Sunday, 15 October 2017

Brits Abroad.

There is a small, hardcore group of British potters that each year make long journeys to Ceramic Markets across Europe. That band is getting smaller, the streets are not paved with Euros and the costs keep going up. Traditionally these markets in France, Germany and Holland are set in town centres, sponsored and supported by civic groups. People flock to them in their thousands, crowds of up to forty thousand visitors help boost the local economy.
In England we prefer to hide the events away in the grounds of monuments and stately homes, drive there and ask folks to pay to get in, we don't always feed them well either. You get four thousand visitors if you are lucky.
The mainstay of these European markets are stacks of well made earthenware, stoneware and salt glazed, plates, cups and bowls. Slowly that is being replaced with more and more studio pottery, figurative, sculptural or highly decorative pieces with big ticket prices, not out of place in smart, city centre galleries. Sadly the galleries are disappearing too. Why buy at gallery prices, with added tax and commission, when you can meet the artist and negotiate a good price?
In Holland some of the events are organised by local potters groups, they are inexpensive, include potters' meals, competitions with prizes and lots of trade stalls where one can stock up with all manner of materials. In Germany the big markets have prestigious money prizes, opportunities for exhibitions and sponsored residencies for the winners.
But that is not why we do it. It's the sense of adventure, meeting fellow potters, understanding new approaches to working with clay. It's a chance to go to new places, often really beautiful and interesting, places you would never think of going to otherwise, meet and make new friends, see some great work and if the weather is good, even better. You may be lucky and sell enough work to pay for the trip and have a little holiday on the way back.
Brexit? Who knows, even the politicians who wanted it and sold it, can't agree what it was they really wanted, even less how they hoped to deliver whatever that was. Yet it looms large over us.
I rather like the idea that I can pack some pots into the van, drive anywhere in Europe without any hassle. Sell a few pots and have a good time. It's great that our European friends can come to England  too, share their skill, knowledge and ideas with us also, for pretty much the same reasons.
We hope to go back again this year and long may we do so.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

A whole year to make a pot?

Surely the question most frequently asked is:-
"How long do these take to make then"?
That is not easy to give a simple answer to. The most tempting answer is that it has taken a lifetime, but that is a cliche shared amongst potters and is way too flippant to dispense lightly.
Making pots is a multi process event with long periods of slow drying; multiple firings and it's a continual process interrupted by sleep and doing other stuff: Start a pot, leave it to stiffen up, add a bit more clay, repeat, let it dry partially and scrape it, modify the shape, leave it and think about it. If the shape is ok, let it dry slowly before bisque firing and that is only the half way stage.
It is true that it takes a long time to master the skills and gain knowledge, like any other art form it takes practice. You don't become a concert pianist without practice every day.

Ben Boswell came to take some photographs of me working, that was during September 2015. I was making two large bowls, and I started them the day before. They took a long time to dry, with bits of plastic and scrim on the rims otherwise the bowls would warp. They didn't get bisque fired until the end of December, due to lack of kiln space. They were glazed and set aside to fire in Mark Griffiths' new wood kiln, but that event was put back several times, finally the firing took place in June 2016. There was some wadding stuck to the bottom of the foot and it was another few weeks before I plucked up the courage to pick up a Dremel and grind it off.
So the first suitable event, where I had the space and a need to make a positive statement was Ceramic Art York in September, so that's a whole year.
They both sold almost immediately, so you have to ask why I messed around for so long.
Making pots purely judged by the clock is not something I set out to achieve. It's no problem to take my time, it's about getting it right that matters, neither is making large quantities a criteria. In fact I make relatively few compared to some who make their pots at the wheel. I can't fire the wood kiln until there are enough pots to fill it, so I only fire the kiln about every three months and during January and February I have learnt not to bother.

It's cold, grim and grey today, the rain hasn't let up at all. I'm in my little workshop waiting for a couple of pots to dry a little so that I can do a bit more. Stuck in my hermetic bubble, with nothing beyond the gloom through the window to distract, I'm happy with my thoughts and my own company and happy to take as long as necessary.
But if pressed for an answer to the question, I will usually say "Just a few days".