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.
I'm thrilled to have joined the Isle of Man Food Assembly, a concept which brings together the best local farmers, bakers, fishmongers, pie makers and other special products in a single, simple online shop.
The idea is easy - purchase your food and drink (and pots!) from a variety of producers online, then collect from Noa Bakehouse during the set collection times!
This week's sale is available online 'til Monday evening, then collection will be at Noa Bakehouse on Wednesday 11th May, 5 - 7pm. I'm a late addition to this sale, thanks to Chris for squeezing me in after the Art Festival!
When you have an account, either select the 'Craft' category or scroll right to the bottom of the main sale page to find my pots: www.thefoodassembly.com
Here's a little preview of what's listed on the Food Assembly:
See you at Noa on Wednesday evening!
To be clear: this post is not intended as a whinge, it is a note to my future self on how to prepare better. And there are pretty pictures, so you can scroll straight down to those if you like.
The Isle of Man Art Festival was a culmination of many months of hard graft, both in my own practice and as the event publicity officer. It seemed to be a resounding success across the board, which I (and the whole committee, who equally if not more so have had their noses to the grindstone!) are very happy about! Hop over to the Creative Network Facebook page to see some excellent photos from the weekend.
By Wednesday last week my body was showing signs of pre-event wear; mouth ulcers, a minute but infuriating stye on my right eyelid, nightmares, and a higher-than-usual craving for chocolate. Standard reactions to working long hours, not sleeping well and feeling anxious. And to my despair, I forgot that Bonjela tastes like licorice.
Typically, I developed a sore throat, so was chugging down hot, soothing tea and religiously taking my Vicks nasel spray every 4 hours in an effort to fight off the potential cold. Miraculously it worked, and by Saturday morning I was bouncing and ready to greet festival-goers.
Saturday gave us the best weather and so was the busiest day by far, but there was a constant stream of festival-goers to the yard over the three days, with a good mix of loyal customers and new visitors.
Special thanks goes to Annabel (aka Flo the Coffee Van) for providing her ace ginger cake and flapjacks!
Our official festival photographer, Deb Turk, popped in on Monday and took these lovely shots - thank you Deb!
[all images above: Deb Turk]
Bizarrely, at the same time Mike Radcliffe popped in (there was a lot of camera envy going on), and he took some wonderful photos too! See them all here, on his Facebook page.
Should I tell you everything that had happened in the last two months? Really? I'm fairly embarrassed that I haven't tried harder to blog.
February, March and April have mostly looked this this: made some pots, had a birthday, surprise weekend in Belfast, festival meeting, France, in-laws, Cambridge, made some pots, festival meeting, made some pots, made some pots. I also picked a lot of windfall daffodils, which made me smile.
The BIG news is that I've been selected to participate in the inaugural mentorship programme organised by the Craft Potters Association, in partnership with Adopt a Potter. I've been paired with Helen Beard, an established and successful ceramicist based in Clerkenwell, London, who produces wheel-thrown and hand-illustrated porcelain pots. I've followed her work for YEARS, so I genuinely almost fell off my chair when I read the acceptance email. With thanks to help from the Isle of Man Arts Council, I've booked flights to visit Helen in June, then we'll follow up with Skype sessions. I'm very excited and grateful for the opportunity to learn from such a talented and respected maker.
It's taken far longer than I'd like to do these screen printing tests to check if the technique I learnt in Fremantle suits my clay and glaze, but I'm SO pleased it works! I'd love to develop layered designs of inlay, colour washes, screen prints and digital decals.
In two and a half weeks' time I'll be opening the studio for the Isle of Man Art Festival, so I'm in full re-stock mode. After clearing some Manx National Heritage consignments it's rather luxurious to look through my sketchbooks and pull together designs that I've been thinking about since the Christmas break. This week I found time to indulge in some mishima - scratching a design into the clay, painting over it and scraping off a layer of clay to reveal the fine lines of the illustration.
The Art Festival has also been front and centre of my schedule as I'm responsible for the event's publicity. That involves sprucing up the website, writing press releases, sending a lot of emails, and keeping the Facebook page vibrant and jumping with good stuff. Whilst all of these tasks are well within my skill-set, I haven't worked on a specific project of this size before. It's excellent experience, but I'm learning that I need to set more boundaries - yesterday I found myself wanting to post a photo on my Facebook page, but not having words for it as my voice has been dedicated to Festival promotions.
Last week saw the completion of a fun order - new merch for my favourite coffee van, Flo! Both Annabel (Flo's owner) and myself are super pleased with this batch of mugs. She's only had them for five days and half have sold already! This is my favourite flavour of project - collaborating with passionately dedicated small businesses. It's also particularly awesome when clients provide cake...!!
February is definitely turning out to be more fun than January. Told you so.
I'm experimenting with coffee scoops. Maree mentioned the idea of a ceramic coffee scoop to me last year. Maybe even the year before. I liked the concept but I thought a long handle was needed, which is totally impractical for functional ceramics. In my efforts to keep working through the cold January days, I returned to drinking coffee (hurray for caffeine!). Whilst sniffing the coffee jar one day I remembered Maree's suggestion and did some research into hand-crafted scoops. Most of the best designs are long handled and made in wood or metal, but a few short handled scoops gave me hope for a clay version. Quick sketches showed that the basic form I wanted was something to throw on the wheel, instead of pinching like my measuring spoons. With a little slab handle attached to each tiny bowl, the forms are most satisfying. I'm eager to get them glazed so I can test them!
This batch of fresh loaghtan sheep went to Manx National Heritage last week. I went through an odd phase last year of disliking these sweet sheep, resenting the repetitive work. My change of heart might be thanks to a break from them, or the warm reception the design has from my customers, but I rather delighted in painting this batch.
Look! Look! ACTUAL sunshine!
Indulging in painting a big (for me) dish, creating a little circular world. This is currently 27cm wide, but it will shrink by at least 2cm in the glaze firing, boo.
Long live the Spring sunshine.
Ah, Hello February, it's marvellous to see you.
January has long been my least favourite month. This year I allowed myself a few indulgences to push through it; slower mornings, short days in the studio to avoid driving in the dark, small batches of throwing, more caffeine (and chocolate). In drafting this post, it was immediately clear that I sound disillusioned, and maybe a bit princess-y. Apologies.
The studio was COLD in January. December had been perfectly pleasant seeing as I was firing the kiln most nights - my kiln heats the building and keeps it dry. But my workload slowed right down after Christmas and I'm down to one or two firings a week. I'd be tempted to take the whole month of January off, but I can't wait for warmer weather to come before I start making again - I could be waiting 'til mid-June.
I don't deal well with the cold. Upon my return home in 2013, the island was half-covered in freak snow drifts, and frozen for weeks. Combined with the despair of leaving the happy (and perpetually warm) life that I'd built for myself on the Gold Coast, the icy temperatures messed with my head. Even three years on, with a hundred things in my world that have changed for the better, if I feel cold for a prolonged period of time my mind rushes straight back to those sad times and rolls about in the misery. Extra socks, a jumper, a blanket, a hot water bottle and a large hot chocolate are the only remedy. Plus hugs, hugs help too.
With the exception of slightly longer days and a smidgen more sunshine, February isn't all that different to January. But it's my birthday month, so by default, it will be more fun. See? Total princess.
It's hard to avoid clichés when composing a long overdue blog post, especially when Christmas has passed in the gap. 'Time flies...', 'What a month...', 'Where does the time go...'. They're all rather boring, yet incredible easy to use.
I might try some honesty instead. I am tired. Five days of resting over Christmas has only served to allow my immune system to relax and let a virus in, leaving me with an uncontrollable dry cough that is wrecking my (and my boyfriend's) sleep. The elements of Christmas - time with Ed, slow and indulgent meals, prosecco and croissants for breakfast, movies, writing and drawing - were glorious, but I feel far from rested.
This festive season - my first as a full time potter - was brilliant despite the drama of a failed thermocouple in the kiln. New designs sold well, bespoke work was challenging and fulfilling, I pushed my production rates to provide stock for more outlets, Christmas in the Yard was ridiculously busy, I attended my first curated market in the UK. I stayed on top of jobs most days, with only occasional tears of frustration. I was mostly incredibly happy. I am deeply grateful to my customers for continuing to support me by purchasing my work and for being so patient (and for bringing cake).
From the beginning of November I abandoned most domestic duties and relied upon Ed to feed us and look after our home. He was willing to do that for me. His help comes without strings. Ed is the champion of this story. He believes in me and sacrifices his time to care for me, in turn helping me to achieve my goals.
I need to make changes before the next festive season. Whilst I adore my work, I need to focus on sustainability.
A particularly nice end-of-year treat: being featured in the first British-Irish Council Creative Industries sector report! Many thanks to Mike Reaney from DED for bringing the group to visit the studio back in February.