This is the End of the Beginning

Celia David's delicate slip castings
Celia David’s delicate slip castings

The ceramics diploma at City Lit has been a most wonderful experience.  I have learned so much from wonderful tutors and I feel much more certain of my way in ceramics.

Claudia Wassiczek's intriguing and thought provoking wall pieces
Claudia Wassiczek’s intriguing and thought provoking wall pieces

Mind you, I think the thing I know most certainly now is that I know almost nothing about ceramics!  What a subject.  The discovery of what it can do is going to take me the rest of my life!

The last two weeks will be with me for ever.  It has been incredibly hard work getting everything ready, first for New Designers and then, almost without drawing breath, for our graduation show at Candid Arts but, my word, it has been worth every drop of blood and sweat and tears.


Young Ran Lee's massive, architectural groups
Young Ran Lee’s massive, architectural groups

It has been a real privilege to work along side some truly lovely people and I have enjoyed sharing so much with a group of fellow students whom I believe will be friends for ever – I certainly hope so!  I have learned a lot about myself and been presented with some exciting opportunities for the future.  Lucky me!

Enrica Casentini's beautiful oval vessel
Enrica Casentini’s beautiful oval vessel
Sassirika's delicate flowing forms.
Sassirika’s delicate flowing forms.
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Ranti Bamgbala’s colourful collaged pieces
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Jess Prout’s remarkable selection of vintage cameras

I woke this morning thinking about the work which has been in the gallery this week – not mine, that of my colleagues.  The range of pieces has been so extra-ordinary.

Tania McCallin's massive yet beautiful vessels.
Tania McCallin’s massive yet beautiful vessels.

We have had the same tutors and been on the same course yet in the last few months our explorations have shot off in every single direction resulting in an exhibition which was incredibly diverse and of a truly fabulous level of skill – and all achieved over two years studying for two days per week.  Not bad!

Steven Will's delightful porcelain vessels.
Steven Will’s delightful porcelain vessels.

So I wanted to share a few of what I think are the highlights of this week’s exhibition.  Watch out – these artists are going to hit the big time, or I shall drink my glazes!

I cannot help it though, in all this work I still feel there is one person’s work that calls to me more than any other and, in the end I was compelled to bring one of her pieces home with me at the end of it all today.  Joanne Bain throws the most delightful shapes.  Her bottles gather in groups and create a dialogue with each other.  They take on the semblance of figures and as she describes it, ‘hint at a deeper kinship between them’.  What better way to finish the diploma than with a group of ceramic pieces which reflects the way I feel about the characters on the course?  Thank you, Jo.

Position leads to relationships.  Joanne Bain
Position leads to relationships. Joanne Bain

The Birth of Art.

I am almost there!  New Designers is only days away, the work is packed, the shelves painted.  I think I am good to go.  Yesterday was spent with a lovely group of people at City Lit preparing the plinths for our graduation show at Candid Arts, which is the week after.  Who’s idea was it to have two shows in two weeks I wonder?

The space at the end of all this frantic preparation has got me feeling reflective.  I am beginning to identify the making sequence with which I develop a piece and, for all those artists out there who read and share my blog, I thought I might have a go at defining the different periods.

Gestation:  For me a period of agony!  In a recent issue of Ceramic Review (issue 273) Gareth Mason described the desire to achieve as an ‘ache’ which for him has a continual ‘tug of war’ with his inner critic.  He might feel that he has the upper hand here – a maker of considerable repute; a household name, a man with many years experience and skill.  So who am I to have the nerve to empathise with him? Well, I think he describes my feelings exactly.  The sleepless nights of ‘pot anxiety’ when you know that there is something going to happen.  It is almost like the tension before a thunder storm; that heavy feeling in the air.

First semester: Then comes the stage where ideas creep in.  You think you know where you are going, you are just not sure what route to take or what things will look like in the end.  There is a lot of trial and error.  I make a fast amount of rubbish at this stage.  The frustration is palpable.  I cannot work out what it is I want to express but I know there is something coming.

Second Semester: By now, I have started to narrow things down.  I enforce a bit of discipline into my work.  I make myself reject some ideas and follow about three or four.  I know that I am still not making the final pieces but I have to make this stuff in order to end up in the right place.

Third Semester: At last!  Some idea has hit a chord.  I can reject everything else – stop all house work, give up on cooking or shopping, think of little else.  There should be a big notice hung round my neck at this stage – unless the question involves the word clay, do not even bother to ask it.  Perhaps I should get a badge made!

Labour: Now I am flying – work churns out, a level of confidence seems to build, I know where I am going.  Make, Make, Make.

Birth: But suddenly another feeling seeps in.  I seem to take a step back and look at my work with a more critical, but less confident eye.  The work is almost done but is it any good?  Does it say what I wanted it too?  Is the message clear?  Does the work stand up to scrutiny?

This is where I am with my final work for the diploma at the moment.  Days away from the exhibitions, preparation all done and full of doubt.

Later: . . . Well what little experience I have of this stage has shown me that there is a very strange feeling once the work is on the plinth.  It looks good, doesn’t it?  But who else might think so?  And what if they buy it – what will they do with it?  Will it get the treatment that I thought it deserved?  Will it look good where they place it?  What will they say to their friends about it?  Will anyone buy it at all?

Ready for the exhibition – but what if . . . . .

Gareth Mason describes this process extremely well. ‘Emotional impetus to begin is inspirational.  It feels optimistic – yet this rite-of-apprehension can wreck my day.  Getting started can be an act of frustration, anger, or even desperation’.  What I find most daunting of all is that I was sort of hoping the feeling might get easier to handle.  But if people like Mason are writing about it, I have to accept that this is the path which I have chosen.  It is not all about the clay – it is equally about the highs and lows of mood which accompany the resolving of the piece.