Tuesday 21 December 2010

The Winter Soltice

In case I don't get another chance, Here's a toast - Good health and happiness to you all!

.....and here are a few numbers:
Snow fall Saturday 5 inches (och, that's nothing compared to some I know, but nevertheless......)

Hours to dig away snow to get car out, two

Temperature today -15c

Six layers worn in workshop today

Five doves nestling in the snow (waiting for their breakfast)

378 Years since the the lunar eclipse occurred on the Northern Winter solstice.

Time I got up to watch this spectacular event, 6.00am (Brrrr)

Fourteen years since the schoolboy Oskar recorded his first Album, 'Chicken in the Winter,' so named after this scrawny bit of winter topiary.

Enough of numbers.

It has been a week of icy wonders and a lot of time has been taken up with keeping warm, shovelling, clearing and ice breaking, and I have to admit, one afternoon, sledging. Apart from the sheer breathtaking beauty of every vista, and every sun lit icicle, I love the muffled calm. I crawled out in the car to the Feral Choir's Forgotten Carol performances which took place on three hairy driving evenings. The old Winter songs and carols are researched, arranged and some composed by our director Aly Burns, who we are so lucky to have living in Dumfries and Galloway. Picture sparkling frost, the smell of mulled wine and wonderful harmonies.

But the cats are miserable - one is bored, when she does venture outside it is to rush around for 30 seconds (another number there), and fly back in again to warm up her toes, while the other has given up going outside at all.

Today the inevitable happened, no water in the workshop. The fire has been tonking out heat and the new insulation doing it's bit, but this is extreme!

And pots, well, I have actually got loads underway. More than I can handle in the run up to Christmas, so what doesn't get finished will have to be well wrapped up. The damp cupboards are full of dishes and tiles waiting to be slipped, and I have several larger pieces underway.

This is number one of a commission for a large dish, to have a spotty fish design.

I'm making another version, similar but longer. It's still resting on the curved plaster mould and I've been adding the edges today. It goes through a stage of looking like an aircraft carrier but it should come out the other side.

Cutting into the edge helps and gives it a bit of character. It will get its handles tomorrow, they are bent and firming up tonight.

I am experimenting with the same extrusion, using it to form a square 'bowl'. A 'Flappy' bowl, this one. I have six of these in the damp cupboard. If I don't get them slipped they should keep sweet until after the break, as long as they don't freeze.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

It's Cold!

Did I really say that I was getting too hot in our extra insulated workshop? Well, that was before the BIG freeze and temperatures of minus 12c. It makes me wonder how cold it would have been WITHOUT it all.

This week, despite the new underfloor insulation and home made perpex double glazing, it's back to dressing up like a rotund orange Michelin man.

But what a beautiful winter scene outside. Beautiful that is as long as you don’t have to GO anywhere. Rodger and I had front row seats to hear Afrocubism at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh last week, a long anticipated treat. Edinburgh however was all but cut off and although we looked at every mode of transport possible, it was never going to happen. Boo!

Saturday's icy drive to Castle Douglas to meet friends and enjoy the opening of the McGill Duncan Galloway Exhibition was quite a mission enough. Apart from the special Dark Sky pots, I also made a few Christmas penguins for the show. It's ridiculous, but these fellows never seem to take long to find a home.

Sunday's was an even more adventurous drive, mostly in low gears on icy ungritted roads to Corsock, for the renowned ‘Corsock Christmas Craft fair’. Crawling along at almost a cyclists pace was really rather a treat. The snow covered road was overrun by red legged partridges and iridescent pheasants.

It is amazing how such a tiny place puts on such a great fair and has such a good turn out of devotees. It was rewarding to have such a good response sales wise at both events, so I’m pretty pleased especially after all the manic firings I’ve been fitting in.

Although it’s pretty off-season for us it’s always exciting to re arrange the showroom display with new work, and Allie and I set too and put up some Christmas lights and generally made it all look very festive. Not that many brave souls are coming by our way. I even got out the nativity which I made many years ago and could never bear to sell.

There are one or two Christmas orders still to post, but that's about it for current deadlines, well, lets not talk about January. That's the other side of Christmas, miles away...ha

Sunday 21 November 2010

'Dark Skies'

I finished these two pieces a while back, but I have been saving them, plus keeping the images back, because they are for Zoe's 'Galloway Dark Skies' exhibition at the McGill Duncan Gallery, opening in a couple of weeks. Zoe used the images in her invitation leaflet and I see the Dark Skies vase is even in D and G Life magazine - thank you Zoe.

I called in to pick up some invitations yesterday but the McGill Duncan Gallery is a dangerous place. It is TOO tempting, with such beautiful things that I immediately become filled with lustful 'wants'. Of course Jill says this is exactly what they are there for! Recently aquired were some Paul Young pieces which looked particularly stunning, well displayed and beautifully lit. I simply had to stroke a few birds and sheep. In total contrast a were a pair of beakers and a teapot, made by Andrew Priestman. Quiet, simple, perfect in form, weight and finish. Uncluttered, and filled with a serene presence. In other words everything my own work is not and I loved them!

This tree bark had such a beautiful natural spiral, some sort of damage like whirling railway lines, it might well feed into a yet-to-be-made table, a far off floating idea which will have to wait until after the New Year.

Right now I still have plenty of slip decorated orders to finish. I never know at what point to say, 'Too late now for Christmas', but I hate to disappoint and will no doubt end up in a total last minute panic. Think the cut of is definitely next week though.

Yesterday I ended up doing a small glaze test as the new mix, a big batch of 10,000gms looked and behaved in such an odd way I didn't have the confidence to proceed. It was a new batch of ingredients, possibly the lead bisilicate (which has doubled in price), is from an entirely different source. I have a small and invaluable test kiln, and all seems to be ok, so even though the mix is white instead of cream in colour it seems to be behaving. Phew!

Today became filled with Sunday things, such as making a Christmas cake, and a lovely cliff walk. (Actually it was a cliff hobble, I had a 'Capoeira' beginners class the day before, great fun, sort of Tai Chi meets samba, but I think I over did it)! I also spent an hour trying to get my mobile phone monthly contract changed over to Pay as you Go. Four 'advisers' and queuing systems later I actually spoke to a human being with a soul.....

But ho ho, such a warm workshop awaits me tomorrow. Rodger had been on a mission to insulate and now we have underfloor polystyrene in place, plus double glazing - perspex sheeting held in place with magnetic tape. The windows look amazing because they have never been so clean and spider free in years. Roof insulation still to come. The only thing is that I am USED to dressing like 'Michelin Man' in the winter and now I keep getting too HOT!

Wednesday 17 November 2010


A good friend from art school Stephen Jon, who has just come back from Kurdistan where he has been working on an arts project with masks and puppets, sent me this photograph. It is an improvised water trough which a herdsman had made for his cows and goats. Well spotted Stephen. of course I recognised and loved it immediately!

What has been happening in the land of Barnbarroch Pottery? I see it is three weeks since I last caught up on blogland. I've been busy, very busy, catching up and pressing on with with plenty of Christmas orders. Some have been going more successfully than others.

How easy it is to forget to vent an enclosed runner. Never done it before and I hope that I won't be so dozy again.... Disaster at bisc, and it was no small vessel! Oh the joys of pottery....

I hadn't really relished the idea of making Christmas mugs for an order, I thought that they could turn out a bit 'naff', but in the end I quite liked them! Think I might even make a few more 'reindeer on Criffel' ones.

I felt rather smug when managed to fit three of these in this kiln, (plus pots around of course), as I had been rather expecting another slanting kiln shelf escapade. The solution to long dishes and a tight kiln fit is to give them asymmetric handles it seems.

Lots of runners to wax, and I quite like them upside down. Hmmm...!

What a beautiful example of repeating patterns which repeat themselves. It's called a 'Romanesco' and when I found it in the Castle Douglas vegetable shop I just had to buy it. Way too lovely to eat though.

Saturday 23 October 2010

An Interesting Experience and a Special Birthday

Back from East Anglia and an interesting trip and quite an experience it was too. It was indeed a long drive, taking eight hours to get down, but no mishaps (such as squashed dish lengths). When I arrived at Mundford on the Sunday morning I did momentarily gulp to see that Rodger hadn’t been joking, I really was to be mic-ed up with a screen on the back wall, projecting a giant image of the proceedings. Given that I could have either been like a frightened rabbit or just get on with it, I went with taking a deep breath and just getting on with it! (Not much choice really).

It must have looked quite comical as I needed a helper to hold each leg of the table to which I had G clamped the Big blue extruder. There were one or two mishaps, such as I managed to put one of the die plates on upside down so that instead of a hollow pipe, my handle fell into two bits. Then I didn’t spend long enough wedging the clay so it was full of air bubbles and one of my handles split, and I didn’t make enough spares. However, to be fair it mainly went well, and the timing, which was probably the bit I found it most hard to judge seemed to work out. By lunch break I had managed to throw, bend and slump the dishes and extrude the coracles, leaving the afternoon for assembling. I did feel more relaxed as the day went on, as I had the sense that the audience was interested and everyone was exceedingly nice and helpful. It felt very strange to be ‘clapped’!

As I packed up I had to sign the wheel which I felt was a bit of a cheat seeing as I had only thrown a sailor and a gannet, and the other signatories were huge throwers such as Nick Collins!

I was told later that a lot of other demonstrators bring a helper, I can see now that this would have been useful. It was the little things, like not having time to clear before the next stage, which I found tricky, so I kept losing tools, and often had to ask the audience if they had seen something. Also I hadn’t taken on board that I might be selling work. Felicity kindly sorted this side out for me as there was no way I could handle it.

On the way home I stayed over at Oskar’s where he and Rachel had a very large whisky ready for me. (Don’t worry. it’s not a habit, but it was a welcome dram that evening).

I decided to meander home and just enjoy my outing, so on the way home I called in at Jim Robison’s Booth House Gallery, hoping there might be some of his 70 at 70 show still remaining. Indeed a lot had gone, but it was still on and it was a treat to be shown round his woodland walk. The trees which he and Liz had planted when they first moved there, and were once dwarfed by the pots, have grown into a wood which is now the setting for a collection of Jim’s wonderful large ceramic sculptures. In some of the latest pieces he has incorporated chunks of thick glass, which create a kind of iridescent ‘stopper’ or crown. All very exciting and inspirational. (Sorry I didn’t have a camera).

I then called in at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where there is an exhibition of David Nash.

Already blown away by the scale of Jim’s pieces, I stood in awe, humbled and moved in the presence of these towering pieces of wood.

I got back to Rodger and Inigo busy insulating the workshop floor. Rodger had been told by his consultant that he in no way to grub around under the floor boards, so Inigo instead was (not) enjoying the experience of feeling ‘like a Chilean miner’.

It should help as at present the boards rest on a stone dyke with air blowing through. Loft insulation is the next thing, Inigo and I will have to toss for that one.

It was a very special birthday yesterday. Rodger's new stem cells were one year old. We had a toast with champagne to them, and to his anonymous French donor.

Friday 15 October 2010

Off to East Anglia

Another very busy week, getting the new pots sorted out, some went off to Mainhill Gallery exhibition, some are put on one side for the Galloway Dark Skies exhibition, some are for orders and some have filled the many spaces in the showroom here. In addition I've been getting my demo organised for this weekend. The Big Blue Extruder worked ok sideways on a bench, as long as I was an octopus. I would like to take Allie too but there was no room in the box, so I will need some helpers on the day.....hmmm, this is going to be interesting. Rodger made up locating brackets and screwed them on the board runners so that they can go back to back with safe non squash able spaces between for the lengths of pre extruded clay.

The car's all loaded up ready for off tomorrow. I've probably got way too much stuff, but not being in my own space I would hate not to have that 'favorite' tool and it is amazing how many bits and pieces I do need - simple things like a sponge and bucket, to spanners and screw drivers.

I've also stuffed my much loved laptop with pictures. When I came to it I found loads of good images and hope that I have put together a decent presentation. It is all be a million miles away from working in a quiet workshop here, so it will be an experience. I've been feeling pretty nervous, and I had to give myself a pep talk. Instead of 'Oh how scary having to explain myself to all those strange faces, I have been turning it round and making myself think, 'How exciting to meet all those potters and have the chance to show them what do'. I think it's sort of working. Tell you when I get back!

I just wish it wasn't so far to East Anglia - I got quite a shock when I actually got round to looking at a map.

I found this Puffin teapot in a box. It was made for a special order and then never picked up. I was busy saying to someone that I didn't have any teapots at present when I remembered it. As the customer wanted one with a bird on it was just the thing. So sorry to the original owner to be, but two years is a long time on the top shelf!

Monday 11 October 2010

500 Vases and some new pots

A parcel arrived last week from the USA. A complimentary copy of 500 Vases, the latest Lark Books publication. How nice to be once again included in this sumtuous feast of pots. Having already been in 500 Platters and Chargers I was invited once again to submit an image, so thank you Lark Books. Most pots have a full page to themselves giving them the space they deserve and it is an interesting and varied collection with superb photographs. Mostly potters are from the USA with a few from Canada, and I have only found one other from Britain so far. Is it churlish to feel a bit peeved that I was one of the few who had to share a page, with the right hand side of the main image nearly lost in the spine? A pity, but still, nice to be in such good company whatever.

I had hoped that by now I would have sorted out my presentation and demo for the East Anglian Potters, but timing has been such that I have been too busy trying to get the last pots out for the Mainhill exhibition. So it’s all been pretty manic again. What is it about deadlines, however hard I try to keep ahead I still go crashing into them. Perhaps I am always too optimistic about how much I can achieve in one day.

So here I am on the computer getting some photos in order for East Anglia next weekend and thought I would just quickly catch up on the blog.

Two big kiln loads of glaze over the last few days. One unpacked and one cooling. My Father came over yesterday and kindly acting as courier to take the pots over to the Mainhill Gallery exhibition. He quite enjoyed leaving the cloudy East for a day to soak up a bit of Galloway Autumn sun.

Those two kiln firings coincided with beautiful and unseasonably hot weather here, leaving me gasping in what is normally a cool if not austere workshop.

Mainhill asked for something hare-ish. I was pleased with this one's face.

Here are some of the coracle boats. Above 'Noah with an outboard'.

This fellow is either being pecked, or has a hand full of corn.

..... Noah went for a swim?

Last week we took the big blue extruder off the wall and Rodger has found a thick board to mount it on. I am going to experiment with G clamping it to the table top and see if I can extrude from it horizontally. That way I can at least do some actual extrusions in situ next Sunday. Otherwise I will be taking pre extruded lengths and somehow not squashing them in transport. Quite a bit to work out yet. Better go!