Its a Kind of Magic

Well, it has only taken me about 18 months but at last I have found the time to enjoy reading Edmund de Waal’s book The White Road.  I am glad that I have waited until the right moment as I have been able to indulge myself with soaking up de Waal’s palpable enthusiasm for the subject of porcelain without feeling rushed.

I have had the time and the peace to read most of the book whilst invigilating our exhibition at Fountain Gallery which has its final day today.  Now this says something about the number of sales and visitors to the gallery and begs questions about self invigilated shows.  (Thank goodness for Tregony Gallery which cheerfully goes on selling my work without me putting in an appearance).   But that aside, the luxury of reading a well written book about the porcelain story has been a delight.

There are three lasting impressions from reading this book.  First is the extraordinary excesses which those with money and power went to in the past.  When Augustus the Strong of Saxony died in 1733 he had a collection of 35,798 pieces of porcelain (de Waal, 2015).  Secondly of the heightened emotions which the efforts to create ‘white gold’ in Europe seemed to invoke.  The alchemists searching for the formula for creating gold from base metals and also how to make white gold spent decades working in intolerable conditions, imprisoned and forced to experiment over and over again until they struck success (de Waal 2015).  Thirdly the wonder  with which people have always perceived this material.  De Waal describes the first makings of English porcelain by William Cockworthy as an obsession;

 ” To make something so white and true and perfect, that the world around it is thrown into shadows as the blackthorn does when flowering in the hedgerows in early spring.” (de Waal, 2015, p.225).

 

Honiton dish 2

Sometimes opening the kiln really does feel like a kind of magic!

 

 

Oh my goodness, I get that one!  When I open the kiln and there it is: a crisp, thin, translucent vessel with a pure, creamy whiteness.  It is a kind of alchemy if you ask me!

Spring is in the air!

I have been suffering a considerable level of Pot Anxiety in recent weeks.  This is the state of stress which keeps ceramicists from their beds in the middle of the night because an idea hits or a problem resolution crystallises.  At which point there is nothing to be done except to get up – sleep will elude you until the offending thought has been dealt with.  The current bout of trouble stems from having rather a lot on and some difficulty knowing how to get 4 firings through the kiln before I head up to London in preparation for the exhibition at The Fountain Gallery which starts on 16th of this month.

At 4:00 in the morning there are few cars on the roads in Cornwall and, as I drove the couple of miles to my current studio to swap pots and glaze things in the dark, I really felt that the world belonged to me alone.

On the return journey I tuned into BBC Radio 4 and discovered that I had woken early on the perfect day.  It was International Dawn Chorus day!  The song birds that the BBC was recording were fantastic but imagine my confusion when I stopped the car, turned off the engine, got out and still the music played!  The birds of Cornwall were all up and about and heralding the morning with gusto.

I could have gone back to bed but that would have been a crime against nature.  Instead I brewed a mug of tea, pushed my feet into my walking boots and set off through the woods to the little stone quay at the bottom of the hill.  Through the woods the pale green canopy was still not fully out and the path was fringed with blue bells, red campion, wild garlic and with a late narcissus and an early foxglove or two completing the spectrum.  The birds were giving it everything they had got – it was truly magnificent.  IMG_20170123_103337

By the time I reached the water’s edge the tide was just beginning to ebb – sucking at the stones on the slip way as it crept back out to sea.  The surface of the river was as flat as a mill pond.  You couldn’t really make out the colours because the light was so gentle but I could see a couple of small boats hunched over their moorings and, in the houses opposite, there was not a single sign of life.

The chorus was diminishing now as the song birds all went off in search of their breakfast but the rooks and the oyster catchers were in full swing, it was a beautiful morning and a joy to be alive.  I tried to record the sounds but technology defeated me and anyway, I was being far to self indulgent to try for long so here is the BBC podcast from early on International Dawn Chorus Day.  If you don’t have the patience to listen to the whole thing I commend the last twenty minutes to you.  You will not regret it!

This is just not cricket!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a delightful person wanting to buy some work that his wife had seen on my website.  After a couple of emails he settled on two pieces with a combined value of £1000.  They were for a special wedding anniversary present.

to-my-special-wife-happy-anniversary[1]

He wanted a special present for his wife.

I was over the moon.  No-one had ever spent this much on my work in one go and I was so pleased that they were going to be a special present.  The discussion coincided with my best month since setting up as an artist;  I felt as if the world was alright!

 

A cheque was sent.  But no sooner had he emailed me to say that he had posted my money than he sent me another email to tell me that, due to a misunderstanding, he (well his accounts manager) had made the cheque out for too much.  Please could I cash the cheque when it arrived and repay him the excess.  Sure, I could do that.  No problem.  I nearly sent the money before the cheque arrived.  This man was charming and not only buying a generous present from me but also now out of pocket.

列印

The poor guy was out of pocket and I felt bad.

 

What stopped me?  Prudence – and a strange feeling about the communications.  Before very long I began to be pressurised by daily emails asking if the money had arrived.  I stalled – I wanted the confidence that the cheque had been honoured by the bank.  There were tell tail signs that something wasn’t quite right but I felt really guilty for thinking them.  One should never treat one’s customers with suspicion – right?  Yet I couldn’t help wondering.  Firstly the cheque was in euros but he wanted the repayment in sterling and into a different bank.  Secondly his English was not good – not a crime but when added to other suspicions it seemed to begin to matter.  In addition, he kept talking about visiting his post office to know if I had repaid the money – why would he do that?  Why not call his bank or check online?  Then there was the intensity of the emails which was, by now, beginning to make me feel quite stressed.

Technique_Adverb_AlarmBells-01[1]

Alarm bells were beginning to ring.

I called my bank to ask how soon the money would be available and was told that, because it was in euros, it could take six weeks.  Now I felt really bad.  The poor guy!  Should I pay him his money and send the goods?  What if we missed his anniversary because I was being so cautious and tight?

Eventually I got a letter from the bank.  The cheque had been cleared.  The money was in my account.  But the last part of the letter told me that, until they had checked it fully, I could not be confident that it would remain there.  Really??  Surely now I should give this guy his money.  I didn’t.  Why not?  Because he was now being rather a nuisance in his emails and I decided to make him sweat – whilst also feeling really guilty about it.

Two days later I received another letter from the bank telling me that the funds were no longer in my bank, that they were charging me £15 costs and that the cheque was probably fraudulent.  I wrote to my customer telling him what had happened and asking him to get in touch.  Oddly, the daily emails now came to an abrupt end.  48 hours later I received a call from the fraud department at the bank asking me for details of the transaction.  As a result of the conversation that I had with the bank I contacted the police who are now dealing with it.

It turns out that this scam is currently doing the rounds and that it is directed chiefly at artists and other self employed people with a small turnover.  The charm and the warm fuzzy story at the start are all part of the plan – although if you ask me this guy had to put a lot of effort into getting the £2000 ‘overpayment’ out of me even if I had given it to him.

I am posting this blog because I was so nearly ‘got’ and I would hate for anyone else to fall victim to this scam.  I truly hate people who take others for a ride in this way.  I watched my own dad be destroyed by a (far worse) scam and I think the people who decide that this is a way to make a living are absolutely despicable.  How they sleep at night I would love to know.  I mean to say, who do they think they are tricking honest people out of their hard earned cash like this?

amazon-scams[1]

Its a scam!

Thank goodness this time I wasn’t taken in but, please, if something like this happens to you, be on your guard.  Do not assume that the customer is necessarily right.  Times have  changed, apparently!

And if you have been the victim of a crime like this, or you think you might have been, and you live in UK contact the police using this link

 

 

The Gift of Giving

Beyond doubt the best thing about working on a commission is the moment when the client sees the finished piece.  That is when you know if you got it right or not.  So it was with my most recent commission which I had the pleasure of sending on its way this week.

bellmansknott

Ready for handover.

 

I was delighted with her reaction to her vessel.  It is a special birthday present for a member of her family and includes material from the woods on their land and details of the location and architects drawings for the house.

The colours which have come out in the patterns on the vessel apparently match those of the house, which is not surprising given the origins of the material but it is still gratifying to know.

bellmansknottbase_edited-1

Surprises even on the base.

I am particularly pleased with the idea to put the drawing of the house on the base.  It is as if everywhere you look there is another surprise waiting for you, even when you turn it over there is something else to see.

 

But without doubt, it is the reaction of the client which gives me the best feeling.  She was really happy with it and it clearly meant so much to her – considerably more than it did to me as I have never been to that part of the UK.  Up until that point it felt like a job well done but as I handed it over it became so much more than that.

bellmansknottclient1

The finished commission

I felt as if I was launching a ship or something.  I find that these vessels, which are so personal to the person who orders them, are so much more than any of the other work I am doing and I love the warm fuzzy feeling that the hand over gives me deep inside.

bellmansknottclient2

One happy customer.