Author: Tilla Waters

Our studio will be open to the public from July 22nd – 30th as part of the Tywi Valley Open Studios. 

We did it for the first time last year (you may remember my post about it) and were impressed by the variety of visitors and reasons to visit: some were neighbours wanting to call in for a chat; some were discerning collectors looking for treasure; some were ceramics students wanting to quiz us about our practice… and some used it as an excuse to explore unseen parts of our beautiful area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The workshop will be functioning as usual so visitors may well find James throwing, turning, glazing etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And we will have brought down the pots from the store room and arranged them on shelves nicely. There will be lots of seconds; old work and experiments at tempting prices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are some excellent members in our group: here are three of my favourites (click on them to see their websites).

Tim Lake Ceramics

Lil Tudor-Craig

Jacob Buckland

If you would like to come to the Open Studios please click on the website link for more information or email me your postal address if you would like me to send you a brochure.

Thank you for reading and perhaps see you soon!

 

 

Teapots have a special appeal for potters; it’s a challenge to unite all the parts into one harmonious whole. Teapots have just one function to perform – but it’s a demanding one.

And they seem to have personalities.

The teapots we’re making now are very different to our first ones…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2007. Decorated porcelain.

Note that there is colour on the knobs but not the feet of these rather curious beasts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012. Decorated porcelain.

We made the first generation of these for CAL (Ceramic Art London) and sold them all during the event. The grey / orange colourway became a favourite and the decoration here is intricate but confident. The spout is small and high to leave room for the decoration, without compromising function. The matt (black) details became something of a signature in our work during this period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013. Plain porcelain.

There is a satisfying contrast here between the crisp precision of the matt colours (foot rings and knob) and the soft fluidity of the glaze wave. In a way, this contrast highlights one of the most appealing aspects of ceramics for me: the control in the making stage and the unpredictability in the kiln. Our porcelain glazes had a fine, ethereal quality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013. Coloured stoneware / porcelain.

We were selected for the British Ceramics Biennial and made this tea set for it. We had been using un-glazed coloured clay for a body of non-functional work and wanted to feed the things we’d learned during that project into our domestic ware. I remember thinking it brought together the best of our skills: James’s making and my design. Its austerity is perhaps a bit out of place for something as homely / bourgeois as a tea set but we have used this teapot’s twin for years and become very fond of it.

stoneware cup and teapot by James and Tilla Waters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015. Decorated stoneware.

This one is something of a hybrid in having the red details (now I’d call it a hang-over) from the porcelain days combined with the more traditional earthy ruggedness of reduction-fired stoneware. The mid-tone of the clay body makes a nice “ground” for bold, tonal decoration – which I was applying entirely in rotation on the wheel – no circles yet!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017. Plain stoneware.

Most of our work at the moment is plain: un-decorated and glazed in a single colour. We have stopped adding coloured details and like the quiet simplicity. This is our celadon glaze. It is fired in reduction and its colour comes from iron oxide. For me it has the right level of character – it is interesting in a subtle way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017. Decorated stoneware.

I’m torn between the calm simplicity of plain work and a deep seated urge to decorate things but I think I’ve reconciled the two pretty well here in this teapot which came out of the kiln a few weeks ago. The decoration is ultra pared-down and I’ve embraced the texture and colour offered by the raw, un-glazed clay body.

This blog post is an adaptation of a series of posts I published on facebook recently.

Thank you for reading and you can see more of our teapots here.

Suddenly there are flowers everywhere.  I’ve been bringing them into the house and although I have lots of vases, many of them weren’t designed to be used as a vase. These are some of my favourites:

1My brother was an avid bottle hunter as a teenager and this is one he found in a bottle dump in the 1970s.

2We found this tiny glass bottle in the garden; it’s perfect for hedgerow flowers.

3

I bought this beaker by Rupert Spira from CAA in London in the early 90s, I was a student and remember it seemed terribly expensive. I never use it to drink from but love it as a vase.

4This is one of our large tenmoku pourers – I think it complements these beautiful white narcissi perfectly.

 

5I bought this Derek Wilson pot from him at Ceramic Art London several years ago. I just liked it and had a hunch it would make a good vase.

 

6This is an early James (made during apprenticeship?) It doesn’t exactly declare its intended function but he used it to test one of his own glaze recipes (copper red) and I use it for short stemmed strong coloured flowers – including sweet peas later in the year.

 

7And last but not least: the trusty soy sauce bottle – perfect for medium height single stem flowers (especially yellow ones).

 

I hope you too are enjoying Spring.

 

2017-02-01 10.50.10

I gave this book to James for Christmas (yes – it was for me really). In the Autumn we delivered work to Oxford Ceramics where we found a beautiful black and white tea set by Lucie Rie. We were allowed to handle the pieces and eventually left the gallery thoroughly charmed and inspired by them.

160907_OCG_LR-Cups_0050

cups and saucers at Oxford Ceramics

These days one of the things I enjoy about biographies is the historical context; the packaging around the person. Lucie was the same age as my Granny and both were in London during the war, stoically doing what they could to be of use. After the war, the concept of Studio Ceramics was in its infancy which makes for fascinating comparisons with our experience of it now.

54c06afb20e1c_-_lucie-rie-art

Portrait of Lucie Rie by Hansi Bohm

It occurred to me that one of the reasons for her work developing the way it did was due to her unusual technique of applying the glazes with a brush, then single firing. It is much more typical to dip or pour glaze onto a biscuit fired pot, then fire it a second time. Lucie Rie’s method must have required much closer involvement; it would have taken longer to apply the glaze and demanded much gentler handling. Different coloured bands would have appeared as an inevitable part of the process as she was painting slips and glazes onto a bowl centred on the wheel. I suspect it would naturally follow that this approach would lead her to experiments with mark-making and materials.

Circumstances played an interesting role: when she started making pots she had to cycle her work across Vienna to fire it, so single fired in order to minimize the amount of travelling. By the time she set up her studio in London, complete with kiln, single-firing had simply become the way she was used to working. (She was Austrian, Jewish and escaped to London in 1938.)

2017-02-01 10.58.33

 

Hans Coper was also a key influence. They were both modernists, influenced by The Bauhaus and contemporary Architecture rather than seeing themselves as part of a ceramics tradition as Bernard Leach and Michael Cardew did. Coper must have been a most welcome kindred spirit and given her confidence in her own ideas about how to work as a potter.

I found it refreshing that Tony Birks, despite obviously having been a huge fan, pointed out examples of Rie’s work that he didn’t like. There were also several (different ones) which, despite being a huge fan, I don’t like. The point is that she was incredibly inventive and experimental so there were bound to be a few misses amongst the hits. And for me the “misses” (I feel a bit rude calling them that) are helpful encouragement to take risks, follow hunches etc.

She was also a perfectionist. I was reassured and amused to read that “she signed her name over 250 times to get a really good signature for the cover of this book.” I’ll have to remember that next time I want to accuse James of splitting hairs!

 

 

 

 

 

We haven’t done any fairs this Autumn because we’ve been busy with plate commissions.

flatware-orders-nov-2016-full

They have been made possible by our wonderful new kiln which arrived from Germany in October.

2016-11-03-12-17-55

If you’ve been missing our work please remember that we have excellent outlets in the UK.

yellow-group

If you can’t get to any of our retailers you could always visit our online shop.

chun-medium-plate-1

Happy browsing and Happy Christmas!

As colours go, yellow is complicated. I’m wary of it in clothing (not very flattering against pale skin) and is probably my least favourite colour for flowers (too brash against green). Yet I like it on walls – it can make a room feel warm and sunny. In the abstract I find it happy and uplifting and it can be lovely on a pot.

There is a long tradition of yellow in ceramics: the Chinese were producing yellow glazes on porcelain in the C16th (low-fired using lead and iron). Although it was rare and reserved for the Emperor.

8495ae8bfbe4a8de3bacefbf49d7c3e8-1

A yellow glazed incised dish, China, Ming dynasty.

In the UK, yellow ware or “canaryware” was produced in the early C19th, again low-fired using toxic lead and antimony (and often causing blisters on the fingers of the factory workers who applied it). It is now very popular with collectors in America.

silver_lustreware_canary_ware_child_mug_vertical_leaf_vine_decoration04

C19th canaryware mug with lustre decoration

Studio potters today are more likely to take their inspiration from (two of my favourites) the Danish potter Inger Rokkjaer (1934 – 2008) whose clean forms are raku-fired and have a sense of warmth and humanity (below left). Or the seductively modernist work of Lucie Rie (1902 – 1995) who’s uranium oxide yellow glaze is bright yet soft (below right).

 

160318_ocg_ir_0103-jpgcr                   download-jpgrie

During our apprenticeship I remember Rupert saying he wanted to make a buttery yellow glaze, then a few years after we left I saw this image of a tea set and was stunned by its elegance and minimalism.

rupert-spira-tea-set

A yellow tea set by Rupert Spira

Generally glaze colours today are much safer and easier to achieve thanks to commercially prepared stains, although we still carry out a lot of glaze tests to find the right stain, concentration, opacity, thickness and firing temperature.

yellow test tiles, line blends and test beakers

Yellow glaze test tiles, line blends and test beakers

This is our yellow glaze, which I think is particularly nice on mugs. As one of our Instagram followers said: “a great way to brighten up the morning”. We haven’t made many yet but there are a few available in our shop.

yellow breakfast mug by James and Tilla Waters

Yellow breakfast mug by James and Tilla Waters

James, Tilla, Elke

Since March we have had Elke living and working with us as an apprentice. It is working out really well and I thought you might like to hear about it so I asked her some questions…

What made you want to come to Wales and learn with us?

I knew about your work from an article in Ceramic Review 2010. The article included a photograph of the landscape you live in and I sensed a connection between the multicoloured lines of the glazes on the beakers and jars and the lines and the colours of the landscape. These photographs changed my perception of functional ceramics and glazes and they made me want to learn how to make functional work with this special quality you feel but can´t name.

The article also mentioned that you have Fine Art degrees and did apprenticeships after graduating. As I am currently doing a Master’s degree at the University of Arts in Linz/ Austria I thought that we might share a visual language / have a similar approach to creativity and realised that we have something in common.

 

How much experience of clay did you have before you came here?

 I started working with clay in 2008 at a local evening class. In 2009 I did a 2 month work-exchange with the ceramicist Sandy Brown in Devon where I learned about slab building and the creative process in general. These experiences made me want to work in clay in a more professional way, so I applied to the University of Arts in Linz in the Departement of Plastical Conceptions/ Ceramics.  During my time at university I began to work in a more 2-dimensional and conceptual way and I did less work in ceramics but I funded my studies by working in an Austrian pottery which made tiles and decorative objects. We also did restoration work on ceramic tiles which really fascinated me.

So, to answer your question: Yes, I did have experience of working with clay but not in throwing or in glaze techniques.

 

Is there anything that you’ve found surprising or not what you were expecting?

Yes. It is surprising for me that working AND living together with you and your family is easier than I thought. Before I came to your home I was a bit concerned that it could be difficult to be so close all the time.  I also could not imagine how it would be being apprenticed to a couple. However I find it easy, feel part of your family. At the same time I am very aware of the fact that our relationship is work based. I feel quite lucky being apprenticed not to one but to two professionals in the field of ceramics.

The thing which I find most surprising at the moment is how my taste in ceramic objects has changed. I realise now, that what I like to use is often not the object I am drawn to at first sight. I also recognise that in making something it is very important that one has the joy of using it afterwards in mind.

 

How does the balance of give and take work between us?

 I think it is best to describe the structure of an average working day to better understand how the give and take in our relationship works. My working day begins at around half past nine. We meet in the kitchen or outside (depending on the weather) for a cup of tea and talk about what is going to happen during the day. Usually I work for you until lunchtime. This work depends very much on what is needed to be done at a certain time. For example, you asked me to do some research work on Jun glazes so I spent time in front of the computer and also read about Jun glazes in a book and tried out recipes I found. I produced test tiles, which were fired, and afterwards we discussed the results. On other days I recycle clay; wedge and knead it, or after a glaze firing I help to finish the fired work by smoothing its edges.

In the afternoon I am free to do my own work; usually throwing on the wheel working on my own project. My first project was to make small coffee-cups where I learned to throw a specific form, to make handles, to fix them onto the form then to glaze them. I am learning by observing you in the workshop as well as by asking you, but also reflecting on work or glaze tests which come out of the kiln.

On average a working day for me ends between 5 and 6 pm.

So the progress of my learning depends mainly on my desire to learn.. I have the feeling that you are happy to share your knowledge and skills.

img_0593

What has been the hardest part of the apprenticeship so far?

I think one of the hardest parts for me is to take responsibility for my own learning. Although I am used to working on my own in my artistic work I find it hard to both learn a new skill and at the same time use it in my own project. Everything develops in parallel and sometimes I produce things I don´t like. It´s hard to accept making mistakes.

 

 

What do you enjoy most?

I enjoy nearly everything in my time as an apprentice with you. First of all I enjoy your clear structure of the day: it is clear when we start, when we have lunch, when there is teatime and supper. I also like the working day beginning part, when the tasks for a day are talked over. I enjoy the way you teach me. I like being included in your creative process and have been able to learn through real situations.

I also find the working atmosphere in the workshop very pleasant. It can sometimes be quiet or with the radio in the background. In general it feels peaceful and relaxed – a comfortable place to work in.

 

What are you working on at the moment?

 At the moment I am working on lidded jars for spices – a project where I work on the cylindrical shape, the splitting of a rim, the fitting together of forms and on surface decoration with letters and symbols.

 

What will you take away with you at the end?

I will take with me the joy and the skill of throwing a shape  and  analysing what I have done with my hands to make it. I also feel more able to reflect on shapes and glazes now and I think I have already gained a higher sensitivity in the use of functional ceramic objects. I recognize that I am asking more questions already: e.g. why do I like to use this mug more than the other one? What is it that I like about it?

I have also gained a more sophisticated understanding of shape and colour; how different coloured ceramics influence each other; the relationships between colour, shape and scale. I guess there are many more things I will take with me which I am not conscious of at the moment.

What  I am sure about is, I am taking with me a great motivation and curiosity to find out more about ceramic work for everyday use and the pleasure of living with handmade pieces.

 

Thank you Elke!

 

 

 

gravel garden

We’ve just completed a nine day period of “Open Studio” as part of the Towy Valley Open Studios. As new members of the group we didn’t know what to expect or whether we’d do it again next year.

A London craft fair we did years ago carried the by-line “Find it. Love it. Buy it.” I thought that summed up pretty well the thrill of buying; the consumer addiction which we’re all touched by. And as an exhibiter, the perception of success or failure can sometimes be reduced to a single figure of total sales.

All the public events we do are a series of meetings, conversations, impressions etc. which can’t be quantified and I felt that particularly strongly during the Open Studios. I asked lots of our visitor about their experiences at other studios and realised it was still about “Find it. Love it, perhaps buy it, but “it” was also many things that money can’t buy.

The first “it” to find was the studio; providing an opportunity for a treasure hunt following numbered yellow arrows around our picturesque countryside – an excuse to explore narrow lanes and private tracks. I heard of a studio in the most amazing setting with stunning views; I heard of a maker who is “a total Sweetie”. Many of our visitors delighted me with compliments for our garden; many watched James throwing and learned about our making processes; some felt warm pots as we unpacked a kiln. We met new neighbours and potential friends. People came for many different reasons and it was lovely to meet all of them.

If you’re one of them, thank you (and I think we will do it again next year).

 

 

dec. beaker

It has over a hundred products listed, many of which are unique and all are totally handmade by James and me. Shopping is easy (you can pay by bank transfer or use paypal) and prices start at £20.00 for this lovely decorated stoneware beaker which was added today.

Click here to have a look.

We’ll be in Devon at Bovey Tracey Craft Fair

We’re hoping the lovely weather holds till next weekend, June 10th – 12th as we’ll be exhibiting for the first time at Bovey Tracey. It is an established event with a good reputation and lots of quality makers. I’m particularly looking forward to showing some gorgeous new large bowls and serving plates, cute coffee cups as well as my ceramic necklaces.

tenmoku coffee cups by James and Tilla Waters

large shallow bowl

If you are in the area do come and say hello or if not, remember that our online shop is a convenient way to buy and always well stocked.

Thanks for reading!

new glaze colours

Yellow, white, lilac, tenmoku, celadon and persimmon glazes.

Recently in the workshop I’ve been sniffing out potential recipes for the new stoneware work.

Thinking that the stoneware suits a more traditional, rustic look than our porcelain has lead me to classic glazes like celadon, tenmoku, chun. Even the names are seductive: these glazes have been used and loved so much that they’re not called just black, green, blue. They have places, stories and history associated with them and when traditional thrown forms (as many of ours are) are combined with classic glazes, there is often a sense of “rightness”.

I had a different approach with our old porcelain glazes; they were about the pleasure of colour, usually relying on modern commercially prepared glaze stains for colour rather than metal oxides and combinations of basic raw materials. I suspect that my interest in current trends (I’m loathe to use the word “fashion”) influenced our glaze palette and appealed to our customers accordingly. I have always wanted our work to look contemporary: there are some potters around today who are highly skilful in making traditional pots in traditional ways (wood-fired, ash glazed etc.) but I have no interest in trying to replicate pots seen in museums made in a previous age.

So my challenge is to find glazes which have that quiet rightness; which suit the rustic quality of the clay and our hand-made process and would be at home in a stylish, modern context. This group has the traditional celadon, tenmoku and persimmon glazes alongside lilac and yellow which are a little more bright and clean. It’s important that each glaze is nice on its own and within the group. Not all of these recipes are finalised and in production yet, there’s a bit more fine tuning to be done (and there is a chun in the pipeline) but I think we’re getting close and I like using a bit of old and a bit of new.

We have a small group of stoneware in our online shop and if you’re in London a selection of pieces from the range can also be purchased at The New Craftsmen in Mayfair.