The Crest of a Wave

I make no apology for including a mass of links and no images in this blog.  The thinking being that you all just need to go and see for yourselves!

I have had a lovely time this week.  I have enjoyed my daughter’s dress rehearsal with the lovely Pindrop quartet, I have lunched at the Royal Academy (with said daughter), I have visited the spring exhibition at Erskine Hall and Coe where I especially loved the work of Sarah Flynn and Elizabeth Fritsch , I went to the book launch in Kew of a dear friend’s first novel (Congratulations to Mike Thexton for the Magistrate’s Son – available from other bookshops as well!) and last but by no means least, I have been at Ceramic Art London, the highlight of the contemporary ceramics calendar in the UK.

Ceramic Art London was a veritable feast of talks and stands showing gorgeous work by talented makers who, without exception, are happy to talk about techniques, ideas, glazes, skills – you name it, they are willing to share.  I have to say, the generosity of spirit shown by people who work in clay is greater than in any other walk of life that I come into contact with.  I picked up cards from many stands, especially enjoying the work of Rachel Wood – for her delicious surface decoration, Chris Taylor – for his use of colour and decals, Chris Keenan – for being Chris Keenan! and Megan Rowden for her delicious surface texture and alternative firing techniques and I went to a number of talks.

The talks, and I only managed three of the 15 on offer, gave me a lifetimes inspiration.  So here are just a few tidbits to scatter into the wind for those unfortunate enough to have missed this great show:

From Stephanie Buttle – ‘The need to push the clay to its absolute limits’, ‘If your life is off balance, where does that energy go?’  ‘You need a platform.  Without one, it remains inside your head.’

From Stuart Carey who set up The Kiln Rooms in London – The need to be able to bounce ideas around with other people when one is in the early stages of your career but the need also for a ‘Fortress of solitude’, the fact that ceramics is on the crest of a wave and we all have a responsibility ‘to get it out there; to talk about it; write about it; discuss our work.’  He had good advice about setting prices for ones work: About not underselling oneself; about watching out for (and avoiding) the ‘holes in the market’.  The impact of ‘The London Effect’, especially for new artists and the need to maintain the very highest quality in everything we do.

From the wonderful Kate Malone – about the flow of ideas (and glazes); about how her vast source of reference material is full of things which ‘hits her subconscious and moves her inner soul; about ‘the sense of a world in a pot’; about the ‘creative alphabet’ of the artist which is such that, whenever you see it, it just rings a bell somewhere and you draw on it time and time again; about the use of the kiln as a tool rather than a useful hot place, the very thought that for one project you might make 15 000 pieces using 5 different clays and 4 different glazes and fill 600 IKEA boxes in the process!

Possibly the two things I shall try to hold onto most are:

  1. The idea of brinkmanship when making.  Not sure who said it but I am sure it is essential that one pushes everything to the limits.
  2. It’s about hands, about fingers, about touch. (Kate Malone). Yes it is!

Christmas is Coming

Christmas is coming, the pigs are getting hot!  O sorry, no, that’s wrong isn’t it.  I think that I am suffering some kind of melt down post Open Studios and, as a result, I find myself messing about in the studio.

I was rummaging about looking for moulds to play with and I came across a piggy mould.

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Covered in slips and using all kinds of clays.

Now as an inveterate saver I have always believed in incentivising people to save and what better way that to give them a piggy bank for Christmas?  Since Klay have taken a stall at the Burgh House Fair on 4th December, I thought that maybe I should think Christmassy for a while and so I got making.  The trouble is, I am pathologically unable to make ‘sweet’ and hence a litter of subversive little pigs was begun.  I have used strange clays, covered them with mono-printed slip decoration and thrown all kinds of glaze at them.

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Serious cracking!

Inevitably, there have been casualties along the way – adding a think layer of Vulcan black slip to a gentle, porcelain pig was bound to end in tears – but two of the litter made it through the first firing and were looking pretty smart so I threw some random glazes onto them and fired them right up to 1230.  Well you can either

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Poor piggy! I don’t think Vulcan black slip fits well over porcelain!

live or die trying in my book!  The result – pork crackling!  Just one pig, the one which didn’t have a mix of slips to begin with, has come through unscathed.  Actually I think it is better than unscathed.  The mix of slips and glazes has caused some incredible blistering and now I am at that difficult point where I am trying to decide if enough is enough or whether I should be adding to the subversion by putting decals all over it.  Hmm . .  decisions!

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This little piggy is going to market.

 

 

Along the way I have also made a pile of tiny little tree decorations which can go to Burgh House but of proper making, there has been little sign this week.  I think I need a few bracing walks on the beach to restore my mojo.  Cornwall, here I come!

Once More to the Dump, Dear Friends.

Moving house is proving very traumatic.  It is not so much the sorting, tidying and packing that is getting me down.  It is more the trips to the dump.  How on earth did I accumulate so much rubbish in the short time that I have lived in London?

The scary thing is that so much of what I have taken down to add to landfill is as a result of my ceramical activity; not something about which I feel terribly clever.

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Oh dear!

The problem with ceramics is that, once fired, they last for ever which is why they are so useful historically.  I wonder if, in the millennia to come some poor archaeologist is going to be subjected to sifting through a deep hole in south east England and will happen upon the efforts of my ceramics misadventures!

 

Fair enough, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs but when I think about the number of trips that I have done with car loads of experiments and errors over the past few weeks it drives home the responsibility that we all have to think before we fire.  I realise that the fact that much of this work was created as a part of my Diploma and from which I learned a huge amount mitigates this waste to some extent but at what cost?  I suppose there are a number of questions that we should ask ourselves each time we load a kiln.

  • What do I expect to achieve in this firing?
  • What is the likelihood of achieving it?
  • Which pieces already look like a triumph of hope over expectation?article-1104741-017C6CA2000004B0-617_468x286[1]http://www.dailymail.co.uk

     

I am not suggesting that we should not experiment, Heaven forbid!  Indeed I adhere to the view that every firing should include some kind of experimental piece.  I am simply suggesting that all of us have a responsibility to care for our planet and that as ceramic artists we are sending the planet a double whammy which makes it even more important that we examine our consciences on a regular basis:  We plunder our natural resources in order to make work which, if we are not happy with, we throw away where it adds to the problems of landfill.

You Have Arrived At Your Destination.

I spent a very happy day at Klaylondon this week enjoying the space and chatting to the lovely people who dropped in to admire the work in the gallery.  I think the gallery is looking amazing and it seems as if people are now beginning to talk about it and seek it out.  I have it on good authority that we sold a remarkable amount yesterday, but I digress.

The point of this blog is to dwell for a moment on where one thinks one is going as an artist and whether you ever actually get there.

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The Gallery is looking great.

Whilst I was enjoying the gallery a number of people came in specifically because they had spotted one of my pieces in the window and wanted a closer look.  In conversation with one of my fellow artists she told me that she thought it was clear that I had arrived; I knew what I was making; I had a great USP and all was going extremely well for me.  I was flattered!  I puffed myself up and preened my feathers and sat there for a moment basking in the compliment of a fellow artist.

 

On reflection though I realised how wrong she was.  It may be true that I have found a way of working which is new and exciting.  I may be making work which really pleases me and which gains a few compliments now and then. But arrived?  I don’t think that ever happens does it?  In the March/April issue of Ceramic Review There is an interview with David Westcott.  He talks about how every firing includes some new tests and describes the opening of the kiln as ‘still like Christmas Day’ because of that feeling of the unknown and the frisson of excitement.  Hail David!

I know what my friend meant. She was talking about the fact that I seem to know where I am going and here she does have a point.  I do seem to have found an exciting way of expressing my interest in the landscape which is new and different and which I am thoroughly enjoying.  On top of which, people appear to like my work, which is always a good thing!

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First finished piece from my Cornish Mining project.

Indeed, when I opened the kiln last night and discovered the first finished piece for my mining project had fired even better than I could have hoped, I did get that lovely sense of having ‘got there’.  But it is not so much that I have arrived, more that I now thing I know where I am going.  This way of making works for me.  However, as the interview with David concludes, ‘If you think you have made the perfect pop, you may as well give up.’

 

I haven’t! I am not about to! And I am delighted to report that every time I open the kiln is going to feel like Christmas for a very long time to come!

And we have lift off . . .

I can hardly believe that our pop up shop is now open for business.  It was only mid January when we had the first beginnings of an idea and it was only on Monday that we got the keys to the premises.  Previous to that there was a huge amount of planning and preparation to do and since Monday it has been all hands to the pump cleaning and decorating ready for our first day of business on Thursday. 12802780_589962844503429_4591393063765265220_n[1] The results of all this hard work is a great little gallery which all 12 of us are truly loving!  Equally important is the feeling of camaraderie which this project has generated.  The jobs to be done have been taken on willingly and happily by all and I am only aware of a sense of contentment derived from us pulling together to create something new, exciting and, in its own small way, amazing.  It is extraordinary how well our work sits together.  Obviously, since ten of the twelve met and trained together, we have a shared sense of values and there is a feeling of harmony within our work and yet, in addition, the City Lit Ceramics Department impressed on us the need for originality and independent thinking which now shines through the entire gallery.  Quality functional ware sits comfortably side by side with contemporary vessels and sculptural work and the entire look is one seems really comfortable.

One of our visitors yesterday was Luke Bishop.  he is a former graduate form Ciy Lit too and is now doing really well in the field of ceramic art.  he confessed to me that he was mildly envious of our project and we chatted for a while about how it had come about.  Honestly, I think if it hadn’t been for the wonderful way in which we had related to each other and supported each other through the trauma, excitement, exhaustion and sheer hard work which was the diploma, we would not be here in Camden now and I know that my life would be less rich as a result.

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The Klay Gallery tucked up tight at the end of its first Saturday.

I am not aware of any other group graduates who have embarked on something like this but, if you are out there, please get in touch as it would be great to share our experiences.

Rubbing Shoulders with the Future Greats!

Last autumn I was lucky enough to be invited to exhibit at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair.  It was a fantastic weekend and whilst it didn’t lead directly to me making my fortune it did open up other opportunities for me, one of which was my recent invitation to become a member of the Design Factory as an emerging maker.  This, in turn is leading on to other things.  But this blog is not about me.

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My stand at the GNCCF

One of the people who was exhibiting close to me was a lovely young lady called Hannah Tounsend.  It was not the first time that I had met her, she had been at the New Designers exhibition in the summer and I had also seen her work in the British Ceramics Biennial at Stoke on Trent on my way to Manchester.  Both times her work had struck me as different and exciting.  We stood side by side over the weekend in Manchester and I mused on the possibility, if I sold a lot of my work, of owning one of hers.  This is so often the temptation – to spend my hard won cash on other ceramics rather than food!  Sadly, this time, I resisted the temptation and came away empty handed. This might have been a mistake!

 

Unsurprisingly, Hannah went on to win Fresh.  Then yesterday my new copy of Ceramic Review landed with a thump on the door mat.  At the first opportunity I curled up in a chair with it and a coffee to indulge in my favourite activity of flicking through to prioritise the order of my in depth reading later in the month; it always makes me think of opening a box of chocolates and lining them up with the fudge at the front of the line and the strawberry creams at the other end.  This time I was stopped in my tracks by one article: There she is again, smiling out from the pages of an article on Ones to Watch, cradling one of her large, atmospheric pieces and definitely going places!

Hannah’s work combines throwing and hand building to create large porcelain pieces which have a fabulous printed surface inspired by the cliffs and coastline of Britain. Her pieces are strikingly beautiful.

This girl is making such a splash with her wonderfully fresh vessels that she actually appears twice in this edition of Ceramic Review; there is a short article on her in the CPA news section of the magazine as well.  I think I missed a trick in Manchester and my advice to collectors is to grab a piece of this girl’s work before she is too expensive.  After all, another article which I need to read properly this month talks of a Lucie Rie piece which was bought in 1975 for £36.00 and has just made £32,000.00 at auction!

Go Hannah!

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Hannah Tounsend is definitely going places!

So Did You Pass?

Test results – do they matter?

All through my ceramics diploma course I have been telling myself that it was the course, not the results which were important and I still hold to that very strongly.  On the other hand when a dull, buff coloured envelope (which might have been from the Inland Revenue except that I don’t think they write addresses by hand) arrived this week I was curious.  These days letters are a rarity and those addressed by hand smell of intrigue.  I ripped it open and instantly recognised the format of the paper work inside.  Before I could read any of the results I stopped – I wanted to remind myself of my claim.  Results don’t matter.  The comments on these flimsy sheets would mean much more than any percentage figures, wouldn’t they?  Apparently not!  Thanks to the perverse workings of my brain I could, if I wished to, tell you all of the percentages on those sheets right now.  I shan’t!  But I cannot tell you a single comment without reading them again.  Congratulations, you did moderately well!

I have bust several guts in the process of getting from one end of the course to the other.  My husband has had to take over all the cooking in order not to starve .  There have been weeks of sleepless nights.  I have tossed and turned or, worse, got up and paced the house, because I could not resolve some problem.  We in the know called it ‘Pot Anxiety’ and all of us suffered from it at one time or another.  The diploma has entered not only the pores of my skin and the underneath of my finger nails but also the very fabric of my dreams.  For what?  To excel.  To do my very best.  To understand as much as I possibly could before time was ‘up’ and I had to go it alone.  It really wasn’t so that I could reach for my calculator and confirm what I already knew.  I would frankly have been ashamed if I had been awarded better marks – I was less pleased with my final exhibition that anyone else could have been.  I knew that my ideas were only partially resolved so it should be absolutely no surprise.

As a professional teacher I have always worked to a very strict mark scheme.  For a time I was a Moderator for one of the public examination boards at GCSE level and the Internal Verifier for a set of school BTEC courses.  I learned, through a process of rigorous training, how to allocate marks and how certain criteria represented a particular grade.  On the other hand, I have now had the luck/privilege to undertake 5 courses in Higher Education institutions and I cannot resist making a bit of a comparison.

My experience of tertiary education has been truly amazing.  In addition I have long maintained that, as a teacher, it is important for me to sit on both sides of the desk and to understand how it feels to be on the receiving end of things for a while.  I shall value the knowledge, understanding and personal development which I have gained from a long series of excellent tutors, whose wisdom and comments I have truly enjoyed, for ever.  But I do think there is a bit of a hole in the world of Higher Education which could do with some filling.   In my view, English schools are streets ahead on the topic of marking.  Their schemes are scrutinised to the ‘nth’ degree.  Marking is checked, peer reviewed, externally moderated and sometimes reviewed again.  Those young people who are lucky enough to be awarded a particular grade in this summer’s public exams can be confident that their marks mean something very clear and they can be extremely proud of their achievements.  I wish I could say the same of some of the tertiary marks which I have had the luck to obtain.  I would love to see a much clearer correspondence between mark-scheme criteria achieved, comments and actual marks.  Perhaps it is appropriate that those people who are gaining ‘school stage education’, and for whom a particular range of results can be life changing, it is the marking which must be particularly rigorous.  Whilst, once one reaches the Higher Education level, it is the quality of the learning and the skills gained which mean so much more.  Yet I wonder whether, if the two levels of institution got together, the one might learn off the other to the benefit of all.

One thing, though.  I have expended so much effort on being adventurous and experimental on this course that I can see now that I lost sight of the value of the balanced proportions and clear aesthetics in a top quality piece.  I rather wish that one of my tutors had pointed that out to me instead of it dawning on me once the dust had settled and I had tucked myself up in my own little studio to make under no pressure and, thanks to the knowledge gained on the course, with much more pleasing results.

I believe this is so much more pleasing to look at than anything that I made for the final show.  The best idea came too late!

I believe this is so much more pleasing to look at than anything that I made for the final show. The best idea came too late!