Seaweed pinch pot

Seaweed pinch pot

Friday, 16 September 2016

Spring... and I'm ready for some moving on

This winter I've been stymied by kiln and glaze difficulties. My rather basic old top-loading kiln that I acquired earlier this year seems to cool too fast for my glazes, in particular the one glaze that I was getting into in a big way. The normally frosty satin-mat surface comes out glossy and flat with no iron flecks drawn out of the body as I am used to.  As I await the fitting of a more sophisticated controller that will allow me to slow-cool and encourage crystal formation I've got greenware and bisqued work building up in the studio, and ideas bubbling away that i'm trying to not loose my grip on while I'm in this awkward hold period.
And I have a market on Sunday. Before the new wave of work bursts forth (i.e. once my glaze and kiln trouble is sorted!) there is still time to enjoy the fruits of winter's slow ferment. I'll be selling all stock at 10% off to celebrate the end of winter. Come along to the Thornbury Bowls Club (11am-3pm) for another WAM pop up makers market. There will be scones!

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

new work

A quick update on what I've been up to in the studio. 

I continue to let my fascination with tree-branch patterns guide some of my surface explorations. How to get the feeling of looking at sky through branches onto the vessel surface?

Large coil-built bowls with brush drawings. These ones are currently on consignment at Northern Thread in High St Thornbury.

Mugs with sgraffito line-drawings of branches (direct observational drawings of the tree outside the studio window!). Again, these are at Northern Thread in Thornbury.

I've also been doing some experimentation with darker clay bodies and blends, with mixed success. Small wheel thrown or pinched bowls have been my test pieces.

Dark stoneware blend... I'm loving the way this glaze breaks on the rim of these bowls.

Dark stoneware (unblended) with some white engobe brushed on before first firing. Couldn't resist the autumnal fruit as photo shoot accessory!

And I continue to make these 'stick window' beakers, which I enjoy. 
Beakers with oxide inlay. 
 I'll be heading to market with many of these things, plus some oddments from last year, this Saturday 30th April at the Northcote Social Club 11am-3pm. This market is dedicated to Kate, Northern Regards Market co-founder, who very sadly passed away last year.

taking stock of what's coming to market... loving the autumn sunshine!

Thursday, 3 March 2016

sadness and renewal

It's already March, yet this blog entry is my belated farewell 2015/welcome 2016 post. It's existed in my head for a while. Last year, 2015, was a big one for me and I wanted to give it some acknowledgement here. Of all the significant events (and there were some stressful, some exciting, some joyful and some testing - more than the typical quota for one year) the most profound was also the saddest. My good friend, Emmaline, died June 1st 2015. She had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer 16 months earlier, just days after her second child was born.

This is a ceramics studio blog and I mention this very personal loss here because it has taken my ceramic practice to some important new places where meanings are rich and layered. I think my experiences last year allowed me to find deeper significance in the process of making objects by hand. 

Emmaline's partner, Rainer, found some very sensitive ways to create meaningful ceremony around her death. One occasion for such ceremony was a memorial service and scattering of Em's ashes several months after the funeral.  Rainer, after deciding that her ashes would be scattered under a she-oak tree at a much loved coastal site,  asked me to make a vessel to hold her ashes and carry them to the beach memorial service. Rainer didn't want the vessel to be just an urn, but conceived that it could also function as a vase for foliage collected in months and years to come. He knew that I had been experimenting with she-oak foliage marks impressed on vessels and he asked that the special vessel for Em's ashes have impressions of the foliage he had collected already from the chosen tree.

This project was, in honesty, a stretch for my abilities at that time. The size of vessel required was greater than what I was comfortable handling on the wheel and I had the date of the ceremony as a very definite deadline. I made a group of vessels, as large as I could manage, and the making was a very special time of reflection. Em's ashes were carried by three vessels, one scattered by Rainer and his two girls, one by Em's brother, and one by her parents. Two extra vessels are kept by Rainer for each of his girls to have when they are older.

Emmaline had a deep appreciation of ceramics and was a truely wonderful support as I took my first tentative steps in making, selling and developing my skills with clay. One of the last times I saw her was at a craft market where I had a stall. Despite the great effort it required for her to get around at that stage, she came along and bought some little coloured cups for her home. It meant a lot to me and I love seeing those cups in use. Emmaline would have loved to have made more pots herself and with sadness and gratitude I acknowledge that her longing for ceramics has given my own searching as a maker more weight and purpose. 

All the images in this post were taken by Tobias Titz, a photographer and good friend of Rainer and Emmaline (thank you to Rainer for letting me use them). Emmaline wrote a beautiful blog about her illness and Rainer added to this after her death. You can read it here:

Thank you to Rainer for asking me to make these vessels. I am currently working on some other pieces for Rainer and will post about them some other time. A happy and peaceful 2016 to all.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

twilight market

I'm going to be at Made n Thornbury craft market again next week (last time for this year!) - it's a Friday afternoon/evening twilight market this time: 4-8 pm 99 Leinster Grove Thornbury.

I have quite a few cups and mugs like the ones in this shot, as well as some vases. It should be a nice evening - I really enjoyed the twilight market the last two years. Maybe see you there!

Monday, 3 August 2015

windows of branches

beakers with designs inspired by the patterns tree-branches make against the sky

Recently I've been making mugs, beakers, bowls and vases. Some of these I've been using to explore, using oxides and glaze, the visual affect of light through the branches when you're in a forest or under a tree canopy looking up. It's something I've been fascinated by for a long while, and I imagine it could keep me enthralled for a long time yet.  One of the things that holds me is a feeling that the patterns made by trees are somehow psychologically soothing and uplifting. I wasn't sure if this was an individual thing: I spent many hours of my childhood lying under trees looking up at the sky and so it's not hard to see that I'd bring my own fond memories to my adult experience, but co-incidentally I came across an article in the New Yorker just a few days ago describing how, according to new research, time spent looking at trees (even images of trees) calms us down and gives us a psychological boost. And interestingly it's not about deliberate, focussed sort of looking, but just seeing them in an undirected sort of way. Having trees around (or at least visual stimuli akin to trees) seems to be the key.

Different trees make different types of patterns of course and I'd love to know whether the type or form of the tree makes a difference to the way our brains are affected by its visual presence.  I imagine this is some very ancient brain wiring being touched upon. So much yet to learn.

Last Friday I dropped off a bunch of this new work to SMALLpieces gallery (at Northcote Pottery Supplies) - I'm excited to be their 'featured artist' for the month of August. You'll find my work in the window display there this month.
some more recent work, including a beaker with carved forest design and a cylindrical vase with textured wattle impressions rubbed with oxides

I'm also loving making some vases with seed-pod inspired forms and simple, comfortable mugs

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

tests with carved drawings

As I've been getting more and more enthused about tree-branch drawings on my hand-built pieces (as mentioned in this post) I've been bringing this interest to some functional-ware as well... and testing out oxides and glazes. 
Inspired by the mid-fire results I'm seeing on my 'study day' with Shane Kent (where all our work is fired to cone 6) I'm also considering transitioning to cone 6 for all my functional-ware.
Small test pieces (or sake cups) with carved drawing inlayed with a copper carbonate and iron oxide slip and glazed with a translucent satin glaze with lithium carbonate in it. Cone 6 fired.

Two (each side) as above contrasting with the middle one which has the same oxide slip but a satin glaze without lithium carbonate was used, and it was fired to cone 9. The colour result on the middle one is less interesting in my opinion.  

Friday, 10 April 2015

making whorls

Something other than pots! Last year I was approached by the lovely Rebecca of Needle & Spindle about the possibility of making some ceramic spindle whorls. Spindle whorls?  These intriguing little objects are something straight out of ancient history - they were/are used for spinning yarn. Rebecca is an amazing spinner and knitter with a keen interest in ancient technologies (check out this blog entry of her's to get the picture). 

I didn't know a thing about spindle whorls when Rebecca approached me about this but a few google searches (specifically on viking whorls, at Rebecca's direction) gave me the picture and I set to making some. They were a pleasure to make and it was a delight to be part of what seemed like a project from another era. 

Rebecca is a generous and eloquent blogger and she wrote a couple of blog post about that batch of whorls, and took some lovely images - check them out here and here. I especially loved the second post in which she details how she took the whorls bush camping and fashioned a shaft out of bracken and proceeded to spin her yarn and then dye it with leaves, all while camping! Now that's true low-tech ingenuity. 

This week I've been making a new batch of whorls because there were a few things I think I didn't get right the first time ... so I thought I'd share the process.

First I form the basic shape, flattening small balls of clay by pinching

Making the hole. This is the part I felt I didn't get right last time... I waited until the discs were leather hard and opened up a hole with a drill-bit - the result was holes that were not as smooth as I would like and probably not big enough for the shaft to fit in some cases. This time I made the hole with a pencil in soft clay and worked on creating a smooth and tapering shape that will hopefully be more practical fitting a shaft to.

At leather hard stage I smoothed the surface a little, ready for carving the designs.

The freshly carved designs, inspired by Victorian flora

This shot shows the profile of one of the whorls - I imagine the decorated, slightly concave side of the whorl facing upward when in use, and the extra thickness underneath should help with the spin (I think? or maybe just help with the stable attachment to the shaft).

Rebecca put me on to this book (found in the local library) which gave me some insights into how whorl shapes affect the spinning... because I don't spin myself I'm still not confident my whorls are great for spinning with, but it's been a fun thing to learn about!

This batch isn't finished yet... they will be bisque fired then oxides will be brushed on and rubbed back before firing again. You can see the ones from last year in Rebecca's afore-mentioned blog posts though... and while you're there do check out some of her other posts - they are always a delight! (here: Needle & Spindle)