Our home and studio are separated by a 20 minute walk and there is nothing better to start our day than with a stroll to the Pottery through Eastnor deer park. The countryside here is so beautiful and the seasonal changes offer constant inspiration.
It’s amazing how a terracotta pot can survive outside in the garden for decades. Season after season it is resilient against the very worst the British Winter can hurl at it. And then, all of a sudden, it quite literally falls to pieces.
Frost damage occurs when water, absorbed into the ceramic wall freezes and expands. The force is strong enough to ‘spit out’ little chunks leaving the surface pot marked. Sometimes the force is strong enough to crack the vessel in two!
This button planter made by myself in the 1990’s with all it’s applied half spheres, lived happily and in tact, in the garden here at Eastnor pottery. Then out of the blue, quite recently, after a particularly wet and cold period, the planter shed all it’s buttons.
I can only deduce that the days of persistent rain had penetrated and saturated the pot. Under normal circumstances the pot would dry naturally, minimising the effect of the freezing water. On this occasion the sudden, plunging temperatures shortly after the deluge was sufficient to reek havoc. The conditions were spot on – a perfect storm!
I like the effect though – The area beneath the buttons resisted the lichen patina. When the buttons popped off, they left a satisfying terracotta polka dot pattern. Nature is the best artist!
Whilst experimenting with smoke fired pottery on the BBQ last Spring, I found a lot of my pots developed hair-line cracks and fissures due to the thermal shock of the flames licking the ware. There was only one course of action – make myself some saggers!
Those of you who might not be familiar with the word, a sagger is a protective fire-clay box enclosing ceramic ware while it is being fired.
Traditionally, they were used in the pottery industry to protect the pottery whilst it was fired in huge bottle kilns.
Above are some fine examples of antique saggers, piled high at Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke. They’ve obviously seen some action and been in and out of the kiln many many times, protecting their precious contents from the ferocity of the fire. The pitted and roasted surfaces really tell a story – I love the effect!
I used brick clay to make my saggers – x3 crude and rather brutal looking cylinders with lids made on the potter’s wheel and fired to 960 degrees.
Not only do the saggers prevent cracking, but I have produced some really intense blacks by packing combustible materials around the work inside the sagger. The twigs and sawdust inside the sagger smolder in the oxygen deprived atmosphere rather than burst into flame. This produces a lot of smoke which permeates the ceramic surface with great effect.
I’ve had so much fun experimenting with the saggers over the Autumn and Winter, firing them on the BBQ, bonfires and inside the house in the fireplace during the colder months.
Something I greatly value about the making process is the emergence of an unexpected outcome.
The potter’s wheel offers lots of potential for a creative ‘surprise’ and I always try to stay alert to the ‘happy accident’. The slightest change in hand position or shift in concentration can lead to a whole new aesthetic or approach. I may not have the time to action the diversion straight away but will photograph, make notes and bank the idea for another day.
More recently, I’ve been getting further and further through the making process before the ‘light bulb’ moment presents itself. The forms above were thrown and assembled bodies of insects designed for a garden sculpture exhibition. There is something very elementary and abstract about the forms at that particular stage in the process that prompted me to take the photo. I then attached legs and wings to achieve the original intention and turned them into something quite different from the legless versions!
This piece below is a slabbed base designed to display a ceramic fish sculpture. A metal rod inserted in the hole to suspend the fish at the other end.
Most of my work starts it’s life on the potter’s wheel so shapes are invariably soft and organic looking. Producing a straight sided, angular object required me to work with another technique. I had so much fun rolling the clay, drying, assembling the slabs and finally smoothing the joins, it got me inspired to do more. Discounting the original function of the piece, I think the leather hard result looks like it could hold it’s own as a stand alone sculptural vessel.
Throwback Thursday: Happy Craft Play Project 2013 – 2014
Outside learning with nursery aged children in the depths of winter – chilly, great fun and a fine example of partnership and collaborative working! Just look at the individuals and organisations involved:
I made ceramic play things and clay stamps as a response to the exploratory sessions with the very young children and their teachers. The work was then gifted to the school to as a resource for future outdoor learning.
Background to the project:
The Craftplay project brought together WAVE and Craftspace who worked together at Bilston Craft Gallery to deliver a programme of creative engagement sessions with early years’ children. The project engaged with children and their carers through working with craft makers to explore creative play and the natural environment – investigating the part craft plays in developing a sustainable future. By taking the world around us as a teacher and actively interacting with, The Craftplay project sought to inspire children with an appreciation of the environment and its systems, and to enrich their self-belief through creating things themselves by hand.
There is an acute need to support basic wellbeing in the area immediately around Bilston Craft Gallery which has high concentrations of children living in poverty and high levels of deprivation. The sessions provided by the Craftplay project offered a rich, inspiring and fun learning environment where curiosity, confidence and social development were nurtured. In order to chart the progress of their project, WAVE and Craftspace created a great blog.