I'm so proud to announce that a selection of my work will be exhibited in the Summer Craft Collection at New Ashgate Gallery in Farnham, Surrey! Founded in the '60s, the gallery has been dedicated to championing the best contemporary art and craft for over 50 years. I'm deeply grateful to Helen Beard, who mentored me for 3 months in 2016, for an introduction to the gallery.
My pots will be in great company with ceramics and jewellery from emerging and established makers - huzzah!
I'm also thrilled to be stocking the gallery shop of The National Centre for Craft & Design in Sleaford! I've followed this gallery online for AGES and they host awesome, inventive projects and exhibitions, so I was super flattered when they asked me to supply their shop.
In 2016 I was thrilled to be selected for a mentorship programme organised by the Craft Potters Association, in partnership with Adopt a Potter. Paired with a long-time clay hero of mine, Helen Beard, I travelled to London in June with a bag of pots for an initial meeting and critique of my work, then we followed up with several Skype sessions over the following three months.
Helen gave a frank assessment of my pots, making suggestions such as pulling decoration further across the bases, and refining my potters marks. After some experimentation, I have followed up on both of these points and I’m very pleased with the results, especially the new Isle of Man map stamp. This smaller version now presses into the clay instead of printing with black stain.
Later in the year, I sent Helen some photos of my festive designs and she commented on the energy that the gold lustre dots created. I'm reluctant to use lustre outside of the festive season, but an experiment with dark blue underglaze has yielded some very satisfying results! The random patterns bring to mind pollen on the breeze, or insects buzzing through the air.
These subtle changes, along with Helen's feedback, have given me more confidence to increase some of my prices, which I did between July and December 2016, and will continue to review. Helen and I also worked through my website (hello!) to improve the visitor experience, by consolidating some pages and removing excess information.
With Helen’s encouragement I applied for the 2017 Contemporary Craft Festival in Bovey Tracey, for which I was thrilled to be accepted. Unfortunately the Festival dates coincide with a major sports event on the Isle of Man, making travel costs to the UK mainland prohibitive. I have taken confidence from that application process, and have applied for other events later in 2017.
Helen also assisted me in formulating a three year plan for growing my practice and business, to ultimately raise the profile of my work nationally and internationally. It was such a privilege to learn from Helen's experiences. I'm deeply grateful to the organisers for initiating the programme, and to Helen for sparing her precious studio time (her youngest child was only 9 weeks old when I visited, wow!).
Mentorships are incredibly valuable, I can't recommend them enough, whether informal or through a funded scheme. Many thanks to the Isle of Man Arts Council for supporting me with a small travel bursary, which enabled me to visit Helen's London studio.
There's a minor re-brand in progress around here, transitioning from working under my given name - Kathryn - to the diminutive of Katy, which my parents (and, you know, everyone who isn't a doctor) have called me since birth. I started my business in 2010, choosing the trading name of 'Kathryn Mitchell Ceramics'. It seemed to have a better ring than 'Katy', and naturally felt more grown up. It also created a slight separation between me and my art practice, which seemed particularly pertinent at the time as I was very happily employed by a wonderful gallery as an admin assistant, where the director also kindly encouraged me to stock my pots. I wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. I thought I'd grow into the name. Six (nearly seven) years and a hemisphere switch on, that hasn't happened. I don't feel any less of a Katy or more of a Kathryn. My given name is still reserved for tax returns and dentist appointments. I promptly (and politely, almost apologetically) correct anyone who calls me Kathryn. I love the name (well done, parents!), but Katy is the one that sticks.
I've edited most of my online presence to reflect the re-brand, but you're likely to see Kathryn for a little longer on things like stickers and signage 'til I complete the transition.
Whilst I suspect that very few people will even notice the change, for me it's been refreshing and somewhat liberating to use what feels like my 'real' name.
Hello, my name is Katy, and I'm a potter.
You've got Mother's Day written in your diary, right? I don't need to remind you that it's Sunday 26th March. Of course not, you've totally got a plan to treat the excellent Mum-like people in your life.
Should you need an extra thanks-for-being-my-Mum gift, the studio will be open for a Mother's Day Shop on Saturday 25th March, 12 - 5pm. Just in case.
Please note that this is a cash or cheque only event! Ta.
Here's a map to find the studio - I recommend using the Earth view, Google gets confused in Kirk Michael!
Alternatively, order online through my Etsy shop before 4pm on Tuesday 21st March to ensure delivery on the Isle of Man or in the UK before Mother's Day!
2016 was the year of the decal in my studio. Since starting to make pots at college in 2009 I've been eager (can you be eager for 7 years?) to learn a technique to reproduce my designs in some way faster than hand-painting. The first quarter of the year was spent testing, and throughout the following months I was able to replicate most of my designs as decals. I'm thrilled with the results; I often prefer the decal design to the previous hand-painted version! I've been upfront with my customers and galleries about this change, to my knowledge without issue. This post might be unnecessary - you might not be bothered how I decorate my pots and I wouldn't blame you for that - but I spent a long time trawling the internet to figure this technique out and find a good printer, so I'll dedicate this to aspiring decal-users. All three of them, somewhere out there on the internet...Hi!
First, a definition. A decal is a specially prepared paper bearing a picture or design for transfer to wood, metal, glass, etc. In this case, the decals are digitally printed (rather than screen-printed) and suitable for glazed ceramics. Some people prefer to call them transfers.
I draw or paint my designs onto paper, scan them into Photoshop, tidy them up a little and arrange them to fill an A3 document. I can average 70 decals per sheet, depending on the size. That digital document is sent to the printer in Stoke-on-Trent, where it's printed and posted to me within a week.
Each decal is hand-cut out of the sheet, soaked in warm water for 30 seconds to release the backing paper, place on the glazed pot and gently rubbed with a squeegee to remove air or water bubbles. The pots require a third firing, to 840C, to secure the decals.
Whilst the point of developing decals was to have a more efficient decoration method, this technique still requires hours of work. The decals and pots pass through my hands many times. The decal positioning is more nuanced than I expected - I tried to hand over the job to my student helper, but even a few millimetres of angle can change the design significantly. Somewhat guiltily I do often pass on the job of cutting over to my helpers - thank you Katie and Hannah!
Painting is my favourite part of the making process - always has been - but if I'm repeating the same illustration on 40 (or 60, or 80) pots I'm naturally going to get bored and frustrated. I would hate to start dreading the best part of the making process, so the decals help me to prevent that. Background colours are still hand-painted by me directly onto the clay, but most illustrations are now decals.
The decals have also allowed me to take on more branded work, like mugs for Flo the Coffee Van and Mother T's, and cups for Roots Beverage Co.
Props to my printer Digital Ceramics in Stoke and Mariko Paterson of Forage Studios in Canada - she's a brilliant (and hilarious) source of decal knowledge.
P.S. tech stuff: I'm using Magenta set decals over Sneyd Ceramics clear stoneware gloss glaze, fired to 840C with a 15 min soak. Currently 100C/h, but I'm probably being a wuss and should make it a faster firing. Okay, bye.
You are very warmly invited to join PineWood Studio Furniture and myself for our annual festive shindig at the end of November! Christmas shopping whilst drinking mulled wine. Awesome, yeah?
With the help of my assistant (read: minion (Hi Katie!)), I packed up half of my studio and drove it across the Island, to ensconce myself in the Douglas Market Hall as MakeMarket Potter-in-Residence for a week. Like many ambitious ideas, it sounded awesome seven months earlier and then as 'moving' day approached, I seriously questioned my sanity. Why did I offer to do it? What possessed me to think that relocating my workspace for five days at the time of year when I should be making for the Food Festival, and drawing up serious Christmas stock plans, was an inspired idea?! Thankfully the residency worked out beautifully enough to placate that whiny voice in my head.
I'd never thrown in public before, let alone tried talking to someone (coherently) whilst throwing. Anxiety reigned before starting work on the first morning - heightened by the presence of two videographers, ready to document me messing up, of course - but thankfully eased as I began throwing. Though I consider throwing to be my weakest skill in the making process (ironic huh), focussing on the task and not screwing up proved that I'm far more able than I gave myself credit for. A steady flow of visitors kept me happily occupied throughout the five days whilst I threw, trimmed and decorated 40 pots. You'll be pleased to know that I can officially talk and throw proficiently at the same time!
Lovely things happened. Small children were totally enthralled by my throwing. It was magic to them. On Saturday morning I spotted a bloke with a camera walk to the Hall doorway, kneel down, take a photo then walk away. Two days later an email from Chris Jackson landed in my inbox with this photo attached:
Running a full-time business is notorious for stifling creativity, and naturally I want to avoid that. Residencies give creatives the opportunity to temporarily work in a location other than their own studios, which often allows for more intense periods of work and can be an escape from repetitive tasks.
The Market Hall is a very public building; not only does it house a cafe and a butcher, there are also very popular public toilets! Regardless of specific events, the Hall has regular footfall. As I made and decorated pots, dozens of people walked past. Some were intrigued; they might slow down or stop to take a closer look. Some wanted to talk, not necessarily about pots. Lots said 'oh I did that in school years ago!' or 'I'd love to have a go at that'. Plenty of people ignored me. Or asked where to find the toilets...!
That social interaction was a significant challenge for me. I work alone, and I LOVE that. Solitude is a happy place for me. But I'm aware that, like too much of anything, it can be limiting. Somewhat perversely, I've discovered that working outside of my comfort zone sparks great stuff in my head. I'm certainly not alone in that experience and it's by no means an original concept, but I still don't much like it.
I have a whole new appreciation for the UCM art students and staff who work in the building during term time. Creating and exhibiting artwork, particularly as a student, in a public place is a vulnerable experience. I can't think of a better way to learn how to embrace that discomfort, and learn how to use it one's advantage. Working in the Market Hall for five days undoubtedly boosted my confidence, and I sincerely hope that the students benefit similarly in their years of study.
I'd like to extend HUGE thanks to Helen Fox of University College Isle of Man, Kate + Sam from Revel, Suzy from Coburg Communications, and Louisa the intern for all of their help, promotion and encouragement (plus massive kudos to them all for pulling MakeMarket together!).
More thanks to my assistant Katie for helping with the relocation, the tech boys for the fab video (they had only good intentions and I'm sure would have deleted the footage had I actually messed up), Deb Turk for popping in on THREE days to take a stack of beautiful photos, and to ALL the lovely visitors - you were SO enthusiastic! And many of you brought food and coffee, kudos.
Creative Industries have a bright future on this Island.
As part of MakeMarket - A Creative Industries Takeover, I'll be creating a pop-up studio in Douglas Market Hall, to be a potter-in-residence from Wednesday 3rd 'til Sunday 7th August!
I'm planning to make a small collection of pots inspired by the historic building, it's features, patterns, colours, and the surrounding Quayside area.
I normally work very privately, so this is a rare opportunity (or social experiment...!) for me to interact with the public whilst working, and for visitors to see behind-the-scenes of how a potter works, as well as learn more about the design and production process.
Some more info about MakeMarket:
MakeMarket is a Creative Industries Takeover at Douglas Market Hall featuring a summer programme of hands-on workshops, demos, talks, pop-up studios and practical advice for established or aspiring creatives and anyone interested in the creative use of space.
MakeMarket focuses on creativity and how it stimulates the surrounding economy, and aims to create a collaborative and shared space where anyone can learn about and be involved in creative thinking, design and problem solving. A space where ideas come together and resources are shared. A thought factory where ideas flourish.
A place to make, discuss, market and exhibit skills.
See you in the Market Hall! Feel free to bring coffee/lunch/chocolate...!
On the Isle of Man, the first week of June heralds the TT; motorbike races that attract about 45,000 fans (for context, our population is approx. 85,000. Uh huh.), and generally create two weeks of chaos. People go nuts for it. Seeing so many happy tourists on our little island stirs some kind of pride in me, but sadly there are many, many accidents and deaths in this fortnight. My studio is on the course, so I've learnt to stay well away during race week and I've been contentedly hiding at home to plough through admin work. The job list included 'BLOG', so here I am!
Since we last spoke, I've attended three Food Assembly collections! I've been so impressed by the customer enthusiasm. I thought it might take a few months of me bringing pots to the collection for people to see them in real life before purchasing, but I've had orders from existing and new customers from the start! Thank you. My customers are ace.
Also, there's pizza. Sourdough pizza. It's glorious. And I get to hang out in Noa for 2 hours with other local creative entrepreneurs like Roots Bev Co., the Apple Orphanage and Betty Pie Co. YAY.
I managed a quick visit to Silverdale last month - having spent years making art inspired by it, I only realised earlier this year that I can consider the area to be my muse. So it was lovely to lay eyes on my muse for the first time in far too long. It's especially beautiful when the trees are in leaf.
As well as making for shops and events, I've had a few commissions on the go. These dinner plates were requested for a lovely local lady from a faraway friend. The fox and rooster were a fun illustration challenge. Projects like this are the best part of my job, and I'm so grateful for them.
'Make bigger pots' is an ongoing goal for me, but justifying the shelf and kiln space can be tricky, as I can fit a dozen pourers in the space of a big dish. I squeezed this sexy beast in last month, and I am SO pleased with it. It's not as big as I want (approx. 8cm high and 19cm wide), but to me it's a mighty good step in the right direction. It's available in my Etsy shop, should you be tempted (or just want to see more photos, that's cool too!).
My illustrations - or the framework for them - have been rather structured for 2 years or so, with either fine double banding at the base or a wide single band of colour to create a ground level, and the elements - animals, houses, trees - placed above that. It's refreshing to give myself permission to be messy. I've wanted to attempt these loose, layered colour blocks for at least a year - my sketchbook pages are full of them. I tentatively made a few 'messy' cups for the Art Festival, and at least half sold (and attracted the most attention), so I'm taking that as a sign to run with it. I'll leave you with one my favourite new plates:
This week has passed in a post-festival haze. Relishing the reclaimed solitude of the studio, pulling it back into a working format, photographing pots to list on the Food Assembly and eventually Etsy, catching up on a long-neglected inbox, uploading Festival photos to Facebook, throwing dinner plates (and odd eggcups...), trimming (the plates dried in the sunshine today (YEAH, really!), making it a much quicker process), making spoons, working out production lists.
New designs were well-received over the weekend, with many of my favourites selling quickly - always a good omen! These green patterns are inspired by the Island's fields, seen either from the hills or the air. They make an intriguing patchwork. Using 3 or 4 greens at various dilutions, I'm pleased with the uneven coverage in each 'field'. I unearthed some ancient ceramic pencils, which vaguely lay out the field boundaries before painting, but work better on bisque-fired clay, so I added some extra detailing before glazing.
The watercolour-esque effect allows for layering of either hand-painted illustrations or decals.
Tiny details that amuse me; those blue triangles originate from my old daffodil pattern - rotated 90 degrees without stems.
I want my work to be very much grounded in the place in which it is made, but to avoid the cliches. Some of my illustrations are more obvious; the Manx cottages, the loaghtan. I worry that those designs can be too commercial and lack soul, but the diffused and abstracted field-inspired backgrounds could rein that in.
It's going to be a good summer of making. Oh yes.