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.
This week I had a meeting with a client about a commission that I am doing for her. We were discussing the decoration for the interior of the piece. She had previously provided me with several architectural plans and I had spent a while trying to work out which to use. Now she had some better plans and she also had a map of the area which is the subject of the piece. This meant that we were both in danger of becoming a bit overwhelmed by choice. We tried out all sorts of combinations; she was so attached to the story behind the commission that was hard for her to decide what was the most important part.
Tell the whole story –
Or keep it simple?
In the past I have done very simple and, with equal success, included lots and lots of information all overlapping. So which is best? And how am I going to glean from a client which one they would prefer?
The problem is that until the images have been transferred onto the piece it is impossible to see how they work with the piece. It is only when the transparency reveals the drawing and its relation to the markings on the vessel that you know if you have got it right.
A brainwave struck me as I was grappling with this. I need to be able to see the impact of the drawn lines before I order the decals. Why I didn’t think about it before I do not know but I am off to find an online stockist of transparent film which will work with my antiquated printer right now!
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!