​I’ll not be drowning today. I love this poem by Chris. Clinging on, getting through with just enough hope to see you through. There is a quote isn’t there by Francis of Assisi – all the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of one single candle. Or words to that effect. It is one of the things I have loved doing recently, taking Chris’s poetry and letting it take shape and come to life on the clay. Here is a bowl I made as part of the collection. Here it is first made…

 

​I used a ceramic mould and so the clingfilm is to prevent the bowl I am making form sticking and then losing its shape when I remove it. Once the clay is in its mould and all smoothed out and the edges trimmed and smoothed, I can begin to put the words in. This is just a part of this poem… water in the eyes – the river grey again – as another squall rolls in from the sea – an incongruous splash of partial rainbow… I’ll not be drowning today. The bluey grey splodges are called slip – watered down clay with oxides added. I made the lines, splodges and spots with a ‘slip trailer’ like a balloon you fill with slip and squeeze… great fun!

 

​This is the bowl once it has had its first (biscuit) firing. No going back…

 

​And this is the finished bowl – black oxide help the letters to stand out and gives the pale blue a greyish tint especially around the edges which I love. Underneath is a rich, dark green. I am having fun exploring different shapes and lines. I am hoping with this bowl that your eye is drawn in to the swirl into the centre of the bowl…

I am part of the Scottish Potters Association and each year they host an exhibition, I think usually at the Milton Gallery near Aberdeen. I have never considered that what I make is suitable for such a grand event, but this year was challenged (encouraged?) by a fellow potter to consider contributing. The theme for this year was Still Life. Also contributions had to be 3D, not wall pieces. Quite a challenge…

 

​I thought about Still Life… and paintings, flowers, bowls of fruit. I thought I have never made anything that fits into that image. My friend and fellow potter Moira continued to push me. I have made poetry plaques for some time, placing Chris’s beautiful poetry into the clay. Could I not use this poetry and design into 3D pieces too? Suddenly I felt excited at possibilities. I went into the pottery and rolled out some rather sticky clay and waited a day for it to become useable… Then I made my first pot using the poetry – a very tall and slightly wobbly vase. I worked with Chris to find some of his poems that reflected the fact that there was Still Life – despite turmoil and worry and challenges. Still Life. I wrapped the poetry around the vase and decorated it with slip and splashes of coloured glaze.

Once I started I found I couldn’t stop – such a freedom in creating something new and in experimenting. Each piece so far is different as I am trying glazes and oxides and various combinations of slips. Due to family circumstances I did not get to submit my pieces to the exhibition, but have really enjoyed the stretch – making and keeping in shape various pieces of clay, using shells as moulds and making smooth and useable vases that (hopefully) please the eye… What do you think?

If you are a Facebook follower of all things arty, please do check us out – Sea Tree – find us on Facebook! We post photos on there of ongoing pieces of work, inspiration, behind the scenes shots and some more random things along the way. Just now there is a ‘giveaway’. I can’t say ‘something for nothing’ as you would need to comment in order to be entered into the prize draw, but it might be worth it! It helps me to get feedback and know what it is that folks enjoy.

We have been making some wee tiles – experimenting with style and shapes, glazes and oxides – all the fun things about pottery! They will be for sale soon at a local craft fair, but I didn’t want any blog readers to miss out on a free deal!

 

Our wee pottery is often the site for beginners and experimenters and potters without their own space. We also go out and about running workshops and bring the pots back to the pottery to dry and fire. It leads to a real mixture of clays and styles and colours drying on the shelves and emerging from the kiln, which is good fun and often inspiring. We all learn from one another as folks explore and share ideas….

​One of the lovely things about pottery – or any other craft probably – is that each person starts with the same materials, same tools, same tutor even and yet they create something quite unique and individual, reflecting their character and inspiration even if they can’t put words to that. It’s a joy to see and one of the reasons I love teaching pottery to beginners, seeing that style and creativity emerge.

Recently, we have had a newbie (I won’t name him or he’ll be embarrassed) – by trade he is an engineer and has got involved in art as a hobby. After watching the Great Pottery Throwdown, like many others he was keen to have a go himself and got in touch. After an introductory lesson with clay, a go on the wheel and lots of you tube viewing, off he went… and look at the results…

 

​I offered to make a couple of hundred wedding favours for my niece and her fiance as our wedding gift to them – they wanted half for women (ceramic hearts) and half for the men (shortbread). Here is how they came along (the hearts, that is… the shortbread, well, that’s another story!)

 

​First of all is preparing and rolling out the clay into even slabs and cutting out the shapes. Leftover clay can be kneaded and rolled out again until all the hearts are cut out. It’s not  the pretty part of the making – sticky hands and dirty cloths…

 

​The next step is to make the wee holes, smooth the edges and the surfaces of the hearts. It is a very therapeutic process as it can’t be riushed for fear of mis-shaping the hearts. By the way, do you recognise the crochetting? It comes in very useful!

​This was the design that Lily chose from a few samples I sent to her. The theme of the wedding was spring yellows and flowers, cream teas and bunting so the lace and the colours will reflect that. Time for the hearts to be dried and I keep them flat between two pieces of plasterboard.

 

​Here are some of the hearts stacked in the kiln ready for firing, along with a few other bits and pieces. In a ‘biscuit’ firing (the first firing) pieces can touch one another, so I can load up the kiln nicely. This is one shelf near the top of the kiln. Then start the first of the long waits – a good twenty-four hours.  This whole thing can’t be hurried – especially not for a wedding! Before glazing all the hearts, I did a few samples to see how many layers of each glaze worked best. Eventually, I got to glaze them all, and after a couple more firings, here they are with their pretty ribbon attached.

Here’s to the rest of your wedded lives, Lily and Tom! May you also learn patience and find joy!

 

The name Seatree emerged from the sea, one day on a stroll along the beach – there it was… and as we couldn’t lug it up the shore to our house, Chris immortalised it in a poem… see below…

 

Sea tree

High on the shore line

Above the storm berm

The winter sea gave out a pilgrim trunk

It was thrown up the beach

Like you or I might flick a pebble

The corpse of the old tree

Has been gnarled and shaped

By encounters with deep reefs

Where it rolled and shoaled with the fish

And bore the barnacles and wracks

Of the deep blue sea

Now it lies here

Like bone of leviathan

It has taken on the colours of the deep-

Sea green

Shadow black

Red like the eye of a shark

Grey like the dripping tail of a whale

All faded a little by the blown sand

But jewelled instead by salt crystals

Drawn out in the low sun

Who knows where its roots are

Or what of its seed

Still remains?

​I thought I would share with you some of the magic of pottery. Even by showing and telling, the magic will remain. watching the clay go from a cold, damp material to a finished colourful piece… Read more below…

 

​The first part of the process is to prepare the clay. It is cold and slightly damp when it comes out of the bags it is delivered in, but soon warms to the touch. The clay has to be kneaded, a bit like bread – the reason being to get rid of air bubbles and to make the clay useable. The air bubbles if left in can cause destruction in the kiln as the air expands in the heat and explodes, taking with it all the other pieces round-about. Not a pretty sight… Once the clay is kneaded it can be used on the wheel or for hand-building. Here you can see I have rolled out some clay and cut some shapes – the rolling pin and cutter are typical kitchen items but the knife is a pottery knife, at a slightly different angle to usual knives. The clay is rolled out on cloths or it would stick to the worktop.

 

​While the clay is still wet, slip and texture can be added. I make the fish eyes with the end of a kiddie’s paintbrush, then add the pattern by using the crocheted doily – pressing it in to the clay creates a beautiful pattern which is then highlighted with coloured slip – a watered down clay to which colour is added using chemicals. Maybe you think the doily is too pretty for getting so dirty but I can’t resist using it!

 

​The fish then need to dry. Once the clay is dry it can’t be re-shaped so while it is still wet I shape it. If the pieces are to be flat then I would put some plasterboard on top to keep it flat while it dries, but I like the fish to have some shape, so I lay them out with little pieces of sponge or newspaper to give them curves. It might take a day or two, or for bigger pieces a week or two, to dry out enough. Things can’t go into the kiln until they are dry – they would break if they still had moisture in them. Wait, wait…

 

​Once dry they can be fired – another wait while the kiln reaches the right temperature – maybe 1000 degrees or 1200 degrees depending on which clay and glaze I have used. Then another anxious wait while the kiln cools… usually the next day. Then the coloured glazes and oxides can be added. By now the clay is light and hard, like the  half-glazed fish in the picture. The sponge is used to wipe off excess glaze or to deliberately remove layers of glaze to reveal texture beneath.  The glazes and oxides don’t always look the way they will once fired – it’s a trial and error process, and test pieces are needed so I can remember how the pale blue above turns into a rich a mottled sea-blue…

 

​If the fish are glazed on both sides for the shoals they have to be hung up to dry. That’s when my fellow potter, Pauline, walks in to the pottery and knocks them off their drying points as she is taller than me. The surviving fish can then go back in the kiln for another day of firing and waiting. If they are only glazed on one side they can go straight onto the kiln shelf, so long as the shelf has been protected with batt wash. If they have glaze round the edges they have to be lifted onto little stilts, or like the fish above they need to be hung on little racks to as to lift them above the shelves.  The kiln goes on again and that’s when more magic happens with glazes reacting to the heat and to other glazes and to their position in the kiln… Wait, wait again…

 

​Once the pieces are out of the kiln, often still warm to the touch as I am so impatient, they need to be finished and assembled. Any drops of glaze need to be removed from the kilns shelves, or splinters from the backs of pieces. The fish are then mounted on driftwood clocks made by Chris, or into frames and mounted on materials I paint with sea colours. At least for this bit I get to sit in the dry, warm dining room. Here is one of the finished pieces…

 

I often get asked about inspiration and it trips off the tongue easily that the place we live in inspires us – the weather, the colours, the water. And it is true. But I don’t think it is actually such an obvious process…​ Read more below…

 

​We recently spent some time in the city of Leeds and I was equally inspired – so much colour, architecture, character and characters, movement – if I had had clay with me I could easily have got carried away. So it’s not about where we are so much as listening to where we are, noticing where we are, allowing ideas to grow and letting them be. I always looked on artists who claimed ‘inspiration’ as so far ahead of anything I could do – how do you look at a view and translate that into an object? For some time after starting to have a go with clay I was not even conscious of inspiration – I just played and created and it was all a bit random looking back but slowly some themes start to gather – the water, the mountains and the changing light… Not to mention my failed attempts at representing gorse. I have so many photographs of ferns too but somehow haven’t managed to translate that into clay yet – I am working on it. I love the way they slowly uncurl and the way their colour changes from new growth to dying back. Maybe that bit of inspiration won’t ever work its way into the clay effectively. We shall see.

So I guess a lot of it is about being responsive – and Argyll does make that easy. If you haven’t explored this area yet check out these websites for Argyll and Cowal – you can find them both on Facebook too. We have such beautiful coastlines, castles, wildlife… and a few cars in front of you is a tailback. Just a walk to the Post Office finds me snapping with my camera, watching the sea birds, seeing the light on the water change. Come, enjoy, relax… and be inspired!

I spend hours in my wee pottery studio – it is in the cellar of our house. It’s a wonderful space to share with others, a family member or friend doing pottery at the same time or beginners there to learn, which is always a joy. But more often than not, it’s just me.  I am realising that I don’t often do silence as often as I thought I would – on the first step in to the pottery I reach for the light switch and on the second step in I reach to switch on some sounds!  You can read more below…

 

 

My station of choice is Radio 4. You might have noticed that already if you follow me on Facebook. It’s a bit of an addiction I think. I have tried to listen to new stations, stretch my horizons a little, but it doesn’t last long. There is a rhythm to my day with Radio 4. One of my favourite programmes is Desert Island Discs. I just  love listening to folks’ music choices. One Hogmanay our groups of friends all chose four songs each that they would take to a desert – it was amazing what we learnt about one another even having been friends for so many years.

But – with poetry and words featuring on so much of what we do I have realised that talking stations don’t work! I keep putting the wrong word in – I have even fired some with random words or repeated words, which is really frustrating! So that’s when my MP3 player comes into its own. It only works on ‘random’ these days – too much clay and dust! It seems my collection is very random too! Pottery is such a therapeutic thing to do – it really slows me down, and I have to focus on what I am doing, so I love classical music. It can drift through the space and not distract me and it adds to the feeling of stillness. I particularly love Bach – such a steady rhythm. Here is a clip of my favourite piece –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCicM6i59

But having said all that, when the thinking and designing and making is all done, and the pieces have been fired, then comes the glazing… It’s a funny process – getting things out of the kiln when they are glazed is so exciting, but doing the actual glazing can be quite a chore. That’s when the random songs are best – songs to sing along to, try and learn the words to, hum melodies to – good job the neighbours are’t very close – and songs with meaning and connection. I relish my times in the wee pottery, and feel so lucky that pottery is the craft that chose me – there is so much to lose myself in and a space I can make my own, and Radio 4 and my random collection of music fit in just nicely.

ble to make stuff is one thing – it’s fun learning and creating and developing ideas – but the whole business development stuff is another things altogether! It’s not easy shouting, “look at me!” It’s wonderful when people buy something that we make because they like it and we know it will bring enjoyment – but it’s hard getting the message out there when we’re shy! So, while learning accounts and organisation isn’t much fun, it’s been a relief to realise that we can apply some creativity to the whole marketing side of things….. read more below…

 

A social enterprise company called Enterprize Web Design and Print (EWDP) have been so helpful – even photographing our dining room walls as a base colour for our designs – and putting up with our ‘that’s not quite right’ even though we didn’t know how to describe what was ‘quite right’ till we saw it…

The website, labels and business cards now all tie in. The wee labels were made for our fishes, with a typeface to match the lettering used on our poems and ceramic labels – and good colours, eh? The business cards are great too – it just seems that taking a selfie, keeping it in focus and smiling all at the same time isn’t that easy!

It feels now when packaging things up that we have created something more than some lovely but random items – that we have an ‘us’ – that Seatree has a colour, a shape, something more tangible. I don’t think I realised it would feel like that – what a difference it makes to seeing the way forward in both our creativity and our business development.

And if you are curious – our dining room paint is now the background colour on the business cards!