What I am trying to say is . . .

I find myself wondering whether I put enough information into my pieces to enable the people who look at them and say they like them to know what my thinking was during the making of them.  Part of me feels that I should leave it to their imagination; that people will read what they want into a piece and it is not for me to make it explicit.  On the other hand I make what I do because certain things matter to me and I rather want people to know what those things are.IMG_8684

Maps and found clay give a piece an identity and an idea of landscape; fragile layers and the image of a very thin piece give a sense of fragility.  Is that enough?

Richard Long uses the phrase ‘If I don’t walk, my art does not exist’.  When I was doing the final work for my foundation degree at Weston I altered this to ‘if you don’t walk my art does not exist’.  My work for that project was positioned within the landscape and I thought the meanings within it were clear.  I know better now!  But this is still, for me, a difficult debate.

start with the first step

David Whyte, Riverflow: This speaks to me!

Are maps sufficient?  Are they too much?  Should I be including words as well or instead?  I rather like the idea of words, although for some reason I then want to make them difficult to read so what on earth is the point of that?


There is some beautiful poetry which resonates so well with what I wish to say in my work that a part of me would love to include it and some fabulous quotes which would also sit well with my thoughts.

time quotes

Sketchbook notes.

I carry a note book with me wherever I go and in it I record not just sketches and thoughts but quotes which I like.  Some of these are itching to find their way into my work.

Not long ago I was introduced to the work of James Goodman.  In his collection Claytown he has a remarkable piece which, just by using the names of Ordnance Survey symbols creates a fantastic image of the landscape through which he is travelling.  It is a great idea and one I feel tempted to play with.  On the other hand, Adam Buick adds nothing to his moonjars except the idea of landscape, letting them speak for themselves.  Is this the way to go?  There is absolutely no doubt that his work speaks volumes without words, images or maps.

“Adam Buick has imposed on himself the strict discipline of the simplest and purest of geometric forms. Don’t expect his spheres of fired clay to be standoffish or predictable though. Yes Adam makes white porcelain moon jars as chaste in their beauty as the old Korean dal-hang-a-ri vessels that first inspired him. But within the confines of his spherical ‘canvas’ he also conjures up worlds of spontaneous drama, pots so diverse in their scale and texture, so exquisite in their making, so alive with the Pembrokeshire landscape which they literally embody, that his passionate connection to his environment becomes unmistakable.”

Andrew Renton, Head of Applied Arts, National Museum, Cardiff

At the moment I am very conscious of our tutor, Annie Turner at City Lit who tried so hard to impress on us the idea of less being more.  So for the time being, since I cannot decide what to say, I think I shall say nothing at all.  People can make up their own minds and the vessels can speak for themselves.  Can you hear them?

Put it on and Scrape it Back

I thought that I would follow on from my theme of last week in which I described one of Annie Turner’s matra to the ceramic  diploma students at city lit.  I popped in to college yesterday to borrow some shelves and some plinths for the upcoming Great Northern Contemorary Crafts Fair which I have been invited to take part in as an emerging artist and as a direct result of exhibiting with City Lit at New Designers this summer.

There they were, the new cohort.  Looking a bit anxious and having a group session showing their summer projects to the rest of the students with Annie.  Oh I remember that day!  Have I done enough?  Have I done the right kind of things?  Is my work good enough for me to be here?

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A series of vessels under construction for the Royal Opera Arcade gallery’s sculpture and ceramics exhibition in October

scraped back

Knowing where to stop is quite important or you run the risk of scraping all the way to nothing!

But here I am two years on and one look at Annie gently coaxing the students out of their ceramic shells is enough to remind me of Annie’s instruction.  All week I have been ‘putting it on and scraping it back’!

What this means in practice is that you can add a lot of decoration or thickness to a piece but that the magic comes when you start taking it back off again so that you are left with just a trace.  This image shows what I mean quite well.  At the start the  vessel looks dreadful – smudged colours and no definition.  But as you begin to scrape away the outer layers line and flow appears.  You can control it to some extent but the real trick seems to be to know how far back to go.  It can feel a bit like sharpening a huge beam of wood and ending up with a small pencil but if you get it right it is really satisfying.

It seems to me that I am suddenly discovering a way of working which I really enjoy and which other people seem to appreciate as well.  I now have 4 exhibitions in the next five weeks, a private commission and, of course, the next open studios.   All of them are based on work which involves a lot of scraping.  In fact it seems to me that there are times when most of a vessel ends up on the floor.  But if what people want is the bare bones, scraped thin – well that’s fine by me because the process is so satisfying!

Its all about the Edges

so much to do

So much to do, so little time!

During the Ceramics Diploma, at City Lit, last year we learned a few of the tutors’ personal mantras.  This week I have been in the studio for every free moment.  I am currently making work for The Great Northern Contemporary Crafts Fair and  a Sculpture & Ceramics exhibition in the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery off Pall Mall, both of which are taking place next month .  There is a lot to make as I want to show as many representative pieces from my post-diploma ideas as possible.  All week one of the diploma mantras has been running round my head to such an extent that I think I am now saying it in my sleep.


Ceramics diploma: Coil project, year 1.

My first hand built piece for the course was, frankly, looking back on it, an embarrassment.  I think I even felt so at the time but now, two years on, it shames me.  So I am doing myself a bit of cathartic good by showing it here!

If we ignore the fact that I did not know then that mixing tin oxide and chrome oxide results in a very nasty colour, I look at this piece now and hang my head – what was I thinking?

Well time has moved on.  I now have two years of Annie Turner’s wise words – It’s all about the edges – running through my head.  It is very true.  You can get away with a multitude of sins if the eye goes straight to a good looking profile.  It doesn’t matter what the edge is; it can be bevelled, flat, thik, thin, what ever you like.  But if you get it wrong; uneven, thicker in some places than others, it takes away from everything else that you are trying to achieve.

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Hours of work is now going into my edges.

I have sweated over my edges a great deal this week and I know they are not in any sense perfect.  But I do believe they are coming.  And I firmly believe that Annie is right – you can hide a lot if your edges look good.  My latest pieces do look a million times better thanks to the edges.  So now it is simply a case of getting everything else to match them.  I only need to concentrate on the shape and balance of the piece, the surfaces, the glazing – all whilst not losing sight of the importance of the edges.  So there is very little now to do before I start making masterpieces!  Approximately another 10,000 hours should just about do it!

I Went to a Marvellous Party . . .

Amazing work by Jong Jin Park

Kyra Cane’s work has a beautiful subtlety to colour and tone.


Drift Net, Annie Turner: A wonderful example of a unique style in ceramics.

Well, it was actually an exhibition: Ceramic Art London at the Royal College of Arts in Kensington.  It is one of the great annual showcases of ceramic art in London every year with eighty makers selected from across the world and it is always a fantastic place to see what is new and listen to some useful hints and tips in the various lectures taking place.  So, what is new?  I was particularly intrigued by the work of Jong Jin Park who is a relative newcomer on the scene.  He makes use of paper and clay slips, just as I do, but he works in a very different way and his work is certainly different.  I was amazed to hear that he does not create the final shapes until he cuts into the piece after having fired it to 1300C.  I cannot wait to try that! In fact, seeing Jong Jin’s work and then spending quite a while chatting to Robert Cooper about his work, other peoples work and then, rather less significantly as far as the exhibition goes, my own work might well have set me on the course for my final semester.  Thank Heavens I hear you cry, no more heart searching then!  Robert was selling well at the exhibition, which was great to see – I certainly think he deserves to!  It was also wonderful to see that another of my tutors, Annie Turner, had been presented with the Emanuel Cooper Prize.  That was a fantastic choice.  Annie’s work is certainly different; fragile, coiled pieces which are about being rooted.  It resonates with me on so many levels and it is great to see her skill being given recognition. I was also drawn to Kyra Canes wonderfully evocative work.  Once again I was touched by the generosity of the artists who I talked to.  I do not know of any other world in which the experts would be so willing to share their own special tips with a newcomer.  It never ceases to amaze me and to fill me with joy that my chosen medium is peopled with such kind and open people.  The discovery program lectures which I attended were a fine example of this with Derek Wilson telling us all kinds of experiences and pitfalls which, for a mere beginner, seemed invaluable.

All in all this was a great day and if I came away with one important message it was the need for a group of pieces to work together.  All those exhibiting had taken a considerable amount of care to present a coherent exhibition which worked in terms of colour, groupings and the level of variety.  So now I need to take that on board, throw away the rubbish and start making an exhibition rather than a bunch of experiments.  No more excuses, Macklin!

Let No-one else’s work Evade Your Eyes!

I Once was a Ship

I Once was a Ship, Fred Gatley

In the words of Tom Learer, plagiarise, plagiarise, let no-one else’s work . . . . One of the great things about the world of ceramics, quite apart from the love of the material and the extraordinary things that can be done with it, is that people in this field are incredibly nice people!  I have not met anyone who has not been happy to talk about their work, share ideas and recipes for glazes, give advice and so on.  The tutors at City Lit have been extraordinarily generous in the information which they freely give to students who are interested, letting us in on age old secrets about particular ideas and contentedly allowing us to use their special techniques.  Annie Turner, in particular, has given people an amazing amount of help and advice over the duration of the course.  Thank you, Annie!

Annie Turner - recollection

Annie Turner – recollection

Last week I met Fred Gatley and he also spent a considerable time telling me about techniques that I could try and the ways in which he achieves his remarkable finishes.  The trouble is, where does making use of another artist’s ideas and recipes become plagiarism?  I would absolutely loath myself if I caused any offence to these lovely people but, having spent time in their company and being a very suggestible person, I find myself thinking more about their work than my own sometimes and this becomes a bit of a problem.  To what extent is it ok to take a glaze given to me by Annie and use it on a piece to be displayed using a method which was explained to me by Fred?  I love their work – that is why I have spent time with them and why they have been so generous with both time and information but because of that, there are days when I find it hard to think of my work as my own!  Sometimes I feel that I am just making a poor imitation of something that they would have done when they were setting out.   It is a fine line and one which I have no wish to cross! In other news, I have clearly caused a bit of entertainment with my post last week which contained a photograph of what looked a bit like a used condom hanging out to dry.  So this week I thought that I had better put the record straight.  The current status of said condom is that it has become a mould for a delicate and treasured tear – developments, which will hopefully look nothing like the work of either Annie nor Fred, will be shared in due course . . . . . .

Once I was a condom!

Once I was a condom!