For quite some time I have had a desire to ‘go large’ in the studio so when I saw a really enormous beach ball for sale in the village post office I simply couldn’t resist the temptation to make a really bit mould. When I got it home, I discovered just how large it really was – maybe I need a bigger kiln!
Houston, we have a problem!
In fact it isn’t TOO big. Once I have done some manipulation of the clay and there has been a bit of shrinkage I am confident that my current kiln will be just fine.
The next thing to do was to create the mould from the shape. As a general rule I would have built up the clay all the way to the mid point of the ball, constructed a wall around the entire thing and started pouring plaster of Paris until the cows came home. If I had done that this time I would have used a ton of plaster of Paris and ended up with something so big and heavy I would never have been able to lift it so I thought I would go for something different. The following images show the main stages:
1. Make a clay barrier exactly on the mid line of the ball.
2. pour a very thin layer of plaster of Paris over the whole of the top of the ball. (I made the plaster thicker than usual so that it didn’t run off.
3. Put a collar on the outside of the clay wall and pour more plaster over tha ball, making sure that it filled the collar and was a fairly even thickness all over.
The result is that I now have a fabulously large mould. It is light and easy to manoeuvre and I can’t wait for it to dry out fully so that I can get making.
I am about to embark on another collaborative venture. More details will follow but suffice to say that I am going to be working with other makers on a project which is going to involve me taking the way they work: their colours and textures and incorporating them into a body of work for a joint exhibition this autumn. I am truly excited to have been presented with the opportunity and, given the pleasure that the collaboration with Candide Turner Bridger and Nigel Slater gave me for the recent Earthlines exhibition, I know that it could result in some great work.
Collaborative work for Great Walsingham Gallery.
But, and it is a big BUT, I also know that I now have a whole lot of sleepless nights coming in the next couple of weeks. All my best ideas happen in the middle of the night, usually at about 3 am. The initial electrical surge is followed by a protracted process of going over and over the finer detail and sleep becomes utterly impossible. There is little point in getting up and beginning to make as the whole thing has to ‘cook’ for a while first. Sometimes a walk helps – so the puppy is on standby for some strange night-time excursions – but, please, if you have any dealings with me in the next week or so, do not expect much in the way of quick witted repartee!
Last week I spent a lot of time working on commissions. Several of these were for people who are particularly important to me – either because I know them personally or because they have become some of my best customers. It seemed to me that this had a strange impact on my work. I think that I was trying particularly hard to get things as good as I could get them and this proved to be a mistake!
There are weeks which go really well in the studio but this was not one of those. Trying too hard takes the spontaneity out of things and they spoil. Opening the kiln was not a good experience. Things had warped, discoloured, cracked or peeled. So after a flurry of emails to explain why delivery might be a bit later than planned, this week I am back to the drawing board – sun or no sun!
On the up side, I firmly believe that every error leads to a development and an improvement. The lucky people for whom these pieces were intended will shortly be benefitting from improved models. Well, that is the plan at least. So, if Sod is reading this, please could he go and upset somebody else this week whilst I rectify a few things
Material used to strengthen the porcelain has never discoloured it before!
This flat platter now goes round corners.
Decals are not supposed to peel up from the centre.
So one of my New Year’s resolutions was to include an experimental piece in every firing. So far, so good, The kiln has been busy preparing my work for Top Drawer this week and I have been busy trying to keep up with the making of a sudden influx of commissions which came in just before and after Christmas
Stage one of a commission well under way.
but I found time to have a bit of a play as well – after all, the kiln was keeping me warm, it was cold outside and no-one would come with me whilst I was battling a nasty cold so it made sense.
Is it a chocolate fudge cake? No, it’s only me, trying things out with a bit of old clay.
I hate throwing waste clay away so I decided to clump some bits together and see if I could get some exciting contrasts within a piece. I think I managed that alright. That little line of red is what really does it for me.
And I think it sets off the more fragile porcelain rather well – time for a spot of R&D I feel, but not until I have found my way to the other side of the events next week at Olympia. I am quite pleased with what the kiln handed back to me so let’s hope it goes well.
Over the past few months I have waffled on a bit about a number of different sources from which I have received material to include in my vessels. This week, I have decided to give you all a rest from waffle and simply update you.
The material was given to me by the gas men working in the road outside our family home. I have begun using it and the results so far are great. I have only made small so far but will be going large any time soon hopefully in time for Handmade in Kew
Meanwhile, given that I cannot stick to anything for too long I decided that for the material brought to me from Ashtead Clay pit A Man Walks into a Studio and . . . I decided that I would change the design a bit and go all cylindrical. The finished pieces are great and I think there will be more of these too before I arrive in Kew Gardens.
So that’s it for a bit, folks. Next Sunday I leap on a plane and fly west for a few weeks. Vancouver, look out, I am on my way! I will blog again in October. Hope you can bear to get by without me.
Cambridge, a summers day, sunlight filtering through willow trees – get the picture? Well what else would one do but take a punt and go up the river to Grantchester for a picnic in the meadows? It simply has to be done. And so we did it. Despite the cross wind, which made the punting awkward even for hardy boating types, we got to the meadows and settled down to share our feast. The punt was tethered by its pole but not tethered enough it would seem as, only a few olives into the hors d’oeuvres it gently drifted from its resting place and took off across the river.
Enter the nephew – a strapping young lad – who leaped to his feet, plunged into the river and recovered our (un)trusty vessel. Everyone was full of praise. delighted that our return trip to the city was no longer in jeopardy and handing him an extra piece of sausage for his troubles. I, on the other hand, was staring at his legs. He was covered in the most exquisitely smooth looking clay!
In a flash the cheese had been removed from the safety of its sandwich bag and I was down on all fours in front of my nephew’s feet. The next thing I knew, his father took pity on him and, in order to prevent the embarrassment of having your aunt scraping the mud off your legs with a butter knife, said father grabbed the bag and hot-footed it down to the river bank returning with a deliciously glutinous mass; cold to the touch and wonderfully squashy.
I am reliably told that in the Cambridge University Engineering Department, the mathematical models for soil are categorised from gravel to sand to silt to clay. At the two ends of the spectrum they decided to develop mathematical behaviours for ‘Granta Gravel’ and ‘Cam Clay’. To be honest, this may be of huge importance to the world of soil mechanics but as far as I am concerned I am simply agog to know how it is going to behave in my kiln.
It is wonderful what a calming effect this aquatic life is giving me. I have managed to make a load of work this week, despite the heat in my studio, which in August is normally enough to drive me out. It is just as well really. The pressure on me to create was growing exponentially. I had 4 more works to make for an exhibition in Cornwall at Tregony Gallery which starts in early September; I have a lot to do to prepare for Kew Gardens in October – it might seem ages away but I shall be in Canada throughout September; I had a commission to finish for a 70th birthday present and I need to restock my shelves at Klay London. So a wee bit of making was always going to be a good thing.
However, the desire to create is also an ephemeral thing – here one minute, vanished the next so it is always a huge relief to me when I turn up at the studio and find that I can get right on with it. The days when I seem to need to spend an hour or more on Facebook, wash the floor, tidy the shelves and still the urge to make does not come are really very difficult. Does anyone else have this problem I wonder?
Finished works – one a commission, one destined for Tregony Gallery
I suddenly wanted to make big!
Please form an orderly queue for the kiln
Anyway, this week I have been churning it out. The kiln has been fired 3 times and the shelves are groaning under the weight of drying works. Phew, what a relief! But the best thing? At the end of the day, covered in dust and feeling tired, I can sit on the pontoon beside the boat with a glass in my hand and my feet in the water and watch the cygnets practicing their one footed swimming – and BREATHE.
One legged swimming will take place after a rest in the sun.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Open Studios presents a fantastic opportunity to meet people and to chat about your work. The trouble is that I am completely hopeless with names and faces so I am always being caught out when people drop into my studio assuming that I will know who they are because we had a long and fascinating conversation six months ago. It is so embarrassing to stare blankly at people whilst you are frantically flicking thorough the files in you brain in search of recognition.
The lovely man who breezed into my space on Friday afternoon was nothing if not distinctive – very tall; soft, American accent; blonde hair scrunched into a pony tail; tanned, weathered face. I was still wondering whether he had parked his horse at the door to the building whilst he was rummaging in his ‘saddle bag’. With a flourish he fished out a plastic bag and declared that he had brought me a present. I held out my hands and something brown and squashy was deposited!
After an awkward few seconds it transpired that during the previous Open Studios in November I had given him a small plastic bag and he had duly gone down to the ‘beck’ and also to a local clay pit to fill it with clay samples, bringing it back during this event so that I can incorporate into a vessel. I love a good piece of found material
I love a good bit of local dirt!
to mix into a vessel so nothing could stem my excitement at this wondrous gift! It turns out that this lovely man is a petroleum geologist called John, who I have now got completely in focus as the man of mud ! Thank you, John. I can’t wait to get making!