Oh what a week! I love Open Studios. I enjoy all the meetings, I like talking about myself and my work and I love selling but it all seems to take a great toll on my energy levels. First comes the build up with all the making involved – have I made enough? Have I made the right things? Is the quality up to scratch? Then two days or so before the actual opening I begin to worry about layout – how much gallery versus how much studio.
Gallery or studio?
People like the idea that this is where I work and yet they also seem to like a well presented gallery space and so getting the balance right is quite difficult. Then comes the event itself – 4 days of talking to whoever comes in. What do they want to know? How much do they want to engage and how much do they want to be left to look and think. I don’t find this at all easy.
This time I decided that I would make a piece throughout the show and yet this is also fraught with difficulties –
I am always covered by mud!
I am permanently covered in mud when I make and this is not always a good look when trying to engage with a gallery owner. Not to mention the mess that it makes all over my phone as I try and keep up with Instagram and facebook and use my phone for my credit card sales.
The aftermath of the show often heralds the most almighty emotional crash. I am exhausted and the room is a mess; there is half a packet of pop-corn and some stale wine lying in the corner but nothing nourishing to eat and I have lived on hastily shovelled pasts salads for 4 days. I am elated by the sales and possible openings but drained by the prospect of getting it all back to normal and beginning to make once more. I am unsure what the future holds and which opportunities to chase and how hard to chase them.
Probably the most useful thing to do with the few days after the show would be to take 3 full duvet days but I am not very good at that and so I was in bright and early on the Monday morning trying to get back to normal. It was mighty quiet I have to say!
One thing is clear though. These Open Studio events at Wimbeldon benefit enormously from the fact that we have a dedicated co-ordinator who’s job it is to get the shows up and running. She has found us some great sponsors and some fantastic opportunities, she has ensured the smooth running of the event, she has greeted many of the 4500 visitors personally and has probably had little to eat and very little sleep for days. So Julie, this blog is largely for you. Your tireless hard work and cheerful attitude to everything we throw at you is incredible. I am a great many other artists really appreciate what you do on behalf of the studios – it won’t be the same without you.
For those of you that have been following me avidly, thank you by the way, you will know about my love of Richmond Park and about the pieces which I have been making in response to the project to improve the ecosystem of Beverley Brook which runs through the Park from Robin Hood Gate to Roehampton Gate and on into the Thames at Putney. I was really pleased to have one piece ready for the Open Studios this week and even more pleased to sell it! Another£225 will shortly be on its way to the Friends of Richmond Park to support its program of projects ‘protecting the peace and natural beauty of the Park.’
Beverley Brook Vessel No.2
The interest in these pieces has been huge and the third piece , which I have been making throughout the weekend has attracted a considerable amount of attention and people love the story. But for me, the best bit of all is the knowledge that the park is benefitting from these sales. Beverley Brook Vessel No.3 is being constructed during the show and will be completed sometime in the next few weeks. I am looking forward to giving it a good send off and being able to contribute more to the protection of this valuable, fragile resource.
Biologically impossible, I know, but my Dad has always called Richmond Park his third lung. If you live close to London and spend much of your time struggling with the volume of people, the traffic, the fumes and all the other things that living near a big city involves – as well as all the great bonuses such as galleries, events, courses and so on – then having Richmond Park on your doorstep is a truly wonderful plus point. I treasure it so much and its conservation is of considerable importance to me.
The inside of this vessel is decorated with images which remind me of the life in and around the brook.
It was with that thought in mind that I arranged with the park manager to make a few pieces using material from the park and selling them for its benefit: 50% of all sales proceeds is donated to the Friends of Richmond Park for their use in conservation projects. Having sold the first one at Kew Gardens during Handmade it was with great pleasure that I presented the Friends with a cheque for £300. In response they posted a link to my website in their newsletter and on Facebook. The result has been dramatic! I am enjoying peak viewings on my website and have had a number of requests for similar vessels. Given that I am short of work ready to sell during the Open Studios, which starts in less than a week, I had already decided that I would keep my space as more studio than gallery and would make Beverley Brook vessels throughout the weekend, as a kind of ongoing demonstration. It seems that this is a good plan because, if activity and enquiries are anything to go by, I am going to need a couple!
A new Beverley Brook vessel is already under construction.
At the moment I have one, slightly smaller one which is half finished so it looks as though I am going to be a bit busy before, during and after the show and that the coffers of the Friends of Richmond Park are in for a boost.
I love the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. I believe that it has a really great list of attributes for a true human being. Yet Kipling missed something. Earlier this week life became a little hectic. On day one of the exhibition in Kew Gardens people were crowding into the aisles to look at all the wonderful things to buy but not many ready to part with much money. They were, on the other hand, very happy to talk. One lovely chap was asking about the cost of exhibiting, the time it takes to make each piece and the disconnect between the value and the cost of high quality craft. Same old, same old. We agreed that making this kind of work is a lifestyle choice as much as anything and that one cannot expect to be rich on the back of one’s creativity and he came up with a great extra line for Kipling’s poem. I think it is going to be the way forward for me:
If you can keep yourself amused and still have enough for beer and cheese,
Seems like a plan to me!
On the other hand, Kew has been good for me and I am quite hopeful of being able to afford some reasonably exotic cheese as a result. I began with my stand showing almost exclusively new work. I wanted to promote my most recent ideas. I filled my stall with my fragile, thin porcelain vessels which have inclusions of found clay. It looked good and I was really pleased with it. The trouble was, and don’t get me wrong, this is a good problem to have, so did the customers. By the end of Friday it was looking decidedly bare! So late on Friday evening I made a panic dash to my studio to get some work to fill up the gaps.
Old work sitting along side the new to plug the gaps.
This meant that I ended up on Saturday with works which would not normally be anywhere close to each other and that fact alone has led to some interesting thoughts and comments.
I think the time has come for a bit of a rethink – the contrast is great when I sit one of my really rugged, sculptural pieces beside a fragile one. How good would it be if I made pairs using the same material?
Contrasting pieces look so good next to each other.
I need to get beyond the Open Studios first but, after that, it will be time for some serious research!
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.
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!
This week I have been making test pieces; some for commissions but others using clays which people have brought me to experiment with. The results have been mixed but some have been really lovely and I am excited about the promise which they hold.
Test pieces lined up on the window sill.
Of particular note is a piece using material from the hole which was dug last winter outside my family home of 50 years by the men who were replacing the gas main. They were digging it round when I thought it should have been square! and they looked at me as if I had lost my marbles when I asked them to let me have some of the material from the bottom of it but I think I might be going to get the last laugh!
It is really important to me that this material can be worked into a thing of beauty. The hole from which it came was directly outside the front gate to the home that my parents bought when I was ten years old. My siblings and I spent our formative years living here; I got married from this house; both my children were baptised from this house. Copious tears and shrieks of laughter have been shed around the kitchen table here and now it is being sold.
In fact, indirectly, the hole is involved in the sale of our home. If it had not been for the gas men digging it, Dad would have had no trouble parking his car and the con men who came to his aid, and then abused his trust by subjecting him to a dreadful scam, would not have upset his equilibrium to such an extent that he was no longer able to stay there surrounded by happy memories.
So this material is for a commission of sorts: Its for me! The finished piece will take pride of place somewhere in my home. I think I might even build a special shelf for it. I don’t exactly want a shrine for my childhood. It was good, but not that good! I just feel pleased at the idea of having something so closely related to so many happy memories in full view.