Sleep patterns

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.

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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!  

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Please be gentle!

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!

Where Do You Go To?

When I am not in the studio it doesn’t necessarily mean that I am not working on my art.

River Journey, Bridget Macklin, 2014

Armed with a trowel and a plastic bag.

Given that my art is about landscape I am often to be found wandering the countryside with a small trowel, a pocket full of zip lock sandwich bags and an indelible pen – just in case the urge takes me – but there are masses of other activities involved which are somewhat less glamorous.  Social media takes up a lot of my time.  Research; planning; applications for competitions, galleries, grants etc all have their place as does the designing, ordering, collecting and delivering of advertising which might or might not hit the right spot and lead to sales.

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Consider yourself invited!

This week I have been delivering fliers for our up-coming exhibition at Fountain Gallery, near Hampton Court.  Each of the 3 artists involved took 800 fliers to push through letter boxes.  It doesn’t sound much but, believe me, it can take hours.

You need to find the posh houses, those with two expensive cars outside, because these are where the people with disposable income live.  So we are talking approximately 800 security gates to decipher, 800 long drives, 4800 steps to front doors and indiscriminate quantities of gravel.  I think that I have walked the length of Chesil Beach this week!

Then there are the letter boxes themselves.  High up and you have to jump, low down and the bag full of fliers on your shoulder swings round to give you a hefty clout on the knee as you reach down to push through.  Whilst horizontal flaps can be relatively easy, vertical flaps are always a nuisance.  They need two hands: one to hold the flap up and one to push the flier through.  If the flap is too small you have to fold your expensive flier in half, spoiling the impact somewhat, and if too many of the springs are too strong you risk repetitive strain injury in both thumbs from forcible pushing.

I have eventually learned to be suitably cautious of ‘Beware of the Dog’ signs.  At one residence I saw the sign, heard the dog and assumed small because of the pitch of the bark.  What I didn’t spot until he had the flier in his mouth was that miniature yappy dog’s best friend, gigantic Irish Wolf Hound, had been watching me for some time through the upper part of the door.

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Let me take that for you!

 I learned to dread the letter boxes with a flap on the inside as well as the outside most of all.  Not only do you not know what is in store until you are committed to the action, but the inner flap is inclined to want to hold you prisoner causing nasty biting injuries as you withdraw your last finger and the flap snaps shut.  And you can’t even shove the entire bundle into a post box and dash home because, unlike other types of junk mail, you paid for these out of the yet-to-be-seen profits of the exhibition so they have to hit their mark come rain or shine and I don’t mind telling you that I didn’t see much of the shine!

The doors themselves make interesting studying.  I am really into front doors at the moment as we are trying to decide on the design and colour for our house in Cornwall.  It seems that grey is the colour.  I did see other hues but grey is predominant and, whilst I couldn’t possibly comment on what goes on behind them, there really are 50 shades for the exterior décor of posh houses in 2017!  I must have seen pale dove grey, dark satanic grey, blue grey, green grey, purple grey . . . . . . I think we might be going for bright red in St Mawes.

After wearing my legs down by several inches I decided to try doing it by bike.  It is a while since I rode my bike but after a few preliminary wobbles I was off up the road.  It didn’t take long before I was gazing at the tarmac at close quarters though.  I had forgotten the need to disengage feet from pedals when approaching a roundabout and was now face down in the middle of the road feeling embarrassingly representative of Nurse Chummy from  Call the Midwife.

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Given my new found respect for the postie, I shall be using one of these.

I have decided that, out of a new found sense of respect for the postie, I shall be having an external letter box in Cornwall.  It will be positioned at a height which does not involve bending double and it will be located at the end of the drive so that the postie can lean over and shove the mail through without ever having to disengage his feet from his bike pedals as he passes by.  Enjoy the link!

 

The Crest of a Wave

I make no apology for including a mass of links and no images in this blog.  The thinking being that you all just need to go and see for yourselves!

I have had a lovely time this week.  I have enjoyed my daughter’s dress rehearsal with the lovely Pindrop quartet, I have lunched at the Royal Academy (with said daughter), I have visited the spring exhibition at Erskine Hall and Coe where I especially loved the work of Sarah Flynn and Elizabeth Fritsch , I went to the book launch in Kew of a dear friend’s first novel (Congratulations to Mike Thexton for the Magistrate’s Son – available from other bookshops as well!) and last but by no means least, I have been at Ceramic Art London, the highlight of the contemporary ceramics calendar in the UK.

Ceramic Art London was a veritable feast of talks and stands showing gorgeous work by talented makers who, without exception, are happy to talk about techniques, ideas, glazes, skills – you name it, they are willing to share.  I have to say, the generosity of spirit shown by people who work in clay is greater than in any other walk of life that I come into contact with.  I picked up cards from many stands, especially enjoying the work of Rachel Wood – for her delicious surface decoration, Chris Taylor – for his use of colour and decals, Chris Keenan – for being Chris Keenan! and Megan Rowden for her delicious surface texture and alternative firing techniques and I went to a number of talks.

The talks, and I only managed three of the 15 on offer, gave me a lifetimes inspiration.  So here are just a few tidbits to scatter into the wind for those unfortunate enough to have missed this great show:

From Stephanie Buttle – ‘The need to push the clay to its absolute limits’, ‘If your life is off balance, where does that energy go?’  ‘You need a platform.  Without one, it remains inside your head.’

From Stuart Carey who set up The Kiln Rooms in London – The need to be able to bounce ideas around with other people when one is in the early stages of your career but the need also for a ‘Fortress of solitude’, the fact that ceramics is on the crest of a wave and we all have a responsibility ‘to get it out there; to talk about it; write about it; discuss our work.’  He had good advice about setting prices for ones work: About not underselling oneself; about watching out for (and avoiding) the ‘holes in the market’.  The impact of ‘The London Effect’, especially for new artists and the need to maintain the very highest quality in everything we do.

From the wonderful Kate Malone – about the flow of ideas (and glazes); about how her vast source of reference material is full of things which ‘hits her subconscious and moves her inner soul; about ‘the sense of a world in a pot’; about the ‘creative alphabet’ of the artist which is such that, whenever you see it, it just rings a bell somewhere and you draw on it time and time again; about the use of the kiln as a tool rather than a useful hot place, the very thought that for one project you might make 15 000 pieces using 5 different clays and 4 different glazes and fill 600 IKEA boxes in the process!

Possibly the two things I shall try to hold onto most are:

  1. The idea of brinkmanship when making.  Not sure who said it but I am sure it is essential that one pushes everything to the limits.
  2. It’s about hands, about fingers, about touch. (Kate Malone). Yes it is!

Freedom

As some of my readers know, when I am in London I live on a boat.  This week we cast off our moorings and set sail on the River Thames with few plans except to go up the river. It is wonderful to be so free to chose how to spend our time.  By day two we were chugging gently past Runnymede and thought we ought to take a look around.

History is everywhere in this place.  I knew about the Magna Carta.  I had at least done THAT much history when I was at school but it did me a lot of good to read about it again and consider what the signing of this document actually stands for. Obviously there is more to it than this and I know that King John was not quite as good as his word so it was some considerable time before we enjoyed the freedoms which is lays down but I am absolutely clear that during the time since it was originally enshrined in history it has been considered a true milestone in the fight for individual rights and freedoms.

Both the United States Bill of Rights and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights owe a great deal to Magna Carta, to name just two.  Without it the world would be a poorer place. When I reached somewhere with a wifi signal I did a bit of searching and found this wonderful clip on the British Museum website which, for those who are interested, gives a ‘nutshell explanation’ of this incredibly important document. It is worth a look.

There are a number of other memorials in recognition of the struggle for liberty at Runnymede and so, puffed up with pride that it all started here in Britain, we set off to take a look.  Eventually we found ourselves on the hill over looking the river.  Here there is a haunting reminder of the loss of life by Allied Air Forces during the Second World War.  In one year, 1943, there were more than 30 men killed with the name Smith.  That is to say there were 30+ men with the surname Smith who were sergeants in the RAF killed in that year.  This does not count other ranks called Smith.  Nor does it include  members of other Air Forces: Canadians; New Zealanders; Australians to name just a few.  Nor does it include anyone with surnames which include ‘Smith’ and some other suffix or prefix.  as I looked at this particular column of names – one of 300 – I found myself shivering with some intangible and deeply sad emotion. More so that when I tried to digest the fact that 20,000 men are remembered on the monument.  Maybe that number is too large to comprehend.

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The combined Air Forces memorial at Runnymede.

I hate war!  I cannot understand why differences of opinion cannot be thrashed out over a plate of Nachos and a beer or two.  But the fact remains that in the early 20th century the world was plunged into despair and huge numbers of people died for the simple reason that they believed in Freedom.  I have never felt more appreciative of their sacrifice than I did standing there in the solitude as the daylight was dimming.

I need to make something very special from the small handful of clay that I picked up in a tree throw on the slope of Cooper’s Hill below the memorial.

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I want it to be as open and welcoming as possible.

I have started on a large dish which is as open as I can make it.  I want it to look as though anyone might be able to approach it and rinse their hands.  I also want it to be as fragile as possible in recognition of the fragility of the peace and freedom which we are so privileged to enjoy in this country.  If I don’t get it right the first time I shall keep remaking it until I do because this matters!

 

Rumours of my Incarceration are Greatly Exaggerated.

Sorry, I am at it again.  This time poor old Mark Twain is getting misquoted but not without just cause if you ask me.  You see I have been out and about collecting mud again, this time in a torrential rainstorm, and the residents of a small, respectable town in Devon are probably expressing grave concerns!

This all started because I have been invited to be the featured artist in an exhibition called Escape by The Hybrid Gallery in Honiton this summer.  I am excited by this opportunity and thought it would be sensible to begin my making by making a visit to see the space.

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We lay like sardines in the back of the car

I remember Honiton.  We used to have to drive through it on our way to visit grandparents in Torquay.  Then we lay sardine fashion in the back of our Morris Traveller estate, watching the lights and the telegraph poles swoop by on  seemingly endless journeys.  Now you flash past on the bypass with children firmly strapped into child seats.

Then it was famous for lace and there was a pottery in the town employing quite a number of people making slipcast functional ware.  Now many of the shops are gift or good food orientated and there is a Pottery Café on the site of the old pottery which hosts parties where you can decorate pre-fired wares whilst sipping smoothies and tucking into a panini.

 

It was years since I had visited the town and the rain on this particular day was  not at all conducive to sight seeing but Honiton is a true gem! Having had a bit of a look around I squelched my way to the public library where a quick search of the local history section revealed that the original pottery had, for many years, made use of a seam of clay running behind the workshop.  That was all the invitation I needed!

I was off – scampering up the main street and leaping puddles like the sure favorite in the National.  Lo and behold the house beside the pottery was having building work done and so, swathed in my sodden jacket and dripping with rain clutching trowel and zip lock bags in my damp, little hand, I knocked at the door.  Just then a young lad came round the corner of the house.  His expression on hearing my request was one of mild shock and incredulity but he agreed to my request and so, before he could call for men with straight jackets, I was down on my knees.  Three sandwich bags later (and, some would say, several short of a picnic) I was back at the car with my trophies and ready to start making.

 

Who Am I?

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to take part in a workshop organised by the  Design Factory  providing advice on writing about your art.  The session was run by Jane Adams from the Royal Literary Fund. 

We began by talking about our work.  We had about five minutes each, during which the other members of the group made notes on what we had said.  It is extraordinary how your attitude changes when you are talking to real people.  Suddenly we each began to say the things that the rest of the group seemed interested to hear.  Our description of our work practice changed significantly, well mine did for certain.  Instead of spilling out some ‘arty-speak’ notion of what I do I actually began to talk like a proper human being and to try and make what I said informative and interesting instead of merely talking through the top of my head.

Step two was to feed back to the speaker about what they had said and to try and distil what they had talked about into just the key points.  Next we split into pairs and, using the notes that we and the others had made, we wrote 4 sentences about our partners work.

Here I was exceptionally fortunate to be paired with Liz Cooper.  It turns out that she is a bit of a wordsmith!  Given the fact that she is a freelance curator this is no bad thing but, for me, it proved to be a very good thing indeed!  This is what she wrote about me:  I love it and will use it almost unadulterated as my Artist’s Profile from henceforth!

  • Geology is at the core of Bridget Macklin’s ceramics: she mixes in other materials, then scrapes back to reveal fantastic and colourful strata.
    Bridget loves porcelain and says, “When my hands are contact with it, I just can’t stop working with it.”
    She delights in repeated refining of her pieces, revelling in the challenge of taking risks with her materials.
    Bridget strives to make lustrous, delicious pieces that only reveal their full natures and hidden treats on close inspection.

Now I ask you, What is not to like?

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What is not to like?