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!


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?


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.


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

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!

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!

When you need a friend . .

collaboration 1

Collaboration 1 awaiting firing

Collaboration – the action of working with someone to produce something.  What a lovely idea, especially when I might otherwise be inclined to drift a bit post diploma with no specific project in mind.  So just when I thought there was no life after City Lit along come two people, quite independently of each other, wishing to work with me.

Trevor Ruddock Black

Trevor Ruddock Black – Fabulous colours and great texture.

Actually, if I am totally honest, the project with Trevor Ruddock Black had been on the back burner for a bit whilst I made it to the end of the course, but this week is the first time that I have begun to think seriously about it.  Trevor paints in oils.  He makes vibrant abstract paintings on a very large scale and with fantastic texture. A little while ago we discussed the possibility of creating complimentary three dimensional pieces and so this week I started exploring how we might do that.  Of course foremost in my mind was how to get a cast of his paintings without destroying them in the first place.  Funnily enough that seems  to have been the easy bit!  The painting has survived completely unscathed.  Phew!  Next came the difficulty of working with a great many undercuts  which normally make it impossible to take a good cast from a mould.  Lets just say that I am working on that.  But the good news is that, at least on a small scale, I have almost cracked it – please excuse the awful pun!  And now I have a small box which is a copy of Trevor’s painting awaiting firing.  I can’t wait to see the results.  The next step is to think about colour – I could pass the box over to Trevor for that bit, or I could do something which compliments his painting.  The one thing I know for sure is that I am not going to copy his art!

Then, out of the blue, I was approached by a sculptor wanting help with casting porcelain.  Her project sounds really interesting and we met for the first time to discuss it yesterday.  I am full of hope for another interesting partnership.

Meanwhile, this week marked the first every meeting of the City Lit Ceramics Diploma Alumni 2015 reunion.  More on that anon, but it is great to know that we have each other in this time of transition and the thought that we are already planning our first group exhibition post graduation fills me with excitement.  Not sure where or when but we will Re-turn.  Sorry, more awful puns!

I feel so lucky to be surrounded by people who are in one way or another supporting my quest to become an artist.  I never realised that I needed people so much as I have over the past couple of years and I cannot end this post without saying thank you to my best friend, the person who, over the past couple of years, has demonstrated the most amazing capacity to support, understand, wait, cajole, cook supper and keep the house from becoming a health hazard.

I do not think being on your own between study and next step would be good for anyone but I certainly feel pretty blessed.  Go Team!

Its good to know you.

Its good to know you.

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