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.

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 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


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

Ceramic Art London; chaos and control

This weekend Ceramic Art London comes to town. Mine was a visit of two halves. Firstly the pleasure of seeing great work, including some of my favourites shown below, and secondly some more abstract thoughts on chaos and control.

Laurel Keeley

Laurel Keeley

Rebecca Appleby

Rebecca Appleby

Georgina Saunders

Georgina Saunders

Kiho Kang

Kiho Kang

Ashraf Hanna

Ashraf Hanna

And here's a little number that came home with me to take up position in a highly compartmented bookcase with a collection of small white ceramics I inherited.

Willy van Bussel

Willy van Bussel

After visiting any number of craft shows now I find that I am often drawn to both the more minimal, monochrome pieces, such as the van Bussel, and to more expressive textural pieces, such as the Keeley at the top.

Initially I thought of these two as opposites in a linear polarity between chaos and control. I was most drawn to the more 'chaotic' end of the spectrum so it slightly perturbed me that my work seemed to be going in the opposite direction becoming more controlled and precise. This morning, reflecting on this, it seemed rather than being dichotomous opposites the two are actually tendencies in tension. One or other may be more dominant but the other is also always present. Even at the very 'point' of the wedge the two forces are still present.

Escaping the horns of a dichotomy always helps, meaning I no longer have to align myself with either one choice or the other when really both are meaningful to me.

I have been pondering this in relation to my archetypes of 'creative' and 'explorer'. The creative is constantly bombarded by a tumult of interesting external stimuli and a stream of new ideas and to escape this chaos is sometimes drawn to the calm of a more controlled minimalism. The explorer is quickly tired of the familiar and thus constantly looking over the horizon for the new and is drawn one step at a time further out into the chaos of the world.

Looking again at the work I photographed and noted to share with you here I can see that actually all of them contain elements of both. Saunders is an interesting example of this. There is a quiet mastery that can focus on one line to produce a precisely controlled profile that then appears calm and simple, but each piece also has a depth of markings that speak of process and texture and chaos. Keeley's work is apparently opposite, giving an impression of expressionist wildness, but actually these marks demonstrate a strong fluency of gesture and a knowing when to stop. The point of balance is different but both are a marriage of forces.

Having thought this through a little more I will have to return to the studio and see how the tension plays out in my work, where my own point of balance may turn out to be...

The show is on til 5pm Sunday 9th April if you want to check it out yourself. I'd highly recommend it.

"It's a hard way to earn a living"

Lots of little things have come together in a perfect-storm-style to prompt me to write this post.

* A more established potter visited my stall, asked me about the pots and how my business was going. He also said "it's a hard way to earn a living".

* I worked about 6 weeks straight with 2 days off, during which I was so tired I spent most of those precious days collapsed on the sofa.

* My back got more and more unhappy, eventually requiring 3 trips to the osteopath & strict instructions to do the prescribed exercises twice a day for the rest of my life.

* I read the Good Elephant blog's update on her hourly earnings project.

* I calculated that last year despite working 6 days a week for most of last year I took home the grand sum of about £3.50 per hour.

It looks as if Mr Established Potter may be on to something. Physically it's certainly laborious hard work being a potter. It's tough setting up a small business by yourself and being responsible for all the making and all the selling and all the admin and all the marketing and all the planning and everything else that 'should' be done. And it's hard living on £3.50/hr, especially in London. (For the same period the official minimum wage was £6.31/hr and the London living wage was set by the GLA at £9/hr). I'm not married to a banker so I do have to be able to support myself financially. In truth it means you work like crazy and come home with not much in the wallet at the end of the week, and are so tired you don't want to do any more. You don't have the money to go out and take advantage of the splendours the city offers and you don't have the energy to do it. And then the burnout kicks in. All of which might make a sane person if its really worth it.

But I'm just not that motivated by money. I could have stayed in my previous career, sat out the restructurings, taken the promotion my then boss expected me to take. Had I done so I might have been pushing 40k p/a by now. But that salary would have come at a price. My previous job was already unbearably management-y, surrounded by team-members doing interesting, creative and socially useful things but me stuck at my desk, forced to wear smart officy clothes and spending my time sorting out problems, running budgets and the like. The promotion would have been worse. It would also have entailed moving to a different building where everything was grey, everybody hot-desked and you couldn't even stick a picture on the door of your locker (unless it was hidden on the inside).

For a creative and visual person who likes to get their hands dirty that's about the working definition of hell.

All that's a long way of introducing the possibility that talking about 'earning a living' is answering the wrong question. For me, the question is becoming more about how I can life a creative and fulfilling life. It looks at the quality of the total experiences of each day lived. I do still live in a country that likes to use money so I do have to think about that, but it's only a part of the equation.

My answer to Mr Established is therefore to agree that yes, being a potter is hard work, and yes setting up a business is incredibly challenging. But as a way of living my life I am always grateful to have chosen this path and however hard it is I know that I have absolutely zero desire to go back to my old life.

The last couple of years have brought endless challenges to my door, but they have also helped me to grow, to learn about myself, and to spend far more of my time actually being myself, being creative and getting my hands dirty. I have been able to celebrate heartfelt successes and spent my time doing something that really matters to me.

Plus, I see signs that the business is growing and I have hope that the financial side of things may not always be quite so difficult. I don't imagine ever being rich but enough seems possible.

The opposite of an hard way to earn a living would I suppose be an 'easy way'. As far as I can see easy money only ever comes at the expense of someone else and that doesn't sound like something I could be proud of at the end of the day. 'Easy' also doesn't sound very interesting for a life's work. In fact it sounds as if it would get boring very quickly.

Being bored or ashamed of my work or stuck in a hell-of-a-job just for the money sounds like the hardest of lives.

All things considered then, I'm happy to have found my path and I would choose it again hard knocks and all.