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…

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

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.

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.


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.


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?

Breaking rules, making brushes and marks

As part of my new emphasis on more creative work I have been forced up against lots of head-stuff; unspoken rules, shoulds, inner criticalness, perfectionism etc etc etc. Bleurgh!

I am trying to focus as much as I can on the things that inspire me and to listen to them and the creative decisions that happen in the moment of making. I have also decided that the only rule here is that there are no rules.

One old rule that got stuck in my head was that pots with 'decorations' were not for me - a valid response to growing up in the 80s when everything had some horrible random motif printed on it (toaster with wheatsheafs I'm looking at you!). But as a result lots of potential for mark-making and interesting surfaces got thrown overboard.

I came across a brush-making workshop that australian artist Lorna Crane was offering and felt a whisker-twitching itch to participate. Sadly the funds did not permit such long distance travel, but the idea was planted and I decided to have a go at home, using only materials I had picked up on the beach.

None of the materials were collected with this in mind so interesting to see what could be made with whatever was on hand, in my stash of previously scavenged bits and pieces some natural some not. Here's some first results using ink to draw with my new brushes, some of them were quite surprising.

Inspirations for some new creative work...

Since moving to Hastings I have loved exploring my new surroundings. Drinking it all in - and having a bit more space and time to think - has lead to some surprising developments. It has inspired me to start playing with some new creative ideas. I don't know where they will take me yet as it's very early days so far but it feels very rewarding to be able to focus on my art and inspirations and the early creative play that seems to be necessary before new finished pieces can be born.

I will share some of the processes I am exploring with you, and some of the results when we get that far...

For now, here's some views of the coast at nearby Pett which is inspiring the current developments. I have been looking particularly at organic forms, surfaces and the ways in which forms and voids relate.

Garden design by Burle Marx

As spring progresses we have become more aware of the state of our new back garden and how much better it could be. A chance sighting of Brazilian designer Burle Marx's work on tv has been inspiring. Initially an artist he brought an artistic vision to his work as well as a committment to the place he was working, using native flora and style rather than harking back to a European tradition. What I particularly relished was his use of structure - in a way that was not formal ( a big eye-opener that has set my mind whirring!), rhythm, repetition and block planting to draw attention to the characteristics of one plant. I also enjoyed his focus on the character of a plant as a whole rather then being tightly focussed on flowers as so often happens in English gardens to rather ditzy effect.

Here are some pictures of his own garden that I found on the internet...

Art with a bang

My newest art discovery is the work of Cai Guo-Quiang. He's a pretty well established already but somehow I'd missed hearing about him until now.

I was particularly struck by his comments on his early career when he was doing quite conventional paintings and feeling overly influenced by his father, a traditional calligrapher. He grew up in the city which is the centre of the Chinewe fireworks industry and at some point had the inspiration to use gunpowder in his art. As he said "gunpowder set me free"! Sadly for me, how that inspiration came about was not recorded, so the rest of us will have to find our own way to whatever could correspondingly set us free...

As a big fan of fireworks the pyrotechnic side of his work has an obvious draw for me, using gunpowder in controlled explosions directly onto the canvas:



image by

image by

But also working with people in the fireworks industry to make them more ecologically sound and do new things:

image by

image by

And on a huge scale, this ladder is 500m high! Designed to connect the earth with outer space

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...

An inspiring time

Last Sunday I finally made it to the Goldmark Gallery in Uppingham, Leicestershire. An exhibition of Lisa Hammond's work provided the impetus but they've been on my hit list for a long time so it was great to finally visit. What might have been a pleasant family outing turned out to be surprisingly inspiring!

They had over 200 pieces by Hammond in a wider range of forms and finishes than I had seen before. It was intriguing to see her distinctive approach carrying through these explorations. According to the catalogue she had recently stayed for some months in Japan and worked in other studios, using her host's clays, glazes and kilns so the exhibition was a record of that journey. My mum's questions probed the outer reaches of my understandings of wood and soda firings, shino glazes and slip work - and it all served to rekindle my interest in this more organic approach.

However, the surprise star of the trip was another maker. The evening before the visit we watched their film about Lee Kang-Hyo (they make a lot of films about the makers they exhibit and are well worth watching), a Korean potter whose work had previously caught my attention at Collect, but about whom I knew little. It's a fascinating watch and the pots at the end literally took my breath away. I was therefore delighted to discover several of his pieces in the many spaces of the gallery.

Lee trained with traditional masters making large onggi jars and using the punch'ong style of decoration, and remains intentionaly rooted in these traditions. But he is another explorer. After a period of intense reflection he now works more freely using his skills in new and more personal ways to express his energies. I found both the journey and the pots he produces very powerful, moving and inspiring.

After last year's challenges of conceiving and designing my new collection my creative work had settled into more routine making that had begun to feel not entirely satisfying. I was becoming conscious of this at the same time as I was fortunate enough to see these two great bodies of work by infinately curious, talented and skilled ceramic explorers and together they have galvanised me!

The team at Goldmark have also played a part - the custodian of the ceramics gallery was encouraging me in all seriousness to apply for funding and make a trip to Korea myself! I might put that plan on the back burner whilst we move and set up the new studio, but the spark of inspiration and exploration remains. I'm not sure yet where it might take me but I hope to be able to share some of the journey with you as it unfolds...

Art in Action

I squeezed in a lovely holidayette this weekend, visiting a sunny Art in Action with my parents. It was particularly apt as we met with an uncle and aunt there and it was the first time I had visited AiA in about 20 years, the last time being to see my aunt exhibiting her amazing knitwear. In that time the show has grown massively to a rather overwhelming 41 marquees and demo stages!

Moonjar, Akiko Hirai

Moonjar, Akiko Hirai

Naturally I headed first for the ceramics marquee. As ever, everything on Akiko Hirai's stand was lovely (I wanted the whole collection), Tony Laverick's surfaces intrigued and  Tanya Gomez's colours were joyful.

once the bewliderment of so many marquees had worn off I really appreciated the range of materials styles and forms being exhibited. As well as seeing some live glassblowing, always fascinating, here's a selection of work I was especially taken by...

Still lives by  Sarah Spackman

Still lives by Sarah Spackman

Textiles by  Ekta Kaul

Textiles by Ekta Kaul

Embroidery by  Roanna Wells

Embroidery by Roanna Wells

Willow sculpture by  Lizzie Farey

Willow sculpture by Lizzie Farey

Steamed and riveted trugs by  Jane Crisp

Steamed and riveted trugs by Jane Crisp

All told it was an inspiring and re-energising weekend. Who knows what might come out of it once the mental cogs have done their spinning!

Inspirational ceramics, pt 2

As part of an exercise for my business mentor I have been reviewing work that inspired me - and made me wish I had made it.

Here are some more that got shortlisted.

Sam Hall

Hall works with a very limited range of forms, but each work remains fascinating because of the visual richness of his scuffed, layered & timeworn surfaces. As a lover of decayed urban surfaces these work for me in much the same way.

Jane Perryman

Perryman's vessels have their roots in traditional forms but are often combined with more urban slab forms, echoing the ceremonial feel of Gatley's compositions. I love the emphasis on the clay itself, either raw or charred.

Gordon Baldwin

Baldwin's work is mainly monochromatic, but never boring. He has an unusual approach o mark making that is both graphic and subtle, and leaves me curious as to how on earth he achieved it. The abstract/organic vessels have intriguing forms that appear to arise from a personal symbolism. Many are asymmetric and relational in ways that get my whiskers twitching!