Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pretty things

I'm not usually aiming for pretty, but it just seems the right word for my newest pottery designs, using a variety of coloured and precious metal lustres.  These red and amber lizards are my favourites.  They're just how I hoped they would look.  I've made some wallhangings in these sorts of colours but they're never fast to sell so possibly other people don't go for these colours in the same way, but for me the whole red/pink/orange spectrum is delicious when you add gold.

I also tried a variety of designs on mugs.  As well as the different coloured lustres I've started using, there were some underglaze colours I experimented with.

Some were more successful than others.  The reddish spots and stars are bluish in some lights, so not quite as bizarre as they may look at first.

And finally, I do also very much like this combination, which uses copper lustre rather than gold or platinum.

There's much more time spent painting these so they'll be more expensive than others of the same size, but I hope people will think they're worth it.  I'm really looking forward to doing some more next year.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Everybody liked this lizard

... and yesterday someone decided to buy him.  He'd been attracting admirers for a couple of months.  At every market he would be the pot that most people stopped at.  My "beastly dishes" are not for everyone: they're quite expensive because of the work of sculpting the lizard then painting in slip before firing and finally painting the lustres and the extra cost of another firing.  Also, I think people feel afraid to use them, although I always stress that they are made to be used. 

By coincidence, yesterday I also unpacked a lustre firing in which were some new items inspired by this chap.  I love the carmine lustre which I used for the spots and they just made such a hit with the other colours.  It was the first time I'd used it, so it was a bit of a gamble, but it paid off.  Inspired by the beastly pot and the attention he'd attracted, therefore, I decided to use the same theme to decorate some other pots and just as the first chap went to a new home, I unpacked the first examples of the new "range".  I say range in inverted commas because I'm not planning to make lots of the same things in this design.  I'll make some as I feel like it but I also plan to experiment with different combinations of lustres and designs within the same sort of theme.  But here are the first:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New venture

A long time ago I promised to write about the new venture I'd been busy creating and the image above (which is now reproduced as postcards amongst other things) explains all.

Well, perhaps not all.

When Gloucestershire Arts and Crafts Centre moved from its first location to a new shop, I decided not to move with it.  This was a business decision: Gloucester isn't and never has been a place where people buy a lot of domestic pottery.  When there was a Made In Gloucestershire shop in Westgate St. potters who were used to selling elsewhere in Gloucestershire found that their sales were much less frequent in Gloucester.  For me Made In Gloucestershire worked quite well because I sold a lot of greetings cards there.  At Gloucestershire Arts and Crafts Centre this didn't happen because we had a large number of very good card makers.  One in particular, whose beautiful cards I would have bought all the time if I didn't make my own, sold cards daily and the remainder of  greetings card sales were shared out between the rest of us.  Pot sales happened, but not frequently enough and the sales I made were uneconomic when set against the time spent working in the shop and other conditions of membership.  So I said goodbye.

In spite of this being a good business decision and a good life decision to be able to spend more time on making work, I was very sad about leaving GACC.  I really enjoyed being part of a large group of like-minded souls and I particularly enjoyed creating and maintaining the website.  The new shop is much smaller and I wasn't alone in deciding not to continue so that meant a large number of us no longer in the network.

So Crafts In Gloucestershire was born.  I had the idea way back in the summer and started setting it up at the beginning of September.  The website has been live for about a month and I've sent out two newsletters.  Membership is growing slowly; a large part of this is that arty types are notorious for not getting round to admin work and although I write the web pages, makers need to write their own text and sort out which pictures they'd like to use and this is another task falling just when most of us are busy making extra stock to have plenty for Christmas sales.  So, it will grow slowly but, I think, surely.

Crafts In Gloucestershire is an online directory.  It lists makers, teachers and events which fall into the arts and crafts category.  It's also a network, which means that event organisers can send us notice of craft fairs and the like, which will be passed on to all the members.  Members can contact each other, perhaps to suggest a group exhibition, or to ask for support and ideas.  I hope when there are enough of us we might have the odd social get-together.
As well as a page with pictures and info, makers also may have their products or events included in an occasional newsletter or mentioned on Twitter or Facebook.

I'm really rather pleased with the whole project.  I've really enjoyed designing the logos, website and publicity documents and I think I've created something which is really good value for the members.

Well, it wasn't supposed to be a sales pitch, though I suppose it might have turned out that way.  I wanted to write about it, though, because I do see it as part of my work and as such it had been occupying my mind for a while.  Setting up the website was quite time-consuming but now it's done, adding entries is not.  So far I've enjoyed planning and creating the newsletters and I must admit to being a bit of a Twitter and Facebook fan so posting there is no hardship either.

You'll have noticed the web address above, but here's a link to make it easy:

Crafts In Gloucestershire

and while you're at it, would you like to receive the newsletter?  Just email email and ask for a newsletter and it will soon be winging its way to your inbox.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New season

Even though I haven't done any school-based teaching for about four years now, Essence of Autumn Term still hovers around my life and I view September/October time as an opportunity for a new start.  At the market I often have a half-price sale in September, which although I don't advertise it as such, always figures in my mind as an end-of-season sale.  I'm not sure they have those any more.  It may be that the end of season sale is a thing of ancient history.  I'm not sixty yet, but I've already begun to notice that I know about things that actually are history to a couple of generations of people.  I suspect, though, that some of my readers are of the same generation as I am and will relate to the concept of the end of season sale.

Last week, though, was the start of the new season as far as my market appearances go, and at last the much heralded banner had its first outing, together with a new tablecloth and stall layout.  I'm very pleased with the result.

The only minor problem is with the banner.  It's perfect for a market stall, but for an indoor event it will be too tall.  The tables tend to be much nearer the ground than the market stalls.  I was also wondering how I would manage to attach the thing to a table.  Solution: I'm going to get a smaller banner made, which will attach to my tablecloths with velcro.

Actually, I'd better get a move on.  I need this all ready for 29th October.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book Review - "Room"

I thought I had better redress the balance after my review of The Gargoyle and give an example of a book which is packed with feeling from start to finish and luckily the very next book I read was such a book.

I confess that after The Gargoyle my faith in my own ability to choose a good book had been rather damaged, so it was with a little trepidation that I began Room by Emma Donoghue.  I needn't have worried.  I read about forty pages in bed one night and then consumed the rest of the book the following day.  This is what books should be like, in my view.  I want the book to become more important than the rest of my life so that I can do nothing else until it is finished.

The first time I remember this happening very clearly was during my "A" level year, when I started reading Lord Of The Rings.  I got to a certain point in the book and realised that it was probably more productive to just abandon my studies completely until I had finished reading it than snatch hours here or there and spend the rest of the time between worrying that I wasn't studying enough and missing the book.  Since then it's been the benchmark of a really good book that it can grab me that way.

So, back to Room.  This may not be in my top ten all time books, but it's up pretty high. I remember choosing it because from the blurb, I thought it was a great "what if" plot.  I 've always been fascinated by human psychology and was looking forward to exploring the effects of an extremely unusual situation on the development of the central character, a five-year-old child.  What I wasn't expecting was to experience so much of what his mother feels as well, the more powerfully because those feelings are never described.  Through Jack's account of events we are also in touch with Ma's experience of them.  Without being over-sentimental, the story was nevertheless very moving.

*   *   *   *   *   *

I may not write any more book reviews here.  (Feedback on whether I should would be appreciated.)  As I think I've indicated, I enjoy most books I read and as I found it much, much more difficult to write about this enjoyable book than I did about the one I hated, the omens are not good.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Book Review - "The Gargoyle"

I haven't written about books here before but I've been prompted to start because of The Gargoyle.

I don't know why I bought this book.  A couple of months ago I was buying something else on Amazon and decided to treat myself to a couple of novels.  I was thinking ahead to having some holiday time and had just paid some cheques into my account and I decided I could probably afford it so long as I got on with it and spent the money on books before I noticed it was needed for something else.  The book may have been recommended to me by a friend but I'm beginning to doubt that.  Perhaps I just liked the sound of it and it was part of a "Buy all three for a knock-down price" package.

I've been gradually getting back into reading this year.  Finding the odd time to pick up a book again.  It's part of getting back a life but it's something I've found difficulty finding time for in the last six or seven years, to be honest.  As always, reading has been more concentrated into holiday time than any other time but I've mentioned that holiday time has been rather sparse round here so reading has more or less fallen by the wayside for some years.

So then The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson fell into my lap. 

The blurb on the back uses words like "engrossing, spectacularly imaginative, extraordinary, romance".  "The pages almost turn themselves."  (What?!)  I think it's supposed, amongst other things, to be about the ultimate quality of love.  Or possibly the quality of ultimate love.

The descriptions are thorough.  Emotions of many kinds are described at great length, with detail, embellished by all the sorts of things you expect in magical realism, which should have been a warning to me as I'm not really a fan. 

I've spent the morning, the first of my holiday, finishing the book.  I always want to get to the end, to find out what's going to happen and in that respect this book was no different.  I like to tie up loose ends.  Follow the threads that start early on in the book and find out where they lead.  Well, I did that.

But I really, really disliked the book.  And this is very rare for me.  I'll read all kinds of rubbish just to find out what happens to people.

Over the past few weeks I've been wondering what it was that I was disliking but this morning it has become clear.  I didn't care about anything or anyone in the book.  I felt nothing except boredom. All that excessive description but nothing moved me.  Passion was written about but seemed to me to be entirely absent in itself.  It really felt more like an academic exercise, proof that it could be done.  I think a book should make me feel something, anything.  Writing is an art form and what's the point of any art form if it raises no reaction in the viewer?

It reminds me of a painter I knew.  He was well thought of.  Well, he was certainly well thought of by himself.  Had been to art college, studied properly and poured scorn on anyone calling themselves an artist who hadn't had that proper training.  He could execute a picture very well, no doubt about that.  When I looked at his pictures, though, I always thought, "Why?"  "What did you feel that prompted you to paint this picture?"  or even "What am I supposed to feel when I look at this picture?"

The Gargoyle is rather the same.  Yes, it's possibly clever, ties in all kinds of different layers of things which have been well researched.  It may even be well written. 

But why?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

So, what's next?

What's next?  I'm just embarking on two weeks' holiday.  I'm not going anywhere.  I'm just not going to be working. I don't think I've had a holiday for at least two years.

I would say that I can't believe we're approaching the middle of September, but of course I can.  I know some of the things I did during the summer and even during the last six weeks or so since I last wrote here.An example of which is shown above.  The vegetable plot has been a success so far this year.  This particular day (Wednesday last week) was the best crop of beans ever but there have been many good days.  If bored with beans we can eat courgettes (can't everyone!) or swede.  We had carrots when they needed thinning but I'm letting them get a bit bigger now.  Spinach looks as if it will get going soon.  Sprouts and purple sprouting plants are beginning to look established.  And finally, only a few months late, I planted out my leeks.  I've no idea if the leek moth still considers it to be summer and is therefore still on the prowl for leeks but I'm not taking chances and have covered the whole bed in agricultural fleece.  It's said to be the only way to keep the buggers off, so we'll see if it works.  I do miss a good crop of home-grown leeks.

So, that's some of what I've been doing.  I've also been making pots, getting back into dog-walking (sometimes) and better quality cooking, and working at and for Gloucestershire Arts and Crafts Centre, of which I've written previously. 

The centre has now closed at its previous location.  It's moving to a smaller and more manageable premises in a better spot for footfall, hopefully, but I am  not moving with it.  Gloucester has never been a great place to sell pottery and if I'd had my sensible head on at all I wouldn't have let myself be persuaded to join the centre at all, let alone have ended up doing as much work for it as I did.  Don't get me wrong - it was a great place and we achieved a remarkable amount there, and I'm proud to have been part of the team that did that.  But it wasn't good for me personally.  Too much work for very little reward in terms of sales. 

The best thing about being involved at the centre, though, was getting to know a whole bunch of arty people that I didn't know already.  There were some people I did know from previous connections but over the eighteen months but I also met many new friends and really enjoyed being part of a group.  I'll miss that, and that has prompted me to start a new venture ....  no, I think I'll save that for another time.

So what's next is that with the extra time I'll be gaining by not working at and for the centre, I'm determined to catch up with the backlog of pottery production.  I've also got ideas for new embroidered canvasses.  I want to start a new silk-painting project, again that will have to wait for another time before I disclose the secret.  When I've time, I've got some great ideas for a small range of table linen to complement my pottery, too.

What's that you say?  Holiday?  Not working?  Ah yes.  It's an odd feeling.

I think I'm going to like it, though.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A tomato conundrum

Anyone kind enough to follow this blog may be forgiven for wondering whether, after all that, I actually grew anything in my fabulous new greenhouse.  Well, yes.  I've started.  I don't expect to use it to its full potential until retirement or at least semi-retirement but once we knew we were staying here for the summer, I set about sowing my usual quantities of tomatoes.

I usually grow three varieties:

Sungold is a cherry tomato that ripens to a glowing orange colour and is the sweetest tomato I have ever tasted.  As such, I suppose it might not be to everyone's taste, but we both love them and can happily eat them like sweets.  The plants grow like stink (how nice to be able to use that possibly antiquated but punchy little phrase) so I plant them at the front of the tomato area where the roof is of course higher.  In the old greenhouse they grew further and I used to have them trained along the cross-pieces but this greenhouse has a higher roof so I don't know if they'll grow quite so tall.

I then grow two other varieties, a standard tomato and a plum tomato.  These I choose from the wondrous variety offered by Franchi (Seeds of Italy)  whose seeds, I may have mentioned before, are always of excellent quality and arrive in plenteous quantities too.  I can't remember which two varieties I have this year.  It's not relevant to the conundrum.

So, I have 26 tomato plants arranged in two rows of thirteen.  Starting one variety from the back left and Sungold from the front left and then the third variety filling up the end section front and back.  There are eight of the back row plants and ten Sungold in front. 

The plants were all potted up in one session.  I started with a stack of pots and an open bag of compost.  When the bag ran out (halfway through potting up one variety) I opened another.  After they were all potted up in three little groups I arranged the plants as described above.  Patience, patience, there is a point to these tedious details.

For a few weeks I got on with watering with a watering can.  When I remembered to water I watered the whole lot, starting at one end and doing front/back, front/back until the watering can was empty and then refilling and continuing.  Usually two cans full did it, occasionally the last two plants had to start a third.

So you see, the way the plants have been raised and treated (identically), there seems to be no logical explanation why the eight on the left (some of variety A and some of variety B) are dark green and healthy looking and the eighteen on the right (some each of varieties A, B and C) pale and slightly sickly looking.  The only difference is that the eight on the left are standing between the legs of a new staging frame while those on the right are between the legs of the old staging frame.

I'm flummoxed. 

Explanations and, even more so, suggestions about a remedy if one is available and would be beneficial, gratefully received.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Branding - part 3

And here we have rather more of the finished product.  Cloth and Clay with the irises (from part of my large Irises canvas) plus now my tagline and some photos of pots.

I can't remember exactly when I thought of the tagline "handmade products that make you smile" but it was sometime between writing my "real deal" artist's statement and this spring.  The artist's statement has gone down well with customers and other artists alike and this tells me I'm on the right track that being straightforward, honest and not too modest about your own work is a Good Thing.  I've been describing my pottery as cheery and rustic for quite a while, because I genuinely think that's what it's like.  If you don't like cheery or rustic you really aren't going to want my pots.  It's part of what makes them suitable for everyday tableware.  This led onto the tagline because, finally, I'm just going by the reactions on people's faces when they look at my work, whether they end up buying any or not.  Generally, they smile. 

This is very gratifying.  Of course, sales are important if that's how you make your living, but for me it's equally important that I can see that the work brings people pleasure.  I may have mentioned before that I don't go along with the generally British view that you shouldn't express high opinions about yourself or what you do.  For goodness' sake, I've spent enough of my life finding things I didn't think I was good at - when I think I am good at something I'm jolly well going to say so!  And I'm good at making pots, textile art and cards that make people smile.  With any luck, even the tagline itself will have that effect.

Eventually I hope to redesign my website in line with the new look.  I'm thinking that by October I may have a new look for my Farmers' Market stall, following my customary "end of season" sale there in September.  However, I've already launched the new look for small events with the first one last Sunday at the Wearable Art Painswick festival.  There were craft stalls outside, which I would have liked but they were taken by the time I applied, and a large number inside the Painswick Centre.  As is usual with craft shows, each exhibitor gets one table, generally about 6' x 2'6", and I've rarely done these sort of events because it's difficult to display much pottery on a small space.  Eventually, however, I've become the proud owner of a folding bookcase, which I've been on the lookout for for a few years, and so Painswick was a trial run of my new craft show display. 

The hall was fairly well packed with stalls and I was in the centre section so behind me were the backs of other stalls and then the fronts of those against the far wall.  These being rather distracting in my photo, I've blanked them out.  No offence to any of the other stallholders!

I think it worked pretty well.  A friend described the display as "fresh", which I like.  I'm hoping it's also girly enough to fit in with the trend for "pamper evenings" as they seem to be very popular at the moment and I'd like to see whether people consider treating themselves to a new mug or dish to be pampering. 

The Cloth and Clay and colour scheme will be, for the time being, permanent fixtures, and I'll use different words and possibly pictures according to occasion and use. 

There.  Thats' the branding theory written about for the time being.  Now all I have to do is finish the practical!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Branding - part 2

So, as I said, I'm re-branding. And this logo is at the centre. 

A number of factors have been milling about in what passes for my mind and have eventually come together to produce the final result

Back in 1999 I started subscribing to UMRA , the newsgroup for the sort of people who might listen to The Archers.  It's an astonishingly friendly group and back then there was an annual BBQ which we would travel to from all over the country.  Following the 1999 BBQ, Michele was explaining to her partner "which one was Jane?" and answered "The potter in the purple socks."  And so I became The Potter in the Purple Socks and eventually just The Purple Potter.   Indeed, to this day you can follow PurplePotter on Twitter if you've a mind to. No, I'm not digressing, really I'm not.  Here's the point - if I'm going to be the Purple Potter I might as well go for it and emphasise that I'm the Purple Potter.  Why not go for a purplish theme rather than a bluish one?  My pottery display has always been on white boards and plinths and dark blue cloths.  It has always worked well with the range of glazes I use.  For the market in particular, you don't want anything too pale as it will get grubby quite quickly in outside events.  But part of the rebranding involves a gradual changing of colour scheme towards purple and its friends lilac, mauve, fuchsia, etc. 

Another theme in the background lately has been what the market has been doing at the moment.  I mean the market for handmade goods, not the Farmers Market.  What I've been observing is a trend towards "Crafting" and "Crafters".  I have to be honest, there are aspects of this that I find annoying.  Crafting seems to have come to the UK from the USA and is about a new-found love of being practical and making things, mostly as a hobby and often from kits or pre-made components.  I've no argument with this per se.  As a teenager, it was just the sort of thing I used to enjoy.  The problem arises when Crafters start selling the things they've made.  If you are good with your hands and enjoy making things as a hobby, you have a completely different approach to selling.  "Oh, I couldn't sell them for what they've cost me to make!" is a frequent reason given for very low prices.  So when you put hobby crafters and their low prices next to professional craftspeople who depend on their craft to make their living, those of us who need to charge a fair rate (e.g. I aim for the minimum wage but often earn much less) look as if we're charging too high. 

One positive thing the Crafting movement has done is to contribute to the reverse in trend back towards practical skills being a Good Thing.  When I started teaching in the late 70s, practical skills were popular and they were given an important place in education.  We certainly taught the theory behind the skills so that pupils learned why they were doing things but everyone had a chance to learn how to actually make things.  After I left teaching in schools things began to deteriorate - no, no, I'm not suggesting cause and effect here!  I was just lucky to get out when I did.  By the time I was supporting youngsters having problems in school I was able to see that what we had thought of as craft subjects had become design subjects.  The emphasis was on designing products, designing packaging and designing marketing.  A small amount of time was spent on making some products.  I may be exaggerating, but that was what I observed through the work of the children I was supporting.  This is now thought of as an old-fashioned view, I believe.  Others I trained with would possibly see me as out of touch.  I'm sticking to my guns, though.  I think it's great that young people should be aware of what goes into producing things and selling them but you need the product too and most skills take practice rather than occasional attempts.  I don't watch The Apprentice very often but have read about the Biscuit Episode.  For those not bothered about reading more, basically one team created a brilliant brand (aha! Is Jane returning to her theme at last?) but the biscuit inside the box was "rubbish".  That team lost.  Too right!  I'm sorry for the generation that has grown up without practical skills but it's not too late for them to learn.

Well, do you know, I think that's probably enough for today.  It turns out that Branding is a topic that will take more than two parts to explore.  Next time - more about what my brand is about.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Branding - part 1

I'm re-branding. Slowly. Not slowly from reluctance but from practicality - I just don't have the time to do it all at once. I had planned to revamp my website during our long stay in France this summer but of course we're not going at all this year now and life in Stroud gets filled up with other things so I don't really have time for the website at the moment. I have time for little bits and pieces, though.

I've always been aware of the concept of a brand, I think, though I wouldn't have called it that. In recent years 'brand' has become a phenomenon, buzz-word or whatever other term you wish to use for something that is 'in'. And I am distinctly ambivalent about 'in' things.

Clothes fashion is a really good example of this.  In choosing what to wear I've never been one to follow fashion, really, other than when I was at college.  There, fashion was mostly what I was engaged in, although even then, while we were following the general trends of what might be called 'high fashion' of the times, we were also supposed to be creating our own styles and mine, though influenced by the top designers and particularly Zandra Rhodes, was already recognisable.  After college, though, clothes returned to being something that everybody just got on and wore and my style soon became pretty informal and unrelated to fashion.  Periodically the clothes that come into fashion interest me more and at other times my favourite colours turn up as the colours of the year but by and large fashion trends and I have little to do with each other.

What I hate, though, is consumerism and the extent to which fashion and brand drive it.  That people with not much money feel driven to replace perfectly serviceable items because the colour and shape isn't 'in' this year is, I think, what is behind many of the ills of our modern world.  I've no wish to sound like an old fogie and drive my readers away so I won't go on about this, but suffice to say it couldn't matter less to me who has made my shoes so long as they feel comfortable, don't fall apart and I find them visually pleasing.  (If you care, I wear Crocs during as much of the year as I can get away with them as they are amongst the few shoes I have ever owned which fulfil all three criteria.)  But kitchen appliances, hi-fi equipment, three-piece suites and even wallpaper should not be replaced because they are not in the latest style if they are still in good order and do the job you want them to do.

So then, as a consumer, I'm mostly not keen on the whole brand thing.  But here's where Ms Jekyll turns into Mistress Hyde, I'm afraid.  As a manufacturer, Brand is important to me.

At Gloucestershire Arts & Crafts Centre we have more than 50 different makers selling in the shop at any one time.  Some sell better than others and I'm convinced that this is often linked to whether or not they have a recognisable brand.  When new people join, if they don't have much experience in selling their work we try to encourage them to think about their brand, or image.  The worst way to sell is to be skilled in many crafts and display them all together.  If among those things you've made are some pottery mugs, you need to provide a reason for the customer to pick your mug out of your mixed display instead of buying one of mine from a display of nothing but pottery.  We all do it as shoppers - look at a display and in a split second make an assessment of what is being sold - and if that assessment doesn't come up with a clear concept, we tend to move on to something that has.  Over more than twenty-five years of involvement in the arts and crafts business I've seen that the best sellers are always people whose brand is clearly recognisable.

Exactly because I do diversify more than most, it's always been important for me to present my work in a way that shows it clearly as mine.  Working in both ceramics and textiles I can sometimes be seen as a bit of an amateur.  I have been turned down for craft groups for reasons along the lines of if I was a proper potter/textile artist that would be all I do.  I can understand that view even though in my case it's erroneous.  I'm professional in all the things I make and more dedicated than many to my work.  But so that other people recognise this I need to make sure I have an observable brand.

To some extent this was helped when I built my first website.  Needing a domain name, I knew I had "The One" as soon as I thought of Cloth and Clay.  It's what I do and it rolls of the tongue.  Stage one achieved.  In part 2 I'll write about my current rebranding project.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Do you remember the old adage, "The camera never lies"?  You don't hear it any more because it's now commonly known to be untrue.  These days the camera and its associated software can be made to tell all kinds of extravagent lies.  The saying was useful, though.  It was shorthand for so many situations where you thought you'd taken a photo of one thing (a friend at her 21st birthday party) and found instead you'd perfectly captured the disgusting state of a row of teatowels distastefully displayed behind the birthday girl's head.)  Or a photo of what you thought was a beautiful view which turned out to be of several pylons and numerous cables strung right across your eyeline.  Well, here's another good example of the camera not lying.  My old bag.

As an aside:  I was never really a rebellious teenager.  The most I ever got to was calling my mum an old bag occasionally.  She usually retaliated by reasoning that if she was an old bag, I must be a baguette.  It took the steam out of the insult and annoyed me very much.

This, however, really is my old bag.  I've had this bag for possibly 15 years.  When new the colours were rich purple and pink.  Now even the leather section (what's left unshredded, that is) is more grey than purple.  The thing is that it has probably looked disreputable for some time but I've chosen not to see that.  This photo makes it unavoidable.  I've loved this bag.  It has the right dimensions.  It takes all the usual financial essentials like purse and cheque books plus emergency medical supplies (including insect repellent and antihystemine cream for when the former fails), camera, umbrella, dog poo bags, keys, pens, pencils, emery boards, and tissues.  When required it can also hold small shopping and/or a wine bottle.  Its days were clearly numbered, though.  A couple of the straps had split halfway across and it was only a matter of time before one of them continued its journey and the aforementioned contents were distributed across a car park or supermarket floor.

So, choices.  No, not choice of bag.  Choice of how to spend a small pocket of time.  There were so many things I could have spent this time on that I have not seemed to find time for over the last year or so.  Highest on my list has been visiting friends but there are other things I wish I could get back to doing also.  But instead I chose to spend the time making a new bag.

It is rather splendid, though I say it myself. It's not that obvious that the leather is synthetic and it is wonderfully purple.  It cost me £5 for the main fabric for a piece more than a metre square (more than half of which is left over) plus about £6 for three zips. 

Inside is a central compartment which is zipped and has a rigid central divider so those important paper items like cards don't get crushed.  The central compartment doesn't go all the way to the bottom so that a couple of rarely needed things can lurk underneath, across the whole width of the bag.  There are two small pockets on the outside of the central section too.  The lining is specially created patchwork.  There is a zipped outside pocket for keys and pens.  The base is reinforced for rigidity to stop the whole thing falling over.  There's a handy loop for pulling the bag towards you when you feel lazy.

I can't remember the last time I actually sat down and made something that wasn't work.  The fabric was more difficult to work with than I expected but still I had fun making it and will have even more fun using it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Beastly pots

It was Another Beastly Art Exhibition last weekend.  Sadly, not a great success because Painswick has become a very quiet village.  We'd hoped that there would be plenty of people about for Open Studios but it turned out that there is only one Open Studios venue in Painswick this year.  Add to that the weather - horizontal rain on Sunday - and it was never going to be busy.

Sitting in the exhibition with no customers meant some time to spare, though, and I took my camera, my laptop and my (fairly) new graphics tablet.  The reviews I read before buying the graphics tablet did mention time needed to get used to it and I haven't really had that time available until now, so a rather small silver lining must be admitted in that I was able to start to get more familiar with the graphics tablet.  And it's really rather nice.

Anyway, here's a small selection of recent beastly pots, all of which appeared in the exhibition and all of which, sadly, came home with me, starting with a rather better picture of the lizard vase I blogged about under the heading of "Work in progress".

I like all of these, in different ways for different reasons. This last vase, though, is possibly my favourite. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The greenhouse project is plumbed

This may be the most uninteresting picture you'll ever see on a blog and it may even be the most uninteresting blog post too, so I'll keep it short.

We have plumbing!  You can see here on the left a tap with hose attached.  Going up from there is more pipework and you can see a tap at the top centre of the picture.  This one is for the watering system in this end of the greenhouse.  Lower and to the right of the picture you can see through to the other end where the tap with a bit of hose stuck on awaits the watering system in that end of the greenhouse.

That's it.  Plumbing in greenhouse.  Really nothing more to say.

Except how pleasing it is.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Work in progress - 5

Well, not really in progress any more as the lizard vase I've been documenting here is now finished.  Here he is:

It's hard to photograph shiny things but I was very pleased with the vase so couldn't wait to have a go and post the pic here.  I may have another go some time later.

The kiln was packed with pots I'm very happy with, most of which will remain uncovered until the exhibition in a few weeks time, but I'm delighted to share this chap with his loyal followers!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Work in progress - 4

The lizard has survived the first firing.  (Actually, several lizards have, but this is the one everyone has been following.)  The green is perhaps a little pale but it's difficult to get right.  If it is applied too thickly it will run straight down the pot in a spectacular fashion, so it's better to err on the thin side on the whole.

Applying the lustres requires even more imagination than applying glazes because here none of them remotely resemble in the raw stage what they will look like after firing.  Then there are other complications.  I may have written before about the green/purple dilemma.  Basically, green and light green lustres come out as purple and light purple - except when they don't!  What to do?  If the green went green then it would be ideal for this lizard.  But if it went purple then I'm not so sure it would do much for the light green.  It goes purple much, much more often than it goes green, so I decided not to risk it.  Instead, I went for turquoise lustre, which is fairly bluish usually, but perhaps not too far from the light green base.  I like to use gold with the green too.  Finally, wanting to make the chap really lizardy, I used a fair amount of mother-of-pearl lustre.  Below is what he looked like once decorated.

I can't be sure how this will all look, but I can be certain that it won't look anything like it's unfired state.  The kiln is firing as I type.  Tomorrow I will unpack and the vase will be finished and, with any luck, will still be in one undamaged piece.  I'll let you know.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I believe in the US "oatmeal" is sometimes used in place of the word "porridge".  At least, when watching films or TV I've heard parents tell children to eat their oatmeal and seen a bowl of something looking porridgy.  Anyway, this is definitely a bowl of porridge (with demarara sugar and double cream, since you ask) but it is in a cereal bowl with the glaze/design name of "oatmeal star".  You can just see two tips of a greenish star poking up above the cream, but you can certainly see the overall colour of the pot so if I'm right about the US terminology you could say this is an oatmeal bowl of oatmeal.

As with all of my glazes, this one varies according to exact temperature, which usually means the position in the kiln as well as the temperature I have fired to.  This oatmeal star design had been for many years sold only in The Made In Stroud Shop but in the last couple of years has begun to see the wider world and this particular bowl is the first one owned by me. 

I rarely keep what I consider to be the nicest pots for myself.  I rarely add a new design to my own kitchen collection either.  This is mainly because of storage space in the kitchen and the fact that my pots are quite robust and don't tend to break unless treated badly.  The cereal/soup bowl stacks have a little more room available so when this one came out of the kiln I decided it must be mine.

What I liked was the particular range of colours.  The reduction was really good, in other words there were more than the usual scattering of speckles in the colour, the background colour itself is a soft, well, oatmeal colour, but with slight tinges of light blue where it had caught some extra heat.  Yum.  And so was the porridge.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Work in progress - 3

Remember the lizard?  Well, it's time for him to progress.  Today I'm busy glazing and decorating.  Tomorrow I'm working at Gloucestershire Arts and Crafts Centre all day but then on Tuesday I'll fire the kiln.  So here's the lizard vase, which has survived the glazing process.  This isn't a particularly risky stage but as I've said before, with unevenness on a pot, raw glazing can be just too much of a shock for the clay.  If it is too much, the pot will crack quite drastically, so you can tell when it's happened!

Deciding how to decorate this vase wasn't easy.  Usually I am pretty clear from the outset what I want a pot to look like.  In this case perhaps there were too many choices for just the one lizard vase in white clay.  What I went for was plain white/grey vase and painting the lizard green.  Other details to both lizard and perhaps vase will be added in the form of lustres later on.

The firing stage is much more hazardous.  There was a time some years ago, with my previous, much smaller kiln, that it was probably a 50/50 chance that lizard dishes came to grief.  I was often on the phone to H, a friend and jeweller, to wail "another two dead lizards" in the weeks leading up to our annual exhibition.

I do still get casualties but in this larger kiln I have a better chance of having the lizard not too close to where the flame jets out from the burner and yet close enough to that side of the kiln to get the steady highest heat to turn the glaze blue if needed.  It's fine tuning.  I had a lovely big fish dish in the kiln the other week but it didn't like the place I put it - too near the burner on the bottom shelf - and the stresses caused it to break apart in three directions.  I think four or five centimetres further away could well have been enough to prevent the break, but it's always hard to judge.

Last week I fired three lizard serving dishes and two butterfly vases, all of which survived.  I can't help thinking this isn't a good omen for this next firing, which will contain two lizard dishes, two fish dishes, two lizard vases and two butterfly vases.  It must be somebody's turn by now.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Well, do you know, I've been sitting here for about ten minutes trying to work out what I want to say.  And then eventually I realised I don't really want to say much about anything except our firewood.  This may make for a dull post, I suppose.  But it's exciting to me!

First of all, here's the final woodstack by the gate.  See how the pedestrian gate is completely obliterated (not that we use it) and the big gate not able to go all the way open.

Then around the side of the house there was more wood, sawn up but not stored in the woodshed as it was collected during the time we were actually taking dry wood from the shed to burn.  More trunks stacked up against a pile of wood sat beside the blue shed.

The weather has of course been unseasonably warm for a while but M decided at the beginning of the week that it was time to saw wood while we were still being promised warmth and no rain.  He pointed out that he can plumb the greenhouse if it rains and I agreed that getting the wood sawn would be a more than justifiable interruption to the greenhouse.

He has a sawbench but for a large part of the job decided to use the old wooden table we've got parked outside the green shed for just such outdoor work purposes.

And so he set to work.  And was sensible!  Paced himself, came in for breaks without being nagged, drank plenty, had bath every evening.  

Things didn't go entirely smoothly.  At one point quite  a chunk of a wall of stacked logs fell down.  They were sliding for a while, M said, and he was trying to get other walls of logs against them before they fell.  He was all for leaving the lot where it landed and stacking on top but I managed to get him to stop doing that after a short while on the grounds that I would do the re-stacking.  I like stacking logs.  Once I'd got that far, I continued to do the rest of the stacking.  I should say that M was still responsible for most of the stacking.

Anyway.  No more woodstack by the gate.

And none against the wall of the house, though still some left stacked against the blue shed.  Nothing like as much as there was, however.

And of course you're dying to see where it all is now, aren't you?

I'm disappointed with this photo because it really doesn't convey how impressive the woodshed is.  The wood is stacked up to the rafters apart from the bit you see on the left right next to the shed.  This is partly because it has to be further back there to allow for the shed door to open.  If you look at the post for June 16th 2010 you can see how much we had last year.  What you're looking at last year is the view from inside the woodshed pointing towards what you see here on the right.  This time, inside the woodshed consists of wood and just a metre square standing space.

Isn't firewood lovely?

And - if you look carefully at the picture of the side of the house sans firewood, you'll see a well-swept, tidy path.  M set about this task all on his own.  I kid you not!  J & J if reading may need to sit down to recover from the shock of their dad not only finishing a task completely but voluntarily wanting to tidy up at the end.  I know I do.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A little bit of alchemy - part 2

The science of glazes is, well, very scientific.  Many years ago I attended a course on glazing with Mike Bailey as a guest tutor.  Mike used to be one of the potters at Bath Potters Supplies, where potters from surrounding counties go not only for materials and equipment but for valuable advice.  Mike was always the one to ask about glazes.  As a tutor he was informative, thorough, inspiring and enthusiastic not only about what he was telling us but about what we were asking him.

As I have mentioned before, much of what I know about potting I have learned from Douglas Phillips (on whose glazing course Mike was the visiting tutor) and because he uses the once-fire or raw glaze method, so do I.  This means that instead of firing pots first so that they are 'cooked', (called 'biscuit' firing and the pots are then biscuit ware) before glazing and then re-firing to a higher temperature, I glaze the bone-dry pots and then fire once.  This saves fuel, naturally, and time.  Why would one do any different? Well, there are disadvantages to raw glazing.  The glazes are often very different from other glazes because they need to contain a certain percentage of clay in order for the glaze to 'fit' the pots.  When glazing unfired pots, any unevenness in the pot can create a stress when the water from the glaze is quickly absorbed into the pot.  You can easily imagine that in a thin section the clay becomes saturated (and therefore swells) while in a thicker section it does so much less.  So you can get pots cracking when you glaze them because of this.  Or when you fire them.

Then, there's the glaze recipes themselves.  The best way I can think of to explain this to those who know nothing is to liken a glaze recipe to a cake recipe.

You want to make a cake.  You have in mind a sponge.  You know roughly the proportions of fat, sugar, eggs and flour.  If that were a glaze recipe, though, then this classification by ingredient would be very primitive.  No, what you are required to judge is the correctly proportions (correct, mind you, not rough) of protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, water and fibre.

So, you find out how much fat there is in an egg.  Add that to the fat in the butter.  7 grams out.  Use a little less butter.  But butter contains a little protein and now you have disrupted the exact amount of protein you need.  Reduce the eggs by one and now you have far too little protein.  Oh well, let's make it into a walnut sponge.  Walnuts have protein in.  Yes, but they also have fat, which you had too much of in the first place.  Somewhere here is a balance of the number of walnuts and eggs and fat and then you can adjust the quantities of sugar and flour so that the proportions are right.  You are probably getting the idea now :)  Anyway, Mike Bailey taught us how to calculate these properties of the glaze using triaxial graphs.  It involved a lot of maths and I found it fascinating and hugely enjoyable.  Now I look at it all and I'm aware of two things - a) I've forgotten a lot of it through disuse because of lack of time, and b) I'm still fascinated with this kind of process.  You'll have gathered from previous posts that lack of time generally wins hereabouts.

Your regular potter, though, doesn't usually bother with all of this.  There are glaze recipe books.  Other people have done the science and then used the glazes and proved their worth, just as in cooking.  If you're no cook, you can buy premixed glaze ingredients where you just add water, just like packs of scone mix or sponge mix.  There's room for all of this in the wonderful world of pottery.

If you're a raw glazer, though, you are a specialist.  There are very few recipe books for raw glazes.  In fact, I don't actually know of any.  You will, though, find glazes in general books which either state that they can be used for raw glazes or look promising because of what you already know you need to include.  You can try these.  Most of them will not work for raw glazing.  Or, you can rely on the generosity of other potters to pass on their recipes.

I use two recipes dictated to us on courses at Ridge Pottery year after year.  The other two glazes I have adapted from one of Douglas' original glazes by playing around with the triaxial graph method, having read around the topic of the sort of colours I was trying to produce.

Only four glazes?  But we've seen many more than four colours on your pots!

Well spotted.  You have indeed.  And that's the alchemy.  Remember all those factors in the firing process.  Well, add that to four glazes combined with two different clays, a couple of coloured slips and some decorating glazes and you get the picture.

I expect you're a bit bored with all this technical stuff now.  Me, I could go on for ages.  Writing about things in this way gets me back in touch with aspects of the work that I sometimes neglect.  I'll spare your feelings, though, and stop here.  You've seen the photo at the top of this post.  You may remember there was a photo of some glazed pots in the previous alchemy post.  Well, they were the same pots.  Just to illustrate that what you see before the pots are fired often bears little resemblance to what they look like afterwards, here are the two pictures together.

Magic, isn't it?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A little bit of alchemy - part 1

I know it's not alchemy and I know it's not magic.  I realise that to a scientist, it's just that when you mix certain minerals together and subject them to different physical conditions this will result in changes to the nature and appearance of those minerals.  However, I never got to even try the smallest taster of chemistry or physics at school so it's still possible for me to hang on to that little bit of mystery about what happens to clay and glazes when you fire them.

There are clays, glazes and firing methods which appear (to one who doesn't use them, anyway) to be able to produce fairly predictable results.   Mine are not among these.

The firing process is probably the single most unpredictable part of what I do.  I fire using gas, so that there is actual fire, flame, within the kiln chamber.  You get this with wood-firing, of course, which I love but would never have wanted to tackle myself.  I was lucky enough to spend a  week or two over a couple of years helping out at Ridge Pottery when I was still very much a learner myself and had the opportunity to fire a wood-fire kiln on several occasions.  It was daunting at first but by the second occasion I really loved the experience.  Of course I was overseen very carefully, but I still learned a tremendous amount about the process of turning malleable clay into vitrified pots as well as about wood-firing itself.

Wood firing is hard work.  It also requires plenty of storage space to season plenty of wood.  It's not for me.  However, the live flame you get from a gas firing can be the next best thing.

To explain this picture a little:
The lower part shows the kiln, with the light reflected very brightly off the front of the door, which explains the very light area on the left.  To the right of that is a metal shelving unit, dexion type.
Above the kiln at the back is a hood leading to a ventilation pipe.  The bright orange/red area you can see is a reflection on the inside of the hood of the inside of the chimney.  At this stage the colour of the atmosphere in the kiln will be much yellower as it is hotter. 
You can also see a blue area in about the centre of the picture.  This is flame emerging from the chimney of the kiln.  (The chimney in this case is not a tall, high thing but is an area at the back of the kiln which is only the height of the kiln itself.)

Live flames in the kiln chamber also allow you to manipulate the atmosphere in the kiln chamber so you get a process called 'reduction'.  Basically, you push too much flame too fast into the kiln so that it uses up all the available oxygen in the atmosphere and has to take more from the oxygen-bearing molecules in the clay.  At the same time, the flames will be escaping the kiln.  This is what's happening in the photo.

Reduction often results in a speckled appearance but it also often changes the actual base colour of the glaze. 

There are many other factors in the firing which induce variation in the finished results.  These include:
  • the exact position of the kiln shelves, both in relation to the burners and kiln walls and in relation to the pots.
  • the spacing of the pots
  • what types of shapes of pots are next to each other
  • which glazes are next to each other
  • whether your kiln is full of smaller pots or bigger pots
  • whether your shelves contain both smaller and bigger pots
  • the rate of climb of the temperature at every stage of the firing
  • whether the gas bottles need changing at a crucial stage and especially if you don't notice for a while!
 At this point some of you will be wondering why I fire by such a seemingly unpredictable method.  But maybe others will be thinking how exciting it all sounds!  Who wants predictabilty?  Well, of course, I do, to some extent.  Some of the problems I've been having with the work over the last year or so have been in trying to get to grips with how this particular kiln works best and then having got a long way in discovering that, in adapting what I do so that the differences in firing methods (tiny and subtle, but astonishing in their results) still produce results I want.

Goodness.  Sorry.  All very wordy.  But I really couldn't explain much about the firing process without.

Part 2 of "A little bit of alchemy" will be more about glazing.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Just because ...

...  I really like lime green.  I know it's been a bit of a gimmicky fashionable colour, but nonetheless, it appeals to me.  One of my artist friends, J, really hates it (though I suspect she might admit the colour of yer actual limes as different and not what she means by lime green) and because I really respect her enormously as an artist I sometimes catch myself wondering if lime green is some sort of modern construct and not a proper colour at all and I am letting the side down. 

I still like lime green, though.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The greenhouse project goes electric

Remember the greenhouse project?  You'd be forgiven for not doing so.  I guess for most people outdoor tasks ground to a halt once the frosty and then snowy weather set in and even after that an aluminium greenhouse is not a place to work in the winter.  By the time it might have been warm enough for M to start the wiring, we had both forgotten all the careful planning of how things were going to be attached so then M had to wait until I had a chunk of time to spend with him working it all out again.

Along with the mounting for the cables, we also had to plan out where to attach the patent shelves I've always used in a greenhouse.  This goes back to 1983, when I had a conservatory, and I've used the same method ever since.  Basically, you have two battens running from end to end of the greenhouse, supported on brackets.  They are spaced so that standard seed trays can straddle them.  When seedlings have been potted on and the seed trays removed, plants can grow up between the battens.

I bought brackets and little angle pieces with the greenhouse and all of these fit easily into channels in the main vertical struts of the greenhouse.  Unfortunately, there aren't these grooved struts in every part of the thing; some pieces are smooth, so we had to devise methods of support for the places where the brackets wouldn't go.

The photo above shows wiring in progress.  The one below shows it in use. 

We worked on the same principle as wiring up a house - imagine all the things you want to plug into sockets and then add at least one extra per room.  I wanted the light switch to be at the end nearest the back door of the house and the pottery, but M suggested a two-way switch so we can use the light as a yard light if we need one.  You can see here one light pull and two double sockets.

Once the wiring was finished it it seemed the greenhouse could be used, even though there are things about it not yet finished.  As it was my birthday, therefore, we had a greenhouse-warming party, pictures of which can be seen here.

Next, I have been putting up insulation.  I wanted to get this prepared while the greenhouse was not only dry but completely clean as I've used stick-on Velcro to attach it.  

The pieces of bubblewrap are cut to shape and then bound all round with duct tape.  It will be very quick to remove and replace at the beginning or end of a season.  Now, all we need is some plants .....

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Tricky blighters, your pears.  I really love a pear that is just right but find it so, so difficult to buy pears so that that is what I get.  I know they're not going to be exactly ripe when I buy them, but how can you tell which ones are good at that stage?  And how do you know how long they'll take to ripen?  And even, how can you tell from the outside whether the pear is ripe?  Most pears I buy end up getting poached because they just aren't nice to eat raw.  They are either too hard or have gone woolly, and there's little nastier in the fruit world than a woolly pear.  I bought a bag of Conference pears last week.  There they sit, looking promising.  The first one I tried had the audacity to be too hard at one end and verging on the woolly at the other!

Then, there's their shape.  Pear-shaped.  Apparently the typical Englishwoman's figure, starting with narrow shoulders and bulging outwards towards the hips.  It's not supposed to be a Good Thing.  I'm not sure I am pear-shaped, though.  Overweight, certainly, but I think more of a Bramley apple than a pear.

And finally, things go pear-shaped.  This one I like.  I've used the expression many times to describe 2010 as a whole.  And at last I have an illustration to demonstrate it.  You see above, ladies and gentlemen (and my other friends who don't qualify for the aforementioned titles) a large cardboard box full of A4 papers that is filing waiting to be done.  I've just had to go through it to find all of a certain type of document and when I got to the bottom I found that in fact it contains papers for the last twelve months.  In other words, I haven't done any filing since last year started to go pear-shaped towards the end of March.

If you read yesterday's blog you will remember my claiming to be organised and good at admin.  I don't recant.  It's still true.  It's just that filing my own paperwork was one of the things that just went out the window last year.  Not literally, of course.  That would have been a disaster.  No, papers just piled up and piled up until they needed this massive box.

"But it's a quarter of the way through 2011!" I hear you cry.  Yes it is.  And yes, I do seem to be getting my life back on track.  However, this means that I am doing all the things I should normally be doing.  It doesn't mean I can miraculously catch up with all the things that didn't get done last year.

It takes quite a lot to surprise me, but actually I was surprised to discover twelve months' worth of paperwork in this box.  It's just not me.