Up to 50% off in our website January sale.
Happy New Year!
Up to 50% off in our website January sale.
Happy New Year!
Sometimes it’s hard to choose, especially if you’re choosing for someone else, so you might like to consider one of our new gift vouchers. They are available as paper or email versions and are very easy to use.
We’re also offering 20% off everything on our website (excluding gift vouchers) until midnight on Sunday December 13th.
Happy Christmas and Happy Shopping!
October 22nd – 25th
I’m very excited at the prospect of showing my necklaces for the first time in London. I started making them about two years ago and gave a few to friends and family as Christmas presents and have continued this creative venture, alongside making pots, ever since. I will also be bringing a selection of pots.
Please let me know if you would like us to send you a 2 for 1 ticket for Made London.
October 31st – November 1st 11am – 6pm.
The following weekend will be a very different kind of selling event. Being great believers in creative experiments yet sticklers for perfection has meant that we’ve accumulated a large number of pots considered too good for the bin but not right for shops and galleries. I know we’re a long way from most of you, but anyone who does make it will be rewarded with some real bargains, and if I know James, some tasty refreshments.
When opening our twitter account last year, I gave very little thought to our bi-line, which reads,
“We are studio potters. Torn between love of purity and love of decoration. We’ve made quite a few mugs.”
I think I hit the nail on the head about being torn…
I love the purity of a single colour, the clean unfussiness giving full voice to the character of the glaze. Strong and resolved. The relationship between surface and form is easy; even with bright colours there’s harmony. There aren’t any awkward issues about matching / not going with / looking out of place. Plain glazed work almost seems to have the moral high ground; didn’t Michael Cardew say that a pot was 80% form and 20% decoration? The minimalism fits with a modern aesthetic, yet is classic – won’t ever look dated.
When visiting the V&A I’m always struck by the natural elegance of decoration on pottery from Asia and the Middle East.
It can make me think there’s no point in even trying. And yet, I have a really strong desire to add decoration to our pots. I don’t think it’s just because I don’t make the pots and I want to leave my mark on them, but leather hard clay provides a fantastic ground for mark-making: brushing, sponging, carving and scratching all work beautifully. Although my strengths lie in surface treatment, I do enjoy working with the given form and pride myself on being able to avoid “wall papering”. And I think my decorative style has played a significant part in giving our work a strong, distinctive look.
However (this is the torn part) James and I have never found it easy to accommodate plain and decorated work side by side. We are most aware of the problem when selecting work for galleries and planning displays at craft fairs. We want to show the breadth of our range whilst also wanting coherence. The decorated work has a white ground (porcelain), which is unsympathetic to the plain colours. We separate them into two groups and each group is happier but the whole isn’t coherent. It’s a problem we’ve been aware of for years without feeling able to address… until now.
Over the last six months we’ve been wanting to move away from porcelain to something earthier and more characterful; a clay body that would lend itself to a more relaxed style of throwing for James and simpler decoration for me. So we’ve been trying out various stoneware clays and firing them in reduction. Below is a snap shot of the shelf in the workshop where we put the pots that we think are going in the right direction. And I can’t help thinking that the decorated pots are mingling happily with the plains.
There is a recurring motif in our recent cylindrical forms and jug forms: the grille, and with our forthcoming exhibition at Snug Gallery I wanted to share some thoughts on this motif.
Initially, our Cylindrical Forms had two contrasting elements: top and bottom which met at a point usually below the middle of the cylinder; it was tempting to interpret this point as the “horizon” and therefore the top element as sky and the bottom element as land (or sea).
Then a third contrasting element arrived – initially in the form of a circle – and the circle seemed like a subject to punctuate and inhabit the landscape. The circle had stability and beautiful purity; the universality of the sun or moon.
Now the Cylindrical Forms have become Jug Forms. They are taller and therefore seem to require an elongated motif. The lipped form suggests containing and pouring a liquid. The grille motif is often inclined, de-stabilised with the idea of pouring.
The grille is a development of the label motif, which is the outline of a rectangle with rounded corners. The grille has the same outline but is partially filled-in with evenly spaced, parallel lines, giving it a mechanical, solid but transparent quality. Its role is to interact with the other two (upper and lower) elements.
I realise that I have attributed qualities to the three elements which have made them more meaningful to me. I see the upper part as fairly inert and neutral (gas); the lower element as (liquid) random, exciting and dangerous and the grille as (solid) order and control.
Different forms provide a variety of contexts for the grille: sometimes the grille struggles to exist and sometimes it is strong and buoyant. It is the relationships between the elements that animate the forms.
The sideboard has been central to nearly all of our stand designs at Craft Fairs for several years now. It was small, understated – gently modernist – and this felt in sympathy with the pots that we were showing. I customised the inside to accommodate slim wooden boxes with just sufficient headroom to fit the various shapes of tableware that we took to shows – we could fit an amazing amount of work in it, all neatly tucked away, hidden behind closed doors. Tidy.
At Ceramic Art London 2015 the sideboard stayed at home. We felt the need for a change of ‘look’, something less buttoned-up. We didn’t want to hide pots anymore. For me this urge started when Tilla took her necklaces to Hereford Craft Fair last year. For once I wasn’t involved in the stand design or construction – it was totally her show. There were no feats of on-site carpentry – she pinned pieces of paper and fabric to the walls. Putting it up and taking it down were easy and relaxed. I really liked its style and this made me think differently about the solid, clean-lined, ‘fitted’ stands that hitherto I had taken some pride in making.
My imagination spiralled into extremes. In my dreams I arrived at CAL in a pick-up truck piled with old planks and crates and, using a hammer, nails, and a large ball of strong twine knocked up a freestyle, spontaneous construction. God knows how the pots were going to fit in to this idea …
Thankfully Tilla is less prone to such extremes. This year we found ourselves a trestle table.
I like its informality. We still used some of the wooden boxes that I made for the sideboard but, sitting under the table, this time not kept totally out of sight. Tilla designed some shelves that hang on strings (echoes of the strong twine…). Very un-James, but to my surprise I was quite converted.
But in this story the trestle table has another angle of influence. Like the sideboard we found it on Ebay. It arrived in a ridiculously huge lorry and the driver, handing it down to me, reassured me that it « …wasn’t heavy… ». It was only the following day that the sciatic pain started.
Sometimes it is good to take a break from work. But it is difficult to justify and often uncomfortable in the questions and doubts that it can reveal. Injuring my back gave me no choice but to take a break – no throwing for 2 months. It has thrown up difficult questions and uncovered doubts. It also feels like an opportunity to make a fresh start. The era of the trestle table.
On Saturday (March 28th) I’ll be in Bath for the Selvedge Spring Fair.
I spent a few hours today planning my stand. I’ll be showing predominantly my ceramic bead necklaces, with pots in the minority. It feels very different – partly because I’m doing it on my own – this is much more my show rather than a joint enterprise with James. Necklaces and pots make an unusual combination but I like seeing the relationship and hope the visitors will like my display.
As someone who for as long as they can remember has loved neutral colours (see “glaze colours and their names”), I’m surprised to feel myself currently drawn to – not to say obsessed with – pale, bright greens.
No doubt the French names have played their part in casting the spell… could it be also partly the time of year; tired of bare branches now and yearning for young foliage? Looking at the branches and seeing some of them not bare but covered in lichens?
Although both colours are “clean” rather than “sludgy” they are however, hard to pin down; verdigris in particular. It belongs to the perennial “is it blue or is it green” debate. The name is misleading as I see no “gris” in it but a lot of “bleu”. In its original form of oxidised copper it is variable and mottled. Hard to pin down colours appeal for that very reason: they are intriguing, slippery, complex.
Another dimension to the complexity of this colour is that I am cautious of it. I would not wear it, I don’t think I would eat it (arsenic?). I wouldn’t want large quantities of it anywhere and I’m not sure how long my obsession with it is going to last. I suspect it’s fashionable and I’m attracted to but wary of that too.
In the workshop I’ve done a line blend of a new glaze stain which I can’t stop looking at. We’ve yet to decide what to do with it but I’m sure that it’ll start appearing on pots somehow before very long.
A visitor to our stand at a craft fair recently commented: “I can see a bit of perfectionism going on here!” On reflection we decided that the comment wasn’t entirely complimentary. People expect hand- made objects to look hand made. If it took four times as long to make and costs twice as much as the mass produced equivalent but ends up more or less the same, what’s the point?
James and I are perfectionists with our pots. James hates pots which go ovoid in the kiln and I hate decoration that has blurred or bleached under the glaze. James probably spends longer on each mug handle than it takes some potters to make a whole mug. Of course we are constantly trying to be more efficient but not if it means making less nice pots. The reward of finding in the kiln an exquisitely perfect pot is hugely motivating.
Is Perfectionism learned or innate? One of the first things I learnt on my apprenticeship to the potter, Rupert Spira was how to use a packing tape dispenser without creasing the tape. I packed a lot of boxes for him and although at the time probably thought he was a bit fussy, I too now can’t stand messy tape. I suspect perfectionism was latent in me waiting to be developed.
Towards the end of my apprenticeship, Rupert gave me a little test. He took out all thirteen mugs from his kitchen cupboard and put them on the table telling me that one of them was his favourite which he always sought out to use himself. The test was to identify that mug. There were no obvious clues; at first glance they were all identical – all large mugs made by him, glazed in celadon. I found it through a process of elimination: using my sense of touch more than sight – does the handle feel nice? Is the weight in the right place to feel balanced? Is the rim smooth? Etc.
These qualities alone will not usually persuade someone to buy a mug. They are subtle qualities, but they will influence the decision of which mug to grab from the cupboard. (It’s not just because it’s the one which got put away last and is therefore nearest the front.)
So that is the point. A lot of people buy mugs which are cheap so that they don’t have to worry about breaking them. But thankfully for us, there are people for whom those subtle qualities of perfectionism matter.
People often ask how we design our pots. It’s easier to say what we don’t do: we don’t (usually) design on paper then translate into clay; we don’t (consciously) look for inspiration in nature. We prefer to say that they “evolve”…….which requires further explanation.
One of the things we like about throwing as a way of making is the flexibility it allows. If we decide to make a shape slightly bigger/smaller; straighter/more curved etc. then we can. Sometimes James asks for feedback on the first few freshly thrown shapes on the shelf and we might decide they need to be more like, say, the one in the middle. James keeps records of what he throws – the weight, the kind of clay and the dimensions when wet, so that he can return to preferred forms. This creates a “survival of the fittest” environment that is, in a way, akin to a process of evolution.
I consider James’ appreciation of form to be more finely tuned than mine, but I have the advantage of coming with fresh eyes. We usually agree on which shape we prefer; usually one simply looks more right than the others. We are keen that the pots should also be nice to use – which is a longer term test. We make a point of using the pots ourselves in the house. Whether or not we are drawn to use something in a real, functional context over an extended period of time is a telling test for any pot!
There is probably greater scope for innovation in my input with glazes and decoration. We are frequently trying out new glazes. Some of them don’t make it past the initial test tile stage, some of them are short-lived and some of them continue in production for years, with minor adjustments to the recipe along the way. Meanwhile, James hones his knowledge of the optimum thickness for each glaze and its optimum position in the kiln.
Decoration/mark-making/surface treatment has always been the part I love the most and shows the greatest degree of evolution. Leather hard clay is a wonderful surface to work on allowing me the techniques of sgraffito, brushwork, inlay and stencil. Initially I imposed the rule that I would do only wheel based decoration – as a way of ensuring integration of form and surface. In the last few years I’ve broken the rule. I’ve felt confident that I can decorate with sensitivity to the form and use a combination of wheel and freehand decoration resulting in a more playful / quirky look.
The images of the pourers below span eight years. They show development in form, decoration and photography. We only photograph the pots we’re most pleased with, so each image represents our best version at the particular time. I find it fascinating to look back at the evolution and wish I had a crystal ball.
Pourers 2008 – introducing coloured feet.
Pourers 2011 – introducing non wheel based decoration but still with rotational symmetry.
Pourers 2014 – introducing the circle motif and the idea of a front or “face”.
Small pourers in “slate” and “pond” glazes.
Our newest glaze is called “pond”. We have exercised ourselves almost as much with the name as the recipe itself, and more than we did with naming any of our children!
Ideally a colour name is an accurate reflection of the hue and also conveys an appropriate atmosphere or feeling. Whilst James and I place great value on clarity and simplicity in our work, there are certain colours which make that difficult. I have always loved “neutral” colours. My best example of a neutral colour is a television screen turned off (which I remember staring at for ages when little). The appeal of neutral colours is that they are both quiet and complex. They are easily influenced by their context and lighting and are …….difficult to name.
Farrow and Ball have embraced the fanciful with names like “elephant’s breath” and “dead salmon” presumably thinking that it matters more to be memorable than accurate. Of course colours are subject to fashion, but I suspect less so than the name used to label the colour. For example, currently “beige” is banished but “mink”, “taupe”, “stone”* etc. are plentiful.
With glazes we like the name to suit the transparency of colour, which is why “pond” won over its rival “donkey”. Slate (the material) differs from our glaze in being opaque not glassy, but we couldn’t think of another purpley grey. Our “smog” has the transparent atmospheric thing and “sap” conveys a fresh liquid transparency.
*Stone is surely the most stupid of colour names, I mean what kind of stone is it? Turquoise? But perhaps I’m being too literal – we all understand what people mean by “stone” in the way that we all understand “disabled toilet” or “sensitive toothpaste”. Beige is not OK so “stone” it is (we should know). I’m just waiting for the colour “plastic”.