I know that I am not struggling half as much with lockdown as some. I know that I am one of the lucky ones and that, for me, this time means more peace and quiet, less charging about and more time to create. If I am honest though, it isn’t as simple as that. So I am extremely grateful to have been asked to work on a couple of specific projects in the last few weeks: things to focus the mind and stop it raging back and forth over all the issues we, and I, face.
First one of the galleries which stocks my work approached me to ask about the practicalities of making a range of upmarket desk sets. This has been a real joy! Somehow creating on a small scale seemed to be just the thing: I needed to find some purpose again and small felt good.
Designing and making inkwells has been giving me so much joy
Then, a few days ago I was contacted by a man who wanted a special birthday present for his wife. He had seen my work in a gallery and wondered if I could use clay from his garden to make a commission for her. The house was not far and so I agreed to a socially distanced site visit. The garden was large and wild with a wonderful selection of materials. A soft grey clay with a fantastic texture; tiny pebbles lay on the bed of a stream like jewels; further down, in the woods, the clay was a deep reddish brown and it sucked at my wellies as a walked. Armed with a trowel and a fistful of sandwich bags I waded in and soon had a vast selection of materials to add to the porcelain which forms the main structure of my work.
The rhythmic scraping of the clay to reveal the strata of colour and to perfect the shape of the piece as it dries is always absorbing.
Today I have been fettling the first piece for this commission. Time has passed in a dream state. I realise, with some surprise, that I had spent the entire morning not thinking about anything other than clay. I feel restored!
I have become increasingly concerned about the type of packaging that I use: getting through bubble wrap by the mile since I started selling my work. In a recent accountability workshop for like minded creatives we talked about this and someone mentioned paper bubble wrap
I decided to trial it at the Contemporary Craft Fair in Bovey Tracey, Devon last week. I bought the Rajapack EX MINI system which comes on a cardboard dispenser and also provides tissue paper to interleave with the packaging. I also bought a big roll of string and some brown recycled paper bags. The cardboard dispenser and was easy to set up. It’s quite a small thing to transport, but as you pull it from the dispenser the ‘bubble wrap’ cleverly expands into a honeycomb structure.
The verdict? The first couple of pieces that I pulled off the roll didn’t quite go according to plan – maybe the piece was too big; maybe trying to use the dispenser while it was on the floor, under a table, hidden by fabric impeded things; maybe it is always difficult until the dispenser is a little less full – but I was delighted to have found an alternative to plastic which works brilliantly to protect smaller pieces and the environment. It looks good too and there is a weird satisfaction in the way it comes off the roll! I think the jury is still out for larger works which I was less confident were adequately protected.
Given that my work is about the fragility of our landscape, it is vital for me to find a satisfactory solution to the wrapping of my work. Not sure I’m all the way there yet but I am certainly feeling much happier. And let’s face it, if we all do something isn’t that better than a few good people doing it perfectly?
For quite some time I have had a desire to ‘go large’ in the studio so when I saw a really enormous beach ball for sale in the village post office I simply couldn’t resist the temptation to make a really bit mould. When I got it home, I discovered just how large it really was – maybe I need a bigger kiln!
Houston, we have a problem!
In fact it isn’t TOO big. Once I have done some manipulation of the clay and there has been a bit of shrinkage I am confident that my current kiln will be just fine.
The next thing to do was to create the mould from the shape. As a general rule I would have built up the clay all the way to the mid point of the ball, constructed a wall around the entire thing and started pouring plaster of Paris until the cows came home. If I had done that this time I would have used a ton of plaster of Paris and ended up with something so big and heavy I would never have been able to lift it so I thought I would go for something different. The following images show the main stages:
1. Make a clay barrier exactly on the mid line of the ball.
2. pour a very thin layer of plaster of Paris over the whole of the top of the ball. (I made the plaster thicker than usual so that it didn’t run off.
3. Put a collar on the outside of the clay wall and pour more plaster over tha ball, making sure that it filled the collar and was a fairly even thickness all over.
The result is that I now have a fabulously large mould. It is light and easy to manoeuvre and I can’t wait for it to dry out fully so that I can get making.
I am about to embark on another collaborative venture. More details will follow but suffice to say that I am going to be working with other makers on a project which is going to involve me taking the way they work: their colours and textures and incorporating them into a body of work for a joint exhibition this autumn. I am truly excited to have been presented with the opportunity and, given the pleasure that the collaboration with Candide Turner Bridger and Nigel Slater gave me for the recent Earthlines exhibition, I know that it could result in some great work.
Collaborative work for Great Walsingham Gallery.
But, and it is a big BUT, I also know that I now have a whole lot of sleepless nights coming in the next couple of weeks. All my best ideas happen in the middle of the night, usually at about 3 am. The initial electrical surge is followed by a protracted process of going over and over the finer detail and sleep becomes utterly impossible. There is little point in getting up and beginning to make as the whole thing has to ‘cook’ for a while first. Sometimes a walk helps – so the puppy is on standby for some strange night-time excursions – but, please, if you have any dealings with me in the next week or so, do not expect much in the way of quick witted repartee!
Well, the event was a really good one! Nigel Slater’s work fitted in so well with that of Bridget and Candide so it was a really good idea to add him to the bill. Sales were good and feedback was great. So here are a few images of the set up to give a taste of what it was like. The exhibition is over now but some of the work remains in the gallery as part of a mixed exhibition so, if you didn’t get there, it might still be worth going now.
We began with a slightly unimaginative bungalow and we wanted to make a new home which would ‘fit’ the plot. We wanted to be sensitive to the needs of those further up the hill to keep their view and we did not want to begin by knocking it down, lock stock and barrel before putting up something which occupied the entire site and disregarded any feelings of those around us. Instead we took away the terrace, built rooms underneath it and then put it back on top. View intact, house extended, neighbours happy.
It’s been hard work but so worth it!
Now we are in and I have a wonderful studio attached to the house in which I can work at any hour of the day and night but it has taken vast quantities of time and energy and my blog has suffered.
In addition, I am working towards is a major exhibition in Great Walsingham, Norfolk in May and June and this has taken the rest of my reserves.
Jar for the exhibition in Norfolk using found materials from Burnham Overy Staithe
I am working with Candide Turner Bridger , to create a body of work about the North Norfolk Coast Path. Because we are both very process-led makers we wanted to document our journey towards the exhibition and to that end we have set up a website and a blog on which we are detailing our progress. A number of people have recently begun to follow me and there are also many others who must be wondering where I have gone. I would hate you all to feel neglected but I am not likely to blog on this site until the exhibition is up and running. So if you want to know what I am up to for the next couple of months you might be better following me here for the time being. Let me know what you think.
I have been reading Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal this week. It throws a fascinating light on the experience of getting old and I commend it to everyone. As a window on the world of narrowed horizons and the choices available to the elderly and frail it is fascinating. I suppose it was a particularly relevant book for me, given my own father’s increasing frailty but I think the main message in it for me is actually that all of us need to be prepared for this stage of our lives which does not tend to treat us kindly.
There is a section in it which struck a chord with me very loudly. Gawande talks about the change in how we seek to spend out time at different stages of our lives. ‘When horizons are measured in decades, which might as well be infinity to human beings, you most desire all the stuff at the top of Maslow’s pyramid – achievement, creativity and other attributes of “self-actualization”. But as your horizons contract – when you see the future ahead of you as finite and uncertain – your focus shifts to the here and now, to every day pleasures and the people closest to you’. (Gawande, 2014, p.97)
This explains a couple of conversations which I have been involved with over the past couple of weeks. Both during my mentoring session and during the Bristol seminar by Patricia van den Akker (See my last post) I have been asked the ‘where will your business be 5/10/20 years from now’ question. I have found this particularly difficult to answer this time around: I am aware of a definite shift in my energy levels and inclinations recently and I find that my knee jerk response to this question is ‘who says it will be anywhere at all!’ But this makes things very awkward. If I don’t know where I am going why set off? What IS the point?
There are still good friends who are certain that what I do is simply a hobby, that I do it to keep myself amused. I suppose it did begin like that and then there was a stage where I needed an outlet for my work so that, at the final reckoning, my children didn’t enter the loft with fear and trepidation wondering what on Earth to do with all those pots! But now I have to acknowledge that things have gone beyond that. I am chasing a dream of it being successful and so presumably I do need to know what success is going to look like when I get there.
Why does it have to be all about the money?
I find that cannot drift about simply making stuff and hoping that people like it, I need a reason to make in the first place and, for me, that needs to be connected to somebody else wanting it. But at the same time, I am not sure that I have to be utterly driven by building the business. I need some aims but they don’t have to be measured in financial terms. And anyway, what does success look like? I don’t think that it necessarily has to have a load of pound signs in front of it. It is something I need to give some more thought to but I do know roughly what it looks like and I will share it as it happens. In the meantime though, I am no longer sure that we do have all the time in the World!
This Friday I attended a workshop by the amazing Patricia Van den Akker, director of the Design Trust and creator of the Dream, Plan, Do planner which is designed for creative people to help and support them in their business.
This lady kicks some ass! She is proud of the fact that she asks the questions which hurt; which dig under the skin; which make you question what you do and why. There was a moment during the day when it dawned on me that, as it currently stands, my business is completely unsustainable! I cannot physically make the volume of work which I need to create (and sell!) in order to make ends meet.
This level of work is simply unsustainable.
Whilst for some people that might sound like the end of the road, for me, sitting in the auditorium listening to this inspiring woman, it simply means ‘Look out, Guys, there are a few changes coming this way very shortly!’ In actual fact, it is a relief. I have all but burnt myself out over the past couple of months trying to support the demand for my work and I knew something had to give. Patricia has given me the ideas, the determination and the drive to make those changes.
One of the more entertaining exercises that she asked us to do related to considering how our own personality and artistic behaviour informed our business: She asked us to imagine ourselves as a form of transport. What would we be?
Pitting ourselves against the elements.
I tried this out on some of the family yesterday and whilst my husband sees himself as a sailing boat because of the desire to pit himself against the elements and be challenged, my daughter visualised herself as a double decker bus, seeing above the crowds, travelling in style and at speed but able to stop regularly to pick up and set down ideas.
I would be a ferry: I love water travel and go out of the way to be on or near the water whatever the weather. Ferries often cross spectacular reaches of water between beautiful waterside landscapes. Ferries help people on their journeys, they often make it easier for someone to arrive at their destination by providing a shortcut. People love a ferry ride – it gives them a little buzz of excitement. Indeed the King Harry Ferry in Cornwall is so popular that it has its own Webcam on which people can, and do, watch the chain ferry live as it plies backwards and forwards across the Truro River saving people a long round trip from the Roseland Peninsular to west of Truro. Of course, being an artist, I also don’t expect to be paid until I get them to the other side!
One of the very good thing about being a part of the Design Factory is the provision of a mentor to support you in your creative business. I have to confess that I have been actively avoiding my mentoring session because I have had so much on that I couldn’t bare the thought of my mentor piling anything else on top.
What a fool I am! During a lengthy and well structured session today we went through the success of my past year and considered where things needed to be done better – not more, just more planned. It was incredibly useful to actually break down all the events and to work through what might have made it even more successful. I now have a list, it isn’t a very long list but I have considerably more confidence as a result of it that I can go some way to avoiding the turmoil of the past couple of months if I follow it.
Just three things on my list
Address my marketing – do what makes a difference and don’t bother with what doesn’t.
Get a planner – and use it!
Research the galleries that I want to stock my work.
Tregony Gallery will remain firmly on my list!
Having got that all out of the way I decided that the day was too good to be in the studio and I set off to play in the water.
With the Falmouth Classics in full swing it was wall to wall boats in the bay.
When I got back to my phone it was to a message form the wonderful Tregony Gallery to say that whilst I had been messing about in boats they had sold five of my pieces!! Do I panic that I need to make more work I hadn’t planned for? No! I will refer to my planner and decide what to do calmly and sensibly.
This week a dear friend introduced me to Simon Jenkin’s book England’s Thousand Best Churches. She did this shortly after I had introduced her to one of the gems of the Roseland Peninsular, the thirteenth century church at St Just in Roseland. I am particularly fond of this church and so it is one of the places which, when showing visitors for the first time, I take great care to approach from the right direction. We walked out along the Bar, a spit of shingle which reaches across the creek, so that she could see the church across the water. She was appropriately impressed. A series of ‘wow’s and other appreciative sounds confirmed this. Later we walked round and into the church. It is a beautiful and interesting place full of peace and history. Its creek-side setting and semi-tropical gardens are the icing on the cake.
I was astonished that Jenkins only gives St Just one star and have resolved to explore some of the Cornish churches to which he awards 4 stars in order to compare and contrast. Turning to the page for the Roseland churches I was shocked. None of them merit more than one star and Jenkin’s summary of the Roseland is ‘A secret annex which might just as well be called Going Nowhere!’ I would like to add to that, please, Mr Jenkins.
The Roseland is steeped in history and tales of daring do; its coast is rugged and yet gentle at the same time; its geology is fascinating; its villages have their hearts in tact because they still have sufficiently large residential populations, having been blighted slightly less than some parts of Cornwall by people who own houses but only use them for a few weeks a year. I could go on and on but, given that one of its charms is that people leave it alone to some extent, I won’t tempt them!
This is my playground!
Having given Jenkin’s remarks some time to filter through my tatty brain I appreciate their accuracy. Geography makes his comments completely accurate. Apart from a couple of ferries there is literally one road in and one road out.
You don’t come to the Roseland unless you meant to!
You don’t come to the Roseland unless you meant to – and I meant to! It gives me a sense of well being. It is my playground. It inspires my work and I am truly glad that I now have the opportunity to live and work here.