help build that world - or not.

This Saturday is also 'Small business Saturday' which gives us a good contrast of some of the options we are choosing between. I know you guys out there are thoughtful too so I encourage you to take a moment to consider what you really value and perhaps find ways to fit more of it into your life this festive season.

Jx

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I love finding the right gift for someone but I've long had an ambivalent relationship with Christmas shopping, and now I'm a maker it has only got more complicated.

Image from @medi_cole

Image from @medi_cole

I am challenged by the consumerist festival-of-shopping characteristic Christmas has acquired, with massive marketing budgets being spend to drive us all into a frenzy of credit-fuelled shopping. It seems pretty clear that those corporate retailers are using those budgets to manipulate and profit from our natural needs and desires, without ever actually fulfilling the need as they promise. It's not done for our best interest but to feed their bottom line. That leaves a pretty bad taste in the mouth.

For years now I have avoided the mainstream shops as much as possible and gone to craft fairs or independent retailers on or offline, choosing to spend my money on gifts that are closer to my personal values. They might be hand made, or ethically produced or fairtrade/organic etc. I  hope the recipients enjoy them, I feel better about where my money goes - and I get to avoid the worst of the high street frenzy. Win-win-win!

As a maker now, the Christmas season is my busiest time of year and so far accounts for a fair percentage of my annual turnover. Without it the business would be in trouble. But it's a bit weird being dependent on other people's Christmas shopping and trying to make the most of it without turning into a miniature version of one of those rampant merchandisers I hate.

I can see the appeal of the minimalist approach but I've always been a thing person so my take on it all is more inspired by the new materialism which suggests that we move away from the never-ending over-consumption. Instead they put out a new manifesto urging us to have fewer things, love them more, to take care of them, share them and choose them more wisely according to our own values.

This works for me as a person in that I need not clutter up my home or spend money I don't have. Instead I can focus on the things I really need or love and enjoy them for longer. It also works for me as a maker as I hope that useful things that look good and are individually handmade with love will be something you want to keep and treasure.

So I would like to invite you to have a thoughtful approach to what you buy and take home or give to others, choosing really lovely things that support your own values and enable you to create a home that expresses who you are. I think hand made things are better at creating connections so they make better gifts too.

While I was pondering the topic for this month's newsletter I heard about a new campaign called #justacard. This highlighted the fragility of the economy for independant traders and makers and the power that shoppers have to support them - or not. It underscores the power of shopping choices to support the type of world, the type of community, the type of high st we want, even by making quite small changes. It fitted nicely with the issues I was considering so it feels fitting to mention it - I hope you will check it out and consider supporting it.

I'd also love to hear your thoughts on the issue, please leave a comment below if you'd like to share what you prioritise at this time of year.

A taste of Christmas at Great Dixter

Join me at the Great Dixter fair on Sat 24 & Sun 25 Nov. Dixter is the home and garden of the inspirational garden writer Christopher Lloyd, famed for his creativity and his entertaining. The event is a fitting mix of food, gardens, books, crafts and more - and of course there's the house and garden to enjoy as well.

Do come along and join us if you can, full details are on the Dixter website.

Anatomy of a style: Form & profile

Functional ceramics has a very long history, and is of course designed to serve the human body which changes very little, so there are very strong conventions about what what you eat from when, what shape a bowl is, what size a plate is etc. I wanted to make serving-ware that people would actually use and and enjoy on a regular basis, but I also wanted to find my own designs that were personal and fresh.

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However there's a danger of becoming deeply obscure and annoyingly tricksy if you set out to invent something entirely new. My challenge has been to balance these aspects and incorporate just enough of each to satisfy.

A range of inspirations from modernist architecture via cast concrete and long-serving utilitarian design such as coal hods have fed into the collection. From these influences  I use clean lines, interesting form and an unfussy clarity of profile to create pots that have a quiet presence.

I am fascinated by the tension in the angle of a corner, the character produced by varying proportions and so my work has become an exploration of proportion and angular profiles. Each piece has grown out of these interests, to be interesting in it's own right and also to be complimentary to its fellows, so that when placed together there is a rich composition on the table of forms and angles and negative spaces.

Because my collection is designed collectively to incorporate a wider variety of forms and profiles it is more flexible in the way it can be combined to suit your particular taste. Now that we have been freed from the constrictions of the  matchy-matchy dinner service how do you combine pieces of different styles/ colours/ eras/ materials etc to build up a more personal collection?

Handmade in Britain: Chelsea 2017

Here's my pick of 5 makers to look out for amongst all the talent that will be exhibiting at HIB: Chelsea (10 - 12 November) this year:

For full details of all the makers exhibiting and visitor information click here.

Do say hello if you visit, it's always nice to meet people in real life! I will be on stand 81.

New Hastings stockist: Printed Matter Bookshop

Sometimes it helps to have a shopkeeper in the family. As you may know my partner recently opened Printed Matter Bookshop and has generously offered me some space to sell my wares. I'm utilising the space to create a local outlet for seconds, samples and overstock all at 50% off so do check it out if you're in the area and like a hand-crafted bargain.

If you'd like to know more about why something gets marked down as a second you may find this blog post interesting: what is a second?

The shop is open everyday except Weds and stocks a great range of interesting books so check those out as well!

Homing in on creative ideas

I got a chance to follow-up on my wild photography experiences, this time back at Pett Level beach. I roamed the beach as the tide went out, exploring the shingles and rocks and sands and rockpools and waters edge. Looking closely to see what was there and hoping that one particular place might call to me.

As I wandered it struck me that the whole beach was really the soft sandstone cliff in the process of dying. Below the cliff huge boulders with sharp edges show that they have recently 'calved' from the rockface. The edges get smoothed and shaped by the sea in the next band of coastline and then right out at the low tide line are the abraded sands. Below it all, and only visible at the point of low tide is a layer of grey clay - great for me - but quite possible cause of much of the instability in the rocky headland?

After my wowzer moment at Rock-a-nore seeing the amazing boulders there I had come to Pett Level looking for a less populated version of the same thing, and so my early visits to Pett Level I focussed very much on the rocks.

However, assessing my recent maquettes I realised that the one that interested me most was actually born more from the sands.

When I stopped being blinkered by my expectations, of what a beach should be, of what I was interested in, and attended to what was actually there, what was the character of that place & what about it drew me - I was surprised to discover that it was not the rocks.

The place that drew me was a small patch of sand about 15" across nestled against a rib of projecting rocks and slowly being revealed by the outgoing tide. It might not sound major to go to a beach and be called by the sand, but for me it's a bit of a revelation. My family are very rocky and I'd grown up being a bit sniffy about sandy beaches, dismissing them as boring. But it seems that there is something appealing to me about the transitory nature of the sands, shifting and sifting as the tides take them, bearing within them the grain of the cliffs above, revealed as the waters drop while I wait & watch.

The process of finding this interest within myself was also significant and told me that my unexpected choice of the sand-ripple forms as the point of departure for my next round of creative experimentations was a good one.

Pick of Coastal Currents Arts Festival 2017

Coastal Currents is Hastings' own arts festival. I saw a little bit of it last year but am excited to see more - and to participate - this year.

The festival has a big open studios strand, and my space will be open for the weekends of 2/3 & 9/10 Sept from 11-6. Guest artist Jemma Wyllie will be joining me to show her work too.

In the run-up to the festival here's my personal selection of things to look out for.

EXHIBITIONS & EVENTS

OPEN STUDIOS

New maquettes

As I mentioned in a previous post I have been playing with some new coastally-inspired ideas recently. The initial maquettes were a way to try out some of these ideas, some new clays and also some different firing techniques.

Once they were all completed I was faced with deciding how to proceed. This sort of decision making process is often a trigger for self-doubt and over-thinking.

This time I tried not to think too hard about it- instead I looked at everything, handled it & just went with my gut response of whether or not I felt it was interesting/appealing to me right now.

Not interesting/appealing right now

Not interesting/appealing right now

Yes!

Still some whittling down to do, but starting to get somewhere...