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!

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!!

The Battersea Vessel low res

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

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?

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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.

What now?

So here I am, final lecture over, New Designers exhibition done, boxes packed for our graduation show (which begins on Wednesday at Candid Arts in Islington), practically done and dusted and I find that I am lying awake at night with a serious case of pot anxiety.  This is ridiculous!  I have no projects to make for, I have the summer ahead of me to relax, think about the future and bask in the sun and I am worrying about what to make.

The thing is, that’s just it!  I have nothing to make for.  I am dreading losing my direction.  I need a project.  But it is no good simply setting one for myself, it has to have a purpose.  The great things about being on a course are that you have a clear direction and the camaraderie of like minded people with whom to share the experience.  We are about to scatter to the four winds and I am missing us already!

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Long forgotten but full of potential for exploring.

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Fully polished – looking fairly amazing!

I found a forgotten and unloved trial piece at the back of my shelf whilst I was tidying it this week.  I was half way to the dustbin with it when I realised that it just might be the impetus I need to get going post-diploma.  I am very aware that I have only touched the surface of so many interesting techniques in the past two years and that there are a great many which I have had to discard in recent months in order to come up with a coherent body of work for an exhibition.  But the work which I made for my final semester is not exactly who I am.  This is work in progress, it is only the beginning!  Now it is time to haul out my note books and reject pieces and juts play with them.  Something is going to lead somewhere and in the meantime there is so much to do – glazes to revisit, methods to explore and develop, processes to be integrated into ideas which have worked well but could go further.  When I review the span of time ahead it is actually very exciting.  There is so much to do and explore and this long lost reject is just the beginning . . . no time to sleep, better get making!

Hot Pots on Plinths.

Hot Pots on Plinths!

Hot Pots on Plinths!

This week I was shown the very impressive timetable which one of my fellow students had produced in order to make sure that she had everything ready for the various shows with which we are involved.  It sent a cold shudder down my spine!  On the one hand I can completely see the sense in knowing what needs doing when.  On the other, in my case I still need to feel free to come up with one last great idea.  If I was to set myself a timetable I suspect it would have the most disastrous consequences.  The truth is that I am not really very pleased with much of the work that I have made for the final show and I am still waiting for a lightning bolt to strike.  It would have no chance if I had an intricate plan which I felt I had to follow.  On the other hand, I suppose it is helpful to have some idea from the point of view of getting everything dry, fired and finished or else you are at serious risk of ending up with what my very first ceramics tutor, Simon Taylor, at Weston College Somerset called ‘hot pots on plinths’.

In point of fact I suspect that Simon might well be the same kind of maker as me – inspiration striking at the final moment giving him just enough time to get the best pieces through the making process before the critical deadline whereas the lovely student concerned with setting off this train of thought makes complicated moulds which have taken weeks to construct.  She has had to plan her route to the finish with infinite care to be sure that her moulds were ready to use at the crunch moment.  One look at my worktable is enough to make it quite clear that inspiration is still some way off!

Inspiration is still some way off . . .

Inspiration is still some way off . . .

On the other hand, my ‘To Do’ list is immense and includes among other things preparation for Wimbledon Artists Studios open weekend which is now only 5 days away, drying and firing the last of my more solid work, getting all my marketing blurb in order for both New Designers which is in 6 weeks and preparing something to put on a plinth or two at our final show which is takes place at Candid Arts Gallery in Islington in seven weeks.

Candid Arts Gallery, Islington

Candid Arts Gallery, Islington

More on that anon but suffice to say at this time that the space is vast and I had better get making or I run the risk of being really rather embarrassed! – I feel a timetable coming on!!

On the up side, my wonderful daughter and most important critic arrived at Wimbledon Artists Studios yesterday armed with sustenance to prevent emaciation setting in during the biannual transformation of my studio into a gallery for next weekend.  She sat looking at my work and gently but firmly reminded me that perhaps in all the pressure I might have lost sight of what it is that feels like beauty to me.  She is so right – what ever happened to fragile, floating vulnerable forms with flowing lines?  Right, six weeks to make amends then!

Have I lost sight of what beauty means to me?

Have I lost sight of what beauty means to me?

Here We Go . . . .

Two things happened this week which make the fact that my ceramics diploma at City Lit Arts is coming to an end.  The first was that I registered for my photo ID card for New Designers.  This is a very big exhibition for graduates of design based courses to show their best work.  It is a fabulous opportunity and I am looking forward to it with a mix of excitement, anticipation and anxiety.  We keep being told that this is such an opportunity to be seen by the shop and gallery owners who are looking for new names to exhibit and work with so you have to make a really great impression.

The second thing was that a group of us went along to the gallery that we are going to be using for our final show; seventeen brand new and exciting approaches to ceramics, every one different but all with the hindsight of a wonderful shared learning experience and displayed with the same attention to detail and finish.  We have taken the first floor of Candid Arts Gallery behind the Angel in Islington.  What a fabulous space!  It is huge!  Our first reaction was that we might have difficulty making it look filled but actually, having spent some time there I really believe that we can do it justice.  There will be plenty of space to get all round the work, which is important with 3D art and there will be plenty of space for the hundreds – no, thousands – of visitors to stand and chat, glass of something cold and refreshing to hand, whilst a gentle warm breeze wafts over them from the windows at either end which give the place such a feeling of light and space.  It is somewhere which lends itself to each of us being able to spread out and yet feel as one.  Our work will positively shine in it!

So there is nothing left to do now except to make some work, get some publicity organised, finish my essay and send out the invitations. . . .  What have I missed? Oh, I know, dates for your diaries: New Designers – The week of 22nd June, Candid Arts – the week of 29th June.  It feels a bit like going on tour!!  More details will follow shortly.

All we need to do now is to make some pieces worthy of the space!

All we need to do now is to make some pieces worthy of the space!

All ready to be admitted to New Designers.

All ready to be admitted to New Designers.