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Making the most of Yorkshire

Whilst I was up north I also squeezed in a trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Hepworth Gallery, both of which I have waited a long time to get to.

YSP has of course many wonderful and striking pieces…

But after a full afternoon of roving the park, the pieces that stayed with me most strongly were not the massive monumental pieces, but those that rewarded a more engaged viewer prepared to be a bit more curious, a bit more mindful and be a bit more open to the unexpected.

I went to the Hepworth on my last day, after the end of the masterclass, and I think you’ll agree that the pieces I photographed there say something about the kind of forms I had been chasing in my own work!

And of course the Yorkshire landscape is stunning in itself! I certainly hope to be back there soon and could easily have started a whole new series of work inspired by what I saw…

An inspiring time with Rebecca Appleby and James Oughtibridge

In October I was fortunate to be able to spend 5 days in Yorkshire doing a handbuilding masterclass with Rebecca and James. It was great to be able to spend so much time playing with ideas, developing different surface treatments, making maquettes and thinking about creative processes to formulate ideas from source materials.

I came back with more confidence in my own process and giving it time to gestate, to play with components etc, a surprising new direction to explore and a car full of damp clay which is still waiting to be fired. A passing comment by Rebecca’s about ‘quality control at every stage’ also struck home as we saw them demonstrate the care they take in assembling their own work.

Here’s some pictures of the raw work. More to follow once it’s fired and finished.

This work is quite different again from the experimental Dungeness series I’ve been sharing recently and initially I was quite resistant to it because of the technical fiddliness, but both of them came by and said “ooh that’s interesting” so in the end I decided to listen to the feedback and rise to the challenge. It’s made me ponder the difference between the work we are drawn to as viewers that brings us something we’d perhaps like more of and that which we personally need to make and how to know which is which…


Dungeness series, part 2

In this second batch of works I have been experimenting further with more graphic treatments and printing, to evoke the scattering of bold box forms in the shape of houses, sheds and shipping containers across the shingle, as well as more complex detailing in he surfaces through found materials, local slips, volcanic and matt glazes.

Lifting the lid on the new Dungeness series

Inspired by my time at I have been exploring some new forms.

Building up scuffed and stained and patinated surfaces.

Developing a new palette of glaze colours and finishes that draw on my experience of the ness.

Playing with happenstance impressions of found objects and textures.

Using drop moulding and composite forms to explore the irregular growth of the cottages with all their sheds and lean-tos.

Echoing the boat rails across the shingle in added ribs on which the finished pieces stand.

It's proving really interesting to work in this new way, developing a whole new creative vocabulary and making each piece a step forward into something new. As I write the kiln is firing up with a second load of new pieces and I'm full of eager anticipation to see how they will turn out and where this journey will take me next. Watch this space!

Dungeness inspirations

This spring I spent a few days on a kind of art retreat in Dungeness, staying in one of the original cottages at the tip of the ness, and focussing on simply walking, looking, experiencing, seeing what made my whiskers twitch, and then drawing, writing and photographing.

Here's a selection to show you some of the things that have stuck with me most and have been inspiring some new work that I will share with you in the next post.

The scattering of self-built houses and sheds

Trackways across the shingle

Debris equally and equivalently scattered with irregular shapes and fascinating finishes

the everpresent hum of power station looming above it all

Thinking things through with Tacita Dean

I was pleased to catch the Imagine episode about Tacita Dean last night.

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I was particularly struck by her comments on film as a medium with a process that has a gestation period, allowing time to think. It's easy with ceramics to get frustrated by how long everything takes and the dragging of time between starting and thinking, but I realise now that's another medium with a gestation period. Particularly with my newer more creative work, that reflecting & mulling & pondering what to do next time is turning out to be really valuable. I just needed to adjust my perspective to notice.

She also mentioned finding that she needed not to know the outcome of a project before it finished, to be 'blind' to the results until she had completed the journey. I have a tendency to live either in the future, in planning, and to imagine that I can work projects through entirely in my mind before I start - although I then have no interest in actually doing the work. Perhaps I too need that element of open exploration where the project develops it's own direction of steer as it progresses.

Thanks for the insights Tacita Dean! The programme is worth watching if you're able to.

An Orkney album

Last month we journeyed up to Orkney for a loooong awaited trip. We were only to get away for a week so just scratched the surface of these stunning islands, and were soon saying 'next time...'.

Here's a selection of tourist views plus some of the forms and textures that particularly caught my eye.

High temperature magic

I have been known to describe glaze chemistry as high temperature magic and nowhere is this more true than with my Evergreen glaze.

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All 9 of these tiles were made using the same clay and glazed with the same batch of glaze, dipped in the same way for the same amount of time and fired in the same kiln with the same firing cycle.

As you can see the results are surprisingly different!

It's a crystalline glaze so I expect to see time black and rust coloured crystals in the finished peices, but the amount and location of these sets of crystals vary depending on the thickness of application, the speed of cooling, where the item was in the kiln and what else was nearby. Every now and then a particularly heavy crop of crystals develops entirely hiding the green - for reasons know best to itself. Where the glaze is particularly thin it can yield a matt black, perhaps a thick layer of black crystals, and when even thinner shows up as a clear transparent. The depth of the green colour comes from the copper oxide in the glaze - as does the red where it was positioned close to the gas jet of the kiln and was effectively reduction fired in and oxidised firing cycle. All told it makes for an interesting but rather unruly glaze!

Fresh out of the kiln

Lots of work has now come out of the kiln. The black bowls are for a stockist, I've not made them with this glaze before but they are rather striking. I also made some small changes with the white pieces, giving them a reduction firing that draws out the iron speckles from the clay and gives a cooler tone. Most of these will be coming with me to West Dean at the end of the month if you want to see them 'in the flesh'.

How things land

My eye is often caught by unintentional details, juxtapositions of forms that create an interesting composition, how abandoned forks land in a mixing bowl, unplanned groupings etc - or in this case, rows of rabbit guards on new trees and the outlines of windblown plastic caught in trees.

I don't know why, but it triggered memories of tree-based forms I was playing with about a year ago, and prompted some new combinations that may form the basis for a new vessel idea I'm pondering.

A whole forest of paper maquettes resulted...

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Daily creative challenge, Jan - Feb review

I'm now 2 months into my new challenge to do something creative every day for a year. I've mentioned it briefly on instagram early on, but then decided to track it privately in a notebook.

I have given myself very very loose guidelines on what counts as creative as the idea is to enjoy it, not get all perfectionist and stressy about it. Despite that, I have missed a few days so far, mainly because of illness. I'm now tracking why I miss a day to help me find ways to see that challenge in advance and think of things I can do whilst lurking under the duvet with a lurgy or whatever. Hopefully in time this info will be valuable in developing strong creative habits for life!

So how's it going so far?

So far this year it hasn't encouraged me to tackle any larger or more finished pieces of work, but it has definately encouraged me to make more of an effort each day. On work days I have used it as the impetus to get around to making prototypes of new designs I've been thinking about for a while and to do more creative play to develop ideas, make maquettes, test out new surface finish ideas etc.

On days when I wasn't officially at work I've been drawing a lot more and even carrying a little sketchbook around with me on my travels to enable that day's activity. I've also made an effort to try new recipes, and when all else fails to get my half-finished knitting out.

Recently I've noticed that it's starting to effect all kinds of activities, for example whilst driving I'm noticing details of the landscape around me, however humble, and that's triggering ideas for new work.

Keeping the tracking notebook is also helping me to begin to understand my own creativity a bit more, to note what feels creative when and to begin to see a longer term process coming to light. This is showing that I need to be out an about looking at things in order to stock up on interesting mental imagery, but also that I then need to leave it alone in the back of my brain for a while to settle in, connect with other images or ideas in ehatever subconscious way so that later on, in their own time, new creative ideas can come to me. This is helpful in encouraging me to make sure I keep looking at the world all the time and don't worry about trying too hard to force ideas out before they are ready, that tends to lead to too much thinkiness which for me is less interesting.

All told I'm really glad I started and look forward to seeing where else it will take me. If/when there are new developments I will post an update.

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.

 

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!

 

South East Open Studios ends this weekend

I am opening up my new studio again this weekend, as part of SEOS, along with guest artist Celia David.

Here's a snapshot of what's available...

 

Details are on the Events page if you'd like to come along in person to say hello, snap up a bargain or just have a look-see at the new space.

5 to see at West Dean Arts & Craft Festival featuring Made

It's a long show name and a long roster of inspiring makers for this marquee show in the West Dean gardens. This will be my first time showing there and I am really excited to see the work on show there. Some are old favourites I always like to check in with, others are new to me so I'll have plenty to explore.

  Elaine Bolt ceramics

 Elaine Bolt ceramics

 James Dougall silversmith

James Dougall silversmith

  Linzi Jones  knitwear

Linzi Jones knitwear

  Sarah Drew  jewellery

Sarah Drew jewellery

For more details and ticket bookings etc see the website.

Do something creative this summer

If you'd like to turn off the screens and go and do something different instead (as the tv show of my childhood suggested) why not enjoy a weekend at the seaside doing a pottery workshop?

I have a programme of 3 courses coming up:

Each workshop is designed to work for both beginners and intermediates, so I will start right at the beginning demonstrating some of the basic techniques for working with clay and suggesting forms that you might like to make. Intermediates can stretch themselves with more complex designs and I'm happy to discuss ideas and provides tips for improving the work.

Lunch and snacks are provided. Groups will be no more than 8 participants so it will be sociable and friendly but not so busy you can't get your questions answered! There will be free time at the beginning and end of the day for you to make the most of our seaside location to relax and get creative.

After the workshop ends your work will be fired and glazed and then posted back to you.

Limited early bird tickets are still available so do book soon to get a good deal.

See the full details here.

If you have any questions do get in touch.