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.


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...

paper maquettes.jpg

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.



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.

New work: Limited edition designs

I am at my happiest exploring new creative ideas so this is a big treat for me. In fact, in order to give myself more of this I've decided to start an occasional series of 'limited edition' pieces. These are functional pieces designed to compliment the main Feast and Simple pleasure collections, but can also stand alone. They are a space to try out new techniques and approaches etc and I look forward to seeing how people respond to them at upcoming shows.

The first two are a butterdish with a freestyle hand-cut rim and a cheeseboard with water-etched handles.

The detailing on each piece is done differently each time so that each one is individually distinct.

A maximum of 25 of each design will be made.

New work

Here's some new pieces fresh from the kiln.

 Oil bottle in white crackle

Oil bottle in white crackle

 Pedestal serving bowl in white, oil bottle and condiment dish in white crackle

Pedestal serving bowl in white, oil bottle and condiment dish in white crackle

 Serving dish in evergreen

Serving dish in evergreen

 Large mugs in white

Large mugs in white

 Tall serving bowl in black

Tall serving bowl in black

New portrait

Photographer Tim Willcocks asked me to be part of his portrait project so last week he came by with the cameras for a little photoshoot. He shoots on film using a great camera older than I am, so it was an apt hymn to the analogue. 

Seeing photos of yourself is always an odd experience but I think he did a pretty good job.

portrait by tim w.jpg

You can see more of his pictures, including some nice details from my new temporary studio on his website.

5 to look out for at Ceramics in the City

Next week the Geffrye Museum is again playing host to Ceramics in the City and over 50 ceramicists of all stripes. It always amazes me how much variety can be packed into a show dedicated to a single medium.

I love the simplicity of Akiko Hirai's forms that couple so well with the rich surfaces.

 Akiko Hirai

Akiko Hirai

Ruth King's handbuilt strong forms are also a long-time favourite showing real mastery that I don't often get to see in person.

 Ruth King

Ruth King

Albert Montserrat is new to me, I saw the sole remaining pot he had on his stand at Art in Clay Hatfield - and it left me wanting to see more.

 Albert Montserrat

Albert Montserrat

Lesley Risby is also new to me, introduced by an article in Ceramic Review that discussed her intriguing method, which I'm looking forward to examining the results in the flesh.

 Lesley Risby

Lesley Risby

Tim Lake always seems to pull together a beautiful family of works for his stands, and I usually covet the whole lot. He recently moved to Wales so it will be interesting to see if the new location is evident in the new work...

 Tim Lake

Tim Lake

The bus-person's weekend

I had the chance this weekend to stretch my horizons a bit both geographically and metaphorically, experiencing two different ways of site-based working with clay.


As part of the Thames festival there was a firing on the foreshore, inspired by ancient methods of pit-firing. By the time I arrived the pots were safely tucked up under the bonfire and couldn't be seen, but it was certainly an unusual experience to see a bonfire in the heart of the city!


For anyone who loves rusty treasures like I do, a trip to the foreshore is always a bonus!

Sunday took me to the Making Ground open day. This is a really inspiring collaboration between ceramicist Elaine Bolt, basket-maker Annemarie O'Sullivan and a disused brickpit site outside Horam in East Sussex. The site is a lovely watery tree-y place to relax and recharge anyway, but for one day visitors could also see and play with the 'wild' clay that they had dug from the site.


Some of the artworks made on the site were also on display.


As was the kiln, built from a willow framework and the clay from the site.


It was surprisingly moving to see things being made so directly from the un-processed materials found in a place, and to see them in that very place, and made me think about how I could find ways incorporate wilder gathered materials and 'place-ness' more into my work...