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?

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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.

How much is that Doggie in the Window?

0[1]Pricing!  What is one supposed to do about it?  I have recently been wrestling with this a great deal.  I have two important events coming up – New Designers, which is a show case for arts graduates where I am looking forward to meeting all sorts of people and hoping that some of them might express an interest in my work, and City Lit Ceramics own graduation show at Candid Arts Gallery, Islington the following week to which some big galleries, collectors and ‘names’ from the world of ceramics have been invited.  It is important to get it right!

Too low and I am saying the wrong things about my work.  I am telling people that I do not value the effort, time and thought that has gone into it.  I also run the risk of devaluing the very course on which I have been studying for the past couple of years.  Too high and, once again, I am saying the wrong things.  I risk insulting those artists who have been in this game for may years.  Who are known in the world of ceramics and whose time and effort is valued at a particular price – way higher than I could dream of – by the world at large and which I should be wary of getting anywhere near.

So as a fledgling artist what does one do?  A year ago I sold a piece for £200.  I was over the moon.  I thought that I had arrived!  Shortly afterwards I was advised that this figure did not give my work sufficient credit, that no-one would take me seriously, that I should triple my prices.  I followed this advice with considerable trepidation.  £600 for a bit of fragile porcelain!!!  The result was that no-one was prepared to value my work at that price and I have sold little since.

My tutor’s advice is that I should be in the region of £150 to £480.  That doesn’t sound too far fetched to me.  I do value my work.  It has taken hours of thinking, puzzling, resolving, trying to work out how best to say what I want to say  That has got to be worth something.  Yet is it, really?  I woke up this morning with a sense of deep misgiving about what I am putting into the final show.  It is good.  Yes I really do believe that.  But it is not as good as it gets. I know that there is something missing – something that I haven’t made yet.  So how do I price a piece which is already being pushed to the back of my mind because another germ of an idea is already filling my head?  If only I had the time I could be putting something better into the show, something of real value!!

The best is yet to come . .

The best is yet to come . .

In the end I suppose it comes down to a couple of points. Firstly it has to be great news that the best is yet to come.  I have a direction in which to go after the course has ended for one thing.  Then there is the need to acknowledge the fact that I am showing in a group exhibition.  There will be work in that exhibition which I truly admire and which I would pay considerably more for than I would for my own pieces.  So perhaps I need to wait and see how the rest of my contemporaries price their work and then value mine accordingly.

What now?

So here I am, final lecture over, New Designers exhibition done, boxes packed for our graduation show (which begins on Wednesday at Candid Arts in Islington), practically done and dusted and I find that I am lying awake at night with a serious case of pot anxiety.  This is ridiculous!  I have no projects to make for, I have the summer ahead of me to relax, think about the future and bask in the sun and I am worrying about what to make.

The thing is, that’s just it!  I have nothing to make for.  I am dreading losing my direction.  I need a project.  But it is no good simply setting one for myself, it has to have a purpose.  The great things about being on a course are that you have a clear direction and the camaraderie of like minded people with whom to share the experience.  We are about to scatter to the four winds and I am missing us already!

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Long forgotten but full of potential for exploring.

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Fully polished – looking fairly amazing!

I found a forgotten and unloved trial piece at the back of my shelf whilst I was tidying it this week.  I was half way to the dustbin with it when I realised that it just might be the impetus I need to get going post-diploma.  I am very aware that I have only touched the surface of so many interesting techniques in the past two years and that there are a great many which I have had to discard in recent months in order to come up with a coherent body of work for an exhibition.  But the work which I made for my final semester is not exactly who I am.  This is work in progress, it is only the beginning!  Now it is time to haul out my note books and reject pieces and juts play with them.  Something is going to lead somewhere and in the meantime there is so much to do – glazes to revisit, methods to explore and develop, processes to be integrated into ideas which have worked well but could go further.  When I review the span of time ahead it is actually very exciting.  There is so much to do and explore and this long lost reject is just the beginning . . . no time to sleep, better get making!

Putting Your Work in Context

College recently asked us to answer the following four questions and so I decided to share my responses with you in an effort to clarify my own thoughts.  Here goes . . . . . . .

  • What is my work about and how does it relate to other work, in ceramics or other visual arts fields, in a theoretical context.
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I think that my over-riding need is for my work to have some kind of narrative; the relationship between the interior of a vessel and its exterior or between one piece and another in a group together with the origins of the idea is of vital importance to me and so it needs to shine through in the finished piece.

Jung saw a drive in all of us to become ‘the person we are born to be’; to achieve Individuation.  In my constantly shifting lifestyle I have often felt quite a loss of identity.  The starting point for my work is something profoundly Cornish in me. I am using it to express my desire to belong whilst also reflecting my fascination with contrast.   I want to work with the materials, incorporating their behaviours and characteristics into my work rather than imposing my control over them.  But, more than anything else, I want to incorporate an element of luck and chance into my work.  My work is based more in emotion and intuition than in logic and function and I think that I am drawn to certain sorts of art because of a rather romantic desire to escape from convention.  I can relate to ideas about giving strength to individuals, about their place in nature and opposition to oppressive social convention.   I find renewal in nature and in the wild places. I have a love of the fundamentals of life; the relationships which we build with each other and with our home and the fragility and vulnerability of those relationships.  At the same time I am not afraid to break the rules and try new ways of doing things.  Now I have discovered the delicious unpredictability of adding found materials to my work I suspect that there will be no going back.

  • Where is my work ‘located’ in relation to other ceramics or other visual art.

007 (5)My work is non functional, ceramic, abstract art.  Often it seems to be more about process than about the finished piece.  I am excited by the work of Adam Buick, who makes moon jars using locally dug clay and finds which convey a sense of place.  He draws paths as a motif on his pots which he uses to represent his actual and metaphoric journeys through a place.  He considers that the understanding of a landscape arises from moving through it, providing context with paths, like common routes of experience, guiding us through it.  I also find inspiration in the work of experimental abstract artists such as Gillian Lowndes, a ceramicist, and Richard Long, a land artist.

  • Where do I see my work being shown and sold.

That is a very good question!  I have already exhibited at exhibitions and have succeeded in selling through galleries and also at the Open Studios in Wimbledon, but where would I really like to see it sold?  I have a suspicion that it needs to find its way into a contemporary gallery before I start to be successful but that seems like a distant dream at the moment.  I would love to show at Ceramic Art London and at the Contemporary Ceramics Centre.  I do not envisage selling at craft fairs where the buyers are looking for useful things like mugs and bowls which I do not really have any interest in making.  Having said that, I can envisage a time when my work might return to some level of functionality but never on a scale of mass production.

I would love to have my work shown here!

I would love to have my work shown here!

  • What price will I put on it and why.

Last year at the Wimbledon Artists Open Studios I was told that I should triple my prices.  At that show I was charging a maximum of £200 for what I considered to be my most interesting work.  How did I come to that figure?  Well it certainly wasn’t about the cost of materials.  My work was more newspaper than clay and had only been through a single firing. Nor was it related to the time it had taken to make, which amounted to many hours of careful, laborious and at times rather dull effort.  So what was it that I was selling?  I suppose it was the execution of the idea, and possibly also the metaphor with which I had imbued the piece.  What ever it was, not only did I sell that, most expensive piece but I sold a good deal more besides.  This year, having followed the afore mentioned advice I charged in excess of £600 for some pieces and sold virtually nothing.  Now there could be any number of reasons for this change in my fortunes; the right people did not happen to come along; my work has changed and is no longer so appealing; I was tired from all the recent effort and did not shine, hence neither did my work.  But I cannot ignore the possibility that this time people decided that my work was over priced!  So how on earth do you decide?

What should you charge for a few small pieces of clay which are so fragile they risk blowing away in the next high wind?

Oh What a Week!

I think that I can honestly say that this week I have felt more tired than in almost any week of my life!  On the other hand, I would not have missed it for the world.  Wimbledon Artist’s Open Studios is always a fantastic event.  I love meeting the people who choose to come and talk to me about my work.  It does my ego a huge amount of good (or harm depending on how you view the need or otherwise for me to have an inflated ego!).  I still remember the first time that Regina, my studio share, and I took part.  I was so nervous that I spent some hours before we opened our doors pacing around the nearby park trying to calm myself.  I commented more than once on how if one person who I did not know chose to buy one of my pieces I would be happy.

Now I feel like an old hand.

I feel like an old hand!

I feel like an old hand!

I have 5 Open Studio events under my belt.  Each one very different from the last.  This time I sold less that sometimes but the feedback which I received was so positive that my ego boost has still led to an increase in hat size!  One of the great things about the event was the number of people who voiced an interest in coming to the ceramics diploma final show, now only a few weeks away.  I have a long list of email addresses to send invitations to .  If it is not yet in your diary and you are interested, make a note now for Islington, Candid Arts Centre, the week of 1st July.  I will be posting more details as it draws nearer.

So this week has been about catching up with myself post that event; fitting in three wonderful days teaching and enjoying every minute of working with children who do not find accessing education as easy as their peers, despite their incredible intellect; getting the last of my large vessels made for the final push: they are so big that they are taking 3 weeks to dry and so I cannot keep going right up to the line; making sure that all my glaze planning is up to date; contructing the contents of my vessels –

Not thinking ceramic thoughts for a whole five minutes!

Not thinking ceramic thoughts for a whole five minutes!

I will show you what I mean in a future blog but, to whet your appetite, lets just say there is a massive contrast between strong, sturdy, reliable vessel and frail, vunerable, gossamer thin contents-  and, most necessary of all; restoring my energy levels.

It was a wonderful moment when, whilst floating on the high seas yesterday afternoon aboard my darling escape pod, Annika, that I realised I had not had a ceramic related thought for over 5 minutes!

Hot Pots on Plinths.

Hot Pots on Plinths!

Hot Pots on Plinths!

This week I was shown the very impressive timetable which one of my fellow students had produced in order to make sure that she had everything ready for the various shows with which we are involved.  It sent a cold shudder down my spine!  On the one hand I can completely see the sense in knowing what needs doing when.  On the other, in my case I still need to feel free to come up with one last great idea.  If I was to set myself a timetable I suspect it would have the most disastrous consequences.  The truth is that I am not really very pleased with much of the work that I have made for the final show and I am still waiting for a lightning bolt to strike.  It would have no chance if I had an intricate plan which I felt I had to follow.  On the other hand, I suppose it is helpful to have some idea from the point of view of getting everything dry, fired and finished or else you are at serious risk of ending up with what my very first ceramics tutor, Simon Taylor, at Weston College Somerset called ‘hot pots on plinths’.

In point of fact I suspect that Simon might well be the same kind of maker as me – inspiration striking at the final moment giving him just enough time to get the best pieces through the making process before the critical deadline whereas the lovely student concerned with setting off this train of thought makes complicated moulds which have taken weeks to construct.  She has had to plan her route to the finish with infinite care to be sure that her moulds were ready to use at the crunch moment.  One look at my worktable is enough to make it quite clear that inspiration is still some way off!

Inspiration is still some way off . . .

Inspiration is still some way off . . .

On the other hand, my ‘To Do’ list is immense and includes among other things preparation for Wimbledon Artists Studios open weekend which is now only 5 days away, drying and firing the last of my more solid work, getting all my marketing blurb in order for both New Designers which is in 6 weeks and preparing something to put on a plinth or two at our final show which is takes place at Candid Arts Gallery in Islington in seven weeks.

Candid Arts Gallery, Islington

Candid Arts Gallery, Islington

More on that anon but suffice to say at this time that the space is vast and I had better get making or I run the risk of being really rather embarrassed! – I feel a timetable coming on!!

On the up side, my wonderful daughter and most important critic arrived at Wimbledon Artists Studios yesterday armed with sustenance to prevent emaciation setting in during the biannual transformation of my studio into a gallery for next weekend.  She sat looking at my work and gently but firmly reminded me that perhaps in all the pressure I might have lost sight of what it is that feels like beauty to me.  She is so right – what ever happened to fragile, floating vulnerable forms with flowing lines?  Right, six weeks to make amends then!

Have I lost sight of what beauty means to me?

Have I lost sight of what beauty means to me?