What an amazing town! So far, we’ve found it to be very friendly and open – people are starting up all sorts of businesses and projects all the time and the previously neglected old town is buzzing with loads of bonkers goings-on. and the coastline is just so lovely – yellow sandy beaches, chalk cliffs and reef and more rescue greyhounds than you can chuck a stick for.
The novelty of being able to walk on the beach every day may never ever fade. This photo was taken by Ian on Boxing Day. The tide’s out and you can see the chalk reef and all the beautiful pools and seaweed in this bay, and one of the massive wind farms off the coast.
At the minute we’re renting an enormous beautiful old house from Liam and Louise who run The Reading Rooms. We’re only really living in 2 rooms but I now have a brilliant studio space in one of the front rooms and have housed my kilns in the workshop in the yard. We’re only here until we can find the right place to buy but it’s a great (and slightly mad) place to live for now. I’m very excited that I’m just about to start teaching classes here.
Duchess just appeared outside my window one day and has spent the past 2 years hanging out with me in the studio. It turns out she belongs to a small girl called Chloe who has since moved house and left Duchess behind with Grandma, along with 2 bumptious new additions “Mick” and “Keith”, who don’t really want her around. She very much enriched my life and I think we both enjoyed the peace and quiet of studio life. Despite the urging of certain friends and family, I didn’t think it fair to steal somebody else’s cat. Even though I miss her very much.
Goodbye to Loughborough
My garden studio has been big enough for me to work in, but nothing like big enough for teaching groups so I’ve spent the last 2 years trying to find affordable premises to teach from. Charnwood Arts have been more than generous and very flexible with their Next Level Cafe, but this is a multi use space and I’ve been trying to find somewhere that I could set up in the same way as the old Pottery Cottage on Loughborough University campus. A chance meeting with our old friend Charlie Allen led us down to Margate in Kent and we very quickly fell in love with the town, put our house on the market and prepared to change our lives. It took all summer for the house sale to come through and after our last summer of love in our home in the Shires we packed 2 enormous lorries full of our posessions and headed southeast. We both moved to Loughborough as students a long time ago in the last century and have been so happy “growing up” there, it was very hard saying goodbye to friends but finally moving on felt like the right thing to do.
It’s been a bit mad this year – lots of fun, lots of hard work and some big changes. With one thing and another I havn’t made a single post since last April, so as it seems like the time of year for contemplation, I thought I’d do a little round-up of the year’s events since my last posting.
Harrogate – British Craft Trade Fair
Another good year at the BCTF – Ian tweaked the design of my stand, built some new shelving units, took some great photos of my work for posters, stroked me on the head, generally looked after me and made the stand look fab. And I won a “commended” award for excellence, which was nice.
As usual my neighbours were one of the best things about the fair and the quality of the work was brilliant. I particularly enjoyed Emma Williams‘ company and her lovely work, and I couldn’t resist swapping work with Deborah Barber and Michaela Grimshaw
Charnwood Potter’s Market
It’s always such a pleasure to do this event, to meet the friendly community of potters and to persuade the good folk of Charnwood to come and get their hands dirty on the potter’s wheel. This video is from 2013 when Gideon Cummings and Jo Keogh lent a hand with the “have a go on the potter’s wheel” stall. What larks Pip!
Open Garden and Secret Craft Fair
Janet Currie and Pete Mosley invited me into their shed this June, along with some fairies. More potter’s wheel fun, and some fairy wishes taken care of too. Janet’s beautiful garden also provided lots of inspiration for me, and she was kind enough to let me pick some plant specimens to use in my work.
Melton Country Fair
This was my 4th year doing this event, and it was every bit as enjoyable as usual, despite the unexpectedly cold weather! We were flat out all day, eventually having to turn people away when we ran out of boxes to put the finished pots in. Besides, we needed to stop – the food stalls were amazing and those cakes and wine wern’t going to eat and drink themselves!
Jo, Ian and I also did the Melton Victorian Xmas fair, which made the summer one seem positively tropical in comparison. At one point the gazebo nearly took off, I grabbed hold and felt my feet leave the ground before the other stallholders dashed to my rescue! Once the wind died down and the sun came back out we had fun though – the fair had a really lovely atmosphere, and even though my attempt at authentic Victorian costume was a touch pathetic, Ian and Jo looked great!
I had a very rewarding time working with Jemma Bagley and her RawArts group – Charnwood Arts collaborate with the NHS and invite adults with long term mental health illnesses to join this creative group. I’ve worked with RawArts before and here are links showing a Raku day we did and a really beautiful book project called “Tea with Alice” that the group did with Jemma, Jo Sheppard and myself.
I also did lots of Raku this summer
A couple of sessions in Queen’s Park Loughborough with Charnwood Arts
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Really looking forward to the weekend of the open house and meeting up with old friends and having a good excuse to bake a load of mince pies and cakes, it’s the one time of the year when the house doesn’t look like a clay storage area. Its also time to fish out all those quality seconds that I’ve been squirrelling away all year and hopefully find new homes for them. It’s also really nice to have some of my artist/maker friends putting some of their work in the open house too, Jackie Palmer (sculpture), Jon Palmer (photography and prints), Perin Towlson (ceramic jewellery), Sue Graham (paintings and cards), JC Middlebrook (lace jewellery), and also some ceramics from my friend Nigel Cunningham.
The kiln was starting to look a bit sorry for itself after a lot of use so my husband Ian has been helping me to give it a little TLC. This is first batch out of the newly refurbished kiln and I’m very happy with them.
The back wall of the kiln was getting very cracked. My mate Nigel had some left over fibreboard from repairing his kiln which he kindly gave me, so all we had to do was cut it to size and wire it into place. Not as easy as we’d hoped but it fired a treat and I no longer have such extreme hot and cool spots, and the crystal formation is now much more intense in the glazes too.
The door hadn’t been opening very smoothly for a while either and eventually the bottom hinge sheared off leaving the door hanging at a very strange angle. Rather than spending hard earned cash Ian decided a trip down the scrapyard was called for.
Searching for hinges. No joy, so looking for the perfect bits of metal to make some from instead.
Ian could do with a workbench, instead he made these kneeling on the slabs with a hacksaw, lump hammer and a drill.
My friends Rob and Nancy asked me to make them some tableware to supplement a dinner service that they had been given for a wedding present back in the last century. Over the years they have broken and chipped quite a few pieces and the potter who originally made the pots has since retired so I needed to do something that could sit sympathetically with the existing pieces.
I’ve had a lot of fun trying out different clay bodies that would toast up nicely in a reduction atmosphere before settling on Valentine’s HT Body. The glaze and colours took a little longer to get right because I wanted to get the right greyish white tinge with a speckle coming through from the body. The bonus is that it’s a very robust feldspar/zircon white that also works really well over the porcelain body that I use.
I was quite out of my comfort zone with the onglaze painting technique and have needed a bit of hand holding from my husband who’s a bit of a pencil squeezer kind of geezer!
I’m so very sad to say that the Pottery Cottage has finally closed down forever.
It was a truly special place and I will so miss the community that flourished within those walls and the creative energy of those people who took the trouble to find a scruffy little shed tucked away in a dingy corner of the University campus.
People made such creative, individual and beautiful work.
I have been so lucky to have access to such an incredible resource for so long, and to have had the privilige to make so many good friends there.
I can’t even begin to express how much I will miss it, and all those fantastic people!
Melton Country Fair went really well – after a pretty grim Rainy Saturday we were quite lucky with the weather and only experienced one very short rain shower all day, which felt like a bit of a reprieve after the downpours, hailstorms and tornedos of the last week.
Ian made a sturdy wind shelter around the Raku kiln to protect the gas flame from the gusty wind and made sure that our gazebos were well pegged down and couldn’t blow away and we were all set.
I think we had about 50 people come and have a go on the wheel, although it was mostly kids. Adults seem more afraid of “making a fool of themselves” and only a couple of grownups were brave enough to risk it, and ended up making really nice pots!
It’s a lovely event and I was sorry not to get more time to look round it properly, but I did have time to meet a Barn Owl, chat to the Riverford vegbox people and scoff some delicious strawberries. A top day out all in all!
Putting the finishing touches to her masterpiece.
Enjoying getting their hands dirty.
My friends Jo and Faye were absolute stars – they ran the Raku stall. Faye did get a little bit tired of being asked if she had come in costume – she always dresses like this!
Pots reducing in the sawdust bins.
Ian’s sturdy windbreak stopped the flame from blowing out on a very gusty day.
Precisely applied sawdust.
These flames mean that the glaze will be very rich and metallic.
Jo putting the last of the pots into the reduction bins.