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.

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.

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.
005 (7)

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!

How not to do things!

Carline Winn, Sculpture

Carline Winn, Sculpture

Yesterday I went to see the selling exhibition of 23 members of London Potters at Redlees Studios in Isleworth.  What a fabulous environment in which to work!  The studios are based in a wonderful building converted from the Victorian stable block of Redlees Park, complete with clock tower!  The studios are arranged in a horseshoe around a lovely cobbled courtyard.  The sun was shining and I spent some time sitting in that courtyard soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the ambience of the place which, if it hadn’t been for (frequent) interruption of planes approaching the runway at Heathrow would have been quite blissful.  The exhibition was interesting.  There was some great work.

Lindy Bartletta

Lindy Bartletta, forms inspired by the landscape

I particularly enjoyed the work of Lindy Barletta whose thrown porcelain forms had a strong landscape interest not dissimilar to my own and also of Caroline Winn whose work reminds me very much of that of Gillian Lowndes with her inclusion of metals and other materials and her use of clay.

I also thoroughly enjoyed chatting to some lovely makers about both their work and mine.  So what did I do wrong?  Well, a number of the makers were kind enough or interested enough  to ask about my practice.  ‘Oh yes!’ I announced, proudly.  I am doing a ceramics diploma at City Lit.  I finish this summer.  So they wanted to know what I make – could I describe my practice intelligently? No!  They wanted to know where I had my studio.  ‘Oh yes!’ I declared.  ‘I have a studio in Wimbledon.  It is a fabulous set up behind the dog track.  We are having our Open Studios in three weeks time.  You should come along.’  So several times I was asked for information about either my work or about the up coming Open Studios at Wimbledon and I suddenly found myself in the position of 1. Not being able to remember the exact date of the Wimbledon event, 2. Not having any o f the invites for said Open Studios in my bag, 3. Not having any of my own business cards in my bag. 4. Not having any kind of a note book for writing down things that occurred to me as I was chatting to people.  But it is ok.  I have not finished the diploma yet.  I still have 9 whole weeks to become a professional.  It’s fine – I can relax for a while longer, can’t I?

No!  I feel a very long to do list coming and at the top of it is that I need some kind of a ‘Grab bag’ of essential kit to take to exhibitions of other people’s work so that I never again miss the opportunity to promote myself as an artist.  Time to pump up the ego, I think!  Oh, and by the way, in case you think that I have missed another opportunity – Here   is the invite to the Wimbledon Artists Open Studios which takes place from 14th – 17th May and where I shall be exhibiting my work in the Blue Building, studio 403.  Pop along and have a chat! Poster May 2015 Open Studios

Three Dimensional Doodling

At last there has been a bit of time to breathe!  Yesterday I found time to just sit in my studio.  The kiln was on its way down and I was keen to get the next load in but in an uncommon fit of patience I decided to just let the kiln do its thing.  So there I  sat, cup of tea in hand, mind in neutral.  Then I reached for a bag of bits and began to play.  I have so many treasured finds from my mud-larking and I am almost scared to use them in my ceramics in case I don’t make something good with them so I got a large sheet of white paper to cover up the table and tipped a couple of bags of treasures onto it and then I just let myself play.  It is a while since I have done that – so long in fact that I could hardly remember how to.  I have been putting such pressure on myself to get the greatest pieces ever made for the final push of the diploma -well that was bound to fail, DUH!


A wonderful hoard of treasure!


Is it a candle stick?

So here I sat, fiddling with bits of rusty metal and chipped ceramics.  Not everyone’s idea of treasure but then, I am not everyone!  I began sorting them out and then I started to position some of them more thoughtfully, wondering what they might become if I altered my understanding of them.  Was this metal loop for tying a boat up?  Was it an ancient Viking bracelet?  Was it a handle for something?  I reached up for one of my boxes.  The poor old things have been a bit redundant for a while.  I think I felt that they had had their day.  I have been ignoring comments about them being what I do; my signature piece; some of my most successful work because I could not think where to go with them.   In fact there was an element of panic when I though about them – Had I done my best work in the first semester of the course?  Was I never going to achieve anything better?  But here I had given myself permission to mess about and see what happened.

There is a really important message, well several actually, here.  Firstly, Kate Wickam is right, we do have to go through the same old agonies over every new project.  Sorry Kate, but there it is!  Secondly, I should NOT give up on my boxes, they have massive potential so I just need to get on with it and stop fussing.  Thirdly, creative people need TIME!  Bucket loads of the stuff, with nothing to do but play.  No schedule, no deadline, no ‘what are we having for tea’ type TIME.  And finally, perhaps I should spend more sleepless nights browsing through books about people like Gillian Lowndes.  maybe something will stick.  What ever happens next, I feel another box coming!

And suddenly there it was - tea anyone?

And suddenly there it was – tea anyone?

Let No-one else’s work Evade Your Eyes!

I Once was a Ship

I Once was a Ship, Fred Gatley

In the words of Tom Learer, plagiarise, plagiarise, let no-one else’s work . . . . One of the great things about the world of ceramics, quite apart from the love of the material and the extraordinary things that can be done with it, is that people in this field are incredibly nice people!  I have not met anyone who has not been happy to talk about their work, share ideas and recipes for glazes, give advice and so on.  The tutors at City Lit have been extraordinarily generous in the information which they freely give to students who are interested, letting us in on age old secrets about particular ideas and contentedly allowing us to use their special techniques.  Annie Turner, in particular, has given people an amazing amount of help and advice over the duration of the course.  Thank you, Annie!

Annie Turner - recollection

Annie Turner – recollection

Last week I met Fred Gatley and he also spent a considerable time telling me about techniques that I could try and the ways in which he achieves his remarkable finishes.  The trouble is, where does making use of another artist’s ideas and recipes become plagiarism?  I would absolutely loath myself if I caused any offence to these lovely people but, having spent time in their company and being a very suggestible person, I find myself thinking more about their work than my own sometimes and this becomes a bit of a problem.  To what extent is it ok to take a glaze given to me by Annie and use it on a piece to be displayed using a method which was explained to me by Fred?  I love their work – that is why I have spent time with them and why they have been so generous with both time and information but because of that, there are days when I find it hard to think of my work as my own!  Sometimes I feel that I am just making a poor imitation of something that they would have done when they were setting out.   It is a fine line and one which I have no wish to cross! In other news, I have clearly caused a bit of entertainment with my post last week which contained a photograph of what looked a bit like a used condom hanging out to dry.  So this week I thought that I had better put the record straight.  The current status of said condom is that it has become a mould for a delicate and treasured tear – developments, which will hopefully look nothing like the work of either Annie nor Fred, will be shared in due course . . . . . .

Once I was a condom!

Once I was a condom!

Emotional leakage . . .

Emotional leakage: not-waving-but-drowning[1]That is why I am an artist I suppose.  It allows me to grasp all the powerful emotions, which would otherwise leave me exhausted and wrung out, and turn them into something which carries different messages to different people but for me is somehow exciting and reinvigorating, sometimes at the most unlikely of times.


Fred Gatley from the exhibition Artists in Search of a Landscape at the APT Gallery in Deptford in 2014

I love studying at City Lit.  So much so that if anything goes wrong with it I feel doubly betrayed.  Once because it hasn’t lived up to my expectations and once because I feel personally bereft.  This week there was a minor glitch in the proceedings and, coupled with a whole raft of other stuff which was going on, I hit the buffers!  In actual fact it was a wonderful week.  A tiny comment from one of my tutors sparked an exciting trail of thought which, along with everything else that happened, had sown the seed for some exciting developments in my work, although it was much later that night when I realised it.  I met the amazing Fred Gatley who generously gave me a couple of hours sitting on the floor of his office, looking at his work, discussing his ceramic journey, comparing notes and making me feel like an equal – Oh I wish!   He didn’t see me leave, which is just as well because people in their fifties should not be observed skipping along the street!

The day then got progressively worse!  One thing after another tipped me further and further towards the downward surge.  There is only so much of a roller coaster that my mind can accommodate and so, eventually, when my phone rang to inform me of the next crisis, I began to leak: Quietly, inexplicably, all over the show!  And so it was, that at 2:00 the following morning all these things came together and I discovered a little idea growing unstoppably inside me.  In fact it was a passing comment from Fred which nudged the seed Robert Cooper had sown earlier into germination. Later that morning I scuttled to the studio and started making tears – they have a way to go but these are intended to be treasured things of true beauty – watch this space: – – – -So this blog in is honour of all the ups and downs we endure and in praise of tears.

Tears: some take a while to come but all should be treasured.

Tears: some take a while to come but all should be treasured.

Its Right In Front of You, Stoopid!

Well, if you talk like that, of course you can’t!

Weeks and weeks of apparent brain ache are about to be over.  I have the distinct feeling that part of my problem since the beginning of this final semester has been my attitude to my tutors.  I had practically made up my mind – and so, I think had they – that the road to the decision on what to make for the final work was likely to be fairly tortuous and so, as is the nature of a self fulfilling prophesy, it has proved to be just that!  All the time, the answer has actually been staring me in the face.  I have been gaily making and making but I have made the fundamental error of telling my tutors that I didn’t know what I was doing.  I really should know better!  I know perfectly well from being on the “other side of the desk”, as a teacher for many years, that if a child says they don’t get it or cant do it, they don’t!  They cant!  And the teacher believes them!  But if you say to a child ‘yes, you can, I know you can’, they find that it is suddenly so much easier than they thought.  Its all about attitude.  Because my tutors have been asking me things such as ‘So are we going to have the same tortuous route as usual?’ that is precisely what I have been presenting them with.  Timely reminder to self – never, ever, for any reason, be negative with a child who is vulnerable – it will end in tears!

So, just in case anyone is the least bit interested in the aching of my potty mind,  I am creating an eclectic range of work for the final show.  It is based loosely on my love of Cornwall and my fascination with relationships within and between objects and people.  I have not decided yet how it will be exhibited, that will depend on how it speaks to me as the body of work develops.  I shall use local materials, mud larking finds and natural glaze materials.  I shall make and then abuse moulds and my work will reflect my thoughts.  The way it develops will depend on how I am feeling and the ideas that strike me and, no, I am not the least bit concerned that nothing is finished yet – the best is clearly yet to come.

The best is yet to come . . .

The best is yet to come . . .

To Be or not to be . . . . flattered

A number of weeks ago I took part in my first ‘proper’ exhibition.  ArtRooms at the Melia White House Hotel near Great Portman Street in London, see link .  It was a very interesting experience to unpick it afterwards.  The weekend was hugely flattering to my ego but it left both my wallet and my feet in a state of exhaustion.  I spent the entire weekend in a hotel corridor talking to people about my work, I made it to a number of reviews by name and lots of people said very nice things.  I didn’t sell a single thing though and it cost me a fair amount to be there.  I didn’t mind because I saw it as oxygen and hoped it might lead on to other more exciting prospects.  And it has!  This week I have been approached by two curators inviting me to take part in forthcoming exhibitions.  Wow!  What’s not to like?

The thing is though, how do you know?  Obviously I cannot afford to keep going to exhibitions simply to massage my ego.  Financially that does not put bread on the table – it doesn’t even put clay in the kiln!  These exhibitions would make me an international artist – one is in Turin, the other in Tokyo!!  But I cannot afford to go to either, and anyway, how on earth can you tell whether an exhibition is going to be the right setting for your work. I think this is one of the hardest things that I have to face as I approach the end of my diploma.  I sort of know where my art is going creatively but I have very little idea of where and how to put it ‘out there’.


Part of my mud-larking haul.

On a simpler note, I can happily report that a couple of days of mud-larking in Falmouth during the lowest tides of the year has given me a fabulous selection of artefacts, some of which are already finding their way into or onto some of my ceramics for the final semester.

All this is a lot of fun!  It gives me permission to spend time clambering around on the shores of Cornish estuaries and feeling mildly insane – something which I find quite energizing.  Back in college the results are showing some promise although they are so think that nothing has dried enough to fire yet so I am not confident of success.  Oh, and I seem to have blotted my copybook at college by having such a good time – I got kept late on Friday because I had not done enough work!!!  Now I just need to work out melting temperatures, shrinkage rates, joining techniques and finishing methods and I will have a piece that someone might pay me to transport to Tokyo!

Falmouth shackle in Cornish clay

Falmouth shackle in Cornish clay