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.
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.
Alan has painted plinths, mopped brows, calmed nerves and polished vessels without a single complaint.
I think I might have over-stretched myself a bit recently. I have committed to too many exhibitions and commissions in a short space of time and found myself with a bit of a problem. This blog is in recognition of the part of my team which always seems to come up with a solution to this kind of problem. He does it with more cheer than I can muster on most normal days and with greater efficiency than anyone else I know. In fact, he leaves me feeling more exhausted by his efforts than I was before but, quite frankly, I could not have got through the last few weeks without him!
My darling husband has not only been responsible for bringing me hot drinks and lightly poached eggs whilst I have been fighting the ‘Mother of all Colds’,
Sometimes I have been feeling like a scalded cat
he has also shopped for buckets of ice-cream; he has visited the chemist for the most vile cough linctus ever created; he has listened with patience and tolerance whilst I have alternately moped like a kicked puppy and scratched like a scalded cat;
At other times I just wanted to crawl away and lick my wounds.
he has painted plinths late into the evening; he has waited at our private view pouring wine and engaging our guests with charm and wit and he has polished my vessels.
I have mentioned the wet polishing of vessels before. It is a painstaking, time consuming, messy, cold, wet, unpleasant activity! My other half has polished 21 vessels this week – at an average of an hour per vessel. Well, you do the maths! Even if I had been well and fit it would have been utterly impossible for me to get done all that needed doing unless someone took from me the load of doing the polishing. One word of warning though. He has done such an amazing job on the polishing that he might have constructed for himself a cross that he now has to carry for all time!!
Alan, thank you. I found something which says it far better than I can – this is for you.
I picked up The Muse by Jessica Burton the other day. I bought it because it was in the Sunday Times best sellers list and I needed to read something by somebody new. It is different to many books that I have read in the past and I am enjoying it greatly. What I had not expected was that it might resonate with my own thoughts quite so much.
I am left with little choice this week but to quote from it:
When I began receiving public acknowledgement for a private act, something was essentially lost. My writing became an axis upon which all my identity and happiness hinged. It was now outward looking, a self-conscious performance. I was asked to repeat the pleasure again and again, until the facsimile of my act became the act itself.
I know exactly how this character is feeling! A friend spotted it in me a couple of weeks back and asked what I was planning to do about it. The truth is that I have no idea.
Whilst it is hugely flattering that people like my work, I am easily bored and I fear it will soon be time to move on.
I am hugely excited and flattered that people like my current work but success brings some weird emotions. I want to make for myself! I miss the devil-may-care attitude and I feel cramped by the prescriptiveness of what I am making. I broke my New Year’s resolution to include something experimental in each firing within about 3 weeks because I was working so hard to satisfy the demand for my work.
I am dreadfully aware of how ungrateful this sounds and I am sorry for that but I confess to being scared at the moment that this is who I am. I have come up with an idea that people seem to like and now I am stuck on a production line.
To miss-quote Jessica Burton,
I have forgotten the genesis of my impulse; unbothered, pure creation, existing outside the parameters of success and failure.
I appreciate that this must seem rather conceited but I am easily bored and I have a feeling that it might be almost time to beat a retreat and start again before I forget why I make things. Who am I?
As some of my readers know, when I am in London I live on a boat. This week we cast off our moorings and set sail on the River Thames with few plans except to go up the river. It is wonderful to be so free to chose how to spend our time. By day two we were chugging gently past Runnymede and thought we ought to take a look around.
History is everywhere in this place. I knew about the Magna Carta. I had at least done THAT much history when I was at school but it did me a lot of good to read about it again and consider what the signing of this document actually stands for. Obviously there is more to it than this and I know that King John was not quite as good as his word so it was some considerable time before we enjoyed the freedoms which is lays down but I am absolutely clear that during the time since it was originally enshrined in history it has been considered a true milestone in the fight for individual rights and freedoms.
Both the United States Bill of Rights and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights owe a great deal to Magna Carta, to name just two. Without it the world would be a poorer place. When I reached somewhere with a wifi signal I did a bit of searching and found this wonderful clip on the British Museum website which, for those who are interested, gives a ‘nutshell explanation’ of this incredibly important document. It is worth a look.
There are a number of other memorials in recognition of the struggle for liberty at Runnymede and so, puffed up with pride that it all started here in Britain, we set off to take a look. Eventually we found ourselves on the hill over looking the river. Here there is a haunting reminder of the loss of life by Allied Air Forces during the Second World War. In one year, 1943, there were more than 30 men killed with the name Smith. That is to say there were 30+ men with the surname Smith who were sergeants in the RAF killed in that year. This does not count other ranks called Smith. Nor does it include members of other Air Forces: Canadians; New Zealanders; Australians to name just a few. Nor does it include anyone with surnames which include ‘Smith’ and some other suffix or prefix. as I looked at this particular column of names – one of 300 – I found myself shivering with some intangible and deeply sad emotion. More so that when I tried to digest the fact that 20,000 men are remembered on the monument. Maybe that number is too large to comprehend.
The combined Air Forces memorial at Runnymede.
I hate war! I cannot understand why differences of opinion cannot be thrashed out over a plate of Nachos and a beer or two. But the fact remains that in the early 20th century the world was plunged into despair and huge numbers of people died for the simple reason that they believed in Freedom. I have never felt more appreciative of their sacrifice than I did standing there in the solitude as the daylight was dimming.
I need to make something very special from the small handful of clay that I picked up in a tree throw on the slope of Cooper’s Hill below the memorial.
I want it to be as open and welcoming as possible.
I have started on a large dish which is as open as I can make it. I want it to look as though anyone might be able to approach it and rinse their hands. I also want it to be as fragile as possible in recognition of the fragility of the peace and freedom which we are so privileged to enjoy in this country. If I don’t get it right the first time I shall keep remaking it until I do because this matters!