12 April 2018

TURNING FOOT RINGS ON POTS


My old Harrow colleague Peter Willis asked about the gadget in the back of this photo (above), just behind my left hand. It's a carborundum attached to a drill and the drill is mounted in a vice. It's what I use for grinding spur marks off the bottom of pots. I have to sit the pots on little pointed spurs because I glaze the bottoms and otherwise they'd stick to the shelf when the glaze melts in the kiln. This method is a quick way of taking off the marks they leave.

But I've now decided to turn foot-rings on the bottom of pots instead, including tall shapes, so that the bottoms can be glazed, the foot wiped clean and the pot put directly on to the kiln shelf. Spurs are expensive because they can only be used twice and and spur marks are ugly. To be honest, I dislike turning because making a foot-ring takes longer than throwing a pot, but I'm applying the principle that you can never take too much trouble.

8 April 2018

TURNING EARTH STUDIOS

Turning Earth, Leyton E10

I noticed the Turning Earth studio for potters when I was exhibiting at the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton last year, but yesterday I went to a talk in their larger studio in Leyton and saw their wonderful premises there. It's in a no-nonsense industrial estate and although the surroundings aren't pretty, it provides facilities on a grand scale in an old factory for beginners and aspiring professionals. It has been decorated to a high standard and is well equipped.

This is a wonderful resource and it's part of the current of ceramics education running against the current of closures in universities.  Once there were dozens of BA ceramics courses, now there is a only a handful. (I saw the closure of Harrow, the long-established course at the University of Westminster.) But the demand for training is growing, encouraged by BBC TV's Great Pottery Throwdown, and starter classes are booked for months, even years ahead. Clay College Stoke was set up by a few dedicated potters and now runs professional courses. Turning Earth is another important initiative.

The growth of interest is part of the desire for meaningful occupation, outlets for creativity and products that are personal and have human marks. It's all good new for potters.

5 April 2018

HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD YOU SPEND IN THE STUDIO?

Glazing
The difference between the amateur and professional maker is that the amateur spends more time in the studio, or rather, professionals spends a higher proportion of their hours in activities other than making. For me, that's planning, designing, glaze calculations, selling, packing and dispatching, looking for new exhibition opportunities, networking, visiting exhibitions, reading, bookkeeping and admin.

I've been developing new glazes and planning a range of standard tableware in stoneware, which doesn't produce many interesting pictures, but here's a successful glaze test getting just the right shade of turquoise and just the right surface texture. It's a line blend of stains and copper oxide. Since you ask, the best one is No. 4.

Line blend of stains and copper oxide

3 April 2018

CERAMIC ART LONDON (continued)


I said that there were only a few traditional studio potters in Ceramic Art London last week and that there was more innovation than ever. Not surprisingly, some potters are unhappy about it. Eddie Curtis (above), a potter for forty years, and by no means conservative in his work, just missed selection and has written a long post on Facebook expressing his annoyance. He is leaving the Craft Potters Association (CPA) in protest.


Phil Rogers, a potter in the Leach tradition, who was for many years a leading figure in the CPA also writes about his disillusionment and explains why he left several years ago, feeling marginalized.

2 April 2018

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM - DARWIN CENTRE


We went with my nephew to the Natural History Museum, and while his parents took him to see the dinosaurs we looked at the Darwin Centre, the extension that houses the research labs and Cocoon, which explains the science behind the collections.

This case was next to an introduction to the great naturalists whose collections are in the museum - Darwin, Wallace, Sloane, Banks and Cheesman. When you have several million items, the next task is to classify them, and we were invited us to have a go on the things in this vitrine, which was like the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. It was attractive and amusing as well as instructive, so I took a few pictures.




29 March 2018

THE SOCIETY OF DESIGNER CRAFTSMEN GALLERY


I went to the gallery of the Society of Designer Craftsmen (of which I'm a trustee) in Shoreditch, to meet our architect and Hackney Council's conservation officer to talk about the Society’s proposed improvement of the building. We want to enhance the gallery space, with proper disabled access, and to make the upper storeys more useful.

The building, one of a group of four, is listed Grade II because of its significance in the South Shoreditch furniture industry, which flourished between 1860 and 1945. The group was built by William Ratcliffe in 1897 and is typical of the small workshops that dominated the area. Behind the Veneer, English Heritage’s history of the South Shoreditch furniture industry, records that it was organised into a network of interconnected trades in small workshops rather than big factories and that the production line was effectively the street, where work was passed from shop to shop.

Ratcliffe's workshop is an interesting home for the Society of Designer Craftsmen because we began as the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1887, with Walter Crane and William Morris as our first presidents. The work done by Arts and Crafts furniture makers, however, was quite different from that of the Shoreditch workshops, where "Curtain Road stuff" was a byword for cheap and nasty.

27 March 2018

STONEWARE TIN GLAZE


These are my Arabesque and Berry patterns translated from earthenware to stoneware, using the new glaze I've been developing, which I described here. The old glaze was a traditional tin glaze, whose recipe I adapted from one of Daphne Carnegy's. The new one is a feldspar dolomite glaze.

You won't be able to tell the difference from the photo between the old and the new - here, below are the same patterns in earthenware - and you'd find it difficult to distinguish them even if you picked them up. The new range looks the same but is much more hard wearing.



26 March 2018

CERAMIC ART LONDON, 2018

Carina Ciscato
Ceramic Art London, at Central St Martins last weekend, was the best I have seen. The work at this annual show is increasingly international and goes far beyond members of the Craft Potters Association, who set it up many years ago.

The range of ideas and techniques employed is ever wider, and although there are still a few traditional studio potters, it seem that nothing is off limits now. I was struck by Roger Coll's biomorphic forms in intense colours and similarly the work of Grainne Watts; Sophie Southgate's dazzling hemispheres; Barbara Hast's matt porcelain teapots on legs; Sarah Jenkins' grafitti-like decorations; Jack Doherty's exploration of buff and turquoise with a hint of wabi-sabi; Angela Verdon's cool undulations in bone china; Peter Beard's fractal-like surfaces; Monika Debus's organic forms; Matt Davis's subversion of craft in his pottery made by 3D printer; and my Harrow colleagues Carina Ciscato and Barry Stedman, who persistently push forward their medium, Barry now using pale colours and more line, Carina introducing texture by adding impurities to her porcelain.

Here are a few shots taken in passing.

Monika Debus
Ashraf Hanna
Sophie Southgate
Adam Ross
Lara Scobie
Peter Beard
Peter Beard
Grainne Watts

18 March 2018

GLAZE TESTS AND A NEW RANGE OF CERAMICS ON THE WAY


These glaze tests are a new departure for me. I'm planning to relaunch my ceramics over the next few months, replacing the terracotta I've used for many years with stoneware and these minimalist, urban colours. My standard shapes will remain but the clay body and the glazes are changing.

Terracotta produces wonderful bright colours but it needs careful handling if it's not to chip after long use. Although my tableware is food-safe and dishwasher and microwave proof, stoneware is more robust. 

For the technically-minded, these are feldspathic dolomite glazes with a pleasant satin matt surface and a nice speckled texture. There's still some research to be done, but I'm please with the results so far.

I'll continue to make my "Berry" and "Arabesque" patterns on a white glaze background - the glaze on the bottom left is the one I'll be using. The patterns will look similar but the pottery will be more hard-wearing.

This is just a sneak preview!  There will be more news as the new range develops.


17 March 2018

MAKING HANDLES


This is how I make handles for jugs and cups. The clay is extruded through specially made dies and cut and bent into shape. Then the handles are left for a few hours to harden off, and then adjusted, trimmed and applied. You can see that the end is cut with a curved blade (made from a thin sheet of brass, with the edge sharpened up with a file) - this is done so that the edge of the handles is curved to the shape of the jug.

I make the handles with ridges on the surface to show up different thicknesses of glaze and to create a lively surface; they also echo the throwing marks on the pot.

Photos of me making by Layton Thompson