On the Road Again.

It is the story of my adult life.  When I know the way around the supermarket, when I can confidently navigate the back roads it is Time.  Time to get the boxes out and say my goodbyes.  My daughter was only seven when she suggested to me that we were Travellers, although, given her creative imagination she was probably already referring to time travellers!

This move is a strange one in that it is very piecemeal.  First we packed up the house and put everything in store.  Then we started creating the house that we will move into next summer. Now I am packing the studio and taking on a temporary space at Lanhay and, whilst the new space will be bigger and cheaper and closer to the building work, I don’t like the act of moving out!  Don’t get me wrong.  I am extremely excited about going to Cornwall.  I have wanted to live there since I was about ten and this is a dream coming true. But Wimbledon!  I feel this is where I have come of age.

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Regina at work on our studio.

 

It is almost exactly four years since my lovely friend Regina suggested that we should share a space at Wimbledon.  This was pre diploma.  My work was amateur and I was completely unsure of what I was doing.

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My work was amateur!

Regina, on the other hand was a skilled thrower who knew precisely how.  Four years on and so much has happened.  I have completed the Course at City Lit and what an experience that was!  If I had not had a space at Wimbledon to practice and develop, the diploma would have been virtually impossible!  Since then, I have had about 20 months of flying solo – Regina left for pastures new and, without the rigour of formal study , I have been developing my practice, honing my skills and getting ‘out there’ at shows and in galleries.

 

And always, in the background, a supportive group of ‘proper’ artists to whom I could turn for advice and support.  We have had great discussions about my work and theirs, they have helped me with my first approaches to galleries, we have held each other tightly when things were tough, we have talked over the kettle about everything under the sun and I have really appreciated their company.

This week I have dismantled my studio in preparation for moving out on Saturday and everything is one chaotic mess.

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The studio is in Chaos!

Well I can cope with that.  But what is more difficult to bear is the metaphoric drawing out of the tent pegs.  The hearing of conversations in the corridor about a future that I will not be part of.  The knowledge, which comes with experience of so many moves, that it is time to let go and get out fast – no fuss, no drama, just gone!

 

I hate this part!

And so I am stalling!  Not really going at all!  Having my cake and eating it!  Making in Cornwall but hanging on by my finger nails in Wimbledon. Thanks to the wonderful Louise Diggle I have a small corner of a studio in Wimbledon in which to lurk.  Somewhere to talk to clients and discuss my work.

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Somewhere to talk to clients.

Maybe even take part in the future of WAS.  I realise that I won’t belong properly and I am aware of how hard that will be but I just can’t quite let go so, Cornwall, here I come but in Wimbledon. . . . . I’m still standing!

 

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.

Home Alone

Last week the lovely Regina moved out of my studio.  We had been sharing for about 3 years and it had worked really well.  I know for absolute certain that I would not be where I am now if she had not suggested that we might share a studio together.

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Regina throwing one of her minute pots just after we moved in.

I remember our first open studios.  I was so nervous that I simply could not sit still.  I had to go for a walk half an hour before the kick off because my leg muscles were twitching so much! We have both come such a long way since then.  Both of us have gained a huge amount of confidence.  I have completed the ceramics diploma and she has virtually completed a course in silver smithing and jewellery making which has seen her incorporating her ceramic work into beautiful rings.

 

Now we have come to a parting of the ways.  I suppose the time was probably right.  Regina needs somewhere to work where she can solder, which is difficult at Wimbledon due to the fact that they are not very keen on naked flames and, to be honest, I was spreading so much that I was in danger of backing Regina into a small corner much of the time.  So she has packed up her wheel and gone.  I shall miss her!  I enjoyed her company and I loved her work and I wish her well.IMG_20160610_091653  When I arrived at the studio for the first time since she had packed her bags it seemed very empty!  So, since this marks the beginning of a new era – the first time I have ever had my very own studio – I decided to give it a lick of paint and then spread myself.  I am very sorry, Regina, but it really hasn’t taken me very long to move into your side and I have to confess I am loving the fact that it is my mess.

You have been a great friend and I wish you all the best, wherever you end up making. What ever happens, don’t stop creating!

Meanwhile, Studio 403 is now open for business and for those of you who have been waiting to hear from me about some work: Thank you for you patience and I am getting right onto it now.

Beauty and the Beast

Oh no!  Just when I thought that I knew where I was going, along comes a true fan and expresses a considerable desire for work which I no longer make and thought I was finished with!

This Way That Which is Right Path Choice Arrow Signs Opportunity

Here we go again!

I spent last Saturday at Klay London working a stint in the gallery with my friend and fellow artist Ranti.  I love her exciting colourful work and I respect her opinions hugely.  The gallery was quiet – everyone must have been south of the river at Wimbledon – so we got to talking about the direction in which our work is going.  She was firm with me – go in the direction that you have set yourself.  It works, it is what you want to do.  I nodded sagely.  She is so right and anyway, I have written reams about which direction to head.  I have, as my devoted readers will know, made up my mind.

Sunday came and I was back at the Open Studios in Wimbledon.  One of the early visitors to my studio was Dave.  He is a bit of a fan of mine, although he loves my rebellious side and insists on continuing to call me Frankie long after I acknowledged that I needed to conform a little bit and call myself by my given name. He has a couple of my pieces already and had made a return visit for more.  But what to choose?  To my surprise he took relatively scant notice of my new work and headed for the older pieces, the bits that I am no longer interested in.

 

He also expressed a wish to see the final pieces that I made for my diploma – which I had not even bothered to bring in from the car!

I am left wondering whether this level of self doubt is ever going to leave me or whether, as an artist, it is my lot never to be absolutely sure ever again.  Perhaps I just need to accept it and remember the words of architect Frank Gehry to get with my intuition.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Popping Up

This week I have joined a number of my City Lit Diploma graduate contemporaries in signing the least on a small unoccupied premises in Camden.  The council in this most enlightened borough of London believes that it is bad for the area to have too many empty shops and so they have come up with a fantastic idea to support emerging businesses.  For a short period they pay your rent and electricity bills and you contract to open the shop and make the area look more lively.  Well it seemed to us like an opportunity too good to ignore and so Klay was born!

We are a group of 12 ceramic artists, some making functional pieces, others decorative, but all of us working in the realm of contemporary ceramics.  The shop doesn’t look like much at the moment but with a lick of paint and some clean shelving, it has real promise.  There is a great little café next door and a couple of other galleries in the area and transport links are great; Kentish Town and Chalk Farm stations nearby and a bus stop right outside.  So now the hard work begins – designs, bags, bubble wrap, decoration, payment methods, rotas for manning – and, oh yes, making!  Going to be a frantic few weeks I feel!

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It only needs a lick of paint!

 

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It only needs a lick of paint!

The Doyenne of Ash Glazes

There are a number of reasons why the subject of ash glazes has been on my mind in recent weeks.  One of the best is that, just before Christmas, I was given a lovely little dish by Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie, one of Britain’s real pioneers of studio pottery.  She was known for the subtly of the colours on her pieces which she achieved through the use of ash glazes.  This little dish looks as if it might have been a test piece.  It is only about 10cm diameter.  Mind you, if my test pieces looked as good as this I would be in Heaven!

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My very own little Pleydell-Bouverie

The glaze is a very subtle green.  The crazing is interesting as it is smaller where the glaze is thin and larger where it has pooled in the dish.  It has also drawn a lot of iron out of the clay causing a delicious toasted ring.  Every time I look at it, and I do so very frequently because I cannot quite believe it is mine, I think about the experimental ash glazes which I tried for the diploma.  Most of my test glazes are sitting on a shelf in the studio and I begin to wonder why on earth I am not having another go with them because they certainly showed some promise and, given the relationship between my pieces and place, there is a good reason for using local ash as well.  It might give my work something even more.

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Probably high time I explored my own ash glaze tests a bit further.

 

Testing Times

This week I have been experimenting with a new clay.  I love the feel of working with porcelain but I would really like to reduce the amount of warp which I get in large pieces so I thought I would have a go with some molochite grogged porcelain.  I confess that the jury is well and truly out over this one.  It came out of the bag wet and floppy but when I left it to dry for a bit it became rather fractious and crumbly.  It was a beast to build with – it felt horrible to the touch and did not really want to join to the found materials at all.  I have gone large because that is, after all, the point and I am going to fire to at least 1230 to see how it behaves but I will certainly need a lot of convincing!

grogged porcelain

Give me Audrey Blackman every time!

yesterday, at a get together of the Diploma students we were talking about clay as you do at 10:30 on a Friday evening, and a number of my contemporaries have also been having a go with a few new clays.  There were some very favourable reports of a white stoneware/porcelain blend from some and so that might be the next one to try but in the meantime, I am open to suggestions – how do you get a lovely smooth, workable clay with the qualities of porcelain but without the warping?

Life on The Road

I have become a travelling salesperson!  I am currently exhibiting at the Great Northern Contemporary Crafts Fair.  I have been invited to the old Granada TV studio in Manchester for the weekend as what is described as an emerging maker – I feel a bit like a moth struggling from my chrysalis!  I am surrounded by the pick of the makers who graduated in the summer and who were with me at New Designers at the Business Design Centre in Islington during June; illustrious company; the award winners; the successful Hothouse graduates; the Fresh exhibitors from the British Ceramics Biennial. I am feeling very humble and rather excited.

Among new friends are the people who’s work is in closest proximity to mine:  Nicola Lillie‘s jewellery is stunning and very contemporary.  She was highlighted as one to watch at New Designers and is one of the award winners here in Manchester. She will go far!

Hannah Tounsend is another close neighbour; I remember her striking ceramics from New Designers and I saw them again at the British Ceramics Biennial, along with the work of another neighbour, Eva Radulova,  in Stoke on Trent on my way to Manchester on Thursday.  I did not realise that Hannah also makes prints which are very beautiful.  So who was it who said ‘Do one thing and Do it well?’  It seems that the energy and creativity of youth can overcome that!

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I love talking about my work but can I really cope with the pressure of craft fairs?

I, on the other hand, do not have youth on my side!  It is the third day of standing by my work and talking about it.  Whilst I thoroughly enjoy talking about myself I am now feeling extremely tired.  I have been on my feet almost nonstop since Thursday evening.  My feet, knees and hips are complaining loudly and I am fresh out of ibuprofen!

So how has it gone?

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I know that 4 people are considering bespoke commissions.

Well, I have sold nothing so far which I find a bit depressing, but then few other people have either so that is reassuring. On the other hand I have run out of business cards and my husband has twice had to rush over to print additional copies of my artists statement because so many people have wanted to take them away, so I am not too disheartened.  In addition, I know that at least 4 people have taken away the paperwork which I produced about commissioning a bespoke piece so I am hopeful of someone coming back to me at a later date with a specific request.  I am told, by people here who should know, that the trend over the last couple of years has been for potential customers to collect all the information that they want and then to go home, mull over what they have seen and get in touch via email at a later date; the savvy, twenty-first century art buyer!

In addition, I am excited to be here and I have had some fantastic conversations with other makers and also with students who have been looking around a few years further back down the line from me and from schools in the local area.  By far the best bit about being here is the opportunity it provides for talking to people who have expressed an interest in my work.  It doesn’t matter if they buy or not, I just like talking about my work!  – it gives me the oxygen to attract further interest later.

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I am too old to stand for 3 days!

On the other hand, in the dim and distant past of year one of the City Lit ceramics diploma, we were told to consider what sort of maker we were and where our work would sell.  I think it is true to say that I probably make for galleries and exhibitions, not for craft fairs.  No-one in their right mind is going to want to carry most of my work home from a fair – The packaging I can supply here has to come from the small space behind the stands.  It is just about adequate.  It does not look pretty and it is unwieldy.  You would need a car to get my pieces home and most people have arrived by coach.  They want small packages to take home on their laps.  So after today, as I lie soaking in my hot bath, there will be a very serious discussion with myself about whether craft fairs really are my thing.

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

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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!