Saturday 10 November 2012

The Start of a New Job!!!!!! :)

I started a new job today! I'm working as a potter's assistant near Bristol train station in the run up to Christmas, helping finish work and run a stall at the Bath Christmas market. And it's paid!!!!! However, the best bit is that this stretch is actually mainly a trial run to see if the potter might want to hire me in the future, when I graduate, for a longer period/s. There is also the possibility of a pay rise. This is fantastic for me, as I'd been planning on getting a part time job to supply a steady income, while I try and make a career for myself in ceramics/art and it uses my expertise :)

The potter who has hired me is really nice and friendly, but seems quite quiet, and mainly had me making tree decorations using slabs of clay and cookie cutters, and also glazing "here's several I made earliers" for the kiln. I think he was still trying to get the measure of me after having met me when I visited the studio to see what he wanted/whether I was suitable, so it was simple stuff. He thinks of himself very much as a studio potter making functional ware that the public are demanding, and it reminds me of Emma Bridgewater's stuff, except in terracotta. He makes teapots, bowls, mugs and other kitchen ware in a very simple English style decorated with coloured slips and polka dots. He says he prefers the traditional honey glazes and styles, but the public is demanding colour and polka dots! He compares himself to Isaac Button (and really likes his practice), an incredible man who was the last country potter. Before mass production, this country was full of craftsmen like him who produced work from scratch (he dug his own clay from the bottom of his field) to supply people's daily needs. This amazing guy could turn a ton of clay into pots in ONE DAY. I'm extremely jealous!

Conversely, he also likes Damien Hirst with his half a cow in a tank of preservative and diamond encrusted skull. 

We chatted on and off as we worked throughout the day, about all sorts, everything from art to ceramics specifically, to Obama and the sparrows he feeds outside the studio window. A couple of things he said about business caught my attention. First, gallery commissions are going up and some of the good ones now expect to take 50% with VAT on top, meaning the artist only receives maybe 42% of the sale price! Using galleries is getting expensive, but the potter said he just raised his prices for the galleries so that he still received enough profit. Secondly, that he attends Stroud farmers market every other week, and that this was worth twenty galleries worth of earnings! He said he could achieve a weeks wages in about four hours that the market is on, as handmade products are very popular there, and the clientèle are well off and can pay the prices. Even minor celebrities occasionally go, such as Lily Allen's dad. This is definitely something I'd be interested in getting involved in, especially as it's a regular selling event.

Also and thirdly, there is a Bristol potter who considers himself a businessman first and a potter second who supplies the National Trust with work to sell in their gift shops and makes part of his success through that. I've seen this work myself, it isn't dissimilar to my potter's work, but the hand thrown terracotta is glazed with (at a guess) alkaline glazes instead, which give a cascade of colour not dissimilar to flambe in appearance, but different hues. It's practical and very pretty - I can see it would have a wide appeal. I find his attitude very interesting as it's unusual for a potter to be more concerned with business than clay, and for a businessman to consider ceramics as a worthwhile business opportunity, but it's good to know such opportunities might exist.

I worked from 10am until 7pm, then headed home by train. When I got back, my Dad gave me an article to read on a ceramicists co operative gallery in Bristol's Christmas Steps art quarter called "Potters". It's not for profit, and the artists all have to pledge to work in the gallery for eight days a year to keep costs down. It's been running for 17 years and has a regular customer base. This is also something I'm very interested in becoming involved with! It sounds like a fantastic idea.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

My Little Pony Exhibition!

So, I don't think I mentioned I'm going to take part in an exhibition on my little pony? It sounded like too much fun to pass up! A group of us are receiving an old style my little pony, and after that what we do with them is up to us! Except my friend is banned from burning one and exhibiting the melted gooey remains. There are lots of ponies online which have  been customized; as my little pony is such a nostalgic icon of childhood, people have taken them and started using them as a medium for exploring characters and expressing themselves. There are some uncanny characturisations of everyone from Alien to Gandalf to Oriental princesses: here's some of my favourites

Aragorn pony

Alien pony

Tony Stark pony

Storm trooper pony

Chinese princess Yang Mi

and Tian Li

She's just rather cool

I also saw a really cool one that had been fitted out as a lanpshade.


My friend Kayleigh Young is organising the exhibition (, and gave me my pony today!

She needs a bit of a clean up, and I want to straighten the hair so it's nice and sleek again (thinking an iron on the lowest setting might do it if I'm careful). The hair probably also needs to go black.

I have a few ideas on what to do with her. Despite the daunting precedent set by the above artists, I might try and do my pony up as a shrine maiden, geisha or samurai! From what I can make out, the additions are usually done with a kind of plasticky modelling paste, so I might try milliput, but I also want to try sculpting a purely porcelain pony sculpture in full geisha regalia, and a teapot with oriental ponies on the side having a tea ceremony. However, first I need to draw and brainstorm. We shall see where this goes!

Something amazing

I just wanted to share this - I thought it was amazing and surreal, something far beyond my own experiences so far so I felt like I could slip into a fantasy world for a while :)

Although, of course, this is real.

Image posted on facebook by Hannah Mermaid, check her out! She's an incredible ocean activist and professional mermaid/model.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Water and wisteria

Since discovering hanakotoba (Japanese language of flowers), I've been curious about what the significance of wisteria is in Japan. It was in bloom growing wild in the mountains when I visited Nara and Kyoto, and was the token flower of a shinto shrine I visited. I'd never seen it growing wild before, and it took my breath away! Every now and then you'd see a tree draped in purple among all the green in the steep sided forests where the vine had climbed through all the branches. Unfortunately we drove past all this too quickly for me to manage to get a decent photo, but here are some shots I got from the shrine!.

A shrine maiden with wisteria hair ornament. The hexagonal box says  omikuji, which  is a kind of Japanese fortune telling

Wisteria and brass (I think?) lanterns hung on the shrine building. The lanterns were everywhere, as if the shrine was a glorified Christmas tree, and they were all different, some broken and tarnished, others bright gold and brand new. It must look incredible when they are all lit.

Anyway, I just found this website talking about the symbolism of wisteria:

It's really interesting. The site talks about the Japanese story of a wisteria maiden, a lady holding a branch of wisteria in a painting who falls in love with a man. She becomes so besotted that she steps out of the painting to capture his heart, but her attempts are futile and her love remains unrequited. Rejected, she steps back into the lonely world of the painting with her wisteria. The symbolism here not only talks about lost love, but the endurance of the heart in the face of rejection as well, as the weeping blossoms bloom from an incredibly durable vine. It strikes a chord with me, as I strongly believe that no matter how impossible or hard things are, there is always hope while you believe in it. This is true of art, tradition and culture too. However irrelevant or lost they may seem to have become, if one person finds something meaningful in them, then they will endure. This can clearly be seen in the case of Egyptian hieroglyphs, a written language lost and indecipherable until the finding of the Rosetta stone thousands of years later.

There are other meanings to wisteria too:

  • "Honor
  • Memory
  • Patience
  • Endurance
  • Longevity
  • Exploration
  • Creative expansion
  • Releasing burdens
  • The duality of love
  • Victory over hardship"
"Shin Buddhism also views the wisteria meaning is as a symbol of prayer, or thoughtful reverence for the same reason. The branches and blossoms seem to lower their head in gentle supplication. These vine gestures naturally bring to mind our need for peace, quiet, and time to honor the divine essence (of our own understanding)."

This fits in with the meditative qualities of tea drinking and the tea ceremony - exactly the ideas I want to convey with my pieces.

"Flora records indicate wisteria has been known to live up to 100 years or more, and so here it picks up its symbolism of longevity and immortality. European families mark the ages of generations passing with the growth of this vine, and so it makes sense the vine embodies an essence of immortality (as fathers and grandfathers tell their sons of stolen kisses beneath the same wisteria that grew during the day of their great grandfathers)."

This suits the idea of tradition, a thing that endures and stays the same through the ages. I also like things that speak of the past yet continue to maintain a thing of the present. That is the wonderful thing about Japan, the modern and the ancient exist and carry on side by side, alive and full of vitality. Most old things in England are in decline, being replaced or have become museums.

"Most interestingly, is the wisteria pattern of growth. Like most vines (and ivys), wisteria expansive tendrils grow out in a spiraling motion. The meaning of spirals deal with expansion of consciousness. Spirals also point to our awareness as the inner-most center. This awareness spans outward in a spiraling motion to indicate our influence on the outside world. In this manner, vines and ivys also remind us of our interconnectedness with everything on every level."

Meditation and reflection. Also, spirals represent creative energy, and tend to creep into my work when left to myself, so I think they are a reflection of me and my thought processes on quite a deep level. I like the flow and movement of them, and the energy that suggests.

Which leads me on to: water and flow.

A woodblock print of the whirlpool at Naruto in Japan - I have a copy of this pinned to my kitchen door in  the form of a calendar page! The energy and lines are really expressive.
The same whirlpool today!
Naruto against it's modern backdrop. The power and movement the deep texture of the water suggests is captivating. I'd love to see this one day, it's such an incredible and mysterious force of nature, and it doesn't seem to eat tourist boats alive contrary to stereotypes :)

Water and flowing movement are a huge part of working with clay, yet I have barely scratched the surface when exploring them. They are also a major part of the general backdrop of Japan - Japan is a collection of islands that relies on the sea after all. The general feeling I got from Japanese ceramics was that it always worked with the flow and nature of clay to achieve it's shape and beauty. It never fought it in an obsessive fight for perfection and a ridiculous level of extravagance, desperate to push the "boundaries" like so much Western ceramics seems to, and like I felt I do looking at all that amazing work. I felt stupid and pretentious.


Continuing what I started in Japan, I am now starting to experiment much more with really thick liquid clay, finger marks and textures, inspired by the movement of water, wind, and clay on the wheel. I'm creating bowls in moulds by gunking the slip in, spreading it around, dragging my fingers through, and pulling up spikes or throwing droplets into the surface. I'm also throwing bowls, teapots and flasks and allowing the motion of the wheel to pull thick slip off my fingers onto the surface of the clay in spirals and amazing textures. It's actually amazingly releasing and relaxing working in this way, the act of making feels more meditative and I feel more creative. It has a similar feel to hakeme, except that uses a rice straw brush instead, but the contemplation, and then the simple sweeping strokes are just the same. I love the effects - they are much bolder and clearer than my previous techniques achieved. Photos soon!