Monday, 21 April 2014

Fish and clouds



At last, I have a batch of new pots, all finished over the last few weeks. It has been a great relief to get some pleasing results after the rather uncomfortable run of glaze problems. It is only now that the cloud has lifted that I realise just quite how oppressive and anxious that cloud was.





 So after a long wait I have now some new work which I am happy with.


I started this series of sea and river section vases in February, never exactly sure where they were heading, but always enjoying the journey they were taking me on. The vase is inserted and goes right down through the section so they actually take flowers quite nicely. The vase section of this one could be seen as a kind of ship with flags, a submarine or a flag iris. The tufted ducks don't really care.



                                              


I was working on this one during the flooding of the Somerset levels and thinking about the great biblical flood.These swimming animals are inlaid in white slip - I wanted them to look ghostly amongst the fishes, who are enjoying the extra water to swim in.


 This jaunty vase looked happily mad when tested with a bunch of Easter daffodils. 

                   

                                                 








 On the same theme and from the same die, these are some smaller sailing vessel vases.  I put one out in the showroom the day it came out of the kiln, as much to see how it looked, and someone came in minutes later and bought it. It is both rewarding but also a bit devastating when that happens. I like to get to know my pieces of work a little better and for a little longer before saying goodbye.



Fishy Clouds - it must be the wet season we have had, for fish and water seem to have been very much the theme so far this year.

 

I will be selecting a group of these for my show opening May1st at the Red Barn Gallery  Melkinthorpe, near Penrith. There is just one last kiln firing this evening with potential work for it. The Red Barn is not just a lovely gallery, it shares premises with the amazing Larch Cottage nurseries (the largest variety of plants I have ever seen, most of which are propogated on site),  and the Greenhouse Restaurant which is a very nice place to eat. So a day out there is well worth it if you like plants, food and ceramics!




Monday, 24 March 2014

TFB in the 'Spring Fling At Home' Exhibition


Each Year 'Spring Fling' puts on an exhibition in which everyone who is taking part in the region's 'Spring Fling' open studio event has to put in a piece of their work. It is a difficult exhibition to put on, work ranges from paintings, in hugely different styles and mediums, to furniture, handmade shoes, ceramics, sculpture, textiles - to name just a few. So to pull this huge range of work together into a coherent show is a huge challenge.

This year it was curated in a very different way, showing 'Art and Craft in a domestic setting'. I missed the opening last weekend but called in on Friday. It does really seem to work and is probably the best Spring Fling show ever. Everything had been very carefully thought about with great care taken over each piece.




I eventually found my contribution, 'Toys for Boys' upstairs on a table covered in an old lace table cloth. Velvet curtains by the window matched the yellow body of the vehicle, and there was even a dry spotted leaf taking up the colours.


The car does have a musty yellow feel to it and this has been picked up on. Thanks folks! I tend to be pretty fussy over the way my work is displayed, but I loved this.



I only took a few other photos to give a taste of the show. This year is the first time that Archie McCall is taking part in Spring Fling with his fine stoneware -  and about time I say... 



Hannah McAndrew's lovely warm wood fired pots looked well on the handmade table.


Wendy Kershaw's ceramic picture, well lit where the window light catches it.



Amanda Simmon's enormous glass platter, dancing against the light.


A show well worth getting along to have a look at, it runs until 3rd May.




Thursday, 20 March 2014

Frogs in Perthshire







While I was busy with the weekend demo, Rodger was enjoying the frogs. Kindrogan Field Centre was a beautiful setting for the Scottish Potters Association gathering. 




My co- demonstrators were Simon Griffiths who makes animal sculptures and Lisa Hammond who makes shino and soda glazed thrown ware using the wheel. Of course I didn’t get to see the other two which was a shame, but I got reports and pictures from Rodger Above is Lisa blow torching her large pot in an attempt to dry it off a little.



Then using a paddle to knock it into shape.






Simon was a delight and captured everyone's heart with his light humour and Joie de Vivre.





Here he is describing the angle of ears. It's just a pity I never got a photo of the dodo costume which he and his family made for the evolution ceilidh. The dashing White Sergeant with the middle one riding a dodo is quite something.




When one works quietly away on one's own, a room full of watching people is a little daunting at first.







It was hard to fit in so many aspects of the making process into two days. The clay was very soft and there was no drying to be had so it  had to be encouraged to firm up with the aid of a rather vicious gas burner. This was an either all or nothing affair and the audience were in danger of being scorched. My attempts at throwing on a strange wheel, (with a control pedal which worked in the opposite way to my own one), were not impressive. So I can’t say that I made the best job of my demo pieces, but my audience were kind and appreciative. As the weekend progressed I relaxed more and things began to go better! In fact it was most rewarding to be able to pass on tips and inspire others to have a go at new techniques.

I had some wonderful helpers, so thank you to them especially, and to everyone's interest, patience and kind comments.



















Wednesday, 12 March 2014

How the place had changed.



While going through images for my presentation I came across this photo of Barnbarroch Old School in 1978 shortly after we moved in. (It had been closed for about ten years prior to this). During the year it took to get the building workable I was making pots in the old soup kitchen on the right of the photo. It had running water and an old sink, so was an ideal space to get started with my brand new bright yellow 'Potters Mate' wheel. I remember it being pretty cold in the winter and boiling hot in the summer. In this photo it looks like we have already glassed in the porch and turned it into a (very small) showroom where my first pots were displayed on boards balanced on kiln bricks.

For many years we kept chickens in the playground for  many years, only when we turned their run into a car park did we have to pass them on.



It is easy to forget how much we have done to the place over the years. Today the hedges and trees which Rodger planted are mature and happy - the one behind the bikes is an aspen brought up as a sapling from Yorkshire.


We extended the old porch showroom outwards in 2001, a date which we will always remember as we struggled to re-open for Easter, only to have the road closed in either direction by the army while cattle were slaughtered in an effort to control the Foot and Mouth epidemic. Horrid times.

These lovely sunny photos were taken at Spring Fling late May. This week the rain has stopped at last and suddenly it seems possible to believe that there will be a Spring again.

Today I have been slowly gathering up all I might need to take to demo at the Scottish Potters Annual gathering at Kindrogan in Perthshire this weekend. I just hope the car will be big enough - seems like I am taking the whole workshop.



Friday, 7 March 2014

More bisc pots and still none glazed - but nearly there.


Another  bisc kiln to join the other pots waiting to be glazed. I have much to finish off and yet I am still making new work. Still, once everything is sorted hopefully there will suddenly be loads of new pieces to show.



I am cautiously glazing the Waterboys one by one gradually building up confidence in the clay and glaze fit. There are some customers waiting patiently for some to be finished, so I will be so relieved to have one or two problem free results. I am leaving those until last, just because I so want them to be perfect! This small boat is in the kiln tonight, so fingers crossed.

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I have still only mixed a small amount of the new (hopefully resolved) glaze so I used the spray gun to apply it rather than pour. The matt glaze does tend to show dribbles so would be difficult to apply such a small amount well by pouring. Last summer we upgraded the spray booth extension by replacing the thin polythene with clear table cloth fabric. It is much better, having a good weight to it, so it doesn't flap around like the thin sheets did.





 Meanwhile I have also been working on some more extruded dishes with edges and handles. The design is drawn with slip and then with a knife. Oh it's good to be going forward with new work. 






Thanks once again to Lark Books for including me in the new publication 500 Figures in Clay. I really didn't expect to have an image selected for this one, and am delighted to be amongst such good company. 







Friday, 7 February 2014

New pots and runaway kilns


January has been spent trying to test yet more glazes while also battling with another hiccup - an 'out-of-control kiln'! Or should I say an 'intermittently out-of-control' kiln. At first we thought it was the controller,but then we decided that it was more likely to be the pyrometer. We tightened up the connections in the pyrometer, then fired the small top loading kiln EMPTY to try and catch it out.

 But annoyingly, of course this time it behaved itself. Next time I fired it with pots in, and guess what - the temperature controller started misreading and jumping about again. It means watching the cones like a hawk. Not knowing when it is going to go running off by itself means an anxious sleepless night, and a ten minute alarm throughout the morning. NOT conducive to building up confidence with glaze tests.



A new pyrometer arrived today - in three pieces. Honestly, you couldn't make it up. Hopefully a replacement will come on Monday and we will then be able to find out if it is indeed a faulty thermocouple . If things are still unreliable then it will point to the control box. Either way hopefully a resolution is round the corner. So there are still pots waiting to be glazed and stuck in a queue!

However I have started getting my teeth into making and I am at last on a good creative roll. I had been asked to remake a tall bird vase, one from a series a few years ago and which had been broken by some house removers. I don’t like to repeat  a past project but the client was very persuasive. Actually it has been good to do, as of course I made extras, which allowed me to play about a bit.



A new die is always a good stimulation, and I am now getting stuck in to some wavy wall vases. It’s just good to be underway and inspired. 




These were manipulated as they were extruded, and started to come to life when they were stood up on their edges.





The tall oval vase goes right through the wall so that it is actually taller than it looks.


This is the first 'arch vase', slipped and now drying out.


Then a second one with the vase offset, which gives it a more jaunty feel. So frustrations aside it has been a good couple of weeks.



Sunday, 22 December 2013

Winter Greetings from the North




Wishing you all the best for Christmas and the New Year!




And then it will be full steam ahead. After a dozen plus glaze tests we may have, indeed most likely have, at last found a recipe which appears to be both stable and look as good as my beloved old matt transparent. Good for Rodger, even though he was getting a little slagged off at times for being a 'David Green'. David being our old art school glaze tutor who used contemplate and calculate countless glaze formulas as he puffed his pipe. Most frequently they were dreadfully disappointing but always in his view 'interesting'.

 It has just taken a very long time to put the tests through the kiln and then use them with a sufficient variety of slips and kiln firings to feel confident about them.  I am now optimistic and excited about getting back to pots which have been stuck in the pipeline and ideas which I have had to put on hold. At least I did a lot more throwing than usual over the last few months,  so I am better stocked with the smaller domestic items for the turn of the year. May it be a good one for you all.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Shiver me Timbers (- not this time you won't)!



Although a lot has been going on here, not too much has actually been finished. I have had to put glazing my boats and cars on on hold while we run countless glaze tests. 



I  had no problems over the summer using a fifty/fifty mix of the suspect new batch of clay with my old clay,  but as soon as I used the same mix with my matt transparent glaze which I use on the boats, I noticed that just a hint of the horror problem of 'shivering' (or 'shimmering' - flaking glaze) was still lurking. It is made more complicated because there are undoubtedly two problems - the different batch of clay, PLUS a change in the supply source of my glaze materials. A glaze formula whose heart has never skipped a beat in 30 years has suddenly become unstable! Aargh! Every time a new batch of anything arrives I must remember to test first!

Luckily Rodger has a good chemistry head so we will get there I am sure, but I am not risking weeks of work until 'sure' is truly 'confident'.



  

Meanwhile I have been doing lots of throwing, building up much needed stock and fitting in orders, such as the annual Hardrock Challenge prizes. 


This year I made an extra trophy for 'Mac the Voice', who has compered the event since it started ten years ago.


Last weekend I had a delightful trip to Glasgow to attend a demo day by potter Shozo Michikawa. I very rarely get to these events, but it is well worth making the effort. (In this case the effort being setting my alarm for an unearthly early hour to catch the train).  I came back with a head full of Japanese aesthetic and philosophy - all very stimulating.



Having thrown an initial flat and scored thick plate he threw it and shaped it like dough only to return it to the wheel and re -throw, this time with the concentric circles now elliptical. 

 





It was really good to watch such a fluid worker, whose hands just knew what they were about. Not so much making pots as making pot sculpture, using the wheel as starting point. 'Throw away the rule books' he said and 'Put common sense out of your mind'. He certainly worked with a tremendous freedom which fairly sang through his pieces. 



This 'platter' was textured with a wire brush and manipulated into a rather lovely triangular shape, still retaining its thrown edge.




And here a fat slab, brushed with slip and scored also had the thumping and manipulating treatment. It was just lovely to watch those confident hands and absorb the energy and enthusiasm  of the man.


It's Tuesday morning now I am off to tiptoe around the workshop for a while, listening to the last of Grayson Perry's  Reith lectures. NOT TO BE MISSED! I