Saturday, 30 October 2010

Bedford, London, Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol, Home

Back in Devon after a lovely few days at 'home' with my parents.

My Mum's feeling much better now I'm pleased to say. It was lovely to see them and we had a busy, but nevertheless, refreshing break.

This little box, in our bedroom at my folks' place, is the first 'pot' I ever made, some twenty-eight years ago, when I was studying on an Art Foundation course at Tresham College in Kettering. The decoration was created by pressing an 'X' from a set of printing blocks, into the clay before it was assembled. It was made from red earthenware clay and glazed with some kind of pea green glaze which allowed the body colour to show through in thinner areas, but pooled and hung in the detail where thicker - much in the same way as I use slip nowadays, although back then it was much more by luck than judgement. I'm glad my first piece was made from the 'dirty red stuff'.

As we didn't go to the caravan, which had been the original plan, we went for days out instead. My parents live a relatively short train journey from London, so we spent a day in the big City, visiting the galleries. Here's Luke outside the Tate Modern.

This is Ai Weiwei's, Sunflower Seeds 2010.

'Sunflower Seeds is made up of millions of small works, each apparently identical, but actually unique. However realistic they may seem, these life-sized sunflower seed husks are in fact intricately hand-crafted in porcelain.

Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Far from being industrially produced, they are the effort of hundreds of skilled hands. Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall’s vast industrial space, the 100 million seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape.

Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China’s most prized exports. Sunflower Seeds invites us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today.'

I had hoped to get to see the new ceramics gallery at the V&A, but unfortunately there wasn't enough time and I don't think Hil and the boys would have shared my excitement, so I'll go back there another day with some pottery chums.

Wandering past Central St Martin's School of Art, I glanced through the window and noticed the blue plaque that I was commissioned to make five years ago, to commemorate the first disastrous gig of the Sex Pistols. The gig had happened in 1975 in that very building. It had been moved into the foyer(previously it had hung in the room where the gig had actually occurred). It was funny to see it again and to remember the panic of trying to get the blue paint dry the night before. Here's a review of the unveiling by Glen Matlock, back in 2005.

So I didn't get to the V&A, but I made up for it the next day with a trip to Cambridge to meet up with our friends Jon and Jo and a visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum, to look at their amazing collection of slipware and other ceramics. The Fitz have a number of these Pew Groups, which form the basis for inspiration for some of the wonderful work made by my good friend, Paul Young.

The Fitzwilliam also houses a number of fantastic medieval jugs which are well documented in a number of the books that I own on the subject, so it's a bit like visiting old friends.

Almost funky enough to be contemporary

These were made with great skill. I love the beautifully applied handle, perfectly designed to carry this jug when full of liquid.

Oh, there it is again. I'll leave it on here, it's well worth a second look!

On our return journey to the West Country, we made a pit stop at Oxford. This is outside the Bodleian Library
And this is inside the Ashmolean Museum


I went there specifically to visit this pot. This is a pot I've studied in great detail in photographs(thanks Tim), but always loved from afar. I think as a baluster jug it has a perfect form and I always look at pictures of this jug when I'm making such baluster jugs - I only wish that I could make them as well and with what seems to be such ease, as those old medieval potters.
Here's a Clive Bowen version. Clive makes some superb 'medieval' jugs, I'm lucky enough to own a good number of them. You can see a lot of Clive's work in mine, he's one of my foremost influences, as a man and a maker - I've spent many hours of my life stoking his huge kiln. I think that slipware makers in general in this country are greatly indebted to him, as he's made the 'dirty brown stuff' acceptable in the galleries, which had always in the past been dominated by stoneware pots.

Look at the crazy applied deco on this one

Michael Cardew, Winchcombe bottle - the greatest of old English slipware. I love the way that the manganese in his black slip brushwork, bleeds into the galena glaze. I'm biased I suppose, but I can't understand how Cardew was ever satisfied again when he moved on to Wenford Bridge and abandoned the beautiful rich colours of his Winchombe earthenware.

And finally, one from dear old Thomas bless his heart.

Further along on our route home on Friday, I dropped in to Bristol, which is now the situation of my nearest surviving brickworks. I used to get coarse brick clay from a brickworks in Exeter, which I would blend with my smooth clay to make a fantastic and unique throwing body. Unfortunately the Exeter works closed a couple of years ago. The manager at the Bristol works has been hugely helpful and sorted me out a few sample bags of the Bristol clay to experiment with. I tried it yesterday, a blend of gritty brick and the smooth, Valentines red that I've been using recently - it seemed to bring the clay to life beneath my fingertips. More excitingly, I made a mix of gritty brick and the freshly dug Hollyford clay and it threw beautifully. If it fires well, I think I may have sorted out a perfect clay body to suit my needs for ever.

So, with the combination of all the inspiration gleaned from my recent museum visits and a clay that really does it for me, I'm going to be getting back to work this week in a very positive frame of mind - which is a good job, because I've got to make enough pots so that I can fire the kiln in four weeks' time - busy busy!

Have a good week all

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Tonnes of clay!!!

Well we didn't end up going to Suffolk on Friday because my poor Mum wasn't very well. Instead we're going to their house tomorrow for a few days - we'll have some trips out when we're there. I'm really looking forward to seeing them.

I'll be taking my Mum a little bunch of grapes from the vine that grows on my workshop, she's starting to feel a bit better I'm pleased to say.

So instead of travelling, I went to work on Saturday with Marky Mark for company. Here he is on the wheel.

I carried on making tiles for my tile order - this bird is trailed in black, on a white ground(which will become amber after glazing), with green and orange details. The orange slip is made from clay which was dug from the field outside the workshop.

This leads me on very nicely to the next, exciting picture which was taken this morning!!

This is Pete the digger driver, digging out a mass of wonderful Hollyford clay from the field outside the workshop.

And here's the clay pile - many, many tonnes, which will last me a good few years to come. I have to get a blunger installed - I've been offered one by the fantastic Mark Griffiths(he has a new site, check it out and see his wonderful pots), so a trip to Shropshire at some stage will be in order.
I'm so excited about this clay - by the time I've processed it, there's no financial benefit, but the magical thing for me, is that it's from the very place that I work - Hollyford pots made from Hollyford clay.

The tradition that I draw my influence from and the makers that I respect so much, were able to develop their trade because of readily available resources of good quality clay, so it's hugely significant to me. I have already made lots of pots from this clay in the past, it's beautiful to throw with and fires a rich, red terracotta, but I've never had this amount to work with - I hope to be in full production with native clay by the summer.

Here's the hole that's left, which will become a pond and a haven for nature, overlooked here in the foreground by Luke's sculpture. An exciting and momentous day, thank you Matt and Pete, very much.
So we're off tomorrow to my parents' place. During the week we're hoping to get to London, where I'm going to visit a pot that was a huge influence on the direction my work took, twenty five years ago when I was a student. It's in the V&A, so I hope to find it in the new ceramics gallery that opened recently. Later in the week I'm going to Cambridge to meet up with my good friends Jon and Jo, for a look at the wonderful slipware collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

So I'll be back soon with my holiday snaps. Bye for now

Thursday, 21 October 2010


Evening all

Off on our happy hols tomorrow and a week in a caravan by the seaside in Suffolk. I don't think we'll be dipping our toes in the sea though, it's bloomin' freezing. We're meeting my parents when we get there, so I'm looking forward to seeing them. Pantomome rehearsals have begun again, so I'll be taking my script away with me to try and learn some lines.

The Exhibition Great British Potters opened on Friday. There's some fabulous work in the show from makers that I feel greatly honoured to share a list with.

Here are a couple of my pots that are in the show, a large cider jar

and a big harvest jug.

I've been making tiles this week. These have all been decorated since the picture was taken, but I forgot to take my camera today, so don't have any pictures. The order is for fifty, but I'm going to make a hundred so that there's plenty of choice - I already have thrirty-two fired and finished. They're made in the tile mould that I bought from the now defunct Wenford Bridge Pottery.

Yesterday I had a visit from my friend Frank and his new dog, Murphy, who, as you can see is a vicious killing machine.

Frank took me to meet his friend and fellow signwriter, Dave Smith - some of you will have seen his beautiful film that I posted recently. If you haven't, you should!

What a remarkable craftsman. The suspended glass to his left is a piece he has been cutting and polishing, which will later be decorated with gold leaf - it's stunning. Check out his wonderful website.
Well only a brief post as I still have much to do before tomorrow and our trip to the flatlands. Back next week, cheers all!
Oh and Happy Birthday Alex!

Monday, 18 October 2010


The lovely folk from the Westcountry Potters Association came on Saturday. We had a great day - well I enjoyed it and I think they did too.

This is a sgrafitto jug that I made, that everybody had the chance to decorate
It was a beautiful sunny day, so we went down to the stream and dug out some clay. I kneaded it up back in the workshop, then threw it into the 8lb jug on the left. It's wonderful clay that can be thrown straight from the ground.
I threw the large jug in the middle, adding a separately thrown neck, which was added to the pot that had been partially dried with a gas burner. Once the neck was thrown on, I dried the pot further, added the handle, blasted it with the burner again, then slipped and decorated it.
The 8lb jug on the right is covered in black slip and will get a top coat of white tomorrow. I'm pleased with its shape as I haven't thrown for ages.
This is the beautiful cake, baked for me by my friend Alex, that we shared with a cup of tea. It's based on a leaf resist harvest jug that I made for her and Matt a while ago. It tasted as good as it looked. Alex makes some really brilliant cakes, check out her

This little book came through the post last week. It's the proof copy of a little book that York Museum are producing to accompany the Honest Pots exhibition.

It details the handling pots that Alex and I made for the exhibition.....

showing the preparation of the clay from the woods.....

through to the fired, finished pots. A great little book for schoolkids, although my image might just frighten the children.
Wet pot pictures to follow this week. At long last, the workshop is in an orderly enough fashion to be able to start making again, as is my brain - I've not been able to get into making recently as the workshop's been a building site. I'll put some pictures up soon of the newly sorted workshop.
I've a few more tiles to make to finish off a tile order, then a kiln load of pots to throw for a November firing.
Hil and the boys break up for their half term holidays on Friday, so we're going to be going away for a week to Suffolk with my parents. I aim to come back to a few shelves full of newly made pots, so lots to do this week.
Bye for now

Monday, 11 October 2010

Ooooop north

Back after a fantastic couple of days away in Manchester and York.

On Thursday, I took a four hour train journey from Exeter to Manchester. Alex met me at the station in Manchester and we made our way by foot to the Museum, where we met up with Steve and John, the cameraman and editor of Hollyford Harvest. I hadn't seen them since our great adventures in Montpellier, back in the Spring, so it was good to catch up with them again.

After lunch, I had a chance to take a look at some of the pots in the museum. They have a good selection of work, including this little North Devon sgrafitto jug, that has inspired much scratching of slip since last time I saw it.

Alex took me for a wander across the city, pointing out some of the beautiful terracotta and glazed tile embellished buildings that were built at the end of the nineteenth century.

The tiles were stunning, pity about the modern window glass mind you!

Ah, that's better.

We went to the University, where Alex showed me the Pairings exhibition, that he recently curated. The show includes some of the collaborative work that he has made with textile artist, Alice Kettle.

While we were there, I got to handle some of the pots in the University's impressive private ceramics collection, including works by Hans Coper - I was very careful while I was holding that one!
That evening we headed off by car to Alex's house, where he and his wife Carol, made me very welcome and comfortable. Oh and we looked at lots more pots of course.

So Friday morning came and we got up early, heading up the foggy motorway to York City Art Gallery and the Honest Pots exhibition. I was feeling rather nervous as we were scheduled to be interviewed by BBC Radio York at 10.30 that morning. In fact the Scottish guy from Coast was at the Museum, so they interviewed him instead and I was relieved.
We had our picture taken for the newspaper, you can see it right here. What you can't tell from this picture is that by accident I packed Hil's trousers and in my tiredness in the morning, hadn't noticed until we'd arrived in York, so I had to spend the day wearing girl's bootcut jeans - look out Grayson Perry.

The show was still being installed as it wasn't officially opening until the next day, but the lady in the picture was there taking a look. As it transpired, she is the widow of John Anderson, who passed away earlier this year. Anderson made the marvellous Isaac Button film, way back in the sixties. Mrs Anderson had provided some of the archive photographs for the show that had been enlarged and hung on the gallery walls. It was interesting to hear her recollections of Isaac Button.
I took a lot of photographs, those of you who are Facebook users, befriend me and you can see them on my Facebook profile. Here are a selection of the pics.

Alex McErlain and Alice Kettle collaborative works, harvest jug and stitched cloth.

Some of my pots in one of the cabinets, with a 17th century cistern and milk churn on the bottom shelf.

My cabinet from another angle. The baluster jug on the top shelf is the one that was purchased by York Museum and Art Gallery a while ago and I hadn't seen it for a couple of years, it was good to see it again and good too that I still like it.

Alex and Helen Walsh, Assistant Curator, Decorative Art, who made a brilliant job of selecting and displaying the pots.

A 17th century large crock, probably, from memory, about 18'' tall.

A 17th century water cistern. There were a few variations of this form in the show, they were clearly commonly used by the citizens of York. All were made at a pottery, by coincidence, named Wedgewood.
Some Isaac Button pots made at Soil Hill Pottery. It was interesting to get a close look at these, as it confirmed my suspicion that the crock I bought recently at the farm sale was indeed a Soil Hill crock.

Some medieval jugs in one of the cabinets. I have photographs of many of these jugs on my workshop ceiling, so I know the pots well, although this is the first time I got to see them 'in the flesh'.

A pile of pancheons

A couple of my favourite medieval jugs.
A stunning Clive Bowen jar, surrounded by old country pots.

Some old Winchcombe Pottery plates, the one on the left made by Elijah Comfort and decorated by Sidney Tustin, the one on the right made by Michael Cardew. These plates and the Fremington baking dish to their right, normally live in my workshop. I'd forgotten what they look like without a layer of clay dust.

A fabulous Paul Young dove cote, accompanied by a Geoff Fuller chicken whistle, above some fine seventeenth century Staffordshire pots.

During the afternoon we went to York Minster, which is a beautiful building with stained glass windows of breathtaking scale and beauty.

And a visit to the Museum next door to look at more medieval jugs

As if this wasn't enough excitement for one day, Alex, Helen and I headed off to a huge building that houses the Museum and Art Gallery's reserve collections, a vast place full of skulls, carved stone, wood and lots and lots and lots of pots. Alex and Helen selected pots that will be available to handle this weekend at this event. If you want to get your hands on a Coper or a Cardew, get along there.

The show is on for a year, playing Isaac Button and Hollyford Harvest on a loop throughout the day. Issac Button is a silent film, but I pity the poor invigilation staff who will be sick to death of the sound of my voice and the Love Daddies soundtrack of Hollyford Harvest after just a day, let alone a year!

What a brilliant, inspirational trip, thank you for everything Alex, Carol and Helen.

So back to the solitude of the workshop today and warm autumnal sunshine.

I've been completely re-ordering the place in readiness for this weekend's visit from the Wescountry Potters Association and ready too to throw myself into full scale production for a November firing. I couldn't bear to work in it like it was any more, so I'm pleased that I've taken the time to sort it out properly before getting started with making again.

Well, that's it for now, goodnight all