Tile project

Tiles for the "Regeneration" exhibition, Makers Yard, Leicester

The Ornamentum group came out of the meeting of 10 makers from Leicestershire at one of the Design Factory meetings. We decided it was a pretty long way to drive to Sleaford and maybe we could join forces and make some opportunities for ourselves. We decided we wanted to put on group shows, organise mentoring and support for ourselves and host some training events that would benefit not only ourselves but also other local makers. It’s been completely brilliant getting to know the rest of the group and I’ve been very proud of what we’ve achieved so far.

We’ve been putting on themed exhibitions and the title of the latest one was “Regeneration”. This exhibition was in the Makers Yard, which won an award for the sensitive way in which it was restored from an old textile factory into studio spaces for creatives. The title “Regeneration” seemed an obvious choice in this venue and we decided to try and create something specific to this building for the event.

I’d recently got hold of a tin which used to belong to my Granny and it was crammed with old pieces of factory made lace as well as pieces hand made by granny and her sisters, and also possibly some pieces made by her auntie Annie too. I’d always loved lace and it seemed fitting to use some of these pieces in my work to go into an old textile factory.

Close-up of tiles showing hand and machine made lace

I’d also been looking at pioneer plants – those plants that grow first in disturbed soil and create an environment that other plants can flourish in too. I remember Granny telling me about Rose Bay Willow Herb which grew out of the bomb sites, much in the way that poppies grew on the Somme. I also decided to use Brambles, Chamomile and Buddleia because of the way they rapidly transform a bleak area and provide a habitat for insects too. I found quite a few of these plants in the garden area at the back of the yard, which had been left to grow wild for a season.

Buddleia, Brambles, Poppies and Rose Bay Willow Herb

Because the building is listed, I wasn’t allowed to fix the tiles in the normal way so of course it was back to Ian to find a solution to the problem. He came up with the idea of sliding metal “shim” (thin pieces of metal) into the cracks between the risers and the treads and sticking the tiles to these pieces of metal. Genius!

Sticking the tiles to the metal shim

I was really pleased with the finished tiles – the colours worked perfectly with the existing layers of old paint and the dusty bare wood of the staircase, and the image of plants climbing up the risers of the stairs captured the optimism of the piece.

Regeneration

It’s a different game

Trays and Unomi straight from the kiln

This is my second time round as a self employed potter. I took a few lecturing hours at Leicester College and before I knew it I was sucked in – running a course with 11 staff and 30 tutees and when I looked up 13 years has whizzed by. I absolutely loved the students and had nothing but respect for my passionate, hardworking colleagues but I was very happy to get back to what I’d always wanted to do – to make and sell and to teach just a bit to keep me fresh and sane.

It was a bit of a shock to see how things had changed though – gone are the days when I could just put a box of pots in the van and turn up at galleries on-spec. Now I needed a “marketing strategy” and to engage with social media, amongst other terrifying and confusing things. I decided I’d better join some organisations and get some training.

My first port of call was to join the Design Factory. They gave me a long telephone “interview” to see what I’d done so far and how I could develop my business. This was equally useful and worrying, and to be honest, didn’t help my tiny confidence very much at all, but I persisted, went on some training days in Sleaford and started to understand this new world a bit better.

By far the best thing about all this has been finding my peer group – an incredibly talented and inspiring group of people who understand all the anxieties, idlemmas and small triumphs of being a maker because they’ve been through such similar experiences themselves. I’ve moaned and whinged a bit, had incredibly geeky discussions and laughed my head off with them. And learned such a lot.

More than anything, I’ve learnt that it doesn’t matter how many hours I spend in the studio making, testing and analysing my work and it doesn’t matter how delighted I am when I open the kiln door and that new glaze is finally working. If I don’t learn to communicate what I’m up to and learn how to develop my small business I might as well have a “real job” with a boss and a steady wage and normal working hours. And I’ve tried that already.