I recently exhibited at Decorex with Design Nation. Decorex is a high-end interior design show held in a marquee in Syon Park. Liz Cooper of Design Nation curated a beautiful stand with the theme Future Heritage. There was a lot of buzz about crafts at the show, with a stand of Future Heritage crafts curated by Corinne Julius and a fabulous VIP lounge curated by the New Craftsmen with handmade baskets from all over the British Isles, ceramics by Akiko Hirai and embroidered floor cushions by Aimee Betts. Design Nation is a lovely organisation, who have also curated a showcase on the theme of Light in the Southbank Centre shop, Royal Festival Hall for the month of October. My Morandi bottles are currently on display there in the window.
The week before, I had my own stand at Home London at Olympia. There was a lot of interest in the Morandi inspired bottles. I received several orders for my new Morandi tableware range from Ochre, New York; The Longship, Orkney and Frank, Whitstable, and I sold all the bottles on the stand at the end of the last day. I’m now making orders and getting ready for my next show, MADE London on 22nd-25th October.
I have been visiting clay pits in Cornwall, researching for my next book Science for the Potter. I visited three clay pits. The first was in St Erth near St Ives, a disused clay pit where sand and red clay were once dug. The pit has been turned into a nature trail but you can still see a rusted metal trolley embedded in the ground. It is very overgrown but there is still visible red clay and sand, which Bernard Leach used in his earthenware clay body.
I also visited a china clay pit, Wheal Martyn near St Austell. Unlike other types of clay, china clay is not found in an immediately usable form. It is part of a crumbly white rock, which is decomposed granite. The clay is washed out of the rock by directing a powerful jet of water onto the newly exposed rock. The water is pumped out of the mine and left to settle in tanks. The sand and mica settle out, leaving china clay, which is drained off and dried. At Wheal Martyn you can see a working pit now owned by Imerys, as well as the old settling tanks and drying sheds once used to process the china clay. There are displays of old machinery and earthenware pots made by Lake’s pottery in Truro. On the way home we stopped in Bristol, went to the Royal west of England academy of art and by chance saw the painting of The Clay Pit by Harold Harvey of the Newlyn School, painted in 1923.
On on the last day of the holiday I drove to Doble’s clay pit in St Agnes. I got lost down a long rutted track but finally found the clay and sand pit with some directions from Mr Doble. I bought a bag of his stoneware clay and had a look at the clay pit, grey fireclay which lies directly under the gorse and heather on the headland near St Agnes Beacon. Doble’s has supplied the Leach Pottery with stoneware clay since the 1960s. I’m looking forward to trying the clay out with my glazes.
The West Dean course has up to 10 students and costs £466 for four and a half days. West Dean is a beautiful old stately home and gardens near Chichester in West Sussex. It is a residential course unless you live nearby and can travel in each day. The accommodation and food is excellent and you can continue to work in the studio in the evenings if you like.
The Morley College course is new and costs £125 for 5x 3hr or 3x 6hr sessions. Morley College is in Lambeth, London, on Westminster Bridge Road near Waterloo or Lambeth North tube station.
The dates are
19 February -18 March 2016, Fridays 6-9pm for five weeks at the Morley College: Glaze making and understanding materials.
17-21 April, Sunday to Thursday, four and a half day short course at West Dean College: Understanding Colour in Glazes.
23 April -7 May, Saturdays 10am-4pm for three weeks at the Morley College: Glaze making and understanding materials.
Phew, that’s quite a lot of teaching for me. If you can’t come on a course, you can look in one of my books instead.
My open studio at the weekend was the busiest yet. I have been taking part in Artists at Home since 2003. This year I showed my new bottles and vases inspired by the still life paintings of Giorgio Morandi, as well as my usual porcelain tableware. The new bottles sold really well, particularly the grey and mustard ones. I also sold seconds of my manufactured mugs and plates, which coincidentally featured in the Sunday Times Home. This year the open studio weekend coincided with midsummer and the roses in the garden were at their peak. We have a rambling rose which climbs along the fence on one side of the garden. It has clusters of white flowers which gradually turn slightly pink. Luckily, it only rained on Saturday evening just after closing time and on Sunday we had record numbers of visitors.
I have have been working on a new tableware range to complement the Morandi inspired bottles. So far, I have made mugs, teapots, plates and bowls. I experimented with overlapping glazes but I think a crisp finish looks better. I need to do more work on the plates and bowls but the mugs and teapots came out quite well. I am getting quite a few orders for the Morandi inspired bottles, and they seem to appeal to men as well, which is good, as most of the customers for my existing coloured porcelain tableware range are women.
Over the last two months I have been making a large order of 90 cake stands and 60 plates for a store in Japan called TomorrowLand. I had to make it in 5 batches as I only have 30 wooden batts for throwing plates on the wheel. I also have exactly enough shelf space in the studio for 30 batts.
First I throw the plates on a batt, which I remove from the wheel and leave to dry on shelves overnight.
The next day I remove the plates from the batts and trim underneath.
I also throw bases for the cake stands, which are stuck on after firing. The plates and bases are biscuit fired, then glazed and fired again. The Japanese buyers ordered white, pale blue and grey.
Then the cake stands are packed, three in a box and the boxes are shipped off on pallets. I am very pleased to have finished the order before the hot weather, as plates need to be dried slowly to avoid cracking.
Once a year I teach a course at West Dean College near Chichester. West Dean is a beautiful, old stately home once owned by Edward James. He was a collector of surrealist art who collaborated with Salvador Dali in designing the Mae West Lips sofa and Lobster telephone. He had no heirs and left his estate to the arts.
My course involved making glazes, firing test tiles and finally applying the glazes to pots. There were eight students, ranging from experienced amateur potters to complete novices. One student had come from as far away as Barcelona.
First the students chose and mixed a base glaze recipe, then they added colouring oxides in a line blend. Copper oxide and rutile were very popular, giving a variety of greens, from pale celadon to dark bottle green. We fired the test tiles in a small test kiln and managed to cool the kiln quickly enough to be able to look at them the next day.
Then we applied the glazes to pots and fired them in a larger electric kiln. The students were very keen on special effects glazes. One was a bronze pigment made from manganese, copper oxide and clay which can be applied to rims and runs down during firing. The other was a volcanic crater glaze, achieved by adding silicon carbide to the glaze or an underlying slip. This gives off carbon dioxide during firing, causing bubbles and craters to form. These tests were not so successful as it was difficult to apply the slip to biscuit ware without it lifting off.
On the last day, a Japanese student kindly brought in her collection of Japanese pottery to show to us, explaining that each type came from a different kiln site in Japan. Bizen and Shigaraki ware were glazed only by the ash landing on them during wood firing, while other types were glazed with subtle black or white glazes, often used over dark coloured clays.
At the end of the course we opened the kilns. Some of the pots came out really well. Unfortunately two bowls melted completely as a student had unknowingly bought white earthenware and fired it to stoneware temperatures. Surprisingly, however, the red earthenware fired successfully up to cone 8, becoming vitrified and darker in colour, contrasting beautifully with the green coloured glazes.
I enjoyed exhibiting at Maison et Objet in Paris last week.
My stand was part of the British European Design Group in Hall 8: Now! Design a vivre, funded by UKTI. As well as ceramicists, the British contingent included designers of glass, textiles, furniture and lighting.
It was a busy show and I received orders from Austria, Switzerland, the Lebanon and Japan. I now have a lot of cake stands to make and will be very busy in the studio for the next few months.
Other handmade pottery at the show included Silvia K Ceramics, beautiful earthenware platters with leather handles from Brighton and Tortus Copenhagen, thrown stoneware vases from Denmark.
This week I’m making some slipcast porcelain lampshades for Benchmark furniture.
The shades are used in the Snowdrop light, designed by Jonathan Tibbs. You can get a desk or wall-mounted version, made from laminated ash.
I have also made some taller lampshades as a bespoke order for a customer. I have to slipcast these one at a time as I have only made one plaster mould of each shape. I should make multiple plaster moulds but plaster is not a forgiving material to work with. Unless you are very careful to stop all cracks, it has a tendency to leak out all over the floor when you are pouring it. Plaster also blocks sink drains and explodes in the kiln if bits of it get into your clay. However, I will eventually have to make new moulds, as they start to erode after around 60 casts have been made.