There’s a story here…I’m not entirely sure what. But I do have an endless fascination with the humble dandelion. I was reminded of it’s beginning when a friend in Germany sent me a photo of her morning coffee in one of my terracotta sgraffito mugs – the range I began my ceramics business with.I recently photographed a new selection of dandelion specimens just to remind my drawing brain what they really look like after a winter of illustrating from memory. I only throw and illustrate porcelain now – a very different look from my earthy terracotta pieces. The dandelion lends itself just as well though and, despite the hand cramps, I never tire of drawing it…I also produce fine bone china wares – firing my illustrations on to ready made pieces instead of creating each vessel from scratch. It’s a different feel and I like the utilitarian uniformity and perfection it gives the pieces. It also means I can produce matching tea towels – a source of great satisfaction to me. Some artists relish the giclee print and the framed work – I love the idea of my designs emblazoned over my favourite room in the house, cheering up kitchens across the UK!My first dandelion tea towel is shown below – it’s a beaut – 50s colours and feel. I’ve updated the design for 2018 in fresh slate and citrine on white, increasing the scratchy mid century modern look. It’s pictured at the top of this post. Everything starts with pen and paper and botanical specimens for me – I love the rigour of drawing from life and trying to catch botanicals in the best season. One day I’ll manage to get my sketchbook out before the Forsythia flowers wither and fall…
As the Crows fly is very much looking forward to being part of the Make 17 exhibition at Devon Guild of Craftsmen this year, as well as featuring on their publicity for the event. Really excited about this. The private view (see below for details) will be on Friday 17th November from 6-8pm so if you are in the area please do come and meet us as it should be a lovely evening. Otherwise the exhibition will be running from Saturday 18th November until Sunday 7th January 2018.
New wares are beginning to trickle out… I’m excited by the colour palette and feel of these fresh new slipcast pieces in stained porcelain. The charcoal grey vase form is cast from a lathe-turned form I created while in Denmark. I like the possibilities of the grey canvas for fresh simple white slip decoration – here a midcentury modern inspired sunburst pattern, set off by pompom hydrangea blooms.
I’ve been keen to experiment with coloured porcelain for a long time. After trying out some own-made black clay on the wheel I decided that the chemicals used in colouration (raw oxides and metal salts) were best kept in minimal contact with the skin, and so began my delve into slipcasting production… I’m really pleased with the initial results and they have certainly had good reactions from customers so this range will be something I am working on quite heavily this year. I love the strong colour palette in the pieces above and I’m also tapping into the subtlety of marbled slips and pared down surface decoration.
I couldn’t resist, while in Denmark, the chance to create a direct link with the minimal, pared down scandi-chic trend that’s consuming UK interiors shoots at the moment. These lidded vessels are based on casts of plain glass storage jars from Denmark – they are the store cupboard equivalent of the kilner jar and I was really taken by their shape and design.
At the beginning of March I packed my bags and hopped on a plane to Scandinavia for the first time. I flew into Copenhagen, looking down on snowy, fragmented islands gradually massing together to form land. It looked flat, and it was cold.
I arrived at Guldagergaard international ceramics research centre, pronounced Gool-ay-ago, by train and bus and foot, welcomed into a mildly chaotic world of 40 hour long wood-firings, unbridled artistic expression, huge amounts of expertise and a fantastic community of learning, sharing, warm people.
A tiny world inhabited only by ceramicists, where you don’t have to explain or excuse yourself. There is just acceptance. It’s a magical place…and there are sculptures and objects from the tiniest porcelain chair model to the most enormous tiled archway, just bursting from every corner of the place. I feel so inspired here.
I came to Guldagergaard because I want to expand my practice to incorporate my own-design slip ware. So, I signed up to do an Intensive Plaster workshop week in March, taught by the wonderful Harriet Caslin, and now I am back to complete a month’s residency for the rest of April, working with the skills I learnt.
I’m currently working very hard on a project to produce my own coffee set – a tall coffee pot, a slender jug and an angular cup. The first stage is scale drawing on paper, the second stage turning a positive form on the lathe, then adding components such as spout or handle or surface detail, the third stage casting a mould – the negative; the final stage pouring slip into the mould to form a porcelain positive to fire and use. Currently I am turning on the lathe, hand carving and adapting using precisely scored and folded acetate areas, to fit my design drawings. It’s a lengthy process, and I’m not sure what the outcome will be… The photos below show plaster being mixed; the coffee pot ‘stock’ on the lathe during the initial stages of turning; the finished coffee pot form waiting to be carved and fitted out; the jug model with grooves carved in and acetate being fitted; the coffee cup form on the lathe, ready to be cut off.
I’m also indulging my long held desire to work with stained porcelain, casting a small kitchen ware range using found objects in a pastel palette, and using marbling on two elegant hand turned designs that I did during the workshop week – a tall beaker vase and a wide, conical serving bowl.
Introducing a new set of bone china wares that I’ve been sketching, colouring, getting printed into decals and firing onto some beautiful Stoke-on-Trent bone china ware. Here are some shots of the finished pieces, followed by an explanation of the work in progress.
The flexibility of being able to accurately reproduce detailed drawings on ceramics using this method really inspires me – it’s a completely different approach from the handmade pieces and I love it as it allows me to produce consistent products that all work together.
This little lot has been in the pipeline since July so it’s great to be getting it ready in time for all the Christmas events this season.
Here are a few snapshots of how the designs begin, on paper. Sometimes in the garden with tea and sunshine, sometimes in the studio using blooms and seedheads gathered while walking.
I love this process. It makes me feel so connected to the work I do. It also allows me to be creative with the raw materials. Currently I am creating a couple of tea towels to go with the above designs. Because I can manipulate the images in whatever way I want to I am free to put them together in new ways. I got really inspired by the Fifties in the colouring and style of the drawings so I took it a step further for the Dandelion tea towel and turned elements of the sketch into a colourful repeat pattern.
It’s at the printers right now, so here’s hoping it looks good on unbleached cotton!
The experiments with colour block brights and layered leopard print effect glazes are coming along too. I’m really excited by this range and once a few firing difficulties have been ironed out I’m going to be making this my primary product I think.
I’d never really tried doing anything with out surface illustration before – that is my area of expertise and what I’ve always loved doing. Having the freedom just to think about shape and colour and the graphicness of the 3D objects themselves is really exciting to me and a bit of a breakthrough in my practice. Refreshing not just to simply see the vessel as a canvas for mark making.
My new porcelain hand thrown wares are building for the market season, as well as winging their way soon into the Platform Gallery in Lancashire for their Northern Star winter exhibition and Found Gallery in Dunbar in time for their winter show.
The Peapod and Dandelion versions of these thrown ceramics have cemented into the two designs I’m happiest with so it’s just going to be a case of trying to get faster at throwing them… Since getting back from sabbatical in July there has been a lot of work in the pipeline, building on the designs I began work on in Spring, and it’s satisfying to see it finally in the outcome stage.
I’ve been inspired for a while to try and create a sulphurous yellow glaze as I am a bit mad for yellow at the moment. I’ve also been working hard at throwing porcelain for my illustrated range – but felt it was time to try something a little different that relies simply on the surface effects and colour of the vessels in relation to the thrown shapes and the qualities of the material.
I completed a small body of work using some new glazes before going on sabbatical earlier this year and felt really pleased with how they came out of the kiln:
I took the pots to Frome artisan market this month, selling out before I’d even had a chance to take any proper product shots! I must admit I was quite surprised at the level of positivity to them. Here are a few shots of them before they went:
I’m really looking forward to getting back into the studio now and developing this range further – I’ve already thrown a new shape of jug to play with. Shown below, they are just now drying out ready for bisque firing. Maybe it will be part of the new Volcanic Yellow range, or maybe an illustrated piece, I will be test-firing a few different ideas:
Arriving back in the studio after a substantial time away in various parts of Asia, I thought I’d post up a little taste of the visual plenty from the trip, starting with of one of my favourite places – Bhaktapur.
This town in Nepal is a mediaeval city with a very strong artisanal tradition and a charming and laidback approach to life. Only an hour from the craziness of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur is full of friendliness and a lively traditional, and very visible, culture. It’s a Newari city and it has it’s own special caste of potters – the Prajapatis. Historically this was a very low caste but it was heartening to meet young potters raising their heads high and proudly continuing their traditional heritage for a new era. By embracing social media, finding out about new techniques and researching new niches in their business they are moving away from occupying a challenging strata of society as the demand for simple bisque-fired, purely functional, single-use pots slowly dwindles. Below is an example of a traditional urn, situated on a street-corner sitting area:
I had the privilege of watching and engaging with a remarkable master potter too. His ‘studio’ is simply an unsheltered area of a backstreet off Potters’ Square, next to some rudimentary storage space for his goods and materials. He works in the traditional style, throwing functional homewares such as rakshi brewing apparatus as well as myriad moneyboxes, as seen below – each of these pots is thrown in less than a minute on his huge momentum wheel, which is simply stirred into action with a wooden staff:
Pots drying in the square – these are for the local market and are functional pots for use in the home:
Here a potter tends to one of the wood-fired kilns, before getting ready for the next firing. In preparation, women file through the square bearing huge bundles of straw to pack around the pots. Beneath is a shot of a kiln ready to fire. How the whole district doesn’t go up in flames I have no idea:
Pots of yoghurt stacked in a traditional curd shop. A buffalo milk delicacy, cooling earthenware bowls are still the preferred vessels to sell in – sadly they are discarded after use:
Below are some more shots of the square. You can see the huge stack of straw ready to be transported to the kiln firing buildings; pots ready for sale; pots drying out in the sun, each maker arranging them in a perfect grid of work; there is even pottery graffiti on a wall as you enter the Potter’s Square:
I would love to spend more time here and feel the whole process from start to finish and speak to more of the traditional artisans still at work.
January and February…the fairs are over, the festivities finished and the earth is hibernating and readying itself for germination. Much the same stage has been reflected here at As the Crow Flies. A really valuable period of reflective thought, sketching ideas, drawing on the ideas touch on in 2015 and pushing them further.
I’ve really enjoyed the chance to process carefully the throwing aims I’ve had, working towards cleaner shapes in porcelain, practising the motions of throwing and enjoying the smooth clean feel of porcelain after working in terracotta for so long. First out of the initial test firing was a Wild Pea serving bowl:
Seeing the initial effects coming out on a few pieces enabled me to refine and progress the ideas…gradually more things came out of the kiln, building the bones of a new range of Dandelion and Wild Pea shapes; some of which are pictured below:
I’m also pleased to have produced more satisfying wine tumblers and the first forays into vase production, but photos of these will have to come later. The final thing I played with was transposing my popular Nasturtium design from terracotta to porcelain – in tea cup form. Looking very Art Deco with it’s conical shape, I particularly like this example:
All in all, I feel ready for this year…although I’ll have to put my anticipation on hold for a little while as I am taking a sabbatical from mid-March to mid-July to walk through Mustang in the Himalayas and then cycle the through the Pamirs in Tajikistan up into Kyrgyzstan. I’m sure the inspiration will be myriad so I look forward to posting when I get back.