Rubbing Shoulders with the Future Greats!

Last autumn I was lucky enough to be invited to exhibit at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair.  It was a fantastic weekend and whilst it didn’t lead directly to me making my fortune it did open up other opportunities for me, one of which was my recent invitation to become a member of the Design Factory as an emerging maker.  This, in turn is leading on to other things.  But this blog is not about me.

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My stand at the GNCCF

One of the people who was exhibiting close to me was a lovely young lady called Hannah Tounsend.  It was not the first time that I had met her, she had been at the New Designers exhibition in the summer and I had also seen her work in the British Ceramics Biennial at Stoke on Trent on my way to Manchester.  Both times her work had struck me as different and exciting.  We stood side by side over the weekend in Manchester and I mused on the possibility, if I sold a lot of my work, of owning one of hers.  This is so often the temptation – to spend my hard won cash on other ceramics rather than food!  Sadly, this time, I resisted the temptation and came away empty handed. This might have been a mistake!

 

Unsurprisingly, Hannah went on to win Fresh.  Then yesterday my new copy of Ceramic Review landed with a thump on the door mat.  At the first opportunity I curled up in a chair with it and a coffee to indulge in my favourite activity of flicking through to prioritise the order of my in depth reading later in the month; it always makes me think of opening a box of chocolates and lining them up with the fudge at the front of the line and the strawberry creams at the other end.  This time I was stopped in my tracks by one article: There she is again, smiling out from the pages of an article on Ones to Watch, cradling one of her large, atmospheric pieces and definitely going places!

Hannah’s work combines throwing and hand building to create large porcelain pieces which have a fabulous printed surface inspired by the cliffs and coastline of Britain. Her pieces are strikingly beautiful.

This girl is making such a splash with her wonderfully fresh vessels that she actually appears twice in this edition of Ceramic Review; there is a short article on her in the CPA news section of the magazine as well.  I think I missed a trick in Manchester and my advice to collectors is to grab a piece of this girl’s work before she is too expensive.  After all, another article which I need to read properly this month talks of a Lucie Rie piece which was bought in 1975 for £36.00 and has just made £32,000.00 at auction!

Go Hannah!

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Hannah Tounsend is definitely going places!

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!

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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?

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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.

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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.

And Now For Something Completely Different

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I found myself in a long queue trailing up the stairs with my ceramics tucked under my arm.

Last weekend I was privileged to take part in the Battersea Art Station exhibition, the inspiration for which was the new development at Battersea Power Station.  I have never seen so many paintings of those iconic chimneys as I did when I visited the show on the Saturday!

Delivering my work was exciting.  I have not had to queue to hand over my art before but here I joined a long trail which snaked along a landing and down the rather impressive staircase of the Arts Centre to await my turn for the big handover.  By the time I reached the front of the line I was feeling rather pompous; how important must I be to be joining such illustrious company!  ‘So,’ I asked in my chattiest, “Oh this is all perfectly natural to me” voice, ‘What are the arrangements for the Private View?’  I confess that I was a bit taken aback by the response.  It turned out that this exhibition was not for the glory of the artists at all.  No free prosecco and canapé for me!  Oh no, this, it turned out, was for the benefit of those who have committed to living or working on the new development. What a remarkable idea – an exhibition of art where the focus was on people who might like to buy art!  The private view was for them to have the opportunity to look around and buy a reminder of the history of the site. So that put me well and truly in my place!

It felt strange to hand over my work for someone else to curate it.  I said a tender farewell to my treasures, still cosseted in their  bubble wrap (what did we do before that stuff was invented), with no idea how they might be presented.  As I entered the exhibition on the Saturday morning I was a bit put out to discover that one of my pieces was apparently just ‘dumped’ with quite a lot of clutter around it on the table at the top of the stairs.  However, before I could grumble to my husband, he pointed to the little red dot on the card inside it.  Sold!  Whilst I wasn’t even there!!

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The very first Bridget Macklin piece to make it into an archive!

At the end of the weekend I returned to fetch the second of my pieces, which had not sold.  With amazement I discovered that the first piece had been bought by the organisers of the development who want it for their archive.  So I am over the moon to be able to report that I now have my first ceramic piece in a London collection.  Where and when it will be on show I have no idea but I am terrifically excited to know that my vessel was considered to be a useful reference for the power station, after all, that is what my pieces are meant to do; tell a story.  So I think I can safely say that this time I got something right.

Next weekend is the

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

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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!

Do One Thing and Do It Well.

Earlier in the summer, at a point when I was concerned about ‘Life after the Diploma’, I started applying for everything I came across; exhibition; events; support programs for emerging artists.  You name it I threw my hat in the ring.   Last week I was slightly hanging my head – I had had either no response or a rejection from each one.  Clearly no-one else thought as much of my work as I do myself.  Conceit had got the better of me.

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The Battersea Vessel

If I had been checking my spam folder regularly I might have been a bit chirpier, having discovered that my work had been accepted for the exhibition Battersea Arts Station.  Suddenly rummaging around for hours in the muddy banks for the River Thames is worth it – yippee, my first proper exhibition!

But then things went a bit crazy in my inbox.  It was as if somebody had been reading my blog and felt sorry for me.  They had then rung round all their contacts and suggested that they could stave off my suicidal tendencies if they asked me to take part in something.  So Now. in addition to Battersea, I need to find work for the Royal Opera Academy Gallery in London, just off Pall Mall and for the Great Northern Contemporary Crafts Fair.  All three events take place in October and will be rapidly followed by the November Open Studios.

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There will be another one along shortly.

Well what was I to do?  I suppose I could have told them all that I was too busy.  But opportunities like these don’t grow on trees.  You have to grab them when you can, don’t you?  Particularly when you are just setting out and you need the breaks.  I just wish rather that they came with some sort of timetable so that, just like London Buses I could be reasonably confident that there would be another one along soon!

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Organised chaos has taken over the studio.

So now I have a bit of a tight schedule.  Suddenly I need a whole lot of work and, given that they all seem to like the newer pieces on website, I cannot simply hand over the work from my final exhibition – not that I would want to anyway.  I am so much more pleased with what has come since.  I know have a day by day plan of what needs doing when which includes working in the studio on Saturdays and means that there are going to be a great many days when my work space is going to represent organised chaos.  Moral of the story – keep applying, keep your spirits up and be prepared to make like crazy from time to time.  By the end of November I shall be getting quite practiced at this form of vessel and, as Fred Gatley told me ‘do one thing and do it well’, I shall stick to that.  I just wish he had warned  me that although there would be times when the phone does not ring, there might also be times when you have to add ‘and do it quickly’!!